Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Does a community college stand in the shoes of the state for the purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit?
In its opinion in Leitner v. Westchester Community College, a panel of the Second Circuit answered in the negative.
The court found that although Westchester Community College (WCC) is part of the state university system of New York (SUNY) that is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, the community college is not similarly shielded. Essentially, the question is whether the community college is more like the state or more like a local government ("community") which is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court's rationale focused on the factor of the risk to the state treasury, finding it important that the state only contributes a fraction of WCC's budget, is not responsible for WCC's debts, and it is Westchester County that has the power to issue bonds and levy taxes to support WCC. The court also considered the issue of state control. There are ten board members of WCC: the state Governor appointed four, while the county appointed five, with one board member elected by the student body. Further, the court considered the laws creating WCC, finding the statutory framework indicates its separation from SUNY.
The opinion seems straightforward even as it is acknowledges the curvatures of the landscape on which it is written.
First, district courts have found that other SUNY community colleges are embraced by SUNY's sovereign immunity and the Second Circuit itself has found that the City University of New York is similarly entitled to sovereign immunity (even as the City of New York is not).
Second, the court notes that other circuits examining the question whether a particular stateʹs community colleges are entitled to sovereign immunity have "unsurprisingly" reached disparate conclusions, given that the conclusions are based on state-specific inquiries into those collegesʹ fiscal and governance structures.
Thus, having concluded that WCC is not entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity, Carol Leitner's claim for a First Amendment violation can proceed directly against the community college, in addition to the WCC officials who are also defendants.
Monday, February 23, 2015
A New Jersey trial judge today ruled that Governor Chris Christie's cut to the state's public pension system violated the state and federal contracts clauses. Along the way, the judge also ruled that the state's contractual obligation to fund its public pension system did not violate the state constitutional Debt Limitations Clause and Appropriations Clause, and did not impermissibly infringe on the governor's line-item veto power. Oh, and she also ruled that the trial court had jurisdiction over the case, and that it didn't present a political question.
In a case that "implicate[s] the fragile balance at the heart of the legislative process . . . where political, constitutional, and judicial forces appear to collide," this ruling has a little something for everyone.
As a result of earlier litigation, the state has a statutory obligation to fund its public pension system. And the statute is written to create a contract right on the part of public employees--so that any decision not to fully fund the system immediately implicates the state and federal contract clauses. So when Governor Christie wielded his line-item veto pen to cut the state contribution out of the legislature's appropriation bill (because of unexpectedly low revenues), the plaintiffs were waiting in the wings with their contracts clause claims. And the judge agreed with them. That part of the ruling is unremarkable.
But the Governor's creative defenses--and the court's rejection of them--demand some attention. The governor argued that the statutory obligation to fund the public pension system violated the state constitutional Debt Limitations Clause (which limits state borrowing burdens) and the Appropriations Clause. Moreover, Governor Christie said that the statutory obligation intruded upon his executive power to veto legislation. The court reviewed the text, history, and cases on the relevant state constitutional provisions and concluded that they did not override the state's statutory obligation to fund its public pension system.
The ruling means that the state has to find $1.57 billion to fund the system. Governor Christie will likely appeal.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a parent in a private guardianship proceeding is entitled to counsel as a matter of due process. (The court previously ruled that a parent in a private adoption proceeding enjoyed that same right.) The case provides a categorical right to counsel under Massachusetts law, and thus stands in contrast to the case-by-case approach to a parent's federal due process right to counsel in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services.
The case, Guardianship of V.V., involved a guardianship proceeding between a minor's mother and great-grandmother. The mother was not initially represented by counsel when the lower courts awarded guardianship to the great-grandmother, although the mother obtained a lawyer later in the proceedings.
By the time the Supreme Judicial Court had a chance to rule, the case had become moot. That's because the minor was back with the mother. (The court said that the case was not moot on account of the mother obtaining a lawyer later in the proceeding. The court said the point was that the mother didn't have an attorney at the initial guardianship proceeding.) Still, the court said that the issue was capable of repetition but evading review--that it was an issue sure to come up again, and, because of the quick turn-around in guardianship cases, likely to evade appellate review.
The court held that the weighty interests and due process considerations in guardianship proceedings meant that parties to a guardianship proceeding had a categorical right to counsel. The court also noted that the state, by statute, provided counsel to parties to a guardianship proceeding where the state is a party, and that the same interests are at stake in a private guardianship proceeding.
February 10, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, February 9, 2015
Supreme Court Denies Stay of Alabama Same-Sex Marriage While Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Continues the Argument
Over a dissenting opinion by Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Scalia, the Court denied the application for a stay in Strange v. Searcy. Recall that in January, Alabama District Judge Callie V.S. Granade entered an injunction against the enforcement of the state's constitutional amendment and statutes banning same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.
The controversial Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore has reacted negatively to the federal court opinion, including penning a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order. That letter prompted an ethics complaint filed against Roy Moore from the Southern Poverty Law Center arguing that:
Chief Justice Roy Moore has improperly commented on pending and impending cases; demonstrated faithlessness to foundational principles of law; and taken affirmative steps to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary. For all these reasons, we respectfully request that this Judicial Inquiry Commission investigate the allegations in this complaint and recommend that Chief Justice Moore face charges in the Court of the Judiciary.
assist weary, beleaguered, and perplexed probate judges to unravel the meaning of the actions of the federal district court in Mobile, namely that the rulings in the marriage cases do not require you to issue marriage licenses that are illegal under Alabama law.
Judge Moore's argument that the state need not comply with federal decisions has prompted some commentators to make comparisons to Alabama's position during the Civil Rights Era, including a thoughtful WaPo piece by ConLawProf Ronald J. Krotoszynski Jr. at University of Alabama Law School.
The dissenting opinion from Justice Thomas (joined by Scalia) did not mention Judge Moore by name, but did include a decisive nod to some of Moore's arguments:
Today’s decision represents yet another example of this Court’s increasingly cavalier attitude toward the States. Over the past few months, the Court has repeatedly denied stays of lower court judgments enjoining the enforcement of state laws on questionable constitutional grounds. *** It has similarly declined to grant certiorari to review such judgments without any regard for the people who approved those laws in popular referendums or elected the representatives who voted for them. In this case, the Court refuses even to grant a temporary stay when it will resolve the issue at hand in several months.
Perhaps more importantly, Justice Thomas notes that the constitutionality of same-sex marriage is now before the Court, but yet
the Court looks the other way as yet another Federal District Judge casts aside state laws without making any effort to preserve the status quo pending the Court’s resolution of a constitutional question it left open in United States v. Windsor, 570 U. S. ___ (2013). This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question.
Justice Thomas is not the only one considering whether the Court's denial of a stay and thus allowing same-sex marriages to proceed in Alabama is a "signal" of the Court's leanings in DeBoer v. Snyder.
February 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US), Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, February 2, 2015
The D.C. Circuit on Friday affirmed an FTC order that required POM Wonderful, LLC, to support future ads with claims of health benefits with one scientific study. But at the same time, the court said that a Commission order requiring two studies went too far.
The case, POM Wonderful, LLC v. FTC, arose out of a Commission finding that POM Wonderful engaged in false, misleading, and unsubstantiated representations in its advertisements in violation of the FTC Act. In particular, the Commission found that POM Wonderful made unsubstantiated claims that regular consumption of POM products could treat, prevent, or reduce the risk of various ailments, including heart disease, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction.
The full Commission voted to hold POM Wonderful and associated parties liable for violating the FTC Act and order them to stop making misleading and inadequately supported health claims. The Commission's order also barred POM Wonderful from running future ads asserting that its products treat or prevent any disease unless it has at least two randomized, controlled human clinical trials demonstrating statistically significant results.
The D.C. Circuit ruled that POM Wonderful's ads weren't protected by the First Amendment (because they were false or misleading), and that the Commission therefore had authority to punish or prohibit them. The court also said that the First Amendment allowed the Commission to require one scientific study to support any future health-benefit claims:
Requiring RCT substantiation as a forward-looking remedy is perfectly commensurate with the Commission's assessment of liability for petitioners' past conduct: if past claims were deceptive in the absence of RCT substantiation, requiring RCTs for future claims is tightly tethered to the goal of preventing deception. To be sure, the liability determination concerned claims about three specific diseases whereas the remedial order encompasses claims about any disease. But that broadened scope is justified by petitioners' demonstrated propensity to make deceptive representations about the health benefits of their products, and also by the expert testimony supporting the necessity of RCTs to establish causation for disease-related claims generally. For purposes of Central Hudson scrutiny, then, the injunctive order's requirement of some RCT substantiation for disease claims directly advances, and is not more extensive than necessary to serve, the interest in preventing misleading commercial speech.
But the court rejected the order for two studies. That's because the Commission failed "adequately to justify a categorical floor of two RCTs for any and all disease claims."
The court rejected POM Wonderful's related statutory claims.
Friday, January 23, 2015
In a ten page Opinion and Order late Friday in Searcy v. Strange, Alabama District Judge Callie V.S. Granade entered an injunction against the enforcement of the state's constitutional amendment and statutes banning same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.
Judge Granade found that Baker v. Nelson (1972) did not operate as a binding precedent.
She also mentioned that the Eleventh Circuit had not yet ruled on the issue and in footnote 1 acknowledged that the United States Supreme Court had granted certiorari on the issue.
She found that marriage is a fundamental right:
“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” and women. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). Numerous cases have recognized marriage as a fundamental right, describing it as a right of liberty, Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390, 399, of privacy, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), and of association, M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102, 116, (1996). “These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Planned Parenthood of SE Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 851 (1992).
She articulated that laws that "implicate fundamental rights are subject to strict scrutiny and will survive constitutional analysis only if narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest." She considered Alabama's asserted interest of "protecting the ties between children and their biological parents and other biological kin," and concluded that the means chosen - excluding same-sex couples - was not narrowly tailored:
The Attorney General does not explain how allowing or recognizing same-sex marriage between two consenting adults will prevent heterosexual parents or other biological kin from caring for their biological children. He proffers no justification for why it is that the provisions in question single out same-sex couples and prohibit them, and them alone, from marrying in order to meet that goal. Alabama does not exclude from marriage any other couples who are either unwilling or unable to biologically procreate. There is no law prohibiting infertile couples, elderly couples, or couples who do not wish to procreate from marrying. Nor does the state prohibit recognition of marriages between such couples from other states. The Attorney General fails to demonstrate any rational, much less compelling, link between its prohibition and non-recognition of same-sex marriage and its goal of having more children raised in the biological family structure the state wishes to promote. There has been no evidence presented that these marriage laws have any effect on the choices of couples to have or raise children, whether they are same-sex couples or opposite-sex couples. In sum, the laws in question are an irrational way of promoting biological relationships in Alabama.
Judge Granade continued: "If anything, Alabama’s prohibition of same-sex marriage detracts from its goal of promoting optimal environments for children."
Judge Granade's opinion does briefly discuss the equal protection standard for reviewing sexual orientation classifications. But given her conclusion regarding fundamental right meriting strict scrutiny, the opinion does not contain an extensive or rigorous distinction between the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause analysis.
Judge Grande's Order ruled on cross motions for summary judgment, enjoined the state from enforcing the same-sex bans, and did not contain a stay.
One would assume that the attorneys for Alabama are drafting their stay petitions.
UPDATE: On Sunday, January 25, 2015, Judge Granade issued her Stay Order granting a stay until February 9, 2015. The judge found that the State did not warrant a stay under the standards, but
In its discretion, however, the court recognizes the value of allowing the Eleventh Circuit an opportunity to determine whether a stay is appropriate. Accordingly, although no indefinite stay issues today, the court will allow the Attorney General time to present his arguments to the Eleventh Circuit so that the appeals court can decide whether to dissolve or continue the stay pending appeal (assuming there will be an appeal.) The preliminary injunction will be stayed for 14 days.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
The Ninth Circuit ruled in Shinault v. Hawks that a state has to provide pre-deprivation notice and hearing before it freezes funds in an inmate's trust account to recover the cost of his incarceration. But at the same time, the court said that this rule wasn't "clearly established" at the time, so the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity. The court also rejected the inmate's Eighth Amendment claim.
The upshot is that prison authorities took more than $60,000 of an inmate's money--money from a settlement for a medical liability claim--in violation of procedural due process. But according to the Ninth Circuit, the inmate has no recourse against the officers.
Lester Shinault received a $107,417.48 settlement from a medical claim against a drug manufacturer who products (prescribed while Shinault was not in custody) caused him to develop diabetes. Shinault's attorney deposited the money in his inmate trust account.
Prison authorities then ordered Shinault to pay $65,353.94 to cover the cost of his incarceration. On the same day that Shinault requested a hearing, authorities transferred this amount from his trust account into a "reserved miscellaneous" sub-account in Shinault's name, but which Shinault could not access. An ALJ ruled against Shinault (in a hearing where Shinault didn't have an attorney and struggled mightily to represent himself), and about a year later authorities withdrew $61,352.39.
Shinault sued, arguing that the withdraw violated procedural due process and the Eighth Amendment. The district court granted summary judgment against him.
The Ninth Circuit held that authorities violated procedural due process under the Mathews v. Eldridge balancing test, because they failed to provide a pre-deprivation hearing prior to freezing the funds. But it also held that the violation wasn't "clearly established" at the time (because it couldn't find precedent directly on point, and because it said that procedural due process questions were fact specific, that is, not determined until a particular case is litigated), so the officials enjoyed qualified immunity.
In other words, the court said it wasn't "clearly established" that authorities had to provide a pre-deprivation hearing before freezing over $60,000.00 that Shinault obtained from a settlement with a drug company whose products caused him to develop diabetes. Because this wasn't "clearly established," the defendants enjoyed immunity, and Shinault has no claim against them for return of his money.
The court also held that authorities did not violate Shinault's Eighth Amendment rights, because "no authority supports the notion that freezing or withdrawing funds from an inmate account constitutes deliberate denial of care under the Eighth Amendment."
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
In its unanimous opinion today in Holt (Muhammad) v. Hobbs the Court decided that the Arkansas Department of Correction’s grooming policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, RLUIPA, 42 U. S. C. §2000cc et seq., to the extent that it prohibits petitioner from growing a one—half—inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.
The Court's conclusion is predictable from the tenor of the oral arguments. Writing for the Court, Justice Alito found that Holt/Muhammad easily met his burden of showing that the beard ban substantially burdened his exercise of religion under RLUIPA, after which the burden shifted to the Department of Correction to show that its refusal to allow petitioner to grow a 1⁄2- inch beard “(1) [was] in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) [was] the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest” under RLUIPA."
The Court rejected the Department of Correction's beard ban as the least restrictive way of furthering prison safety and security including hiding contraband (an argument that was "hard to take seriously" in the context of the 1/2 inch beard) and concealing identities (an argument that suffered in comparison to other institutions and the allowance of 1/4 inch beards and mustaches).
Justice Alito's 16 page opinion for the Court is a model of clarity and concision. It does beg the question, however, of why this was not the District Judge's opinion or the Eighth Circuit's opinion. As we previously discussed, the odds of this case getting before the Court were incredibly high, but the underlying pro se litigation exemplifies the difficulties of prison inmates vindicating their rights.
Indeed, Justice Sotomayor wrote separately to stress the role deference to prison administrators that should be afforded by courts. Prison officials must offer a "plausible explanation for their chosen policy that is supported by whatever evidence is reasonably available to them," rather than adopt policies based on "mere speculation." Again, this begs the question of the reliance by the lower courts on the prison's arguments.
Finally, the very brief concurring opinion by Justice Ginsburg, and joined by Justice Sotomayor, distinguished the much more contentious Hobby Lobby:
Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U. S. ___ (2014), accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief. See id., at ___, ___–___, and n. 8, ___ (slip op., at 2, 7–8, and n. 8, 27) (GINSBURG, J., dissenting). On that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion.
Thus, Justice Ginsburg makes clear that she is not opposed to religious accommodation per se, even under the strict scrutiny standard, when the rights of others are not part of the analysis.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
In its opinion today in Smith v. County of Suffolk, a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit reversed the grant of a summary judgment in favor of the Suffolk County Police Department.
Smith, a police officer, had presumably engaged in First Amendment protected activity, including unathorized communication with media: Smith corresponded with CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin over a period of three years; Smith exchanged emails with Newsday correspondent Christine Armario expressing concern that the Department’s policy of arresting unlicensed drivers led to ethnic discrimination.
These presumptions were made by the district court, not appealed by the Police Department, and so accepted by the Second Circuit as true. However, the district court's ruling that the third of the elements necessary to establish a prima facie case under Pickering v. Board of Education (1968): a causal connection between the protected speech and the adverse action. Instead, the Second Circuit found that
The plain language of several of the disciplinary charges at the heart of the adverse actions directly implicates not only the fact that Smith had engaged in protected speech, but also the content of that speech. . . . The Department. . . characterized the content of the speech and cited that characterization as the basis for several disciplinary charges.
The Second Circuit then analyzed whether a summary judgment was warranted under Mount Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle (1977), if the Department "would have investigated, transferred, and suspended Smith absent his citizen-media speech." The court reasoned that the Mount Healthy defense requires specifics:
Much as plaintiffs are required at the prima facie stage to demonstrate not only the existence of protected speech but a causal connection between that speech and the adverse action, defendants asserting a Mount Healthy defense may not rely solely on the occurrence of unprotected misconduct: they must also articulate and substantiate a reasonable link between that misconduct and their specific adverse actions. A general statement that the employer would have taken some adverse action will not suffice.
(emphasis in original). Moreover,
Put simply, the evidence of record before us permits only inferences. Those inferences may be drawn in either party’s favor, and we require more than inferences from an employer seeking summary judgment based on the Mount Healthy defense.
Similar to the Supreme Court's unanimous decision last term in Lane v. Franks, the Second Circuit's opinion is another indication that courts should take First Amendment claims by public employees more seriously.
Monday, January 12, 2015
In her opinion in Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard, Judge Karen Schreier of the District of South Dakota found that the state's statute and constitutional amendment limiting marriage and quasi-marital recognition to "a man and a woman" was unconstitutional.
Judge Schreier's 28 page opinion is well-crafted, succinct yet comprehensive. It largely rests on marriage as a fundamental right under the due process clause:
Pertinent decisions from the Supreme Court are clear and consistent that the right to marriage is a fundamental right. The Supreme Court has also refused to describe the right to marriage by reference to the individuals wishing to exercise that right. In keeping with the decisions of most of the federal courts that have addressed this issue, this court agrees with plaintiffs that the question in this case is whether same-sex couples, like opposite-sex couples, may marry. Thus, the right at stake is not a new right to same-sex marriage, as defendants contend. Instead, the substantive due process right is the right to marry, which right is fundamental. South Dakota’s marriage laws significantly interfere with this fundamental right by preventing same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. Because strict scrutiny applies to analyze deprivations of fundamental rights claims, the court will apply strict scrutiny here.
In applying strict scrutiny, Judge Schreier rejected South Dakota’s justifications - - - channeling procreation into marriage and proceeding with caution - - - as compelling, noting that the state seemingly conceded the failure to rise to this level. As to the caution interest, the judge remarked that if "accepted as a compelling state interest, this justification would support every existing law." Moreover, the denial of same-sex marriage was not narrowly tailored to serve these interests.
In a very brief paragraph, Judge Schreier addressed the equal protection claim, essentially bootstrapping it to the due process claim: "For reasons stated with respect to plaintiffs’ due process claim, South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex citizens of a fundamental right, and that classification is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. Thus, South Dakota’s same-sex marriage."
Judge Schreier did issue a stay, however, writing that although the ongoing denial of a constitutional right is an irreparable injury, the lack of an opinion by the Eighth Circuit means that the decision "presents novel and substantial legal questions" warranting a stay.
Yet the legal questions may be growing less and less novel, even if still subject to a circuit split and still awaiting United States Supreme Court review.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
The Ninth Circuit, over a dissent of three judges, has denied the petitions for en banc review of Latta v. Otter (and Sevick v. Sandoval) in which a panel held that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada respectively are unconstitutional.
Recall that the unanimous panel opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt held that the Idaho and Nevada laws regarding same-sex marriage "violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard" of SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs.
The Ninth Circuit's panel opinion was rendered one day after the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari to the petitions in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit cases with similar holdings. However, since then, the Sixth Circuit rendered a divided panel decision in DeBoer v. Snyder reversing lower courts and upholding the same-sex marriage bans in in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
Judge O'Scannlain's dissent from the denial of en banc review - - - joined by Judges Rawlinson and Bea - - - relies in part on the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder and the circuit split it created. Like the Sixth Circuit, O'Scannlain argues that the operative precedent is Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." And like the Sixth Circuit, the dissent distinguishes Windsor v. United States as limited to the federal government.
The major argument of the dissent, however, is that the question of same-sex marriage is not only one for the states, it is decidedly not one for the federal courts interpreting the constitution: "Nothing about the issue of same-sex marriage exempts it from the general principle that it is the right of the people to decide for themselves important issues of social policy."
This judicial restraint v. judicial activism debate is well-worn territory. And like other judges, O'Scannlain is not a consistent adherent to one side or the other: Recall his dissent from en banc review in Pickup v. Brown, in which the panel upheld a California statute banning sexual conversion therapy against a constitutional challenge. But O'Scannlain does interestingly write:
As Justice Kennedy wrote in Schuette, ‘‘It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds . . . . Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.”
Thus, O'Scannlain implicitly points to Kennedy's inconsistency regarding the desirability of resort to democratic processes and judicial restraint in the affirmative action case of Schuette as compared to his opinion in Romer v. Evans (on Colorado's Amendment 2), as well as Windsor and Lawrence v. Texas, and presumably Kennedy's opinion should the same-sex controversy reach the United States Supreme Court.
The Court itself is currently entertaining several petitions for certiorari on the same-sex marriage issue, including the Sixth Circuit opinion.
Meanwhile, the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments (January 9) on appeals in Robicheaux v. Caldwell (in which a federal judge upheld Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban); DeLeon v. Perry (preliminary injunction against Texas' same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional); and Campaign for Southern Equality v. Bryant, (preliminary injunction against Mississippi's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional). The oral arguments are available on the Fifth Circuit's website.
January 10, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Judge Irene Berger of the Southern District of West Virginia issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order clarifying and amending but essentially reaffirming her extensive "gag" order in United States v. Blankenship, the criminal prosecution (which some say is unprecedented) of CEO Don Blankenship (pictured below) of Massey Energy for his alleged responsibility for the the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Recall Blankenship as the outsized contributor to the campaign of Brent Benjamin for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals; as a Justice Benjamin ruled in a case involving Massey Coal. The 2009 sharply divided Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal held that the failure of Benjamin to recuse himself violated due process. The case is the subject of the book The Price of Justice.
To say that Blankenship is controversial - - - given the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster and Caperton with its underlying facts - - - is probably an understatement. And Judge Berger has a difficult task attempting to protect Blankenship's rights to an impartial jury and fair trial. But do Judge Berger's orders go too far?
The objections to Berger's original orders were filed as a motion to intervene by the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Charleston Gazette, National Public Radio, Inc., and the Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Inc.. Judge Berger allowed the intervention for the limited purpose of challenging the previous orders and found that the press organizations had constitutional standing.
Judge Berger's analysis centered on the classic First Amendment/Sixth Amendment conflict cases of Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966) and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart (1976). From these cases, Judge Berger noted she has
the discretion and, more importantly, the duty to take specific, reasonable steps to guard against prejudice at the outset where it has knowledge, given prior publicity, that continued publicity, regarding the facts underlying the indictment, is likely to taint prospective jurors. Courts do not exist or operate in a vacuum. In the Southern District of West Virginia, we live in coal country. Many of our families depend on coal mining for their livelihood. Many families and communities within the Southern District of this state were impacted by the deaths of the miners in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion referenced in the indictment. Interest in this case is, understandably, heightened by that loss of life. In short, the environment matters.
Judge Berger stressed that the court's order "is not directed toward the press." Instead, it limits the "parties" from communicating with press (and "only limits the subject matter") and keeps documents filed in the court case sealed.
Yet three questions remain about the orders.
First, the breadth of the "gag" order was challenged. In addition to the parties, attorneys, and court personnel it includes
potential witnesses, including actual and alleged victims, investigators, family members of actual and alleged victims as well as of the Defendant.
In a footnote, Judge Berger explained the inclusion of "family members":
the order applies only to those who may appear during some stage of the proceedings as parties or as witnesses. Even if not direct witnesses to the alleged offenses, victims and their family members may be witnesses at sentencing or potential beneficiaries of restitution, should the case reach that posture. As such, they are “trial participants.”
Later, she states that allowing " a potential trial participant to speak through his or her family member would eviscerate the protective measures, and is further evidence of the need for the inclusive order."
Yet "family" here could potentially be quite broad, especially in the context of rural West Virginia.
Second, Judge Berger relied on the fact that the docket was available, although not the underlying documents being referenced. Nevertheless, the new (Amended) Order released many documents, based on a principle that
any documents that do not contain information or argument related to the facts and substance of the underlying case do not fall within the purview of the [original] order, and should be publicly accessible.
Yet the standard does seem murky, and of course the press will have a difficult time objecting to the non-release of pleadings or other documents.
Third and last, Judge Berger's rejection of change of venue (as well as voir dire) as lesser restrictions of the First Amendment rights of the press (and public) as "not feasible options at this time" is interesting. Berger outlines the preference for an accused to be tried in the district in which the crime is alleged to have been committed. She writes that transfer of venue "takes place after pretrial publicity has tainted the jury pool such that a jury cannot be seated within the district." Thus, she essentially elevates the "right" to be tried in the alleged-crime's district over both the First and Sixth Amendment rights.
Judge Berger has crafted a delicate balance which will most likely need continuing calibration. Her task to prevent a "Roman holiday" for the media (as the Court said in Sheppard) is not only operative during the pre-trial publicity stage but will undoubtedly be pronounced during the trial itself.
January 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, December 22, 2014
Fourth Circuit Finds North Carolina's Anti-Abortion "Right to Know" Statute Violates First Amendment
In the unanimous panel opinion today in Stuart v. Camitz, authored by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, the court agreed with the district judge that North Carolina's "Woman's Right to Know Act" violates the First Amendment. The Act required a physician "to perform an ultrasound, display the sonogram, and describe the fetus to women seeking abortions."
The Fourth Circuit ruled that the statute is
quintessential compelled speech. It forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose and anticipated effect of the Display of Real-Time View Requirement is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions.
The court rejected the state's contention that the statute was merely a regulation of professional speech that should be subject to the low standard of rational basis review. Instead, the court reasoned that because the statute was a content-based regulation of speech, it should be evaluated under an intermediate scrutiny standard akin to that of commercial speech.
Importantly, the court also acknowledged its specific disagreement with the Eighth Circuit's en banc opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds (2012) and the Fifth Circuit's opinion on HB2 in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey (2014). The Fourth Circuit states that its sister circuits were incorrect to reply on a single paragraph in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, and "read too much into Casey and Gonzales [v. Carhart]," neither of which, the court points out, were First Amendment cases.
As the court stated,
In sum, though the State would have us view this provision as simply a reasonable regulation of the medical profession, these requirements look nothing like traditional informed consent, or even the versions provided for in Casey and in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.82. As such, they impose an extraordinary burden on expressive rights. The three elements discussed so far -- requiring the physician to speak to a patient who is not listening, rendering the physician the mouthpiece of the state’s message, and omitting a therapeutic privilege to protect the health of the patient -- markedly depart from standard medical practice.
Abortion may well be a special case because of the undeniable gravity of all that is involved, but it cannot be so special a case that all other professional rights and medical norms go out the window. While the state itself may promote through various means childbirth over abortion, it may not coerce doctors into voicing that message on behalf of the state in the particular manner and setting attempted here.
Most likely North Carolina will seek en banc review or petition for certiorari based on the conflicting opinions in the Fifth and Eighth Circuits.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
The Sixth Circuit ruled today in Tyler v. Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department that the federal ban on gun possession by a person "who has been committed to a mental institution" violates the Second Amendment.
The ruling is the first to address this particular provision, and it's the first to strike a federal ban on a particular category of would-be gun owners. The ruling's notable, too, because it applies strict scrutiny, even as both parties agreed that intermediate scrutiny applied.
The court, using its two-step approach to Second Amendment questions, held first that the federal ban on a person "who has been committed to a mental institution," 18 U.S.C. Sec. 922(g)(4), "falls within the scope of the Second Amendment right, as historically understood." That is: while the Second Amendment historically did not protect the right to bear arms by the mentally ill, "[w]e are not aware of any other historical source that suggests that the right to possess a gun was denied to persons who had ever been committed to a mental institution, regardless of time, circumstance, or present condition." (Emphasis added.)
The court next applied strict scrutiny and held that while the government's interest was "compelling," the flat ban was not narrowly tailored to meet it. In particular, the court said that the federal government failed to fund an opt-out provision for Section 922, leaving a formerly institutionalized person without a federal opportunity to show that he or she no longer poses a danger and should no longer be covered by Section 922(g)(4). Moreover, the federal conditioned grant program--which would allow an individual to prove to his or her state the he or she is no longer dangerous and should no longer be covered by Section 922(g)(4), so long as the state participates in the federal program (about half do)--leaves a person's fundamental right to bear arms up to his or her state. That's no good. The court:
Under this scheme, whether [a person] may exercise his right to bear arms depends on whether his state of residence has chosen to accept the carrot of federal grant money and has implemented a relief program. His right thus would turn on whether his state has taken Congress's inducement to cooperate with federal authorities in order to avoid losing anti-crime funding. An individual's ability to exercise a "fundamental righ[t] necessary to our system of ordered liberty" cannot turn on such a distinction. Thus, Section 922(g)(4) lacks narrow tailoring as the law is applied to [the petitioner].
The court struck the provision even as it recognized that no other court has struck any other ban on guns for any other category of person under Section 922(g)(4). In particular, the court recognized that no court has struck a ban on guns for undocumental aliens, domestic-violence misdemeanants, persons under a certain age, persons subject to certain domestic-protection orders, and persons who are "an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." The court distinguished the committed-to-a-mental-institution category, however, because "its prohibition is permanent; it applies potentially to non-violent individuals; it applies potentially to law-abiding individuals; and it punishes potentially non-violent conduct."
The court surveyed the approaches to the Second Amendment in the other circuits--mostly some form of intermediate scrutiny--but applied strict scrutiny. This was surprising and unnecessary, given that both parties agreed that intermediate scrutiny applied, and, as the concurrence argued, the petitioner would have won under intermediate scrutiny, too.
According to the court's analysis, Congress could avoid the result simply by funding the federal opt-out program and giving previously institutionalized individuals an opportunity to show that they are no longer dangerous and should no longer be subject to the ban in Section 922(g)(4).
The Second Circuit has granted full court review in Garcia v. Does, a panel decision which allowed plaintiffs' complaint arising from their arrests for participating in a demonstration in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The panel, affirming the district judge, denied the motion to dismiss of the defendants/appellants, holding that on the current record it could not
resolve at this early stage the ultimately factual issue of whether certain defendants implicitly invited the demonstrators to walk onto the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge, which would otherwise have been prohibited by New York law.
The unidentified Doe officers argued that video evidence warrants a dismissal. The First Amendment issue of "fair warning" to revoke permission to protest is at issue in the case - - - which would seemingly require more than (incomplete) video evidence. Yet the issue of qualified immunity is seemingly argued as overshadowing the incomplete evidence.
Judge Debra Ann Livingston's lengthy dissent from the opinion by Judges Calabresi and Lynch argues that the panel majority "failed to afford the NYPD officers policing the “Occupy Wall Street” march the basic protection that qualified immunity promises – namely, that police officers will not be called to endure the effort and expense of discovery, trial, and possible liability for making reasonable judgments in the exercise of their duties."
Judge Livingston's views most likely attracted other judges. Now the "in banc" court (as the spelling is used in the Second Circuit) will hear the case, including Senior Judge Calabresi because he was on the panel.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The Sixth Circuit ruled today in Michigan Corrections Organization v. Michigan Dep't of Corrections that the federal courts lacked subject matter jurisdiction over a claim by Michigan correctional officers against the Corrections Department Director under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The court dismissed the federal case.
While the case marks a defeat for the workers (and others who seek to enforce the FLSA against a state), the plaintiffs may be able to re-file in state court. (They brought a state claim in federal court, along with their FLSA claim, and, if there are no other bars, they may be able to revive it in a new state proceeding.)
Correction officers filed the suit, claiming that they wre denied pay for pre- and post-shift activities (like punching the clock, waiting in line for security, and the like) in violation of the FLSA. They sued the Department Director in his official capacity for denied overtime pay and declaratory relief.
The Sixth Circuit rejected the federal claims. The court ruled that the Director enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity against monetary damages, and that Congress did not validly abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity through the FLSA (because Congress enacted the FLSA under its Commerce Clause authority). The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that Congress enacted the FLSA under its Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5 authority to enforce privileges or immunities against the states (which, if so, would have allowed Congress to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity). The court said that the Privileges or Immunities Clause (after The Slaughter-House Cases) simply can't carry that weight--that wages are not a privilege or immunity of national citizenship.
The court went on to reject the plaintiffs' claim for declaratory relief under the FLSA, Section 1983, and Ex Parte Young. The court said that the FLSA "does not provide a basis for this declaratory judgment action." That means that the plaintiffs can't get declaratory relief from the statute itself, and, because the FLSA doesn't provide for private enforcement by way of declaratory relief, the plaintiffs can't get Section 1983 or Ex Parte Young relief, either.
December 17, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
A federal district judge in Pennsylvania has taken it upon himself to rule President Obama's recently announced immigration action unconstitutional--in a case that apparently has nothing to do with the action. We've posted on President Obama's action, and challenges to it, here, here, and here.
The surprising and brazenly activist, stretch-of-a-ruling underscores just how political President Obama's action has become, driving a district judge to reach out in a wholly unrelated case to rule the action unconstitutional.
The ruling comes in a case involving an undocumented immigrant who pleaded guilty to re-entry into the United States by a removed alien in violation of 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1326. Judge Arthur J. Schwab (W.D. Pa.) then ordered the parties to brief whether President Obama's action has any impact on the defendant, and whether the action is constitutional. Despite the government's reply that the action wouldn't affect this defendant (because "the Executive Action is inapplicable to criminal prosecutions under 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1326(a), and . . . [it] solely relates to civil immigration enforcement status"), and the defendant's agreement with that position, Judge Schwab said that the action could protect the defendant from removal and went ahead to rule on its constitutionality.
Even if the action applied to the defendant, however, Judge Schwab didn't bother to explain why ti was relevant to this proceeding, or why he had to rule on its constitutionality, except to say this:
Specifically, this Court was concerned that the Executive Action might have an impact on this matter, including any subsequent removal or deportation, and thereby requiring the Court to ascertain whether the nature of the Executive Action is executive or legislative.
Judge Schwab went on to say why he thought the action was unconstitutional, relying not on the ordinary judicial tools for such an important task (like, say, the text of the law, serious consideration of Supreme Court precedent, prior executive practice, etc.), but instead on President Obama's public statements about the action. Judge Schwab wrote that the President can't act just because Congress won't (answering President Obama's public statements suggesting that he'd act unilaterally if Congress wouldn't) and that the President's action is policy-making, not prosecutorial discretion, because it treats a large class of people alike.
Oddly, after concluding that the action is unconstitutional, Judge Schwab goes on to consider whether it applies to this defendant. (His conclusion: maybe, maybe not. Judge Schwab says the action leaves the defendant in a "no-man's land.") Ordinarily, this question would come prior to the constitutional question--for constitutional avoidance reasons, but also because it is logically prior to the constitutional question. Still, Judge Schwab answered it second.
In a final surprising move, Judge Schwab says that President Obama's action violates the rights of the defendant, because it doesn't obviously grant deferred status to him, even as it grants deferred status to others.
Judge Schwab concluded by giving the defendant a chance to withdraw his guilty plea, go to sentencing and take one year supervised release in the United States, or go to sentencing and be turned over to ICE.
So the logic of the opinion appears to be this: The President's action is unconstitutional; but if it is constitutional, it doesn't obviously apply (or not apply) to the defendant; and therefore the defendant should have a chance to withdraw his guilty plea in order to (possibly) take advantage of the (unconstitutional) action. All this after both parties agreed that the President's action didn't really have anything to do with this case in the first place.
With all its twists and turns, it's really hard to make heads or tails of this opinion. But one thing is clear: This is not the stuff of a serious separation-of-powers ruling. If the case against President Obama's action is going anywhere, opponents are going to have to do better--much better--than this.
In its opinion in Vivid Entertainment v. Fielding, a panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction to Los Angeles Measure B, passed by voter initiative in 2012.
The central issue in the case was the so-called "condom mandate" that requires performers to use condoms during "any acts of vaginal or anal sexual intercourse." The opinion, authored by Judge Susan Gruber, and joined by Judge Alex Kozinksi and sitting by designation Judge Jack Zouhary), agreed with the district judge that the First Amendment challenge to the mandate was subject to intermediate scrutiny. The Ninth Circuit relied in large part on the "secondary effects" doctrine, finding that
The purpose of Measure B is twofold: (1) to decrease the spread of sexually transmitted infections among performers within the adult film industry, (2) thereby stemming the transmission of sexually transmitted infections to the general population among whom the performers dwell.
The court rejected the argument that strict scrutiny should apply nevertheless because Measure B was a "complete ban" on the protected expression, which plaintiffs would define as "condomless sex" ("condomless sex differs from sex generally because condoms remind the audience about real-world concerns such as pregnancy and disease . . . films depicting condomless sex convey a particular message about sex in a world without those risks). Citing Spence v. Washington (1974), the Ninth Circuit concluded that "whatever unique message Plaintiffs might intend to convey by depicting condomless sex, it is unlikely that viewers of adult films will understand that message." Moreover, in an interesting footnote (6), the Ninth Circuit distinguished between the expression and the conduct:
On its face, Measure B does not ban expression; it does not prohibit the depiction of condomless sex, but rather limits only the way the film is produced.
(emphasis in original). The panel opinion also discussed - - - and rejected - - - the arguments that Measure B was not sufficiently "narrowly tailored" in the intermediate scrutiny test because there was a voluntary testing and monitoring cheme for sexually transmitted diseases and that Measure B would be "ineffective" because producers could simply move beyond county lines.
The district judge did, however, find that certain portions of Measure B did not survive the constitutional challenge. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that Measure B was not subject to severance. The Ninth Circuit panel rejected the severance argument, but helpfully included as an appendix to its opinion a "line-edited version" of Measure B.Finally, the Ninth Circuit panel rejected the argument that the appellate court did not have Article III power to hear the appeal because the intervenors - - - including a Campaign Committee Yes on Measure B - - - lacked Article III standing. The panel distinguished Hollingsworth v. Perry (the Prop 8 case), noting that here it was not the intervenors that sought to appeal but the plaintiffs themselves who had invoked the court's power.
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday in Heien v. North Carolina that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit an officer from making a stop based on a reasonable mistake of law. We posted an argument preview here and review here.
The ruling puts a heavy thumb on the scale in favor of law enforcement and puts the burden of vague or ambiguous laws, or an officer's reasonable misunderstanding of law, on ordinary citizens.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the 8-justice majority that the "reasonable suspicion" standard required for a stop allows for an officer's mistake of law, no less than it allows for an officer's mistake of fact:
The officer may be reasonably mistaken on either ground. Whether the facts turn out to be not what was thought, or the law turns out to be not what was thought, the result is the same: the facts are outside the scope of the law. There is no reason, under the text of the Fourth Amendment or our precedents, why this same result should be acceptable when reached by way of a reasonable mistake of fact, but not when reached by way of a similarly reasonable mistake of law.
Chief Justice Roberts was careful to emphasize that a mistake must be objectively reasonable--a point emphasized by Justice Kagan (joined by Justice Ginsburg) in concurrence. Still, an officer's reasonable mistake of law is now enough to justify reasonable suspicion for a stop.
Justice Sotomayor filed the lone dissent. She argued that an officer's reasonable mistakes of fact are different from an officer's reasonable mistakes of law: officers are better at judging indeterminate and evolving facts on the street, but the courts are better at the law:
After all, the meaning of the law is not probabilistic in the same way that factual determinations are. Rather, "the notion that the law is definite and knowable" sits at the foundation of our legal system. And it is courts, not officers, that are in the best position to interpret the laws.
She also argued that the majority's approach is a blow to civil liberties and police-community relations, and that it has "the perverse effect of preventing or delaying the clarification of the law."
Friday, December 12, 2014
The Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, this week affirmed a lower court's $300,000 puntive damage verdict in a Title VII sexual harassment case in which the court awarded no compensatory damages and just $1 in nominal damages.
The ruling distinguishes BMW v. Gore, the 1996 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that excessive punitives could violate due process. Gore involved a common law tort claim with no statutory cap on punitive damages. This case, State of Arizona v. ASARCO LLC, in contrast, involved a Title VII claim with a statutory cap on both compensatories and punitives. That difference, the statutory cap, drove the result.
The case arose out of a sexual harassment complaint by an employee at ASARCO's Mission Mine complex in Sahuarita, Arizona. The plaintiff alleged that during her time at ASARCO she was subjected to sexual harassment, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and was constructively discharged.
The jury awarded no compensatory damages, but awarded $1 in nominal damages and $868,750 in punitives. The trial court later reduced the punitives to $300,000, the statutory max for a Title VII claim. (The court also awarded attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $350,902.75.) ASARCO appealed, arguing that the punitive damage award violated Gore.
The Ninth Circuit rejected that argument. The court said that because Title VII caps both compensatories and punitives, a punitive damage award within the statutory cap satisfies the underlying constitutional considerations that animated Gore (even if the punitives amounted to 300,000 times the damages). In particular, the statutory cap gave the defendant fair notice of the severity of a penalty for a Title VII violation (where the defendant in Gore, a tort case, had no such fair warning), the cap sets out a clear amount, and it states the degree of culpability a defendant must have had, thus reducing the chance of random or arbitrary awards. Moreover, "Gore's ratio analysis has little applicability in the Title VII context," because the statutory cap doesn't lend itself to a ratio analysis the way a common law damage award does. (Under Title VII's caps, the punitive damages can't increase proportionally to the harm, because they're capped.)