Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Divided Fifth Circuit Upholds Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi's Restrictive Abortion Law HB 1390

A panel of the Fifth Circuit in its opinion today in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier upheld the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of a restrictive abortion statute known as  Mississippi HB 1390.

The statute required physicians performing abortions to have admitting privileges to a nearby hospital.   As the court noted, a similar provision in Texas (HB 2) was recently upheld by the Fifth Circuit in Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott. As to the rational basis of such a law, the panel stated it was "bound" by Abbott as precedent to accept that the Mississippi statute survives a constitutional challenge.

1024px-Welcometomississippi_i-20Regarding undue burden, however, the panel majority, in an opinion by Judge E. Grady Jolly  (who interestingly hails from Mississippi) and joined by Judge Stephen Higginson, the effects of HB 1390 were relevant in this as-applied challenge.   In assessing the undue burden, the court found it highly relevant that “if enforced, the admitting privileges requirement would likely require JWHO, the only currently licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, to lose its license.”   The panel rejected the State's attempt to "walk back" this statement - - - which is actually a quote from the State's opening brief - - - as "too little, too late."  Additionally, the majority found it important that the hospitals had rejected the physicians' applications for admitting privileges based on the fact that the physicians performed abortions.

 The central - - - and exceedingly interesting - - - question of the undue burden analysis is the relevance of the clinic's status as the only abortion clinic remaining in Mississippi.  The State argued that there is no undue burden because women could travel to another state and many of these distances would not be unduly burdensome in and of themselves.  Recall that in Planned Parenthood of S.E. Penn. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) the plurality opinion rejected the contention that traveling long distances constituted an undue burden.  But, as Judge Jolly notes, there was no suggestion that women should have to go to neighboring states in Casey or in any other opinion, and there is at least one circuit court opinion that finds it "dispositive" that women had to leave the state to exercise their constitutional right. 

Additionally - - - and this is the interesting part - - - the court relies upon State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938) in the United States Supreme Court rejected Missouri's argument that its failure to admit an African-American man to its law school was essentially cured by its offer of a tuition stipend to allow Mr. Gaines to attend law school in another state.  Here's the passage from Gaines that Judge Jolly finds worthy of quoting at length:

[T]he obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. . . . That obligation is imposed by the Constitution upon the States severally as governmental entities, —each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. It is an obligation the burden of which cannot be cast by one State upon another, and no State can be excused from performance by what another State may do or fail to do. That separate responsibility of each State within its own sphere is of the essence of statehood maintained under our dual system.

Id. at 350.  Judge Jolly admits that Gaines can be distinguished, but finds Gaines nevertheless determinative: " a state cannot lean on its sovereign neighbors to provide protection of its citizens’ federal constitutional rights." 

In a lengthy and somewhat vehement dissent - - - complete with quotations from Albert Camus - - - Senior Judge Emilio Garza finds many things to criticize in the majority's opinion, including the majority's failure to recognize there is not sufficient state action for a constitutional claim (it is the hospitals denying admitting privileges rather than the statute that are the cause); the majority's failure to honor the distinction between equal protection (as in Gaines) and due process (in the abortion context); the majority's belief that there is relevance to crossing state lines (given the constitutional right to travel across state lines articulated in Saenz v. Roe); the majority's failure to recognize that Casey is nothing more than a "verbal shell game" (quoting Justice Scalia's dissent in Casey); the majority's recognition of the "liberty" interest (quotes in original) in the Due Process Clause; and the majority's participation in "aggrandizement of judicial power."   

But the central issue of federalism including not only states' rights but states' responsibilities raised by this opinion and litigation is one that merits close consideration.

July 29, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Individual Mandate Survives Origination Clause Challenge

The D.C. Circuit today rejected an Origination Clause challenge to the so-called individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act.  The court also rejected a Commerce Clause challenge to the individual mandate.  The ruling means that this long-shot case is dismissed.

The plaintiff in the case, Matt Sissel, argued that the individual mandate violated the Origination Clause.  That Clause requires revenue-raising bills to originate in the House; it says,

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Sissel argued that the ACA's individual mandate really originated in the Senate, not the House, and therefore violated the Clause.

The court summarily rejected that argument.  The court said that the Supreme Court has given a narrow reading to the Origination Clause, applying it only to bills that "levy taxes in the strict sense of the word."  But the court said that the taxing feature (or the revenue-raising feature) of the individual mandate was merely a by-product of the mandate, not the principal goal of the mandate--and therefore not a tax in the strict sence.  Instead, the court said, the mandate was designed to help achieve universal health care coverage, not principally to raise revenue: 

The purposive approach embodied in Supreme Court precedent necessarily leads to the conclusion that [the individual mandate] is not a "Bill[] for raising Revenue" under the Origination Clause. . . .  And after the Supreme Court's decision in NFIB, it is beyond dispute that the paramount aim of the Affordable Care Act is "to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care," not to raise revenue by means of the shared responsibility payment.

The court also rejected Sissel's Commerce Clause argument, ruling that the this argument was foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in NFIB, which upheld the individual mandate as a valid measure under Congress's taxing power.  The court rejected Sissel's argument that his election not to purchase insurance was a violation of federal law (and therefore the federal requirement violated the Commerce Clause).  Instead, the court said that under NFIB Sissel had a choice: buy insurance, or pay a tax.  That's a valid exercise of the taxing power (even if it has a regulatory effect), and Sissel's argument under the Commerce Clause misses the mark.

The ruling is just the latest in a line of cases challenging different aspects of the Affordable Care Act.  It's an important victory for the ACA, even if not a particularly surprising one.

July 29, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fourth Circuit: Virginia's Same-Sex Marriage Ban is Unconstitutional

Affirming the federal district judge's decision in February, a panel of the Fourth Circuit in a divided opinion has held in Bostic v. Schaefer that Virginia's same-sex marriage prohibitions are unconstitutional.

The majority opinion, authored by Judge Henry Floyd and joined by Judge Roger Gregory, notably finds marriage to be a fundamental right that encompasses same-sex marriage and applies strict scrutiny. 

Fourth Circuit map
The court's conclusion is that the "Virginia Marriage Laws" (including statutes and a state constitutional amendment)

violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent that they prevent same-sex couples from marrying and prohibit Virginia from recognizing same-sex couples’ lawful out-of-state marriages.

At various times, the court blends Due Process and Equal Protection analysis and precedent, but both spring from its conclusion that "marriage" is a fundamental right and that "marriage" includes same-sex marriage.    After discussing Loving v. Virginia, Zablocki v. Redhail, and Turner v. Safley, the court notes:

These cases do not define the rights in question as “the right to interracial marriage,” “the right of people owing child support to marry,” and “the right of prison inmates to marry.” Instead, they speak of a broad right to marry that is not circumscribed based on the characteristics of the individuals seeking to exercise that right. The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to constrain the right to marry to certain subspecies of marriage meshes with its conclusion that the right to marry is a matter of “freedom of choice,” Zablocki, 434 U.S. at 387, that “resides with the individual,” Loving, 388 U.S. at 12. If courts limited the right to marry to certain couplings, they would effectively create a list of legally preferred spouses, rendering the choice of whom to marry a hollow choice indeed.

The court's use of "couplings" implicitly addresses a portion of the oft-called slippery slope argument that is raised by Judge Paul Niemeyer in his dissent: what would prevent this rationale from extending to polygamy?  The dissent also invokes incest, accusing the majority of "dictionary jurisprudence" when it (re)defines marriage to include same-sex marriage.  But of course, the definitional conundrum plagues the dissent as well, when it argues that certain qualities are "foundational" to marriage and other qualities are "irrelevant."  For the dissent, this is the "biological link between procreation and marriage," a link that does exist in the polygamous and incestuous marriages the dissent disapproves.

For the majority, after finding marriage a fundamental right deserving of strict scrutiny, the five governmental interests argued as supporting the marriage laws not surprisingly fail to pass constitutional muster:

  • (1) Virginia’s federalism-based interest in maintaining control over the definition of marriage within its borders,
  • (2) the history and tradition of opposite-sex marriage,
  • (3) protecting the institution of marriage,
  • (4) encouraging responsible procreation, and
  • (5) promoting the optimal childrearing environment.

 More surprising is that although these interests are raised by the parties the court calls the  "Proponents" of the Virginia marriage laws, there is little in the court's opinion that analyzes their standing to appeal.  The court does analyze the standing of the plaintiffs to sue the defendants George Schaefer III (in his official capacity as Clerk of Court for Norfolk Circuit Court) and Janet Rainey (in her official capacity as State Registrar of Vital Records).  And since these parties were indeed defendants, there may be little need for an extensive analysis of appellate standing as was necessary in the same-sex marriage cases decided by the United States Supreme Court in June 2013. Nevertheless, recall that the (new) Virginia Attorney General had decided during the district court litigation that the Virginia laws were unconstitutional and filed a notice of change of position; however the laws continued to be enforced. 

The Fourth Circuit thus joins the Tenth Circuit in holding that a state's same-sex marriage ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment.   While these circuit court opinions are divided, the dozen or so federal district judges who have considered the issue have been unanimous in reaching the same conclusion.

 

July 28, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Colorado Federal Judge on Same-Sex Marriage Ban: Unconstitutional and Not Quite a Stay

In his relatively brief opinion today in Burns v. Hickenlooper, Judge Raymond Moore enjoined Colorado officials from enforcing or applying Article II, Section 31 of the Colorado Constitution and C.R.S. §§ 14-2-104(1)(b) and 14-2-104(2) as a basis to deny marriage to same-sex couples or to deny recognition of otherwise valid same-sex marriages entered in other states.

The injunction is supported by little Due Process or Equal Protection analysis; instead its determination is more than aptly supported by the mandatory precedent of the Tenth Circuit's decision in Kitchen v. Herbert.

More difficult than the merits issue was the procedural stay issue.  Judge Moore decided to issue only a temporary stay until Monday, August 25, 2014, to allow the parties to seek relief from the Tenth Circuit or the United States Supreme Court.  The judge noted that the Tenth Circuit had already spoken, but given the United States Supreme Court's stay regarding the Utah same-sex marriage case last week in Evans v. Herbert,  the directives regarding the appropriateness of a stay were less than clear.

220px-Piacenza_Bronzeleber
Etruscan inscriptions on a bronze sheep's liver as might be consulted by a haruspex via

As Judge Moore wrote:

Based on the most recent stay [in Evans v. Herbert], it appears to the Court that it may well be that a message is being sent by the Supreme Court. But this Court is not some modern day haruspex skilled in the art of divination. This Court cannot – and, more importantly, it will not – tell the people of Colorado that the access to this or any other fundamental right will be delayed because it “thinks” or “perceives” the subtle – or not so subtle – content of a message not directed to this case. The rule of law demands more.

For further analysis of the problem on stays in the same-sex marriage litigation, take a look at LawProf Nancy Leong's great discussion of the stay factors and how they apply in same-sex marriage litigation.

July 23, 2014 in Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Vacates Injunction Against Execution

The Supreme Court yesterday vacated the Ninth Circuit ruling over the weekend that ordered the delay of a scheduled execution until the condemned prisoner received details from the state about the method of execution. 

Recall that the condemned prisoner, Joseph Rudolph Wood III, argued that the state's failure to provide him information violated his First Amendment right to receive information about the method of execution.  The Ninth Circuit agreed--or at least agreed that he had a likelihood of success on the merits, or that he raised a "serious question" on the merits--and granted a preliminary injunction.

The Supreme Court's order vacates that ruling.  It means that the execution can go forward without the information.

The order was short and unsigned, with no real legal analysis:

The application to vacate the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granting a conditional preliminary injunction, presented to Justice Kennedy and by him referred to the Court, is granted.  The district judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Wood's motion for a preliminary injunction.  The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversing the district court and granting a conditional preliminary injunction is vacated.

July 23, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Appeals Courts Issue Opposing Rulings on Obamacare Exchange Tax Credits

Two federal appeals courts today issued dueling rulings on the legality of an IRS rule that offers tax credits to purchasers of health insurance on a federally operated exchange who meet certain income guidelines (100 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level).  A sharply divided D.C. Circuit panel ruled in Halbig v. Burwell that the IRS exceeded its authority under the Affordable Care Act in offering these credits, and ordered the IRS rule vacated.  In contrast, a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled in King v. Burwell that the IRS did not exceed its authority.

The split makes it all the more certain (if ever there were ever any doubt) that this issue is heading to the Supreme Court for yet another judicial showdown between Obamacare opponents and the administration.  If the high court upholds the D.C. Circuit ruling, that could mark the end of Obamacare.  That's because health insurance for those in states with a federally operated exchange (and with incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the poverty line) could be cost prohibitive without tax credits (that's the whole purpose of tax credits, to make insurance affordable); and if as a result those individuals don't purchase insurance, that significant portion of the population would fall outside the broader insurance pool, undermining the key structural assumption of Obamacare, that everyone's covered. 

Remember: We only have federally operated exchanges because many states declined to establish their own exchanges (often for political reasons--to register dissent or lack of cooperation with the ACA in general).  All indications are that Congress passed, and the president signed, the ACA on the assumption that states would establish their own exchanges, and that the federal government wouldn't have to. That turned out to be wrong.  That, in combination with some less-than-perfect legislative language, led to the D.C. court's ruling.

The crux of the case involves the administration's authority to offer tax credits to purchasers on federally operated exchanges, and not just state operated exchanges.  Opponents of the credit argue that the plain language of the ACA allows credits only for purchasers on state operated exchanges.  The administration says that a broader, contextual reading of the ACA, along with an understanding of congressional intent, allows credits for purchasers on federally operated exchanges, as well.

We posted more details on the D.C. case (in the lower court) here.

The ACA authorizes the tax credit to subsidize the purchase of insurance on an "Exchange established by the State under section 1131 of the [ACA]."  But other sections of the Act treat an "Exchange" as only a state-created exchange.  And yet a different portion requires the federal government to establish an operate an "Exchange" if a state declines to do so.  (Other portions of the Act are relevant, too, but these are the key portions.)

In short, the D.C. Circuit said that the ACA's language was plain and unambiguous, and that it authorized tax credits only for state-established exchanges. It also said that the scant legislative history on this point did not change that result.

The Fourth Circuit, and the dissent in the D.C. Circuit, said that when read together these portions of the ACA could mean that the federal government stands in the shoes of a state when the federal government establishes an exchange, and that the federally established exchanges are therefore also "Exchange[s] established by the State" for the purpose of the Act.  They also said that the legislative purpose of the ACA supports this reading.  Because of the ambiguous language, the IRS could interpret it in any way that's reasonable.  And its interpretation was reasonable.

July 22, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Delays Execution Until Condemned Gets Information

The Ninth Circuit on Saturday ordered the delay of a scheduled execution until the condemned prisoner gets information about the two-drug cocktail that Arizona plans to use.  The court ruled (on a motion for a preliminary injunction) that Joseph Rudolph Wood III had a likelihood of success on the merits, or that he raised a "serious question" on the merits, that the state's denial of information violated the First Amendment. 

The order comes on the heels of a ruling last week by a California federal district judge that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.  The court's opinion noted the recent botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio in recognizing the need for publicity and public scrutiny of methods of execution.

The court held that Wood likely had a First Amendment right to information about the cocktail.  The court said that this right derived from the First Amendment right to information about different stages the criminal process, and in particular the right to view executions in California First Amendment Coalition, a Ninth Circuit case that says that "the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber . . . ."

The court also looked to historical practice in transparency in execution methods.  It said that the "evidence does not conclusively establish a historical tradition of public access to the sources of lethal injection or the qualifications of executioners," but still

such exhaustiveness is not required at the preliminary injunction stage.  Instead, we ask only whether Wood raises "serious questions" going to the merits.

Answer: Yes, he does.

The ruling means that Arizona has to provide more particular information about its method of lethal injection before it can execute Wood.  The ruling is a victory for transparency in executions and will likely contribute to the growing public pressure against the death penalty.

July 21, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Constitutional Damages for Victims of Rape in Military

The D.C. Circuit ruled on Friday that survivors of rape and sexual assault in the military did not have constitutional damage claims against military officers who failed to address the prevalence of sexual misconduct and retaliation in the Navy and Marine Corps, even in the face of congressional mandates to take action.  (The plaintiffs did not sue their assailants in this case; instead, they sued higher-ups for perpetuating and grossly mismanaging the problem.)  The ruling means that this avenue of relief--the constitutional tort--is unavailable, and that survivors will have to look elsewhere for a remedy.

The three-judge panel declined to apply a Bivens remedy to the survivors' claims that officers violated the First, Fifth, and Seventh Amendments.  (A Bivens remedy would have allowed the survivors to sue the officers for monetary damages, even though there's no statutory authorization for such a suit.)  The court said that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy.  (The court did not say whether other avenues of relief were available, the other part of the Bivens inquiry.)  In particular, the court wrote that "the military context" and "Congress's extensive legislation on this specific issue" were "special factors that counsel decisively against authorizing a Bivens remedy."

The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that rape and sexual assault were not "incident to service," and that therefore the military context shouldn't foreclose a Bivens remedy.  The court said that the plaintiffs did not sue their assailants for rape and sexual assault; instead, they sued higher-ups for creating and failing to change a hostile environment--"a decade's worth of military management decisions," which, according to the court, is exactly the kinds of military decisions that fall outside Bivens's scope.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that officers ignored Congress in failing to establish an investigatory commission and failing to create a database.  The court said that Congress's extensive regulation of the issue, without creating a statutory civil damages remedy, was telling, and that it would violate separation-of-powers principles for the courts to step in and create a remedy when Congress declined.

The ruling aligns with the Fourth Circuit's Cioca v. Rumsfeld and adds to the recent line of cases rejecting Bivens claims for military torture, including Doe v. Rumsfeld, Vance v. Rumsfeld, and Lebron v. Rumsfeld.  In other words, it adds to the well established body of law that says that courts defer entirely  to the military in defining the kinds of military actions that fall outside of Bivens--even when those actions quite clearly have nothing to do with running a good ship.

July 19, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tenth Circuit on the Oklahoma Same-Sex Marriage Ban

What does the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel decide in its 106 page divided opinions in Bishop v. Smith?  It's complicated.  

But essentially the Tenth Circuit affirms the district judge's opinion finding the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and extends to Oklahoma its own ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert (by this same panel) from a few weeks ago finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 2.04.37 PMThe complications are caused in part by the procedural posture of the case.   For the majority opinion, authored Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes (as was Herbert v. Kitchen),  the major issue was the standing of the plaintiffs, specifically on the "redressability" prong of standing.  Recall that Oklahoma has both a constitutional amendment and a statute limiting marriage to "a man and a woman" and that the Oklahoma constitutional amendment not only prohibits same-sex marriage but prohibits its recognition even if valid in another state.

The plaintiffs, in a lawsuit filed in 2004 soon after the state constitutional amendment was adopted, challenged only the state constitutional amendment but not the statute. 

Affirming the district judge, the Tenth Circuit held plaintiffs nevertheless had standing because "the statutory prohibitions are subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter’s enforcement will redress the claimed injury."  However, again affirming the district judge, the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the "recognition" portion of the constitutional amendment because the defendant - - - the clerk of court - - - could not redress the non-recognition injury. 

This problem as to the non-recognition of marriage claim is further complicated by the fact that the Tenth Circuit, in considering a dismissal of the Governor and Attorney General as defendants who could redress the injury stated - - - or seemed to state?  - - - that the Clerk of the Court was the correct defendant.  Thus, under a "law of the case" argument, the courts should be bound by that determination.  The Tenth Circuit panel decided it was not bound, in part because of the "new evidence" of an affidavit by the Court Clerk describing her duties.  It also rejected a nonseverability of the recognition and nonrecognition portions of the provision, finding that because it had not been made earlier it was waived. 

As to the merits, the majority held that it was governed by its ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert, although facts and arguments differed "in some respects," the "core holdings are not affected by those differences."  The panel majority did discuss two additional arguments: a Baker v. Nelson argument that lower courts were not free to consider doctrinal developments and the addition of a government interest that "children have an interest in being raised by their biological parents."

Judge Holmes concurred separately to discuss why "animus" was not an appropriate analysis.  Judge Holmes notes that the district judge "wisely" did not rely on animus, and that most of the other decisions invalidating same-sex marriage laws have "exercised the same forebearance."  But, he noted, several other district judges have relied on animus, citing Baskin v. Bogan, Henry v. Himes, DeLeon v. Perry, and Obergefell v. Wymyslo - - - interestingly none of which are in the Tenth Circuit - - - and he used the concurrence to endeavor "to clarify the relationship between animus doctrine and same-sex marriage laws and to explain why the district court made the correct decision in declining to rely upon the animus doctrine."

In his relatively brief partially dissenting opinion,  Judge Paul Kelly contended that there was no standing to challenge the constitutional amendment absent a challenge to the statute and would not reach the merits.  However, he also disagreed on the merits, as he did in the panel's decision in Kitchen v. Herbert.  For Judge Kelly, as he phrases it here:

Removing gender complementarity from the historical definition of marriage is simply contrary to the careful analysis prescribed by the Supreme Court when it comes to substantive due process. Absent a fundamental right, traditional rational basis equal protection principles should apply, and apparently as a majority of this panel believes,  the Plaintiffs cannot prevail on that basis. Thus, any change in the definition of marriage rightly belongs to the people of Oklahoma, not a federal court.

This will be the heart of the matter when - - - rather than if - - - these cases reach the United States Supreme Court.  For now, however, the Tenth Circuit stayed its "mandate pending the disposition of any subsequently-filed petition for writ of certiorari."

July 18, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

California Federal Judge Declares Death Penalty Violates Eighth Amendment

In his opinion today in Jones v. Chappell, federal judge Cormac Carney vacated the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones as violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  

Jones was sentenced to death in 1995 and has been on "death row" in California State Prison at San Quentin since then.  For Judge Carney, this is precisely the problem.  As Carney writes:

Since 1978, when the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters, over 900 people have been sentenced to death for their crimes. Of them, only 13 have been executed. For the rest, the dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution. Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death. As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.

[emphasis in original]. 

Thus, it is not the arbitrariness in the imposition of the death sentence that is unconstitutional, but the arbitrariness in the execution of the death sentence that renders it unconstitutional.  

Judge Carney's analysis centered on his finding that of the more than 700 persons presently on California's "death row,"

their selection for execution will not depend on whether their crime was one of passion or of premeditation, on whether they killed one person or ten, or on any other proxy for the relative penological value that will be achieved by executing that inmate over any other.  Nor will it even depend on the perhaps neutral criterion of executing inmates in the order in which they arrived on Death Row. Rather, it will depend upon a factor largely outside an inmate’s control, and wholly divorced from the penological purposes the State sought to achieve by sentencing him to death in the first instance: how quickly the inmate proceeds through the State’s dysfunctional post-conviction review process.

Judge Carney then discussed Jones' situation as an example.

To be sure, however, Judge Carney did not view Jones' situation as unique.  Indeed, the opinion contains an 18 page color-coded appendix listing the status of more than 500 persons sentenced to death in California between 1978 -1997.   Here's a bit of it, with the entry for Ernest Jones:

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Thus, Judge Carney's careful reasoning applies to every person sentenced to death in California, even those sentenced more recently.  California's Attorney General and Governor now have some serious litigation choices to make.

July 16, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

D.C. Circuit: No Free Speech for Complaining Teacher

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a former teacher in the D.C. schools did not enjoy protection under the First Amendment after he was fired for sending an e-mail complaining about his principal's misrepresentation of student test scores to former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. 

The teacher, Bruno Mpoy, had a long list of complaints against his principal, Donald Presswood, when he sent an e-mail to Rhee.  Nearly all of these involved classroom conditions.  But after Mpoy was fired (and undoubtedly aware of the first part of the Garcetti test and the D.C. Circuit's interpretation of it), he focused on this sentence in the e-mail:

Dr. Presswood, the principal of Ludlow Taylor, misrepresented students' performance and results on the DCCAS Alternative [the achievement test used to measure student learning and improvement].

Mpoy argued that this sentence was not written pursuant to his official responsibilities--and that he therefore jumped the first Garcetti hurdle by showing that he spoke "as a citizen."  (As a threshold matter, in order for a public employee's speech to enjoy First Amendment protection, the employee must have spoken (1) as a citizen and (2) on a matter of public concern.  Only then, if a plaintiff can so show, the court goes on to apply the free speech test, whether the government "had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public.")

The D.C. Circuit disagreed.  The court ruled that Mpoy wrote this sentence in his capacity as an employee:

In [the context of the e-mail], the sentence about the misrepresentation of the students' results was also plainly a greivance about Presswood's interference with Mpoy's duty to assess and ensure the achievement of his students.

That means that Mpoy didn't even get out of the gate under Garcetti.  No citizen speech; no protected speech; no First Amendment protection.

The court added a section to address the recently decided Lane v. Franks.  In that case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena," when testifying was outside the scope of the employee's "ordinary job responsibilities."  The court considered the possibility that the adjective "ordinary" signalled a narrowing of the area of employee speech left unprotected by Garcetti.  

But the court said that it didn't have to decide that; it ultimately didn't matter.  That's because the school officials could reasonably believe that they could have fired Mpoy--and therefore enjoyed qualified immunity.

July 15, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

On Remand, Fifth Circuit Panel Reconsiders UT's Affirmative Action Plan from Fisher v. University of Texas

By a divided opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a panel of the Fifth Circuit has held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

Recall that more than a year ago, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge).  The Court remanded the case for a  "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation."  The  opinion,  authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal"  of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.

 Today's Fifth Circuit panel decision, authored by Judge Patrick Higginbotham, and joined by Judge Carolyn Dinen King, first decided that it would consider the case.   The panel rejected the standing arguments, including the fact that Abigail Fisher graduated from another university in 2012, because the "actions of the Supreme Court do not allow our reconsideration" of the standing issue.  In other words, the Court knew about the standing issues when it remanded the case in June 2013.  The panel also carefully considered the Court's remand language: "The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”  Fisher argued that the Court required the Fifth Circuit to perform the reconsideration, while the University of Texas argued that the matter should be remanded to the district judge.  On this issue, the Fifth Circuit sided with Fisher, holding that because "there are no new issues of fact that need be resolved, nor is there any identified need for additional discovery; that the record is sufficiently developed; and that the found error is common to both this Court and the district court," a remand to the district judge  "would likely result in duplication of effort."

The panel majority's opinion then discussed in detail the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policies and efforts.  It noted:

“Narrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every race neutral alternative,” but rather “serious, good faith consideration of workable race- neutral alternatives that will achieve the diversity the university seeks.”  Put simply, this record shows that UT Austin implemented every race-neutral effort that its detractors now insist must be exhausted prior to adopting a race- conscious admissions program—in addition to an automatic admissions plan not required under Grutter that admits over 80% of the student body with no facial use of race at all.

Nevertheless, the panel recognized that this "automatic admissions plan" - - - the Top Ten Percent plan - - - achieves diversity because of the segregation of Texas' high schools.  Under the "holistic view" of Grutter for the remaining 20%, absent a consideration of race, the selection would not be racially diverse.

appendix
appendix 2 in the opinion

Concluding its 40 page opinion, the panel wrote:

In sum, it is suggested that while holistic review may be a necessary and ameliorating complement to the Top Ten Percent Plan, UT Austin has not shown that its holistic review need include any reference to race, this because the Plan produces sufficient numbers of minorities for critical mass. This contention views minorities as a group, abjuring the focus upon individuals— each person’s unique potential. Race is relevant to minority and non-minority, notably when candidates have flourished as a minority in their school— whether they are white or black. Grutter reaffirmed that “[j]ust as growing up in a particular region or having particular professional experiences is likely to affect an individual’s views, so too is one’s own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race still matters.” We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter. The need for such skill sets to complement the draws from majority-white and majority-minority schools flows directly from an understanding of what the Court has made plain diversity is not. To conclude otherwise is to narrow its focus to a tally of skin colors produced in defiance of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court which eschewed the narrow metric of numbers and turned the focus upon individuals. This powerful charge does not deny the relevance of race. We find force in the argument that race here is a necessary part, albeit one of many parts, of the decisional matrix where being white in a minority-majority school can set one apart just as being a minority in a majority-white school—not a proffer of societal discrimination in justification for use of race, but a search for students with a range of skills, experiences, and performances—one that will be impaired by turning a blind eye to the differing opportunities offered by the schools from whence they came.

....  the backdrop of our efforts here includes the reality that accepting as permissible policies whose purpose is to achieve a desired racial effect taxes the line between quotas and holistic use of race towards a critical mass. We have hewed this line here, persuaded by UT Austin from this record of its necessary use of race in a holistic process and the want of workable alternatives that would not require even greater use of race, faithful to the content given to it by the Supreme Court. To reject the UT Austin plan is to confound developing principles of neutral affirmative action, looking away from Bakke and Grutter, leaving them in uniform but without command—due only a courtesy salute in passing.

Dissenting, Judge Emilio Garza essentially contended that the majority was giving deference to the University.  He noted that it is not impossible  "for a public university to define its diversity ends adequately for a court to verify narrow tailoring with the requisite exacting scrutiny," even with the use of "critical mass."  But he somewhat confusing stressed that

What matters now, after Fisher, is that a state actor’s diversity goals must be sufficiently clear and definite such that a reviewing court can assess, without deference, whether its particular use of racial classifications is necessary and narrowly tailored to those goals.

Yet what will matter now is whether this panel will have the last say.  The Fifth Circuit could grant en banc review or the United States Supreme Court will grant certiorari and take yet another look at affirmative action.  

 

July 15, 2014 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Second Circuit Says Required Urine Test Substantially Burdens Religious Freedom

The Second Circuit ruled last week in Holland v. Goord that prison authorities substantially burdened a Muslim prisoner's free exercise of religion when they punished him for failing to complete a urine test within a three-hour window during fasting time for Ramadan.  The plaintiff couldn't complete the test because he refused to drink water during his fast.  (H/t to reader Jeff Wadsworth.)

The ruling means that the case goes back to the trial court to determine whether the prison authorities had a sufficient penalogical interest in requiring the urine test (and the water drinking, in order to facilitate the test) under Turner v. Safley.  But that doesn't look good for the state: the Second Circuit noted that there was no good reason why the authorities couldn't administer the test (and require the plaintiff to drink water) after sundown (indeed, the plaintiff suggested this option himself).  It also noted that the prison subsequently changed its own regulations to allow a religious accommodation to urine testing.

The Second Circuit rejected the plaintiff's invitation to disregard the "substantial burden" test from Employment Division v. Smith.  Instead, the court ruled that the urine test met that requirement, drawing on its own cases saying that the denial of a religious meal is a substantial burden on religion.

The court also rejected the trial court's conclusion that the urine test and water drinking were mere de minimis burdens (because the plaintiff could have made up a drink of water during the fast with one extra day of fasting).  The court said that the plaintiff sufficiently showed that this would have been a "grave sin," even if he could have made up for it.

Because the state changed its rules on urine testing to allow a religious accommodation, the court denied the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief under both his free exercise claim and his RLUIPA claim.  The court rejected other claims, too.  But it remanded the free exercise claim for determination whether the state had a sufficient penalogical interest in conducting the urine test the way that it did, and, if not (as is likely), for money damages.

July 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Seventh Circuit Finds Indiana's Clergy-Only Marriage Solemnization Statute Violates the First Amendment

In its 11 page opinion  today in Center for Inquiry v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk, a panel of the Seventh Circuit has held Indiana  Code §31-­11-­6-­1 violates the First Amendment.  The provision specifies who can solemnize a marriage and includes "religious officials designated by religious groups but omits equivalent officials of secular groups such as humanist societies."   The plaintiffs, a humanist group and a leader of the group deemed a "secular celebrant," were not allowed to solemnize a marriage unless they obtained clergy credentials or "called themselves a religion."

Judge Easterbrook, writing for the unanimous panel, stated that it is unconstitutional to make distinctions between "religious and secular beliefs that hold the same place in adherents’ lives," citing the well known conscientous objector cases of Welsh and Seeger, as well as Torasco v. Watkins, and the Seventh Circuit precedent regarding accommodations for atheists in prison.  There is not, Easterbrook wrote, an "ability to favor religions over non-­‐‑theistic groups that have moral stances that are equivalent to theistic ones except for non-­‐‑belief in God or unwillingness to call themselves religions."

The_solemnisation_of_the_marriage_of_Prince_James_Francis_Edward_Stuart_and_Princess_Maria_Clementina_Sobieska_(Montefiascone_1_September_1719)_by_Agostino_Masucci
The solemnisation of the marriage of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart and Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (Montefiascone 1 September 1719) by Agostino Masucci via
 

As for Indiana's argument that the humanists were not actually being excluded from solemnizing marriages under the statute, the court had this to say:

Adherents to faiths with clergy can be married in two steps: first they obtain a license, Ind. Code §31-­11-­4-­1, and then they have the marriage solemnized by a priest or equivalent person in the list in §31-­11-­6-­1. (Plaintiffs do not challenge the licensure statute, because religion is irrelevant to that procedure.) Humanists could achieve the same result in three steps: first get a license, then have a humanist celebrant perform a public ceremony appropriate to their beliefs, and finally have a clerk of court or similar functionary solemnize the marriage. That’s true enough—but it just restates the discrimination of which plaintiffs complain. Lutherans can solemnize their marriage in public ceremonies conducted by people who share their fundamental beliefs; humanists can’t. Humanists’ ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in a back office, does not address the injury of which plaintiffs complain.

 Interestingly, the opinion also had something to say about the equal protection problems of the statutory scheme, noting that the distinctions between religions that have clergy and those that do not as well as "the state’s willingness to recognize marriages performed by hypocrites," violate the Equal Protection Clause:

It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a “religion.” It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-­declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the “values” of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.

The court found Indiana's reliance on the Supreme Court's most recent Establishment Clause decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway inapposite, easily distinguishing Galloway as not being about the regulation of private conduct as the Indiana solemnization statute was.

The decision could pave the way for other First Amendment challenges to solemnization statutes that provide a special status for religious clergy.

July 14, 2014 in Equal Protection, Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ninth Circuit Finds DACA Plaintiffs Entitled to Preliminary Injunction to Receive Drivers' Licenses in Arizona

The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer reversed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on their equal protection claim.

The plaintiffs challenged an Executive Order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that prohibits recipients of the federal program called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) from obtaining driver’s licenses by using Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States.  The Ninth Circuit panel of judges - - - Harry Pregerson, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen - - - in an opinion authored by Pregerson held that even under a rational basis standard of equal protection review, there was no  legitimate state interest that was rationally related to defendants’ decision to treat DACA recipients disparately from other noncitizens who were permitted to use their Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States when applying for driver’s licenses. 

3407031_orig
image via DACAinformation.com

 The major rationale proffered by Arizona for its disparate treatment between classes of noncitizens was that "it is rational to accept (c)(9) and (c)(10) Employment Authorization Documents as proof that the holder’s “presence . . . is authorized under federal law,” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-3153(D), because persons with (c)(9) and (c)(10) documents “[are] on a path to lawful status,” while DACA recipients are not."  The court was "unconvinced" that Arizona  "defined 'a path to lawful status' in a meaningful wa," reasoning that "noncitizens’ applications for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal are often denied, so the supposed 'path' may lead to a dead end." 

But even so, the court - - - in what could be considered a back door preemption argument - - - noted that states, including Arizona, “enjoy no power with respect to the classification of aliens,” citing Plyler v. Doe, "so their attempt to distinguish between these noncitizens on the basis of an immigration classification that has no basis in federal law is not likely to withstand equal protection scrutiny."

The court likewise rejected the other four rationales raised by Arizona:

  • that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might expose the Arizona Department of Transportation to legal liability “for issuing driver’s licenses to 80,000 unauthorized immigrants;”
  • that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might allow DACA recipients to access state and federal benefits to which they are not entitled;
  • that the DACA program might be canceled, requiring Arizona to revoke DACA recipients’ driver’s licenses;
  • that DACA recipients may have their authorized presence revoked at any time, and thereafter may be quickly removed from the United States, leaving those they may have injured in automobile accidents with no financial recourse.

The district judge had similarly found these rationales were not persuasive, but had denied the preliminary injunction for failure to show sufficient irreparable harm.  The Ninth Circuit found there was such harm, faulting the district judge for seeking to "evaluate the severity of the harm to Plaintiffs, rather than simply determining whether the harm to Plaintiffs was irreparable."

The panel split on the viability of the plaintiffs' preemption claim, with Judge Christen concurring separately to contended that plaintiffs' also had a viable preemption claim.

This is an important case for state benefits including licenses that are being denied to DACA receipients, including licenses to practice law.

 

 

July 7, 2014 in Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Court Enjoins Religious Exemption for Contraception Mandate

The Supreme Court this week enjoined the exemption for religious non-profits from the requirement that employer group-health insurance plans include contraceptives.  That exemption allowed a religious nonprofit to notify its health insurer or third-party administrator (using "EBSA Form 700") that it had a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage; at that point, the insurer or administrator would have to provide contraceptives directly to the organization's employees, free of charge.  This week's short, unsigned Order halted the use of EBSA Form 700 and said that petitioner Wheaton College, a religious college in Wheaton, Illinois, could instead write a letter to HHS informing the agency that it is a religious organization and that it has a religious objection to providing coverage for contraceptive services.

In short, the ruling replaced HHS's process for religious exemption (EBSA Form 700) with its own (a letter to HHS). 

The ruling strikes a second serious blow to the contraception requirement.  (The first came earlier this week in Hobby Lobby, which allowed closely-held, for-profit corporations to exempt themselves from certain contraceptives under the requirement, but almost certainly opened up a much wider hole in the requirement (and potentially in many other government regulations).)  The Court was careful to write that its ruling was not a conclusion on the merits.  But it's hard to read it any other way, particularly in light of the mertis discussion in the dissent, the fact that the Court drafted its own exemption procedure for religious non-profits (supplanting HHS's procedure), and the Court's suggestion that it'll take up the merits soon enough.

The ruling isn't clear on how religious non-profits' insurers or administrators will have to provide contraceptive coverage.  Here's the problem: The insurers or administrators only have to provide contraceptive coverage directly to employees upon learning that a religious non-profit objects, usually through receipt of the EBSA Form 700; but the Court's Order says that Wheaton College and by extension other religious non-profits don't have to complete that form.  This leaves it to HHS to figure out whether and how to require insurers and administrators to provide contraceptive coverage directly to the organization's employees.

The Order is strange on several levels.  For one, it replaced the HHS exemption (EBSA Form 700) with its own (a letter to HHS).  But it's not at all clear that the Court's exemption is any less intrusive on Wheaton College's freedom of religion (at least as the College has defined it in challenging EBSA Form 700): Why is writing a letter to HHS any less intrusive than filing Form 700 and sending it to the insurers and administrators?  Wheaton College claimed that the mere certification of its religious objection to the contraception requirement violated its religion (because it made Wheaton College complicit in someone else providing contraception), so why is the letter any better than the form? 

For another, it's also not clear why the Court would take such an aggressive action (essentially overruling a valid federal rule and replacing it with its own) at this stage of the litigation (on an application for an injunction), when the circuits are split on the issue (which, as the dissent points out, has been a basis for denying an injunction by some of the very justices who joined the Court in this Order (including Chief Justice Roberts)).  This hardly seems like a Court merely calling balls and strikes.

For yet another, the Order seems inconsistent with the Court's ruling just earlier this week in Hobby Lobby.  In that case, the majority pointed to HHS's exemption for religious non-profits (the exact same exemption at issue here) as evidence that the contraception requirement for closely held for-profits wasn't narrowly tailored--that is, that the exemption was a way that the government could achieve its interest in providing contraception while still giving closely held for-profits an out.  Yet in this later ruling, the Court stepped back from that exemption and replaced it with its own.

Finally, there's the strangeness that a government-created religious exemption could itself violate free religion.  This is the point that Judge Posner made so strongly in his opinion rejecting Notre Dame's challenge to the exemption.

Justice Sotomayor wrote a lengthy and vigorous dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, covering everything from the extraordinary relief the Court granted under the very high standard of the All Writs Act to the merits.  She also distinguished the Little Sisters case, in which the Court also allowed a letter to replace the EBSA Form 700: Little Sister's third-party administrator was itself a church plan and exempt from the contraception requirement, so nobody's access to contraception was affected.  Here, the Court's injunction risks depriving employees of Wheaton College of contraception, because the insurer or the administrator only have to provide it upon receipt of the EBSA Form 700.  But under the Court's Order, they won't receive the EBSA Form 700.

As with Hobby Lobby, it's clear that this ruling will extend far beyond the facts of this particular case, likely even farther than the Court itself thought.  How far?  As with Hobby Lobby, only time will tell.

July 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New York's Highest Court Finds Cyberbullying Law Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in People v. Marquan M, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court), found that Albany Local Law 11 (2010)  criminalizing cyberbullying was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. 

The local law for Albany County criminalized cyberbullying against any "minor or person" (with "person" interestingly defined as including corporations) with cyberbullying defined as:

any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.

450px-Bully_Free_ZoneThe majority opinion, authored by Judge Victoria Graffeo for four additional judges over a two-judge dissent, found that the law was overbroad under the First Amendment: "the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult." 

The defendant and his actions here - - - a 15 year old who used Facebook to anonymously post "photographs of high-school classmates and other adolescents, with detailed descriptions of their alleged sexual practices and predilections, sexual partners and other types of personal information," with "vulgar and offensive" "descriptive captions" - - -  were within the "cyberbullying" that the Local Law intended to proscribe.  But even Albany County agreed that the local law was overbroad.  However, the County argued that the severability clause of the local law should be employed to excise the word "person" so that the only covered victims were minors.  But the court found that even that would not "cure all of the law's constitutional ills."   The dissenters would have engaged in saving constructions.

In ruling that a local law intended to criminalize as a misdemeanor cyberbullying did not survive the First Amendment because it was overbroad, New York's highest court left open the possibility that a prohibition of cyberbullying could be more narrowly crafted to survive First Amendment review:  "the First Amendment does not give defendant the right to engage in these activities." 

However, the court's opinion offers little guidance about how such a law or policy should be drafted.  New York's Dignity for All Students Act  as amended in 2012 places the responsibility for developing "policies and procedures intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination" on school boards.  While Albany's law was a general criminal statute, school boards will undoubtedly be considering Marquan M. as they review their current "cyberbullying" prohibitions in light of the First Amendment.  They may also be recalling the Third Circuit's unhelpful intervention in a pair of "My Space" cases in which principals were arguably "bullied. 

And undoubtedly, those interested in cyberbullying in and out of schools will be watching the "true threats on Facebook case," Elonis v. United States, to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next Term.

 [image via]

July 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Eighth Circuit Upholds Constitutionality of University Civility Code

In an exceedingly brief per curiam opinion in Keating v. University of South Dakota, an Eighth Circuit panel reversed the conclusion of a district judge that the university's "civility code" was "impermissibly vague, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The university provision at issue provided:

Faculty members are responsible for discharging their instructional, scholarly and service duties civilly, constructively and in an informed manner. They must treat their colleagues, staff, students and visitors with respect, and they must comport themselves at all times, even when expressing disagreement or when engaging in pedagogical exercises, in ways that will preserve and strengthen the willingness to cooperate and to give or to accept instruction, guidance or assistance.

The plaintiff, a tenure-track physics professor, did not have his employment contract renewed because of a strained relationship with his supervisors, including becoming "quite angry" at a meeting, being the subject of a sexual harassment claim, and sending an email accusing his immediate supervisor of being a lying, back-stabbing sneak.

The panel held that although the "policy employs broad language, that alone does not necessarily prevent an ordinary person from recognizing that certain conduct will result in discharge or discipline."  Instead,

the civility clause articulates a more comprehensive set of expectations that, taken together, provides employees meaningful notice of the conduct required by the policy. The outer contours of the civility clause perhaps are imprecise, but many instances of faculty misconduct would fall clearly within the clause’s proscriptions, thus precluding the conclusion that the policy is facially unconstitutional.

Moreover, the panel found as applied to Keating's conduct, the civility clause was not impermissibly vague.

The use of "civilty clauses" continues to be a contested issue on due process grounds as well as First Amendment grounds.  Here, the Eighth Circuit provides a definitive stamp of approval to such a policy.

 

July 3, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

After Hobby Lobby, What Now?

The Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby this week opened up a potential free-for-all for closely held corporations to challenge all types of federal government regulations in the name of the owners' religious beliefs.  (The only requirement: the reg has to pose a substantial burden on the belief.  But we saw in Hobby Lobby itself how easy it is to meet that standard.)  If so, those regs would be subject to RFRA's strict scrutiny test.  That test requires the government to show that its regulation is the least restrictive way that it can achieve its compelling government interest--a tall order, indeed, and one that the government in other contexts can almost never satisfy.

In other words, the ruling seems to invite a religious exception for unknown numbers of federal laws.  The majority dismissed this worry and did its best to cabin the ruling, but in truth only time will tell how far Hobby Lobby reaches.  We can expect to a flurry of cases testing this.

So: What now?

RobsonConLawProfBlog's own Ruthann Robson answers the question in her excellent post over at The London School of Economics Blog.  Robson says that Congress has three ways to undo the Hobby Lobby ruling: (1) redefine "person" in the Dictionary Act to exclude for-profits; (2) change the level of scrutiny in RFRA (to rational basis review, consistent with the First Amendment standard); or (3) repeal RFRA entirely.

You might say that these options are unfriendly to religions.  But Robson tells us why it's really the ruling itself that's religion-unfriendly.  Robson argues that the ruling actually creates a disincentive for Congress to grant exemptions or accommodations to federal laws for religious organizations.  That's becuase HHS's exemption for religious organizations (like Notre Dame, Little Sisters, and the like) was Exhibit A in the Court's conclusion that the so-called contraception mandate was not the least restrictive way for Congress to require insurers to provide contraception for women.  (After all, if Congress could create an exemption for religious organizations, there's no reason why it couldn't similarly create an exemption for closely held corporations with religious owners.  The fact that Congress had this alternative (and used it for religious organizations, but not for closely held corporations), according to the Court, shows why the so-called contraception mandate wasn't the best tailored way for Congress to achieve its goal.)

Robson's right.  And she's right in arguing that Congress was sloppy and short-sighted in enacting RFRA in the first place, and that now, after Hobby Lobby, it may wreak all sorts of as-yet-unknown havoc.  She concludes:

While Congress should take care when seeking to "reverse" a Supreme Court opinion, Congress did not take such care when ti sought to "overrule" Smith by enacting RFRA.  Now Congress should act quickly and firmly to remedy the problem it caused by enacting RFRA.  What Congress giveth, it can taketh away.  And it should.

July 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Federal District Judge Declares Kentucky's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his opinion today in Love v. Beshear, Judge John Heyburn held that the Kentucky provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but stayed the issuance of an injunction pending a resolution by the Sixth Circuit.

Recall that in February, Judge Heyburn ruled in Bourke v. Beshear that Kentucky's statutory and state constitutional provisions defining marriage as limited to one man and one woman violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause when applied to same-sex spouses married in another state.

Today's opinion considers those same constitutional and statutory provisions - - - KY. CONST. § 233A; KY. REV. STAT. ANN. §§ 402.005, .020(1)(d) (West 2014) - - - but in the context of a right to marry under Kentucky law.  And, not surprisingly, today's opinion reaches similar conclusions to the earlier case of Bourke v. Beshear.

Animated-Flag-Kentucky
Judge Heyburn quickly concludes that Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), in which the Supreme Court dismissed “for want of a substantial federal question” a challenge to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling concluding that a same-sex couple did not have the right to marry under the federal Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses, is not precedential.  It "is difficult to take seriously the argument that Baker bars Plaintiffs’ challenge," given that the rule for the precedential value of a summary disposition includes the exception "unless doctrinal developments indicate that the Court would rule differently now."  As Judge Heyburn states: "Since 1972, a virtual tidal wave of pertinent doctrinal developments has swept across the constitutional landscape."

In considering these doctrinal developments and the applicable standard of scrutiny under Equal Protection doctrine, Judge Heyburn first considers the right at stake.  He analyzes whether the right to marry is a fundamental right, but concludes that this precise question is one that "neither the Supreme Court nor the Sixth Circuit has answered."  Heyburn declines to engage in "overreaching" on this issue, because the fundamental rights analysis is unnecessary given the analysis regarding sexual orientation classifications.

Judge Heyburn's conclusion on the level of scrutiny to be applied is intermediate scrutiny.  Note that this is a departure from his earlier decision in Bourke to apply rational basis.  Here, his conclusion - - - admittedly not supported by specific Supreme Court or Sixth Circuit precedent - -  is that "homosexual persons constitute a quasi-suspect class based on the weight of the factors and on analogy to the classifications recognized as suspect and quasi- suspect.” He reaches this conclusion by applying four factors:  historical discrimination;  the ability to contribute to society;  immutable defining characteristics; and  political powerlessness.  Thus, the opinion would ordinarily then apply the  intermediate scrutiny standard as articulated by the court: "“substantially related to an important governmental objective."

But Judge Heyburn takes a different path, similar to the one he took in Bourke v. Beshear:

Ultimately, Kentucky’s laws banning same-sex marriage cannot withstand constitutional review regardless of the standard. The Court will demonstrate this by analyzing Plaintiffs’ challenge under rational basis review.

In discussing Kentucky's profferred interests, Judge Heyburn writes that the state's "arguments are not those of serious people."  Moreover, he concludes that the means chosen are not rationally related:

Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.

Judge Heyburn's last section of the opinion addresses Kentuckians, but in a much more restrained manner than his earlier opinion in Bourke.  In Love v. Beshear, Judge Heyburn notes

Since this Court’s Bourke opinion [in February 2014], the legal landscape of same-sex marriage rights across the country has evolved considerably, with eight additional federal district courts and one circuit court invalidating state constitutional provisions and statutes that denied same-sex couples the right to marry.

Heyburn cites the Tenth Circuit's opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert, as well as the district court opinions in Baskin v. Bogan (Indiana); Wolf v. Walker (Wisconsin);   Whitewood v. Wolf (Pennsylvania); Geiger v. Kitzhaber (Oregon); Latta v. Otter  (Idaho); De Leon v. Perry (Texas);  DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan); and  Bostic v. Rainey  (Virgina).

He adds that with "this opinion, this Court joins their company."

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Sixth Circuit will also join this increasingly large assembly.

July 1, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)