Friday, April 24, 2015
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge EPA and NHTSA's standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The ruling means that the case is dismissed, and the standards stay in place.
The case, Delta Construction v. EPA, tests a joint effort by the EPA and NHTSA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and trucks. The agencies issued coordinated rules, one set of rules for cars and, later, one set for trucks. (The D.C. Circuit previously upheld the car rules, and the Supreme Court denied review.)
The plaintiffs--business, associations, and individuals in California, and Plant Oil Powered Diesel (or POP Diesel), a company that promotes the use of vegetable oil in place of traditional diesel fuel--sued, arguing that the regulations were arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The California plaintiffs challenged the EPA rules only; POP Diesel challenged both the EPA and NHTSA rules. The California plaintiffs argued that the regs jacked up the price of cars and trucks in the state; POP Diesel argued that the truck rule makes its product economically unfeasible.
The court held that the California plaintiffs lacked standing, because they couldn't show causation and redressability. That's because even if they won on the merits--and the court struck the EPA rules--the NHTSA rules would still drive the prices of their vehicles up. In other words, because both agencies' sets of rules did the same thing, defeating one wouldn't solve their alleged problem.
As to POP Diesel, the court said that it didn't fall within the zone of interests protected by the portion of the Clean Air Act governing emissions standards for motor vehicles. The court said that economic interests, like POP Diesel's, without more, aren't within the congressional goals of the Act, and that POP Diesel's green approach alone doesn't put it within the Act's zone of interests.
The court dismissed the case and ended the plaintiffs' challenge to the emissions regs.
Before 2011, Arizona law required that voter registration forms include a blank space for the registrant’s party preference. But a 2011 law required the voter registration form distributed by the Arizona Secretary of State to list the two largest parties (as measured by number of registered voters) on the form, as well as provide a blank line for “other party preferences.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-152(A)(5).
In response to the amendment, the Arizona Secretary of State revised box 14 on the Registration Form, and the opinion includes this illustration:
Minority parties Arizona Green Party and the Arizona Libertarian Party challenged the new law as violative of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In its opinion in Arizona Libertarian Party v. Bennett, the Ninth Circuit upheld the statute as constitutional.
The panel majority opinion by Judge Tashima noted the intertwining of the equality and First Amendment claims:
“Restrictions on voting can burden equal protection rights as well as ‘interwoven strands of liberty’ protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments—namely, the ‘right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs, and the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively.’”
It stated that the party challenging the law bears “the initial burden of showing that [the state’s] ballot access requirements seriously restrict the availability of political opportunity" and that here any burden was de minimis. The panel thus applied rational basis scrutiny which the new form easily passed.
Concurring, Judge McKeown argued that the rational basis review burden-shifting standards derived from Ninth Circuit precedent and which the majority applied were "inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges." Instead, the court should apply the balancing tests articulated in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) and reiterated in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), although Judge McKeown acknowledged that the "semantic distinction between the balancing test and the rational basis standard" may make little difference in most cases. Indeed, here Judge McKeown recognized that Arizona's asserted interests in reducing printing costs and easing administrative efficiency are “sufficiently weighty to justify” the speculative burden on the plaintiff minority parties' rights.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled this week in Oneok, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc. that the Natural Gas Act did not preempt retail gas purchasers' antitrust lawsuits against sellers (gas pipelines) for manipulating gas indexes used to set contract rates. Our argument review of the case is here.
The case arose when retail, intrastate purchasers of gas sued gas sellers for falsely reporting gas price data to industry journals that buyers and sellers used to set their contract price for gas purchases. The false reporting resulted in higher gas prices than the true market rate, so purchasers overpaid for their gas. Purchasers sued sellers under state antitrust laws. The sellers moved to dismiss, arguing that the state antitrust suits (by then removed to federal court) were preempted by the Natural Gas Act and FERC's authority under the Act.
Under the NGA, FERC has authority to regulate interstate, wholesale gas sales (sometimes called "jurisdictional" sales), but not intrastate, retail sales. Indeed, the NGA "was drawn with meticulous regard for the continued exercise of state power [over retail sales], not to handicap or dilute it in any way."
So the question was whether the price manipulation, which affected the buyers' intrastate purchases but also affected interstate, wholesale gas prices, was preempted by the NGA.
But there was a catch: the sellers (joined by the government, as amicus) only argued field preemption. Everyone agreed that the NGA contained no express preemption provision, and the sellers did not raise a conflict preemption argument.
The Court said that the answer lies in the "target at which the state law aims." In other words, because the state antitrust suits targeted sellers for manipulation of intrastate (non-jurisdictional) rates, it didn't matter that the manipulation also affected interstate, wholesale (jurisdictional) rates (over which FERC has authority). If the state law aims at intrastate sales, there's no field preemption by the NGA.
But the Court expressly withheld judgment on conflict preemption, leaving that question to the lower courts. It also expressly withheld judgment on the question whether FERC's determination that the NGA field preempts the buyers' claim holds any sway. The Court said that neither the sellers nor the government pointed to any FERC determination, so the Court wouldn't rule on it.
The case is a clear victory for gas purchasers who paid higher-than-market prices because of price manipulation by sellers. Those cases now go back to the lower courts to proceed on the merits.
But at the same time the case also suggests a strategy for sellers in the next round of antitrust litigation: Look for a way to argue conflict preemption (if there is such a way), and ask FERC to opine on the scope of NGA's field preemption.
In a 28 page opinion district judge John Koeltl has granted a preliminary injunction - - - stayed for 30 days - - - requiring New York's transit authority to accept anti-Muslim advertisements on its buses.
The case, American Freedom Defense Initiative v. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (AFDI v. MTA) should be read as part of a series of cases involving often but not always successful attempts to place anti-Muslim adverts in public places. Previously in NYC, a federal judge found the Metropolitan Transit Authority's initial rejection of the advertisements under its (since amended) "civilty standard" to be unconstitutional and the advertisements appeared, causing some NYC residents to engage in "more speech" in reaction to the advertisements. On the contrary, the Sixth Circuit found the rejection of similar advertisements in southern Michigan buses by the governmental authority SMART to be constitutional under its policy prohibiting several categories of advertising including "political or political campaign advertising." Last month, a Philadelphia district judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of AFDI and found SEPTA's anti-disparagement standard for advertising on its buses, and its rejection of the proffered AFDI advertisement, violates the First Amendment. On the other hand, also last month, the Ninth Circuit upheld the rejection of advertisements proposed by Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign applying a limited public forum doctrine.
Judge Koeltl described the advert, known as the "Killing Jews" ad, as portraying
a menacing-looking man whose head and face are mostly covered by a head scarf. The ad includes a quote from “Hamas MTV”: “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.” Underneath the quote, the ad stated: “That’s His Jihad. What’s yours?”
The MTA determined that the ad violated MTA Standard § (a)(x), prohibiting material “the display of which the MTA reasonably foresees would imminently incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace.” Thus, the MTA argued that it excluded the Killing Jews ad because it falls into two separate categories of unprotected speech: “fighting words,” under Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942), and incitement of violence or lawlessness under Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969).
Judge Koeltl held that "this case plainly does not present the rare occurrence where one of these seldom-applied categories is met."
Koeltl's reasoning rested on the MTA's failure to show that this particular ad would immediately provoke violence. The judge discounted the MTA's argument that NYC is a preferred "terrorism target" in favor of a view of a multicultural urbanity:
Indeed, the defendants [MTA] underestimate the tolerant quality of New Yorkers and overestimate the potential impact of these fleeting advertisements. It strains credulity to believe that New Yorkers would be incited to violence by ads that did not incite residents of Chicago and San Francisco to similar acts. This is not to minimize the terror threats to New York City, but those threats do not arise from these fleeting advertisements.
Subjecting the advertisement's rejection to strict scrutiny, the judge further held that the exclusion of the Killing Jews ad is not narrowly tailored to achieve any security interests. "Rather than banning an advertisement outright, the transit authorities could run the disputed advertisement with adjacent disclaimers, or counter-advertisements, expressing disagreement with the ad and/or explaining its context," including its parodying of another ad campaign regarding the positive aspects of the word "jihad."
While these "more speech" suggestions are directed to the MTA, New Yorkers have also been known to resort to individualized attempts at "more speech," raising the problem of the MTA's efforts to combat "vandalism."
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled today in Rodriguez v. United States that the Fourth Amendment prohibits a dog sniff that extends the duration of an otherwise lawful traffic stop, as measured by the time it reasonably takes an officer to complete the mission of the stop. But the ruling doesn't end the case: The Court sent the case back to the lower court for determination of whether the dog sniff was nevertheless independently justified under the Fourth Amendment.
The case arose when an officer pulled Rodriguez over for a traffic violation, issued a warning, then engaged in a dog sniff (which revealed drugs, which led to Rodriguez's prosecution). In other words, the dog sniff came after the purpose, or mission, of the traffic stop expired and thus extended the stop beyond the period reasonably required to complete the mission. The Court previously ruled in Illinois v. Caballes that the Fourth Amendment tolerates a dog sniff in the course of an otherwise lawful traffic stop. But this case asked whether the Fourth Amendment also allowed that sniff when it extended the length of the stop.
The Court said no. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She wrote that a dog sniff that extends the length of the stop violates the Fourth Amendment, without some independent justification for it.
So: How to know if a dog sniff extends the length of the stop? Look to the officer's mission in making the stop in the first place: the "time reasonably required to complete [the stop's] mission."
Because the Court refused to draw a bright line at the point when an officer issues a ticket (and instead looked to the total time of the stop, whenever the mission is complete), the rule could mean that some dog sniffs in the course of a traffic stop (upheld under Caballes) would now violate the Fourth Amendment. Again, the touchstone is whether the sniff extends the "time reasonably required to complete [the stop's] mission."
The Court rejected the Eighth Circuit's holding that the sniff was reasonable because it only extended the time of the stop a little bit.
Justice Thomas wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Kennedy and Alito. Justice Thomas argued that because the stop was reasonably executed the sniff was OK.
He also argued that there was independent justification for the dog sniff--a point that Justice Alito also made in a separate dissent, but a point that Justice Kennedy did not join. The district court found that there was no independent justification for the sniff, but the Eighth Circuit did not rule on the question.
The case now goes back to the Eighth Circuit for a ruling on this issue. If the lower court finds an independent justification for the sniff (for reasons described by Justices Thomas and Alito, for example), then the evidence (drugs) can come in, and Rodriguez could still be convicted.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
In a case with similarities to Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway decided by the United States Supreme Court last year, the Supreme Court of Canada today rendered its judgment in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay (City) finding that a prayer at a municipal council meeting violated the constitution.
S regularly attended the public meetings of the municipal council of the City of Saguenay [Quebec]. At the start of each meeting, the mayor would recite a prayer after making the sign of the cross while saying [translation] “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. The prayer also ended with the sign of the cross and the same words. Other councillors and City officials would cross themselves at the beginning and end of the prayer as well. In one of the council chambers, there was a Sacred Heart statue fitted with a red electric votive light. In another, there was a crucifix hanging on the wall. S, who considers himself an atheist, felt uncomfortable with this display, which he considered religious, and asked the mayor to stop the practice. When the mayor refused, S complained to the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. He argued that his freedom of conscience and religion was being infringed, contrary to ss. 3 and 10 of the Quebec Charter, and asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that all religious symbols be removed from council chambers.
The original Tribunal found the practice unconstitutional, but the Court of Appeal held that the prayer "expressed universal values" and "could not be identified with any particular religion." It also reasoned that the "religious symbols were works of art that were devoid of religious connotation and did not affect the state’s neutrality." According to the Court of Appeal, S had not been discriminated against on the ground of freedom of conscience and religion; any interference with S's beliefs was "trivial or insubstantial."
While some of the issues before the Supreme Court of Canada involved procedural ones regarding the appeal, the Court was clear that the municipality's practice was unconstitutional. Similar to an analysis under the US Constitution's First Amendment, the Supreme Court of Canada grappled with issues such as hostility to religion and the "slippery slope" of other religious practices:
The prayer recited by the municipal council in breach of the state’s duty of neutrality resulted in a distinction, exclusion and preference based on religion — that is, based on S’s sincere atheism — which, in combination with the circumstances in which the prayer was recited, turned the meetings into a preferential space for people with theistic beliefs. The latter could participate in municipal democracy in an environment favourable to the expression of their beliefs. Although non‑believers could also participate, the price for doing so was isolation, exclusion and stigmatization. This impaired S’s right to exercise his freedom of conscience and religion. The attempt at accommodation provided for in the by‑law, namely giving those who preferred not to attend the recitation of the prayer the time they needed to re‑enter the council chamber, had the effect of exacerbating the discrimination. The Tribunal’s findings to the effect that the interference with S’s freedom of conscience and religion was more than trivial or insubstantial were supported by solid evidence, and deference is owed to the Tribunal’s assessment of the effect of the prayer on S’s freedom of conscience and religion.
Barring the municipal council from reciting the prayer would not amount to giving atheism and agnosticism prevalence over religious beliefs. There is a distinction between unbelief and true neutrality. True neutrality presupposes abstention, but it does not amount to a stand favouring one view over another. Moreover, it has not been established in this case that the prayer is non‑denominational. The Tribunal’s findings of fact instead tend toward the opposite result. Be that as it may, the respondents themselves conceded at the hearing that the prayer is nonetheless a religious practice. Even if it is said to be inclusive, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers. As for the proposed analogy to the prayer recited by the Speaker of the House of Commons, in the absence of evidence concerning that prayer, it would be inappropriate to use it to support a finding that the City’s prayer is valid. Finally, the reference to the supremacy of God in the preamble to the Canadian Charter cannot lead to an interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion that authorizes the state to consciously profess a theistic faith. The preamble articulates the political theory on which the Charter’s protections are based. The express provisions of the Canadian Charter and of the Quebec Charter, such as those regarding freedom of conscience and religion, must be given a generous and expansive interpretation. This is necessary to ensure that those to whom these charters apply enjoy the full benefit of the rights and freedoms, and that the purpose of the charters is attained.
The Court explicitly linked the state's duty of neutrality - - - akin to the First Amendment's (anti-)Establishment Clause - - - to the maintenance of a free and democratic society. "This pursuit requires the state to encourage everyone to participate freely in public life regardless of their beliefs." This principle may have special resonance when one considers the largely French (and Catholic) Quebec as compared to the other largely English (and Protestant) other provinces.
Unlike the United States Supreme Court's opinion in Town of Greece, the Supreme Court of Canada's judgment is not closely divided; only one Justice writes separately to discuss some of the procedural issues, but otherwise concurs. For US ConLawProfs, City of Saguenay is well worth a comparative read.
Monday, April 13, 2015
The Seventh Circuit today affirmed a lower court ruling granting qualified immunity to a police officer who falsely reported to 911 and then called off another officer before the plaintiff was sexually assaulted. The ruling affirms the dismissal of the plaintiff's civil rights and state-law claims against the officer and ends the case.
The case, Doe v. Village of Arlington Heights, arose when an Arlington Heights police officer, Officer Del Boccio, responded to a 911 call and saw Doe with three young men in an apparently intoxicated state near an apartment building. When Del Boccio arrived, one of the young men was holding up Doe from behind, because she could not stand up by herself. Del Boccio consulted with the apartment manager, who told Del Boccio that the young men were taking Doe home. Del Boccio also rolled down his window to talk to the three young men. But he didn't ask Doe or any of the three young men for identification or otherwise investigate.
Del Boccio then reported to dispatch that he checked the scene and the subjects of the 911 call were gone on arrival. He also called off Officer Spoerry, who had been dispatched to the scnee.
After Del Boccio left the scene, the three young men carried Doe into a laundry room. The apartment manager called 911. Mount Prospect officers responded, entered the laundry room, and caught one of the young men sexually assaulting Doe.
Doe sued Del Boccio and the city for federal civil rights violations and various state law claims. Del Boccio moved to dismiss based on qualified immunity. The district court granted immunity and dismissed the case.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed, ruling that Del Boccio didn't violate a clearly established constitutional right when he falsely reported to dispatch that the subjects of the 911 call were gone on arrival and when he called off Officer Spoerry. The court alternatively held that Doe's case was foreclosed by DeShaney v. Winnebago County:
Here, we can only speculate whether Del Boccio made Doe worse off, whether by calling off Officer Spoerry or falsely reporting to dispatch.
This is not a case in which Doe was safe, or even considerably safer, before Del Boccio acted. His alleged conduct did not turn a potential danger into an actual one; Doe was in actual danger already. Therefore, Del Boccio had no constitutional duty to protect her. But even if calling off Officer Spoerry violated Doe's constitutional rights, it was not clearly established and Del Boccio nonetheless would be entitled to qualified immunity.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
The Fifth Circuit today affirmed the dismissal of a challenge to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or "DACA," program by a group of ICE agents and deportation officers and the State of Mississippi. We previously posted on the suit here.
The plaintiffs lodged several claims against the DACA program, including a separation-of-powers and a violation of the Take Care Clause. They claimed that they had standing because Mississippi incurred expenses for state benefits for "illegal aliens" and because DACA forced the officers to violate the law, change the way they enforced the law, and face job sanctions for not deferring.
The court today rejected these standing claims and affirmed the dismissal of case. As to Mississippi, the court said that any injury was "purely speculative because there was no concrete evidence that Mississippi's costs had increased or will increase as a result of DACA." As to the officers, the court said that a violation of their oath to uphold the laws was not a sufficient injury for standing purposes; that their burden to comply with DACA also wasn't a sufficient injury and that in any event they failed to allege specific facts to support it; and that any threat of employment sanctions for not enforcing DACA was too speculative.
As to this last point, the court emphasized that DACA requires individual officers to "exercise their discretion in deciding to grant deferred action, and this judgment should be exercised on a case-by-case basis." This feature of DACA, of course, also goes to the merits by hard-wiring DACA with prosecutorial discretion and putting the program squarely within executive discretionary authority. As to standing, the court said that this feature makes it unlikely that an officer would be sanctioned for exercising discretion to deport.
Today's ruling says nothing about the merits of DACA. But it does illustrate why it's so hard to bring a challenge to DACA in court.
Friday, April 3, 2015
The en banc Ninth Circuit's opinion in Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition v. Norris rejected First Amendment challenges to two requirements that the State of California and the City of Chula Vista, California, place on persons who wish to sponsor a local ballot measure:
that the official proponent of a ballot measure be an elector, thereby disqualifying corporations and associations from holding that position; and
that the official proponent’s name appear on each section of the initiative petition that is circulated to voters for their signature.
Writing for the unanimous en banc court and affirming the district judge, Judge Reinhardt concluded that the provisions were "plainly constitutional."
On the first provision, the court held that the requirement that an official proponent—a person seeking a unique position in a quintessentially legislative process—be an elector satisfied the First Amendment. It concluded that
The plaintiffs seek a legislative power and, as they conceded at oral argument, many legislative and official political acts are properly reserved to members of the electorate. For example, corporations cannot vote. Nor can they run for political office or be appointed to fill vacancies. Under California law, they cannot sign initiative petitions, sign candidate nominating papers, or introduce legislation, The plaintiffs fail to provide any reason—and we find none—that the state and city may not similarly limit the exercise of the initiative power to members of the relevant political community: electors.
[citations omitted]. The Ninth Circuit rejected the challengers' appeal to Citizens United v. FEC (2010) as mandating strict scrutiny. The challengers argued strict scrutiny was warranted because the California requirement is a direct ban on core political speech; bans disfavored speakers’ speech; and requires speech by proxy. The Ninth Circuit opinion flatly stated that the challengers "are wrong." While the initiative process involves core political speech, the ban is only directed at corporations being the "official proponent—a unique legislative position that may properly be reserved to members of the political community" and corporations can otherwise speak as much as they'd like. As to corporations specifically, the court returned to the notion that corporations are distinct from natural persons, they do not have "the right to vote or to hold public office (or even to sit on the bench)" as the plaintiffs seemingly conceded. "We accordingly refuse to extend Citizens United to grant to corporations and associations the right to hold a distinct, official role in the process of legislating, by initiative or otherwise." Finally, the court summarily rejected the speech by proxy argument:
Under the plaintiffs’ view of Citizens United, the government could not exclude corporations or associations from any position available to human beings because to do so would impermissibly require speech by proxy—an assertion that is clearly untenable.
The second requirement - - - mandating disclosure - - - was subject to "exacting scrutiny" rather than the higher standard of "strict scrutiny," in accordance with Citizens United. The Ninth Circuit also relied heavily on Doe v. Reed (2010) in which the Court upheld disclosure and rejected a "right to be anonymous" when signing a ballot initiative petition. Here, the Ninth Circuit likewise upheld an interest in the integrity of the electoral process, citing Doe v. Reed, and also analyzed the informational interest. The Ninth Circuit also took a swipe at the sincerity of the anonymity argument:
It also bears noting, although we do not base our decision on it in any respect, that the interest of the proponents in anonymity is especially weak given the facts of the instant case. Both Kneebone and Breitfelder engaged in public activities advocating passage of Proposition G beyond the activities required of them as its official proponents, speaking at televised public meetings and having their names used in campaign materials provided to voters. Moreover, they explained in depositions that they did not really desire anonymity, but rather “wanted voters to know that the ‘correct’ sponsor of the ballot initiative was the Association of Builders and Contractors, Inc. and the Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition.”
More doctrinally, the court concluded that the required "disclosure poses at the most a minimal burden on First Amendment rights."
The decision is a clear rejection of an extension of Citizens United to any type of "corporate speech" and a clear adherence to the constitutionality of disclosure mandates in both Citizens United and Doe v. Reed. And it should be clear that this unanimous opinion is not a good candidate for certiorari.
Wednesday, April 1, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Supremacy Clause does not confer a private right of action for injunctive relief against state officers who are allegedly violating the Medicaid Act. The sharply divided ruling (along conventional ideological lines, except for Justices Kennedy and Breyer) is a blow to the courts' equitable powers and access to justice, and, as Justice Sotomayor wrote in dissent, "threatens the vitality of our Ex Parte Young jurisprudence."
More immediately, the Court's ruling is a blow to underpaid Medicaid providers. They now cannot seek an injunction against an under-paying state in federal court; instead, they have to petition the federal government to withhold Medicaid funds from a state that violates the Medicaid Act--a much harder way to get relief.
The case, Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Care, Inc., arose when habilitation service providers sued Idaho for paying them too little under the federal Medicaid program. The providers based their claim on Section 30(A) of the Medicaid Act and the Supremacy Clause. Section 30(A) requires Idaho (and other states) to provide payment for services sufficient "to assure that payments are consistent with efficiency, economy, and quality of care and are sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan . . . ." The providers argued that this requirement preempted Idaho's low payment rate and sought injunctive relief against state officers who implement Idaho's Medicaid plan.
Justice Scalia wrote for the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, and Alito. He said that the Supremacy Clause does not confer a right of action for injunctive relief, because the Clause doesn't provide for it, and because to allow it would permit private parties to enforce congressional actions, "significantly curtailing [Congress's] ability to guide the implementation of federal law."
Justice Scalia also wrote that the Court lacked equitable power to enjoin Idaho's unlawful action under the Medicaid Act, because Section 30(A) demonstrates "Congress's 'intent to foreclose' equitable relief." He said that the "sole remedy" for a state's violation of the Medicaid Act is withholding of federal funds, and he said that Section 30(A) is couched in judicially unadministrable terms and standards.
Justice Breyer concurred in all but Part IV of Justice Scalia's majority opinion. (Part IV argued that the Medicaid Act itself didn't provide an express cause of action for the plaintiffs, third-party beneficiaries to Idaho's Medicaid agreement with the federal government.) He argued that administrative agencies are better suited to applying Section 30(A) than federal courts in an action like this.
Justice Sotomayor wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Kagan. Justice Sotomayor wrote that there's a long history of suits for equitable protection against a preempted state law, and that "we have characterized 'the availability of prospective relief of the sort awarded in Ex Parte Young' as giving 'life to the Supremacy Clause.'" Justice Sotomayor argued that there's only a single prior decision "in which we have ever discerned . . . congressional intent to foreclose equitable enforcement of a statutory mandate" (as the majority did here), and that was in Seminole Tribe, a case easily distinguished from this one. She wrote that "the Court . . . threatens the vitality our Ex Parte Young jurisprudence."
Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Fifth Circuit dismissed most of the plaintiff's Family and Medical Leave Act case in Bryant v. Texas Dep't of Aging and Disability Services, holding that most claims were barred by state sovereign immunity and qualified immunity. But the court remanded the question whether the plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against her supervisor is barred by state sovereign immunity.
The plaintiff, Tammy Bryant, sued her employer, Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, and her direct supervisor, Kim Littleton, for interfering with her self-care FMLA leave and for retaliating against her for taking FMLA leave. She sought reinstatement and monetary damages.
The Fifth Circuit dismissed most of Bryant's case. The court ruled that while Congress validly abrogated states' Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the FMLA's family-care provision, Nev. Dep't of Human Resources v. Hibbs, Congress did not validly abrogate with respect to the self-care provision. Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland. As a result, the department had Eleventh Amendment immunity against Brant's self-care claims for monetary damages.
As to Bryant's claim for reinstatement, the court said that the Ex Parte Young exception (allowing plaintiffs to sue a state for prospective relief) did not apply to suits against state agencies; it only applies against state employees acting in their official capacities.
The court ruled further that Littleton enjoyed qualified immunity from Bryant's interference claims, because Bryant failed to show that Littleton violated clearly established law.
Finally, the court remanded Bryant's claim for monetary damages against Littleton. The court recognized that this "depends on the state's being the real party in interest" and left it to the lower court to work that out.
March 26, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
The Supreme Court ruled today (5-4, with Justice Kennedy joining the four progressives in the majority) that the district court erred in its analysis of the plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claims against the State of Alabama in the wake of the state's redistricting after the 2010 census. The ruling, a victory for the plaintiffs, sends the case back to the district court and allows the parties to introduce additional evidence to support their cases. It also gives the momentum to the plaintiffs on the merits. We previously posted on the case here.
The case now goes back to the district court for reconsideration in light of the four points below. Today's ruling also allows the plaintiffs to submit additional evidence in support of their claims, thus strengthening their district-specific discrimination claims, their claims that race was a predominate factor in drawing certain districts, and their argument that the state's use of race wasn't sufficiently tailored to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Thus while today's ruling isn't an outright victory for the plaintiffs, it gives them the clear momentum on remand.
The case, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, arose after Alabama redrew its legislative districts in a way that packed black voters into existing majority-minority districts. The state said it did this in order to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. (The state was then covered by Section 5, pre-Shelby County.) The plaintiffs challenged the move as a racial gerrymander. The three-judge district court rejected the challenge and ruled in favor of the state.
The Court (by Justice Breyer) vacated that ruling and remanded the case. Justice Breyer wrote that the district court made four legal mistakes:
1. The district court treated the plaintiffs' challenge to the redistricting as a whole, when it should have treated the challenge in specific electoral districts. The Court said that the district court concluded that because racial criteria had not predominated in redrawing some districts, racial criteria did not predominate "with respect to the State as an undifferentiated whole." This was in error. Moreover, the Court held that the plaintiffs didn't pitch their case only against the State as an undifferentiated whole (as the dissent argued); instead, the plaintiffs presented evidence to support a district-specific approach (even if they could have made this case "more clearly")--the approach that the district court should have used.
The Court ordered the district court to consider a district-specific approach on remand and allowed the plaintiffs to produce additional evidence to support their claims.
2. The district court erroneously held that the Alabama Democratic Conference lacked standing to make its claims against redistricting as a whole and as to four individual Senate districts. The district court said that the Conference lacked associational standing, because the record didn't clearly identify the districts where individual Conference members resided. The Court said this was wrong--and that the district court should have given the Conference an opportunity to show standing. The Court held that the recorded supported the fact that the Conference was state-wide, and had members in each of the state's majority-minority districts. The Court ordered the district court on remand to "reconsider the Conference's standing by permitting the Conference to file its list of members and permitting the State to respond, as appropriate."
3. The district court erred by holding in the alternative that the race was not a predominant factor in the creation of any individual district. The Court held that the district court "did not properly calculate 'predominance,'" because it concluded that the state considered race along with other race-neutral factors, so that the other factors outweighed the consideration of race. Justice Breyer explained:
In our view, however, an equal protection goal is not one factor among others to be weighed against the use of race to determine whether race "predominates." Rather, it is part of the redistricting background, taken as a given, when determining whether race, or other factors, predominate in a legislator's determination as to how equal population objections will be met."
In other words, the question whether race predominates compares a state's consideration of race with its consideration of race-neutral factors like compactness, contiguity, respect for political subdivisions or communities, incumbency protection, and political affiliation. But that comparison list does not include equal population. Equal population is different, because it's constitutionally required. "It is not a factor to be treated like other nonracial factors when a court determines whether race predominates over other, 'traditional' factors in the drawing of district boundaries." Instead, it's a "background rule against which redistricting takes place." And the district court was wrong to say otherwise.
Treating equal population as a background rule (and not one of the nonracial factors), the Court said that race might well have predominated in the drawing of certain districts. It remanded for reconsideration.
4. The district court wrongly concluded that even if race predominated, the gerrmandering claims failed because the redrawn districts satisfied strict scrutiny--that is, they are drawn to comply with Section 5 of the VRA. The Court said that the district court misperceived Section 5: It "does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority" (as the district court held), but rather "requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority's ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice."
Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Scalia said that the plaintiffs screwed up their case by alleging a state-wide violation--a claim the law doesn't allow--and that the majority wrongly gave them a do-over.
[A]llowing appellants a second bite at the apple invites lower courts similarly to depart from the premise that our is an adversarial system whenever they deem the stakes sufficiently high. Because I do not believe that Article III empowers this Court to act as standby counsel for sympathetic litigants, I dissent.
Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent for himself alone to say how "our jurisprudence in this area continues to be infected with error." "We have somehow arrived at a place where the parties agree that Alabama's legislative districts should be fine-tuned to achieve some 'optimal' result with respect to black voting power; the only disagreement is about what percentage of blacks should be placed in those optimized districts. This is nothing more than a fight over the 'best' racial quota.'"
Judge Edgardo Ramos (SDNY) dismissed a private defamation case this week after the government moved to intervene and asserted the state secrets privilege. Judge Ramos ruled that moving forward with the case at all (even excluding privileged evidence) would "impose an unjustifiable risk of disclosing state secrets." The ruling thus puts an end to the case, unless and until appealed. It is not a ruling on the merits, however.
The case, Restis v. American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, involves Greek shipping magnate Victor Restis's defamation claim against the group United Against Nuclear Iran for claiming, as part of its "name and shame" campaign, that Restis was involved in the illegal exportation of Iranian oil in violation of international sanctions. Restis sued UANI, and the government intervened and moved to dismiss on state secrets grounds, filing a classified declaration by the head of the government department that has control over the matter in support. (The government asserted, and the court apparently accepted, that the government couldn't even reveal "the department that has control over the matter" without risking the disclosure of secret information.)
Judge Ramos reviewed the declaration in camera and held two ex parte, in camera meetings with the government before determining that the state secrets privilege applied. "Having carefully reviewed the classified declarations and documents submitted by the Government ex parte, and being cognizant of a district court's obligation to grant 'utmost deference' to the executive's determination of the likely import of disclosure of the information on military or diplomatic security, the Court is satisfied that there is a reasonable danger that disclosure of the facts underlying the Government's assertion would in fact jeopardize national security."
Judge Ramos went on to say that "further litigation of this action would impose an unjustifiable risk of disclosing state secrets" and dismissed the case entirely. (Under the state secrets privilege, Judge Ramos might have allowed the case to move forward without the privileged evidence. But here, he said, any further litigation would risk disclosure.)
Notably absent from the ruling was any discussion of the state secrets privilege as a separation-of-powers principle. (Treating the privilege as a separation-of-powers principle has in the past led to a much more robust privilege, as in the Fourth Circuit's ruling in El-Masri.) Instead, Judge Ramos treated the privilege as it was designed and as the government apparently asserted it--as an evidentiary privilege. Even so, the government's assertion of the privilege resulted in the dismissal of the entire case.
Judge Ramos rejected the plaintiff's arguments that the government shouldn't be able to rely only on ex parte submissions for its assertion and that the case could be litigated in an in camera trial--because the evidence was apparently too secret even to tell the lawyers. Judge Ramos wrote, "The nature of the information here requires that counsel not be granted access."
Judge Ramos gave a hat tip--but only a hat tip--to the plaintiff's interest in access to justice:
The Court recognizes that dismissal is a "harsh sanction." It is particularly so in this case because Plaintiffs not only do not get their day in court, but cannot be told why.
Still, he said that "dismissal is nonetheless appropriate," because "there is no intermediate solution that would allow this litigation to proceed while also safeguarding the secrets at issue."
March 25, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Privilege, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
The Sixth Circuit ruled last week in Sierra Club v. EPA that the Sierra Club had standing to challenge EPA's redesignation of the Ohio and Indiana portions of the Cincinnati area from "nonattainment" to "attainment" of the area's national air quality standards for particulate matter. The court went on to rule that the EPA's redesignation violated the Clean Air Act.
The ruling is notable, because it's the first time the Sixth Circuit had a chance to address a petitioner's burden of production on standing in a direct appeal of a final agency action. The court said that the petitioner bears a burden of production similar to that required at summary judgment (and not like the lower standard required on a motion to dismiss), that is: "the petitioner has to present specific facts supporting standing through citations to the administrative record or 'affidavits or other evidence' attached to its opening brief, unless standing is self-evident." This standard aligns the Sixth Circuit with the Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits.
Here, the Sierra Club attached to its brief a declaration by Sierra Club members who claimed that the redesignation would cause aesthetic, recreational, and physical injuries. As to causation and redressability, the court noted "that many courts have apparently found it so obvious that redesignation would lead to higher emissions that they did not even need to discuss the standing of environmental litigants." Still, the court looked to "reasonable inferences" about redesignation's impact and concluded that "[w]e find it reasonable to infer actual and imminent aesthetic and physical injuries to an identified member of the Club from redesignation of the Cincinnati area."
After concluded that the Sierra Club had standing, the court went on to rule against the EPA on the merits--that the redesignation violated the Clean Air Act.
Monday, March 23, 2015
The Ninth Circuit ruled last week that officers who falsely testified against a defendant based on shoddy investigation reports did not enjoy the traditional absolute immunity that witnesses enjoy against a civil suit. The ruling means that the defendant's case against the officers can go forward.
The case, Lisker v. City of Los Angeles, grew out of a wrongful conviction for second-degree murder based upon two police officers' false testimony that was based on shoddy investigation reports. The defendant, Lisker, who served over twenty-six years in custody, sued the officers for civil rights violations under Section 1983. The officers claimed they enjoyed absolute immunity because they were witnesses against him at trial.
But the Ninth Circuit rejected that claim. The court ruled that the officers' testimony was based upon their investigation reports, and, as such, looked more like a non-testimonial act (like "tampering with documentary or physical evidence or preventing witnesses from coming forward," which is not a basis for absolute immunity) than testimony (which is). The court also said that the policy reasons behind absolute immunity didn't apply to the investigative materials here:
Absolute witness immunity is motivated by the recognition that "[a] witness who knows that he might be forced to pay damages, might be inclined to shade his testimony in favor of the potential plaintiff, to magnify uncertainties, and thus to deprive the finder of fact of candid, objective, and undistorted evidence." That immunity extends to conspiracies to testify falsely for practical reasons, as a plaintiff could otherwise easily undermine the interest in witness candor by challenging the conspiracy rather than the testimony itself. But when defendants have "dual roles as witness and fabricator," extending protection from the testimony to the fabricated evidence "would transform the immunity from a shield to ensure" candor into "a sword allowing them to trample the statutory and constitutional rights of others." The detectives' ultimate testimony "does not serve to cloak these actions with absolute testimonial immunity"; if it did, they would be rewarded for "compound[ing] a constitutional wrong."
Friday, March 20, 2015
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Munns v. Kerry that families of a government contractor taken hostage in Iraq lacked standing to challenge the alleged government policy prohibiting families from offering a reward or negotiating with terrorist kidnappers. The ruling dismisses the case.
The case was brought by former employees of a private firm (and their families) that contracted with the government for security services in Iraq. Former employees of the company claim, through their next of kin, that they were issued substandard military equipment and were ill-prepared for a mission (because of the negligence of their employer, sanctioned by the State Department), that as a result they were taken hostage and held for over a year, and that government policy prohibited the families from negotiating with the kidnappers. Kidnappers brutally executed the employees in 2008.
One plaintiff, Bjorlin, not taken hostage, alleges that he wishes to return to Iraq but wants to be sure that government policies will not prevent his employer from properly equipping him for security missions.
The families of the kidnapped and executed employees argued that an alleged government policy prohibiting them from seeking information on the kidnapped employees, and offering a reward, violated the First Amendment; they sought declaratory and injunctive relief against such a policy. They also argued that the government withheld money that belongs to them as survivors of their deceased contractor relatives, in violation of the Due Process and Takings Clauses; they sought monetary damages.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing for their claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. As to the families of executed employees, the court said that they didn't allege how any government policies would affect them in the future (even if they alleged that those policies affected them in the past). As to Bjorlin, the court said that the chain of events required before he would be affected by any policies was simply too attenuated.
Because the court affirmed the dismissal based on lack of standing, it didn't address the political question doctrine as an alternative basis for dismissal.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims for monetary damages based on sovereign immunity.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
The Ninth Circuit this week upheld a county's decision to reject an ad critical of Israel (and U.S. support for Israel) on the side of a Metro bus against a First Amendment challenge. The ruling says that the bus side is a limited public forum, subject to a lower level of scrutiny--a holding at odds with holdings in other circuits in similar cases--and concluded that the county's rejection of the ad met that lower standard.
We posted just last week on SEPTA's (Southeastern Pennsylvania) rejection of an anti-Muslim ad--and a district judge's ruling that the rejection violated the First Amendment. Here's our post on a federal case out of New York going the same way; and here's our post on the Sixth Circuit, moving in the opposite direction.
King County, Washington, which runs Metro's bus advertising program through a contract with a private company, has a policy that prohibits ads with certain content (ads for alcohol and tobacco, adult movies, video games for mature audiences, and the like). The policy also has two catch-all "civility clauses" that prohibit material that would foreseebly result in disruption of the transportation system or incite a response that threatens public safety.
SeaMAC, a non-profit opposed to U.S. support for Israel, proposed a Metro ad that read:
ISRAELI WAR CRIMES
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
The county initially approved the ad. But a local television report on the ad provoked a massive hostile, even threatening, response, which overwhelmed the Metro call center and employees' e-mails and caused many customers to express safety concerns.
Soon after the story ran, but before Metro ran SeaMAC's ad, two pro-Israeli groups submitted their own ads:
PALESTINIAN WAR CRIMES
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
And (with a picture of Hitler):
IN ANY WAR BETWEEN THE CIVILIZED MAN AND THE SAVAGE,
SUPPORT THE CIVILIZED MAN
Given the hostile reaction to SeaMAC's ad, the county rejected both groups' ads under one of the civility clauses, and SeaMAC sued.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the side of Metro buses was a limited public forum (not a public forum or designated public forum), based on the pre-screening process for ads, the county's prior implementation (it had not categorically accepted ads, and it had rejected some), and the nature of the side of a bus (the purpose of which was to raise revenue through ad sales).
The court recognized that this put it at odds with other circuits that have held that bus sides were a designated public forum (subject to strict scrutiny). But it said that those courts made a mistake:
Some of those courts, in our view, mistakenly concluded that if the government opens a forum and is willing to accept political speech, it has necessarily signaled an intent to create a designated public forum. Neither the First Amendment nor the Supreme Court's public forum precedent impose that categorical rule.
The court went on to rule that the county's decision was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, and therefore valid.
The dissent argued that the sides of Metro's buses were a designated public forum, subject to strict scrutiny, that the civility clause gave the county too much discretion, and that the county's decision (in light of the hostile reaction to SeaMAC's ad) raised heckler veto problems. The dissent would have remanded the case for determination whether the county's decision satisfied strict scrutiny.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
The Supreme Court of New Jersey has found a section of the state's "bias intimidation" statute, NJ 2C:16-1, unconstitutional in its opinion in State v. Pomianeck. Subsection a (3) of the statute provides that bias intimidation includes an offense committed:
under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim's property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim's race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.
The defendant was convicted of violating subsection 3. He and another public employee, both white, tricked another employee, who was black, into going into a wide steel storage cage, then locked the door, made a "banana" remark and laughed, and after a few minutes opened the cage door. The defendant was convicted of official misconduct as well as petty disorderly persons’ offenses of harassment by alarming conduct and harassment by communication, in addition to subsection (a)(3) of the bias intimidation statute.
On appeal challenging the constitutionality of subsection (a)(3) , the New Jersey appellate court found that the subsection's focus on the victim's reasonable belief - - - rather than the defendant's actual state of mind - - - was a violation of the First Amendment, relying on cases such as Virginia v. Black and R.A.V. v. St. Paul. The appellate court therefore found the statute should be construed to include a mens rea and remanded the case.
New Jersey's highest court unanimously found that the appellate court exceeded its bounds by interpreting the statute to include a mens rea. It then proceeded to the constitutional issues, noting that the first inquiry was "whether the line separating lawful from criminal conduct in subsection (a)(3) is so vague that a reasonable person would not have fair notice when that line is crossed," and thus would not meet the "due process demands of the Fourteenth Amendment.":
The answer raises interrelated First Amendment concerns. Nevertheless, only if subsection (a)(3) can survive due process scrutiny is it necessary to engage in a First Amendment analysis.
The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded that subsection (a)(3) could not survive due process because it hinged on the victim's reasonable belief:
Of course, a victim’s reasonable belief about whether he has been subjected to bias may well depend on the victim’s personal experiences, cultural or religious upbringing and heritage, and reaction to language that is a flashpoint to persons of his race, religion, or nationality. A tone-deaf defendant may intend no bias in the use of crude or insensitive language, and yet a victim may reasonably perceive animus. The defendant may be wholly unaware of the victim’s perspective, due to a lack of understanding of the emotional triggers to which a reasonable person of that race, religion, or nationality would react. Nothing in the history of the bias-intimidation statute suggests that the Legislature intended to criminalize conduct through the imposition of an amorphous code of civility or criminalize speech that was not intended to intimidate on the basis of bias. It bears repeating that no other bias-intimidation statute in the nation imposes criminal liability based on the victim’s reasonable perceptions.
The court thus found subsection (a)(3) unconstitutional under due process doctrine requiring adequate notice and lack of vagueness: the defendant "was convicted not based on what he was thinking but rather on his failure to appreciate what the victim was thinking" The court therefore did not reach the First Amendment issue. The court emphasized that the "twin pillars of the bias- intimidation statute -- subsections (a)(1) and (a)(2) of N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1 -- still stand."
The ruling could also be relevant to a more famous New Jersey bias intimidation conviction of Dharun Ravi of the victim, his Rutgers roommate Tyler Clementi, as the NYT reports.
In its opinion in In re Hong Yen Chang on Admission, the California Supreme Court granted posthumous admission to the bar and reversed its more than a century-old decision in In re Hong Yen Chang 84 Cal. 163 (1890). The case was brought by LawProf Gabriel "Jack" Chin and students at UC-Davis College of Law.
Although Chang had been naturalized and was a lawyer in New York, a combination of the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act, upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Chae Chan Ping v. United States (1889), which prohibited naturalization of Chinese persons and the California requirement that members of the bar be citizens, the 1890 California Supreme Court held that Chang was not a "bona fide" citizen and could thus not be a member of the bar. In discussing the decision, the 2015 California Supreme Court stated:
Understanding the significance of our two-page decision denying Chang admission to the bar requires a candid reckoning with a sordid chapter of our state and national history.
Yet the court's opinion is not only of historic note. In discussing the repudiation of the sordid chapter, the California Supreme Court wrote:
More than a century later, the legal and policy underpinnings of our 1890 decision have been discredited. In 1972, this court unanimously held it was “constitutionally indefensible” to forbid noncitizens to practice law, calling such a ban “the lingering vestige of a xenophobic attitude” that “should now be allowed to join those anachronistic classifications among the crumbled pedestals of history.” (Raffaelli v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1972) 7 Cal.3d 288, 291.) One year later, the high court reached the same conclusion. (In re Griffiths (1973) 413 U.S. 717.) In 2013, our Legislature passed a law making undocumented immigrants eligible for admission to the State Bar. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 6064, subd. (b).) We thereafter granted admission to an undocumented immigrant who had been brought to the United States as a child, put himself through college and law school, passed the California bar exam, and met the requirement of good moral character. (In re Garcia (2014) 58 Cal.4th 440, 466.) We said “the fact that an undocumented immigrant is present in the United States without lawful authorization does not itself involve moral turpitude or demonstrate moral unfitness so as to justify exclusion from the State Bar, or prevent the individual from taking an oath promising faithfully to discharge the duty to support the Constitution and laws of the United States and California.” (Id. at p. 460.)
While California has allowed noncitizens to be attorneys as the court notes, the issue is pending in other states, including - - - perhaps paradoxically - - - New York.
The Fifth Circuit denied the plaintiffs' claims for attorneys fees in the 2012 case out of San Antonio over Texas redistricting. The ruling marks a bitter end for the plaintiffs in this long-running and complicated dispute that put the plaintiffs between two district courts, two different sections of the Voting Rights Act, the Texas legislature, and the Supreme Court--and stuck them with a $360,000 bill for . . . a victory. The ruling rewards Texas's foot-dragging through the preclearance process as two cases simultaneously worked their ways through the courts.
Recall that the plaintiffs sued Texas in the Western District of Texas over the legislature's redistricting plan. The plaintiffs argued that the plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause, and that it hadn't been precleared under Section 5. (The preclearance case was pending before a three-judge court in D.C.) The San Antonio court enjoined the legislature's redistricting plan because it hadn't been precleared and drew its own district maps.
The Supreme Court then stepped in and rejected the San Antonio court's maps, but gave the court another shot at drawing them. The San Antonio court redrew the maps according to the Supreme Court's new standard. Following the Supreme Court, the San Antonio court issued its new maps as "a result of preliminary determinations regarding the merits of the Section 2 and constitutional claims presented in this case, and application of the 'not insubstantial' standard for the Section 5 claims." (That "not insubstantial" standard said that the San Antonio court could only consider the Section 5 preclearance claim insofar as the plaintiffs' challenges in the D.C. court were "not insubstantial." But the merits of the Section 5 claim were reserved to the D.C. court (and not the San Antonio court).)
The D.C. court denied preclearance to the Texas legislature's maps. Texas appealed, but used the San Antonio court's plan as an interim plan for its 2012 elections.
In 2013, the Supreme Court struck the preclearance coverage formula in Shelby County and later vacated the D.C. court's judgment denying preclearance to the legislature's plan. At the same time, Governor Perry signed a bill repealing the legislature's plan and adopting the court's plan. The San Antonio district court dismissed the case (or what remained of it, the plaintiffs' Section 2 and constitutional claims).
This seems like a win for the plaintiffs. So why no attorney fees?
The Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs weren't "prevailing parties" under the fee-shifting statute. The court said that the plaintiffs couldn't have won their Section 5 claim at the San Antonio court, because only the D.C. court can rule on the merits of a Section 5 claim. And the Fifth Circuit said that the plaintiffs didn't win their Section 2 and constitutional claims at the San Antonio court, because the San Antonio court never evaluated them.
The Fifth Circuit suggested that the plaintiffs might have been "prevailing parties" under a "catalyst theory," by merely demonstrating that their lawsuit caused Texas to alter its conduct. But the Fifth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court rejected this approach in Buckhannon.