Monday, September 29, 2014

Seventh Circuit Keeps Wisconsin Voter ID in Place

An equally divided en banc Seventh Circuit on Friday  denied review of a three-judge panel decision that stayed an earlier district court ruling and injunction against Wisconsin's voter ID law. The upshot is that Wisconsin's voter ID law will be in effect this election.

We posted on the three-judge panel's ruling here.

The court's decision was brief, but said that "[i]n coming days, members of the court may file opinions explaining their votes."

Chief Judge Wood and Judges Posner, Rovner, Williams, and Hamilton voted to hear the matter en banc. Judges Flaum, Easterbrook, Kanne, Sykes, and Tinder voted against.

The court hasn't yet issued a ruling on the merits.

September 29, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Second Circuit: Volunteer Ambulance Corps Not State Actor

In its opinion in Grogan v. Blooming Grove Volunteer Ambulance Corps, a panel of the Second Circuit affirmed the summary judgment of the district judge finding that the ambulance corps was not a state actor, leaving unsatisfied  the "essential prerequisite" to the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim for her termination from the ambulance corps (the BGVAC).

The opinion noted that to demonstrate state action, a plaintiff must establish both that her “‘alleged constitutional deprivation [was] caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, and that the party charged with the deprivation [is] a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.’”  The court focused on the fairly be said to be a state actor prong, rejecting the plaintiff's argument that emergency medical care and general ambulance services  are “traditionally exclusive public functions,” similar to cases which have held fire protection and animal control within this category.   The court stated that "ambulance services in this country historically were provided by an array of non- state actors, including hospitals, private ambulance services, and, in what seems to be somewhat of a conflict of interest, funeral homes."

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Moreover, the court rejected the "entwinement" argument, noting that she was required to show that the State was so entwined with the BGVAC management that its personnel decisions are fairly attributable to the State.  The court noted that it could

safely presume that BGVAC derives the vast majority of its funding from public sources given its $362,000 yearly contract with the Town and the contractual provision permitting the Town to audit BGVAC’s finances, Grogan has introduced no evidence suggesting that the Town appoints any portion of BGVAC’s Board or has any say in BGVAC’s management or personnel decisions. Nor has she presented any evidence to suggest that the Town played any role in the disciplinary process that resulted in her suspension. BGVAC’s contract with the Town, moreover, identifies it as an “independent contractor” and expressly disclaims any employment or agency relationship between BGVAC and the Town.

The plaintiff was pro se, so perhaps counsel could have developed additional facts that would weigh in favor of state action.  Nevertheless, the court did not seem inclined to find governmental responsibility for actions of the "volunteer ambulance" corps.

September 29, 2014 in Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sixth Circuit Rules Ohio's New Voting Scheme Likely to Violate Equal Protection

With quick dispatch, the Sixth Circuit has issued its unanimous  opinion in Ohio State Conference of the NAACP v. Husted, affirming District Judge Peter Economus's decision earlier this month issuing a preliminary injunction enjoining the Ohio legislature's amendments to the election code that limited early in-person voting.

The Sixth Circuit rejected Ohio Secretary of State Husted's claim that the district judge's extensive findings of fact were clearly erroneous.  Likewise, the Sixth Circuit rejected the argument that the district judge should have applied rational basis scrutiny in the equal protection claim, holding that the district judge was correct in applying the "flexible Anderson-Burdick" test, articulated as

A court considering a challenge to a state election law must weigh “the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate” against “the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule,” taking into consideration “the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiffs’ rights.”

Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 434 (1992).  The Sixth Circuit moreover found that the district judge applied the test correctly. The opinion specifically discussed Ohio's asserted  justifications - - - preventing voter fraud, containing costs, and uniformity - - - and found that Ohio did not demonstrate that these interests outweighed the burdens on voters.

In the last third of the opinion, the court analyzed the Section 2, Voting Rights claim  (Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973), again agreeing with the district judge.

This means that the Sixth Circuit validated the district judge's order requiring early voting provisions that become effective in just a few days, on September 30.

Ohio has already filed an application to the United States Supreme Court for a stay.  As Sixth Circuit Justice, Justice Kagan may rule on the application or refer it to the full Court.

  Voter-registration

 

September 26, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seventh Circuit Reverses Injunction Against Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

The Seventh Circuit this week reversed an earlier district court injunction halting a criminal investigation into coordination between Governor Scott Walker's campaign committee and "independent" groups on issue advocacy. We posted on the injunction here.

Recall that the Milwaukee County District Attorney asked a state court to initiate a "John Doe" criminal investigation into alleged coordination between Walker's campaign committee and "independent" groups on issue advocacy. As part of the investigation, the court issued subpoenas, including one to Eric O'Keefe, who manages the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Inc., one of these "independent" groups. The state court granted O'Keefe's motion to quash. The prosecutor took the issue to the state's higher courts, but, before those courts could rule, O'Keefe filed in federal court, seeking an injunction and monetary damages against the prosecutors. The district court granted the injunction (thus halting the investigation), ruled that the defendants did not enjoy qualified immunity, and ordered the defendants to return or destroy all documents obtained in the investigation.

The Seventh Circuit reversed the injunction and dismissed the case. It held that the Anti-Injunction Act and principles of equity, comity, and federalism prohibit it. The court said that the plaintiffs couldn't show irreparable injury, that they had adequate remedies under state law, and that federal relief was not appropriate. Because the state court judge "concluded that the investigation should end as a matter of state law, because [the prosecutor] lacks evidence that state law has been violated . . . [t]he result is an injunction unnecessary at best, advisory at worst."

The court also took the district judge to task for effectively anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that would allow the kind of coordination alleged here under the First Amendment. That hasn't happened (yet), said the court, and the district judge was wrong to base the injunction on it.

The court said that the district judge was also wrong to deny qualified immunity.

Plaintiffs' claim to the constitutional protection for raising funds to engage in issue advocacy coordinated with a politician's campaign committee has not been established 'beyond debate.' To the contrary, there is a lively debate among judges and academic analysts. . . . No opinion of the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes ('clearly' or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups--let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic.

Thus, the defendants enjoy qualified immunity.

Finally, the court held that "Wisconsin, not the federal judiciary, should determine whether, and to what extent, documents gathered in a John Doe proceeding are disclosed to the public." The court said that the federal district court "should ensure that sealed documents in the federal record stay sealed, as long as documents containing the same information remain sealed in the state-court record."

This ruling almost surely marks the end of the federal case. Because of the Anti-Injunction Act and the state of First Amendment law on campaign finance, this is not a good candidate for en banc or Supreme Court review.

September 25, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Federalism, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Music, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Jersey Supreme Court Finds Constant GPS Monitoring of Sex Offender Unconstitutional as Ex Post Facto

In a closely divided opinion in Riley v. New Jersey State Parole Board, the New Jersey Supreme Court has found that its Sex Offender Monitoring Act (SOMA), passed in 2007, violates the prohibition on  ex post facto laws under both the New Jersey and United States Constitutions when applied to a person whose crime was committed in 1986 and was released from prison not under any type of parole supervision.

George Riley, who is now 81 years of age, argued that the monitoring constituted punishment, rather than simply civil consequences. The majority of the court found that SOMA was penal in nature: it "looks like parole, monitors like parole, restricts like parole, serves the general purpose of parole, and is run by the Parole Board. Calling this scheme by another name does not alter its essential nature."

OM210_Final-2The majority also discussed the particulars of the GPS monitoring: the device combines the transmitter and tracking device into a single ankle bracelet that Riley experiences as heavy and causes pain when he sleeps; the device identifies Riley as a sex offender "no less clearly than if he wore a scarlet letter"; the device transmits prerecorded messages while Riley is in public; Riley must be "tethered" to an electrical outlet for one or two hours every sixteen hours and cannot be out of range of the GPS receiver; and the wearing of the GPS is not reviewable under SOMA.

The majority stressed that Riley was not otherwise subject to probation and parole, but had completed his sentence, thus distinguishing his situation from some of the other cases that had considered the GPS monitoring issue.  However, the majority did note that "North Carolina Supreme Court in 2010 upheld against an ex post facto challenge a statute that provided for GPS monitoring of sexual offenders, regardless of whether the offenders had completed their sentences." 

Importantly, the majority applied United States Supreme Court precedent in analyzing whether the New Jersey statute was punitive and specifically stated that the "New Jersey Ex Post Facto Clause is interpreted in the same manner as its federal counterpart."  Thus, the state may clearly seek United States Supreme Court review of the state supreme court's holding in Riley. Whether or not it will is uncertain, but the division on the New Jersey Supreme Court as well as divisions among state courts may tip the balance toward asking the United States Supreme Court for review.

[image via]

September 23, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ninth Circuit Rejects Apel's First Amendment Claim on Remand

When the United States Supreme Court decided United States v. Apel in February 2014, the Court's analysis of a protest on/outside a military facility focused on the statutory construction issue and as the oral argument predicted, rebuffed the First Amendment issue.

However, Justice Ginsburg's concurring opinion made clear that the First Amendment issue still required resolution.  She wrote:

But a key inquiry remains, for the fence, checkpoint, and painted line, while they do not alter the Base boundaries, may alter the First Amendment calculus. When the Government permits the public onto part of its property, in either a traditional or designated public forum, its “ability to permissibly restrict expressive conduct is very limited.” United States v. Grace, 461 U. S. 171, 177 (1983). In such venues, the Government may enforce “reasonable time, place, and manner regulations,” but those regulations must be “content-neutral [and] narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.” Ibid.

Today, a panel of the Ninth Circuit did not agree with Justice Ginsburg's identification of a "key issue" and quickly dispatched the First Amendment claim in its very brief per curiam opinion in United States v. Apel.  Here's the entirety of the analysis:

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, Apel’s challenge to the applicability of 18 U.S.C. § 1382 to the facts of his case is denied. As to Apel’s defense that his conviction violates the First Amendment, we agree with the district court’s conclusion that “whether or not the designated protest area at Vandenberg Air Force Base is a public forum, the military may properly exclude recipients of valid bar letters, such as Mr. Apel, without violating the First Amendment.” See United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675, 687–89 (1985); United States v. Walsh, 770 F.2d 1490, 1493 (9th Cir. 1985) (“Albertini indicates that whether or not a base is a public forum, the military may exclude recipients of bar letters without violating the First Amendment.”).

 Thus, Apel's extended protest outside the Vandenberg Air Force Base can be criminalized.

CA-VAFB

September 22, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Eleventh Circuit Upholds City Increase in Pension Fund Contributions

The Eleventh Circuit ruled this week in Taylor v. City of Gadsden that a city's increase in the mandatory contribution paid by public employees to the city's pension fund did not violate the Contract Clause of the U.S. or Alabama Constitutions.

The case arose when the City of Gadsden increased the mandatory contribution rate to the city pension fund by city firefighters from 6 percent of their salary to 8.5 percent of their salary in order to cover some of the city's pension shortfall. The city took the action pursuant to a state law that allowed, but did not require, cities to increase the mandatory contributions of public employees to their pension funds. Firefighters sued, claiming that the increase violated the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the parallel provision in the Alabama Constitution (interpreted in lock-step with the federal constitutional provision).

The Eleventh Circuit ruled that the Contract Clause didn't even apply to the city, because the city's act was not "an exercise of legislative power"; instead, it was merely a "particular item of business coming within [its] official cognizance . . . relating to the administrative business of the municipality," a "creature of state statute," but not exercising the legislative power of the state. Because Gadsden wasn't "passing any 'law,'" it "was, at bottom, 'doing nothing different than what a private party does,'" and was not subject to the Contract Clause.

The court said that even if Gadsden was subject to the Contract Clause, there was no violation here. That's because there was no contract, and relevant statutory provisions did not create an obligation not to raise the contribution rate. (Any statutory obligation went to the benefits under the pension plan, not the contributions to it.) Finally, the court said that "at most . . . the City has breached a contract, not impaired one." And "[b]ecause no state action has denied plaintiffs the possibility of a damages remedy, 'it would be absurd to turn [the] breach of contract . . . into a violation of the federal Constitution.'"

September 19, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Contract Clause, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ninth Circuit Again Upholds School Ban of American Flag on Cinco de Mayo

Recall that in February of 2014, a panel of the Ninth Circuit in Dariano v. Morgan Hill Unified School District rejected a claim by students that their constitutional rights were violated when school officials banned their American flag clothing during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The en banc Ninth Circuit has now denied en banc review, over a dissent, and issued an amended panel opinion which adds several paragraphs of analysis.

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flag jacket via

Dissenting from the denial of rehearing en banc, Judge O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Tallman and Bea, argued that the reaction of other students to the flag-clothing wearing students amounted to a " heckler’s veto" which the panel wrongly validated.  Moreover, the dissent argued that this created a circuit split with the Seventh Circuit, relying on Zamecnik v. Indian Prairie School District No. 204, decided in 2011. Judge Posner's opinion in Zamecnik concluded that the students wearing the "Be Happy Not Gay" t-shirt was protected by the First Amendment (although  importantly Posner did not highlight any possible violence in that case).   The dissenting opinion from en banc review by O'Scannlain does not include the Sixth Circuit's Bible Believers v. Dearborn County decided less than a month ago in which the court extensively analyzed the heckler's veto doctrine and found the speech could be limited.  As to the "confederate flag" cases on which the original panel relied, the dissent from en banc review by O'Scannlain distinguished situations dealing  "solely with a symbol that is 'widely regarded as racist and incendiary.'” 

In its amended opinion, the panel added three paragraphs that presumably address some of these concerns.  The amended opinion now includes:

We recognize that, in certain contexts, limiting speech because of reactions to the speech may give rise to concerns about a “heckler’s veto.” [fn 7] But the language of Tinker and the school setting guides us here. Where speech “for any reason . . . materially disrupts classwork or involves substantial disorder or invasion of the rights of others,” school officials may limit the speech. Tinker, 393 U.S. at 513. To require school officials to precisely identify the source of a violent threat before taking readily-available steps to quell the threat would burden officials’ ability to protect the students in their charge—a particularly salient concern in an era of rampant school violence, much of it involving guns, other weapons, or threats on the internet—and run counter to the longstanding directive that there is a distinction between “threats or acts of violence on school premises” and speech that engenders no “substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities.” Id. at 508, 514; see also id. at 509, 513.

 

In the school context, the crucial distinction is the nature of the speech, not the source of it. The cases do not distinguish between “substantial disruption” caused by the speaker and “substantial disruption” caused by the reactions of onlookers or a combination of circumstances. See, e.g., Taylor v. Roswell Indep. Sch. Dist., 713 F.3d 25, 38, 38 n. 11 (10th Cir. 2013) (observing that “Plaintiffs note that most disruptions occurred only because of wrongful behavior of third parties and that no Plaintiffs participated in these activities . . . . This argument might be effective outside the school context, but it ignores the ‘special characteristics of the school environment,’” and that the court “ha[d] not found[] case law holding that school officials’ ability to limit disruptive expression depends on the blameworthiness of the speaker. To the contrary, the Tinker rule is guided by a school’s need to protect its learning environment and its students, and courts generally inquire only whether the potential for substantial disruption is genuine.” (quoting Tinker, 393 U.S. at 506)); Zamecnik, 636 F.3d at 879–80 (looking to the reactions of onlookers to determine whether the speech could be regulated); Holloman ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1272 (11th Cir. 2004) (looking to the reactions of onlookers to determine whether a student’s expression “cause[d] (or [was] likely to cause) a material and substantial disruption”) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).

 

Perhaps no cases illustrate this principle more clearly than those involving displays of the Confederate flag in the school context. We respect the American flag, and know that its meaning and its history differ greatly from that of the Confederate flag. Nevertheless, the legal principle that emerges from the Confederate flag cases is that what matters is substantial disruption or a reasonable forecast of substantial disruption, taking into account either the behavior of a speaker—e.g., causing substantial disruption alongside the silent or passive wearing of an emblem—or the reactions of onlookers. Not surprisingly, these cases also arose from efforts to stem racial tension that was disruptive. Like Dariano, the reasoning in these cases is founded on Tinker. See, e.g., Hardwick, 711 F.3d at 437 (Fourth Circuit case upholding school officials’ ban on shirts with labels like “Southern Chicks,” “Dixie Angels,” and “Daddy’s Little Redneck,” and the Confederate flag icon, even though the bearer contended that hers was a “silent, peaceable display” that “even drew positive remarks from some students” and “never caused a disruption” because “school officials could reasonably forecast a disruption because of her shirts” (internal quotation marks omitted)); A.M. ex rel. McAllum v. Cash, 585 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2009) (noting that “[o]ther circuits, applying Tinker, have held that administrators may prohibit the display of the Confederate flag in light of racial hostility and tension at their schools”); Barr v. Lafon, 538 F.3d 554, 567–68 (6th Cir. 2008) (noting the “disruptive potential of the flag in a school where racial tension is high,” and that “[o]ur holding that the school in the circumstances of this case reasonably forecast the disruptive effect of the Confederate flag accords with precedent in our circuit as well as our sister circuits”).[fn8]

Whether these additional paragraphs are sufficient to ameliorate the concerns that might be raised in a petition for certiorari is now the question.

 

September 18, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, History, Opinion Analysis, Race, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Seventh Circuit Gives Wisconsin Voter ID a Go-Ahead

A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit last week threw a wrench into the November election in Wisconsin by staying an earlier district court ruling and injunction against the state's voter ID law, thus allowing the law to take effect immediately. The problem: some people have already cast absentee ballots without providing ID. More: some 11,800 voters requested absentee ballots before the panel's ruling, and thus under the assumption that they wouldn't have to provide ID. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the director of the state Government Accountability Board is directing clerks to contact voters who requested an absentee ballot and tell them they need to provide an ID. He said that absentee ballots from voters who do not provide IDs won't be counted.

And this says nothing about the inevitable confusion at the polls.

There's another problem, the original one that sparked the litigation in the first place. That is, some 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin, mostly poor and disproportionately racial minorities, lack a qualifying ID for voting, according to U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman, who ruled in an exhaustive opinion last April that the law was unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement. 

The Seventh Circuit panel order undoes Judge Adelman's injunction. The panel wrote that

[a]fter [Judge Adelman's] decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury . . . . The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.

While the panel's brief, one-page order is not a final ruling on the merits (that will come "in due course"), it presages the likely final merits ruling. 

But the most recent move by the plaintiffs may preempt that. The plaintiffs asked the full en banc Seventh Circuit to review the panel's decision. The full bench would have to act quickly, because the absentee election is already underway.

The Seventh Circuit is the same court that upheld Indiana's voter ID law, later also upheld by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County. (That law, according to the panel last week, is "materially identical" to Wisconsin's law). But Judge Posner (who was on the panel in the Indiana case, but not on the panel in the Wisconsin case) wrote last year that Indiana's voter ID law is "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention," suggesting that his opinion on voter ID changed. We may find out, if the full Seventh Circuit takes up the case.

 

September 17, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

RFRA Frustrates Child Labor Investigation

Senior Judge David Sam (C.D. Utah) ruled last week that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act prevented the court from compelling a FLDS Church member from answering questions related to a Labor Department investigation into child labor violations.

The ruling does not necessarily end the Labor Department investigation, though. Indeed, as Judge Sam wrote, DOL may be able to get the information from other sources.

The case arose when DOL sought an order compelling a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, to answer questions in the course of an investigation over the use of child labor in harvest activities at a pecan ranch in Hurricane, Utah. The FLDS member, Vernon Steed, invoked the First Amendment (free exercise), objecting to DOL's questions about the internal affairs of the FLDS Church. Judge Sam wrote that the claim sounded more like a Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim, and applied the higher level of scrutiny under the RFRA.

Judge Sam wrote first that a court order would substantially burden Steed's religious beliefs, because Steed said that he made a vow "not to discuss matters related to the internal affairs or organization of the [FLDS]," and that giving testimony would violate that vow. DOL challenged the sincerity of this belief, but Judge Sam, citing Hobby Lobby, didn't question it.

Judge Sam then wrote that DOL failed to satisfy the RFRA standard (again citing Hobby Lobby) because it had other ways to get the information it sought. For example, DOL could get information from the corporation or individuals who contracted to manage the ranch.

The ruling may not shut down the investigation, because DOL may, indeed, be able to get the information it needs from these other sources. But even if it can, the ruling underscores the heightened, strict scrutiny standard under the RFRA (over the lower, rational basis standard in Smith) , and illustrates its reach.

September 16, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 15, 2014

District Judge Finds Ohio's Prohibition of Campaign Falsehoods Violates First Amendment

In a 25 page opinion  replete with bolded underlined language, Judge Timothy Black held Ohio's statutory provisions prohibiting political false statements in Susan B. Anthony List v. Ohio Elections Commission.  

Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard the case as Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus  last Term and unanimously held that the case was ripe for review, reversing the Sixth Circuit.  The Court's opinion made little mention of the substantive First Amendment arguments, although at oral argument, counsel for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, referred to the Ohio Election Commission as a "ministry of truth," a characterization later echoed by Justice Scalia. 

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"The Mouth of Truth"
woodcut by Lucas van Leyden circa 1514
via

Judge Black refrains from an explicit Orwellian allusion, but he expresses a similar sentiment: "we do not want the Government (i.e., the Ohio Elections Commission) deciding what is political truth." (bold underlining in original).  However, Judge Black does resort to a phrase attributed to the character Frank Underwood in the television show House of Cards: “There’s no better way to overpower a trickle of doubt than with a flood of naked truth.” (bold underlining in original).

Doctrinally, Judge Black relies on United States v. Alvarez in which the Court found the “Stolen Valor” statute unconstitutional, noting that the four Justice plurality held that strict scrutiny should apply and concluding that the federal statute was not necessary to achieve compelling interests and that less restrictive alternatives existed.

In considering the compelling government interest prong, Judge Black distinguished McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Committee (1995), the Court held unconstitutional a state statute prohibited the distribution of campaign literature that does not contain the name and address of the person or campaign official issuing the literature.  This "right to be anonymous" seemed to rest in part on the government interest in ensuring truthfulness, but as Judge Black writes:

However, in McIntyre, the Supreme Court did not describe the state interest in preventing false speech as “compelling” or even “substantial,” saying only that it was “legitimate” and has “special weight during election campaigns.”  McIntyre expressly refrained from any decision regarding the constitutionality of Ohio’s political false-statements laws. Moreover, Defendants cite no evidence that the false statements laws are “actually necessary” to achieve their interest. To be actually necessary, there must be a direct causal link between the restriction imposed and the injury to be prevented. Id.6 Here, instead, Defendants admit that “the consequences of deceptive false statements on elections are ... inherently difficult to quantify.”

[citations omitted].

 As to the narrowly tailored prong, Judge Black found that the statute chilled protected truthful speech, especially important in the political context.  Judge Black again emphasizes that the remedy for false speech is true speech, even as he notes that he is not convinced that "counterspeech will always expose lies," especially "in the wake of Citizens United."  Nevertheless, the problem of government-determined truth is problematical:

we certainly do not want the Government (i.e., the OEC) deciding what is political truth anyway, for fear that the Government might persecute those who criticize the Government or its leaders. Ultimately, whether or not it is possible to create a system by which impartial citizens could identify lies from the truth is unclear. What is crystal clear, however, is that Ohio’s statutes fail in this respect. The process is inherently flawed.

Judge Black issued both a preliminary and permanent injunction so that the decision is a "final, appealable Order."  Whether or not Ohio officials will choose to return to the Sixth Circuit remains to be seen.

September 15, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Third Circuit Upholds New Jersey's Ban on Sexual Conversion Therapy Against First Amendment Challenge

Robson

Professor Ruthann Robson, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law

The Third Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of  New Jersey A3371 banning "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE), also known as sexual conversion therapy, on minors in its unanimous 74 page opinion in King v. Christie, Governor of New Jersey.  

The Third Circuit affirmed the district judge's extensive opinion from last November and reached the same conclusion as the Ninth Circuit did when reviewing a very similar California statute in  Pickup v. Brown, albeit on different grounds.

  640px-Nellie_Bly-Mad-House-07The Third Circuit's opinion by Judge D. Brooks Smith (and joined by Judges Vanaskie and Sloviter),  specifically disagrees with the Ninth Circuit's conclusion that SOCE is "conduct" rather than speech, a conclusion the New Jersey district judge essentially adopted.  The Third Circuit credits some of the reasoning of Ninth Circuit Judge O'Scannlain's "spirited dissent" from en banc review in Pickup as well the Supreme Court's Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.  The Third Circuit rejected the principle that there is a sustainable line between utterances that are speech and those that are treatment:

consider a sophomore psychology major who tells a fellow student that he can reduce same- sex attractions by avoiding effeminate behaviors and developing a closer relationship with his father. Surely this advice is not “conduct” merely because it seeks to apply “principles” the sophomore recently learned in a behavioral psychology course. Yet it would be strange indeed to conclude that the same words, spoken with the same intent, somehow become “conduct” when the speaker is a licensed counselor.”  . . . .  As another example, a law student who tries to convince her friend to change his political orientation is assuredly “speaking” for purposes of the First Amendment, even if she uses particular rhetorical “methods” in the process.

Yet, the court concludes that although such utterances are speech, they are not "fully protected by the First Amendment" because they occur in a professional context.  In speech that occurs pursuant to the practice of a licensed profession - - - including fortune-tellers, a case on which the court relies - - - the speech is entitled to less protection. 

Nellie_Bly-Mad-House-15Precisely, it is entitled to the same level of protection as commercial speech, although importantly the Third Circuit is careful not to hold that this professional speech is commercial speech.   In applying the intermediate scrutiny type standard derived from commercial speech, the court finds that the statute "directly advances” the government’s interest in protecting clients from ineffective and/or harmful professional services, and is “not more extensive than necessary to serve that interest.”

The court's distinction between professional and nonprofessional speech, however, may  suffer from the same lack of bright lines that it finds with the conduct/speech distinction.  The court stresses that professional speech occurs in the context of "personalized services to client based on the professional's expert knowledge and judgement."  But in rejecting an argument that the New Jersey statute makes a viewpoint distinction, the court states that the statute

allows Plaintiffs to express this viewpoint, in the form of their personal opinion, to anyone they please, including their minor clients. What A3371 prevents Plaintiffs from doing is expressing this viewpoint in a very specific way—by actually rendering the professional services that they believe to be effective and beneficial.

The Third Circuit's opinion also considered the challenge that the statute was vague and overbroad, noting that the Plaintiffs themselves claim to specialize in the very practice they argue is not sufficiently defined.  Similarly, the Third Circuit rejected the Free Exercise Clause claim, affirmed the district judge's conclusion on lack of standing to raise the claims of the minor clients (with some disagreement as to reasoning), and also affirmed on the intervention of an organization.

However, it is the free speech claim that it is the center of this controversy, with the Third Circuit carving out a "professional speech" category, in a disagreement with the Ninth Circuit (and on similar issues with other circuits as it notes), but clearly upholding the statute.

 [images from "Ten Days in a Mad House, Nellie Bly, via]

September 11, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ohio Federal Judge Rules State's New Voting Scheme Violates Equal Protection

In his 71 page  opinion in Ohio State Conference of the NAACP v. Husted, Judge Peter Economus has issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the Ohio legislature's amendments to the election code that limited early in-person voting.

This opinion is the latest installment in the early voting controversies in Ohio.  Recall that Judge Economus issued an order and opinion two years ago  enjoining the enforcement of new Ohio legislation and specifically restoring in-person early voting on the three days preceding Election Day for all eligible voters.   The Sixth Circuit, in its opinion in Obama for America v. Husted, upheld the injunction.  

580px-Seal_of_the_Ohio_Elections_Commission.svgAfter that controversy, the Ohio legislature enacted SB 238, which had the effect of eliminating the so-called "Golden Week," the period when citizens could both register to vote and cast their ballots at the same time.   The Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, also issued directives setting uniform early in-person (EIP) voting hours for the entire state, eliminating evening voting hours and most Sunday voting during the EIP periods.

Much of the judge's opinion considers the various expert and other evidence regarding the effect of these changes.  Ultimately, Judge Economus found that the changes violated the equal protection rights of certain groups, relying heavily on the Sixth Circuit's opinion in Obama for America v. Husted and Bush v. Gore.

Here's the judge's penultimate paragraph on the equal protection claim:

The Court must now weigh the significant burdens placed on voting by SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 against the offered justifications. As stated above, the Court has found these justifications to be relatively hollow, and, in some cases, not necessarily supported by logic. Accordingly, while the burdens imposed on the voting rights of African Americans, lower income voters, and the homeless are not severe, it cannot be said that they are outweighed by the offered justifications. For instance, there is virtually nothing in the record tending to justify why a uniform voting schedule could not include evening voting hours and additional Sunday voting, especially considering that such voting opportunities have been successfully offered by individual counties in past elections. While the Defendants have frequently noted that Ohio’s system of absentee voting is one of the most expansive in the entire Country, one of the touchstones of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection guarantee in the context of voting rights is that actions of a State must “avoid arbitrary and disparate treatment of the members of its electorate.” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 105 (2000). Here, despite the expansiveness of Ohio’s voting system, the weakness of the offered justifications supporting SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 render them essentially arbitrary action when viewed against the burdens they impose on groups of voters. Such action is prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. Thus, the Court’s conclusions regarding the Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claim are easily summarized as follows: SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 arbitrarily make it harder for certain groups of citizens to vote.

On the nonconstitutional claim, §2 of the Voting Rights Act, the judge likewise found that there was a substantial likelihood that the challengers could prevail on the merits of their claim.

The judge entered a preliminary injunction regarding early voting for the November 2014 election, the first provisions of which are effective September 30.  If the state is to appeal, it will need to move quickly.

September 7, 2014 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Seventh Circuit Declares Same-Sex Marriage Prohibitions of Two States Unconstitutional

The Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in Baskin v. Bogan and Wolf v. Walker were just last week.  Today, the court issued its unanimous opinion affirming the district court findings that the same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin are unconstitutional. 

The Seventh Circuit panel enjoined the states from enforcing the laws and did not issue a stay.

Judge Richard Posner (pictured right) who is perhaps the most well-known judge not on the United States Supreme Court and who attracted attention with his comments at the oral argument, perhaps not surprisingly wrote the 40 page opinion. 

441px-Richard_Posner_at_Harvard_UniversityPosner begins by implying the state laws before the court are outliers:

Indiana and Wisconsin are among the shrinking majority of states that do not recognize the validity of same-sex marriages, whether contracted in these states or in states (or foreign countries) where they are lawful.

The panel's decision is based entirely on equal protection doctrine under the Fourteenth Amendment.  Here's Judge Posner introducing the concept that

comes wrapped, in many of the decisions applying it, in a formidable doctrinal terminology—the terminology of rational basis, of strict, heightened, and intermediate scrutiny, of narrow tailoring, fundamental rights, and the rest. We’ll be invoking in places the conceptual apparatus that has grown up around this terminology, but our main focus will be on the states’ arguments, which are based largely on the assertion that banning same-sex marriage is justified by the state’s interest in channeling procreative sex into (necessarily heterosexual) marriage.

However, Judge Posner's analysis draws heavily on his work in law and economics, implying that cost-benefit analysis deserves more attention that the "conventional approach"  - - - which "doesn’t purport to balance the costs and benefits of the challenged discriminatory law" - - - gives it.  For Posner:

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straight- forward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction— that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously. To the extent that children are better off in families in which the parents are married, they are better off whether they are raised by their biological parents or by adoptive parents. The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subjected to heightened scrutiny, which is why we can largely elide the more complex analysis found in more closely balanced equal-protection cases.

9780674802803Judge Posner doesn't cite his own 1992 book, Sex and Reason, but he could have.  And the rhetorical style and much of the reasoning in this opinion echoes the book, which was widely debated.

Judges Williams and Hamilton apparently agreed.

If the cases go en banc or to the Supreme Court, it will be interesting to see if any of the law and economics rationales are prominent.

 

 

September 4, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Louisiana Federal Judge Upholds State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Breaking the spate of federal decisions that have invalidated state same-sex marriage prohibitions, federal district judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana today upheld the constitutionality of that state's ban in his 32 page  opinion in Robicheaux v. Caldwell. 

Judge Feldman rejects the equal protection claim (the "most hefty constitutional issue") and the due process claim, as well as rejecting any heightened scrutiny within those claims and any extension of Windsor to state same-sex marriage bans. In applying rational basis, the judge found that the "central state interest of linking children to an intact family formed by their biological parents" and of "even more consequence," the "legitimate state interest in safeguarding that fundamental social change, in this instance, is better cultivated through democratic consensus," was sufficient.

The theoretical underpinnings of the judge's rationale are a preference for states' rights,  democratically enacted provisions, tradition, and a judicial practice of being "circumspect." 

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Judge Feldman's opinion credits notions of formal equality and the slippery slope.  For example, in rejecting the analogy to Loving v. Virginia, Judge Feldman writes:  "no analogy can defeat the plain reality that Louisiana's laws apply evenhandedly to both genders--whether between two men or two women."   This evenhandedness was precisely the argument Virginia unsuccessfully advanced in Loving when it argued that under its miscengenation statute, both whites and blacks would be prosecuted.  At another point, Judge Feldman states:

Perhaps in a new established point of view, marriage will be reduced to contract law, and, by contract, anyone will be able to claim marriage. Perhaps that is the next frontier, the next phase of some "evolving understanding of equality," where what is marriage will be explored. And as plaintiffs vigorously remind, there have been embattled times when the federal judiciary properly inserted itself to correct a wrong in our society. But that is an incomplete answer to today's social issue. When a federal court is obliged to confront a constitutional struggle over what is marriage, a singularly pivotal issue, the consequence of outcomes, intended or otherwise, seems an equally compelling part of the equation. It seems unjust to ignore. And so, inconvenient questions persist. For example, must the states permit or recognize a marriage between an aunt and niece? Aunt and nephew? Brother/brother? Father and child? May minors marry? Must marriage be limited to only two people? What about a transgender spouse? Is such a union same-gender or male-female? All such unions would undeniably be equally committed to love and caring for one another, just like the plaintiffs.

Judge Feldman acknowledged that his decision departed from the recent trend, but quoted from the dissenting opinion in the Fourth Circuit's decision in Bostic v. Schaefer.

As Judge Feldman also stated:

Clearly, many other courts will have an opportunity to take up the issue of same-sex marriage; courts of appeals and, at some point, the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision of this Court is but one studied decision among many. Our Fifth Circuit has not yet spoken.

Whether or not the case is appealed to the Fifth Circuit, the issue seems sure to be heard by the United States Supreme Court.

September 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Seventh Circuit Upholds Indiana's Right-to-Work Law

A sharply divided three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit today upheld Indiana's "right to work" law against federal preemption and other constitutional challenges.  The ruling means that Indiana's law stays on the books--a serious blow to unions in the state.  But the division invites en banc review and even Supreme Court review of this bitterly contested issue.

The case, Sweeney v. Pence, tested the constitutionality of Indiana's "right to work" law, enacted in February 2012.  That law prohibits any person from requiring an individual to join a union as a condition of employment.  As relevant here, it also prohibits any person from requiring an individual to "[p]ay dues, fees, assessments, or other charges of any kind or amount to a labor organization" as a condition of employment.  In short, it prohibits mandatory "fair share" fees--those fees that non-union-members have to pay for the collective bargaining activities of a union (but not the union's political activities), in order to avoid free-riding. 

The law deals a blow to unions, because it allows non-members to escape even representational fees (or "fair share" fees, those fees designed to cover only a union's collective bargaining and employee representational costs, but not political expenditures), even as federal law requires unions to provide "fair representation" to all employees, union or not.  This encourages "free riders," non-member employees who take advantage of union activities but decline to pay for them.

The plaintiffs, members and officers of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 150, AFL-CIO, argued that the National Labor Relations Act preempted Indiana's law and that the law violated various constitutional individual-rights protections.  The preemption argument turned on two provisions of the NLRA, Sections 8(a)(3) and 14(b).  Section 8(a)(3) provides,

It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer . . . by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure or employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization.

Provided, That nothing in this subchapter, or in any other statute of the United States, shall preclude an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization (not established, maintained, or assisted by any action defined in this subsection as an unfair labor practice) to require as a condition of employment membership therein . . . .

Section 14(b) says,

Nothing in this subchapter shall be construed as authorizing the execution or application of agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment in any State or Territory in which such execution or application is prohibited by State or Territorial law.

The Union argued that under this language a state may ban an agency-shop agreement (a requirement that all employees pay full union dues, whether or not they are members), but not a lesser union-security arrangement (like a fair share requirement).

The majority disagreed.  The court said that Indiana had broad rights to restrict union-security agreements, including fair share.  It first pointed to Supreme Court cases (Retail Clerks I and II) that held that Section 14(b) allowed a state to ban an agency-shop agreement.  It then read the term "membership" in Section 14(b) quite narrowly, to include non-members who were required to pay fair share fees.  (That's right: the court said that non-members were part of the "membership" under Section 14(b).)  The court said that the final clause of Section 14(b) therefore leaves room for states to ban complete union-security agreements (like agency shops) and also lesser union-security agreements (like fair share).  It said that some states had these laws on the books when Congress passed Section 14(b), and that some states have them on the books today.  "The longevity of many of these statutes, coupled with the lack of disapproval expressed by the Supreme Court, suggests to us that Indiana's right-to-work law falls squarely within the realm of acceptable law." 

The majority also rejected the plaintiffs' individual-rights arguments, under the Takings Clause, the Contracts Clause, the Ex Post Facto Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Free Speech Clause.

Judge Wood dissented.  She argued that under the majority's approach, Indiana's law amounted to an unconstitutional taking (because, along with the duty of fair representation, it required the union to do work for non-members without pay).  She said the better approach (under constitutional avoidance principles)--and the one more consistent with the language of the NLRA and Retail Clerks I and II)--said that the NLRA preempted Indiana's law.

The sharp disagreement on the panel, the uncertain state of the law, and the contentiousness of the underlying issue all suggest that this case is ripe for en banc review and, ultimately, Supreme Court review.  If so, this case could be the next in a recent line of anti-union rulings chipping away at fair share.

September 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 1, 2014

District Judge Enjoins Portions of Texas' Restrictive Abortion Law, HB 2

The latest installment in the continuing saga of HB 2, Texas' restrictive abortion law, occurred late Friday with Judge Lee Yeakel enjoining the admitting privileges requirement and the ambultory-surgical-center requirement in his 21 page  opinion  in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.

Recall that a panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision of controversial  Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional. 

This new opinion considers the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement. 

In considering the testimony and evidence in the bench trial, Judge Yeakel found that the "experts’ testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposing conclusions," noting that this is "the nature of expert testimony."   But the judge did use some of that testimony, as well as carefully considering the parties' stipulations. 

The court concludes that the act’s ambulatory-surgical—center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles erected for these women are more significant than the “incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.” [citing Casey].  The court concludes that the overall lack of practical access to abortion services  resulting from clinic closures throughout Texas as a result of House Bill 2 is compelling evidence of a substantial obstacle erected by the act.  

The judge also concluded "that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them."  And, perhaps most interestingly, the judge explicitly considered the legislative intent of HB2:

An abortion regulation is also violative of a woman’s right to an abortion if it was adopted with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle to a woman’s ability to choose a previability abortion. [citing Gonzales v Carhart]. Because the act’s two requirements have the effect of creating an undue burden, an additional finding that the act was passed with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle is not required in order to declare the act unconstitutional. However, the court  concludes, after examining the act and the context in which it operates, that the ambulatory-surgical- center requirement was intended to close existing licensed abortion clinics. The requirement’s  implementing rules specifically deny grandfathering or the granting of waivers to previously licensed  abortion providers. This is in contrast to the “frequent” granting of some sort of variance from the  standards which occur in the licensing of nearly three-quarters of all licensed ambulatory surgical  centers in Texas. Such disparate and arbitrary treatment, at a minimum, suggests that it was the intent of the State to reduce the number of providers licensed to perform abortions, thus creating a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking to access an abortion. This is particularly apparent in light of the dearth of credible evidence supporting the proposition that abortions performed in ambulatory  surgical centers have better patient health outcomes compared to clinics licensed under the previous regime.  

[emphasis added].

Thus, the judge enjoined the enforcement of HB2.  

The Attorney General of Texas is sure to appeal. 

September 1, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sovereign Immunity Protects Official's Determination of Streambed Ownership

The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Lacano Investments v. Balash that state sovereign immunity barred a suit against a state official for his determination that streambeds claimed by the plaintiffs were owned by the State of Alaska.  The court said that the relief plaintiffs requested--declaratory relief and an injunction prohibiting the defendants from claiming title to the lands beneath the waterways--was the funcational equivalent of quiet title, a claim that under Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho does not fall within Ex parte Young.

The case arose when an Alaskan official determined pursuant to the federal Submerged Lands Act of 1953 that certain streambeds over which the plaintiffs claimed ownership were in fact owned by the State of Alaska.  The plaintiffs said that they owned the streambeds pursuant to a federal land patent granted the year before Alaska became part of the Union.  When the official then determined that the streambeds belonged to the state, the plaintiffs sued, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.

Under Ex parte Young, the plaintiffs could sue a state official for injunctive relief and dodge state sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment.  But the Supreme Court limited Ex parte Young in Coeur d'Alene, holding that the Eleventh Amendment barred a suit that was "the functional equivalent of a quiet title action."  That's because that kind of claim "implicate[d] special sovereignty interests"--the historical and legal importance of submerged lands to state sovereignty.  The Coeur d'Alene Court explained that "if the Tribe were to prevail, Idaho's sovereign interest in its lands and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy upon funds in its Treasury."

The plaintiffs argued that Coeur d'Alene was distinguishable, because the plaintiffs in that case sought to divest the state of its title (and not, as here, the other way around), and because a ruling for the plaintiffs in Coeur d'Alene would have deprived the state of all regulatory power over the property (and not so here).  The court didn't bite, however.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that Coeur d'Alene is no longer good law.  Instead, the court applied Coeur d'Alene, ruled that the plaintiffs' claim was quiet-title-like, and held that the claim was therefore barred by state sovereignty under the Eleventh Amendment.

The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case is dismissed.

August 29, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Utah District Judge Finalizes Judgment on Unconstitutionality of Polygamy Prohibition

In a brief  Memorandum and Judgment  in Brown v Herbert federal district judge Clark Waddoups has finalized his conclusion - - - and made appealable - - - his previous decision that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional.  

Recall that the Utah provision at issue criminalized bigamy as defined as including when a married person "purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."  

Sister-wives-419-250x150The challengers to the statute, the Browns, are famous from the reality program Sister Wives and the accompanying book.  The show includes "commitment ceremonies" between Cody brown and subsequent wives.   They are represented by ConLawProf Jonathan Turley who blogs about this judgment, including the possibilities of appeal, here.

It does seem that given the breadth of the statutory proscription on "bigamy" that includes  cohabitation, an appeal might be ill-advised.   A strict enforcement of the statute would mean that anyone whose divorce was not final and who cohabited with another person might be guilty of bigamy. 

[image via]

August 28, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Divided DC Circuit Grants Standing to Challenge Battle of Blair Mountain Historic Preservation

In its split opinion in Sierra Club v. Jewell, a panel of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a coalition of groups have standing to challenge the revocation of listing on the National register of Historic Places for Blair Mountain Battlefield in West Virginia.

As the first paragraph of the opinion by Judge Srinivasan reminds us:

The Battle of Blair Mountain is the largest armed labor conflict in our nation’s history. Blair-1921-miners-turning-in-guns-6052-copyIn late August 1921, after years of tension between coal miners and coal companies, more than 5,000 West Virginia coal miners began a march to Logan and Mingo Counties, West Virginia. They aimed to unionize and liberate fellow miners living under martial law. When they reached Blair Mountain, a 1,600-acre area in Logan County, they encountered roughly 3,000 armed men. Those men, mostly hired by coal companies, manned a ten-mile defensive line across Spruce Fork Ridge, including Blair Mountain. They dug trenches, mounted machine guns, and dropped homemade bombs. The miners responded with gunfire of their own. The Battle endured for several days, causing numerous casualties. President Harding sent federal troops to quell the fighting, and the coal miners surrendered.

 In this case, the battle again features coal companies, but on the other side are environmental and historic preservation groups.  The registration of the Battlefield on the National Register, which would arguably prevent surface mining, was hard-fought.  One criteria is that a majority of property owners not object, but after the Battlefield was listed, "a number of objections" from a "law firm representing several coal companies" were determined not to have been counted, and the Battlefield was delisted.  It is this delisting that is being challenged.

The district judge found that the challengers did not satisfy any of the classic elements of standing.  On appeal, the majority of the panel found that the challengers satisfied all three. 

Probably most controversial is the initial requirement of "injury in fact" that is both "concrete and particularized" and "imminent."   The panel rejected the coal companies amicus argument that the challengers cannot suffer an injury in fact because they possess no "legal right to enter the Battlefield area."  It is this absence of  "legal right" that Senior Judge Sentelle, dissenting, rests his disagreement.  For the majority, however, the challengers could enjoy and observe the land from surrounding areas, including public roads: "there is no reason that the cognizability of aesthetic and associated interests in a particular site could turn on owning a legal right to enter or view the property."  Thus, their injury was sufficiently concrete and particularized.   As to the imminence of injury, while the district judge had stressed the non-use of the existing mining permits for the past decade, the appellate panel noted that in a letter objecting to the registration of the Battlefield, the coal companies stated that they had an "expectation of developing" the coal in the site.

More complicated are the questions of causation and redressibility, "two sides of the causation coin," because they involve the interplay of the federal registration requirements and West Virginia law, and specific issues regarding the initial approval of mining permits as opposed to permit renewals.  The panel stated that the challengers must only show that their argument is "non-frivolous" and not convince the court that their interpretation on the merits is correct, in order to satisfy the standing causation and redressibility requirements.

Thus, the battle of Blair Mountain will be proceeding to yet another round. 

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[image of Blair Mountain Battle via; image of West Virginia autumn colors via]

August 26, 2014 in Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)