Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Seventh Circuit Finds Wisconsin's Physician "Admitting Privileges" Abortion Requirement Unconstitutional

In its divided opinion in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Schimel, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's grant of a permanent injunction against the 2013 Wisconsin Statute, §253.095(2), that prohibits a physician from performing an abortion unless she or he has admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from the clinic in which the abortion is performed.

Writing for the majority, Judge Richard Posner (pictured) concluded that the state statute imposed an undue burden on women seeking abortions and focused on the statute's intent to "strew impediments to abortion" rather than achieve its stated purpose of protecting women's health. 

Posner, Richard 08-10Judge Posner first noted that the statute was signed into law on a Friday and required doctors comply with it by Sunday; this revealed the legislative intent to prevent abortions rather than protect women's health. 

Additionally, Judge Posner concluded that any focus on women's health was spurious.  First, "A woman who experiences complications from an abortion (either while still at the clinic where the abortion was per- formed or at home afterward) will go to the nearest hospital, which will treat her regardless of whether her abortion doc- tor has admitting privileges," citing the brief by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the Wisconsin Medical Society.  Second, citing the same brief, Judge Posner concluded that studies show that "complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous," and contended that this fact "further attenuates the need for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges."  Third, Posner found it troublesome that abortion was singled out for such an admitting privileges law:

Wisconsin appears to be indifferent to complications of any other outpatient procedures, even when they are far more likely to produce complications than abortions are. For example, the rate of complications resulting in hospitalization from colonoscopies done for screening purposes is four times the rate of complications requiring hospitalization from first-trimester abortions.

As to the "continuity of care" justification, Posner noted that while the statute requires the physician to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, it does not require the physician to care for that patient at the hospital.

Judge Posner firmly rejected the argument that women in Wisconsin could exercise their constitutional right to an abortion in Chicago - - - across state lines - - - and further found that there was an undue burden for women given that such a trip could be "prohibitively expensive" especially for women living below the poverty line.

In his inimitable style, Judge Posner also provided his views on the Fifth Circuit's decision regarding Texas's HB2 in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, to which the United States Supreme Court recently granted certiorari.  Judge Posner distinguished the Fifth Circuit's conclusion on the admitting privileges provision, noting that the plaintiffs there did not satisfy the court that the statute would lead to a substantial decline in the availability of abortion.  But Judge Posner also provided his opinion on the Texas statute's ambulatory surgical center requirements - - - notwithstanding the fact that a similar provision was not before the Seventh Circuit - - - noting that

The [Fifth Circuit] court remarked the absence of evidence that the remaining clinics could not expand their capacity to compensate for the closing of more than three-fourths of them,  although one wouldn’t think it necessary to parade evidence that the remaining clinics would find it extremely difficult to quadruple their capacity to provide abortions, which would require, in the face of fierce opposition to abortion clinics and the difficulty of relocating abortion doctors from the closed clinics, extensive physical enlargement to house additional patients and doctors.

Judge Posner also responded to the Fifth Circuit's previous decision on HB2 in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott that "excoriated" the Seventh Circuit's opinion upholding the preliminary injunction against the Wisconsin statute for engaging in "empirical basis review." Judge Posner wrote:

But a statute that curtails the constitutional right to an abortion, such as the Wisconsin and Texas statutes, cannot survive challenge without evidence that the curtailment is justifiable by reference to the benefits conferred by the statute. The statute may not be irrational, yet may still impose an undue burden—a burden excessive in relation to the aims of the statute and the benefits likely to be conferred by it— and if so it is unconstitutional.

Judge Posner ultimately concluded that "We do not agree with the Fifth Circuit that evidence is irrelevant in a constitutional case concerning abortion."

Judge Daniel Manion's well-organized dissenting opinion disagrees with the majority at almost every turn.  For example, Judge Manion finds that abortion is "subject to less regulatory oversight than almost any area of medicine."  On the subject of state-lines, Judge Manion declares: "Consumers who live near the border of two states tend to shop at the closest destination, regardless of whether they reside in that state." Thus, the courts should consider "distance" rather than "the governor's mansion" to decide whether or not a regulation will constitute an undue burden.  Instead, Wisconsin - - - or the courts - - -need not intervene if "the market fails to provide qualified abortionists within its boundaries." 

For Posner, joined in the opinion by Judge David Hamilton, the overturning of Roe v. Wade is a "steep uphill fight," so persons opposed to abortion "proceed indirectly" in the guise of protecting women's health and thereby pass unconstitutional laws.  Whether or not Judge Posner's predictions will prove correct will be tested as the United States Supreme Court considers Whole Woman's Health this Term.

November 24, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Gender, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Second Circuit Keeps Drone Memos Under Wraps

The Second Circuit ruled today that plaintiffs are not entitled to certain memos and documents from the Office of Legal Counsel outlining the legal justification for the government's targeted killing (drone) program.

The ruling means that the OLC documents will remain under wraps, and we won't now see (and may never see) the full paper trail for the program.

Recall that the New York Times, Charlie Savage, Scott Shane, and the ACLU sued to obtain OLC memos under FOIA. In the first round of the litigation, the Second Circuit ordered the release of a 2010 OLC memo, because government officials had revealed the contents in public statements and thus waived its right to invoke a FOIA exemption. (The officials' statements revealing the contents came before and soon after the document was released.)

In this second round of litigation, the court today said that the district judge properly withheld the documents, because they contained intelligence information. As to the plaintiffs' argument that the government disclosed the contents of one of these memos, a 2002 memo, the court said that the disclosure came too long after the document (8 years), and that the disclosure might have come up in a different context. The court explained:

However, the passage of a significant interval of time between a protected document and a Government official's subsequent statement discussing the same or a similar topic considered in the document inevitably raises a concern that the context in which the official spoke might be significantly different from the context in which the earlier document was prepared. Even if the content of legal reasoning set forth in one context is somewhat similar to such reasoning that is later explained publicly in another context, such similarity does not necessarily result in waiver. Moreover, ignoring both the differences in context and the passage of a significant interval of time would risk requiring Government officials to consider numerous arguably similar documents prepared long before and then measure their public words very carefully so as not to inadvertently precipitate a waiver of protection for those earlier documents.

The upshot is that we won't get these additional OLC documents and won't learn much or anything more than we already know about the legal justifications for the program.

November 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Students Lack Standing to Challenge SAT, ACT Sale of Personal Information for Profit

The Seventh Circuit ruled today that students who authorized the corporations who run the SAT and ACT standardized tests to provide their personal information to educational organizations lacked standing to challenge the corporations' sale of that information. The ruling means that the putative class action against the SAT and ACT is dismissed.

Along the way, the court also ruled that the Iqbal/Twombly heightened pleading standard ("plausibility") applies to facial challenges to standing under Rule 12(b)(6). This may raise the bar for plaintiffs in pleading and arguing standing. This portion of the ruling aligns with the approach in several other circuits; but it's in tension with the Ninth Circuit, which says that "Twombly and Iqbal are ill-suited to application in the constitutional standing context."

The case arose when ACT, Inc., and The College Board (which administers the SAT) sold personal information of students who signed up to take the tests. The students agreed that the corporations could share their personal information with educational groups (schools, scholarship funds, and the like), but they didn't know that the corporations were going to sell their personal information. (The price was small--$.33 per student per educational group--but would add up quickly for the defendants.) The plaintiffs argued that they were harmed by the sale because (1) they should have received some of the proceeds, (2) the sale diminished the value of their personal information, and (3) they paid a fee to take the ACT or SAT, which presumably would have been lower if they had not consented to the sale.

The Seventh Circuit flatly rejected these claims. The court ruled that under the Iqbal/Twombly standard, the plaintiffs' allegations didn't plausibly suggest that they'd been harmed. The court said that just because the defendants benefited doesn't mean that the plaintiffs were harmed for standing purposes: "Plaintiffs have claimed injury based solely on a gain to Defendants and without alleging a loss to themselves." (Although the court applied the Iqbal/Twombly standard, it looks like the plaintiffs would have failed even without it.)

The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that their complaint gave rise to a reasonable inference that if they knew of the sale they would have conditioned their permission on receipt of a portion of the proceeds. The court said that the plaintiffs didn't provide factual support for the inference, so it didn't even need to get to whether the claim gives rise to a plausible claim of subject matter jurisdiction under Iqbal and Twombly.

In other words, it's not clear that the heightened Iqbal/Twombly standard mattered to the outcome at all. Still, the case says that the standard now applies to standing in the Seventh Circuit.


November 18, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Finds Transgender Status a Fundamental Privacy Right

In an opinion denying a motion to dismiss in Love v. Johnson, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Nancy Edmunds has concluded there is a fundamental privacy right in one's transgender status under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.  The constitutional challenge is to Michigan's policy for changing the sex designation on state-issued identification, including drivers licenses.  Under the policy, the only document that is accepted as a proof of sex designation is a certified birth certificate.   Thus, transgendered individuals would need an amended certified birth certificate - - - for which the procurement process is described as "onerous" - - - and could not use passports, which are specifically excluded by the Michigan policy.

sample Michigan driver license via

In finding a fundamental right, the judge considered Sixth Circuit precedent that there were two types of fundamental rights protected “by the right to privacy that is rooted in substantive due process”:  the interest in “independence in making certain kinds of important decisions,” and the “interest in avoiding disclosure of personal matters.”  The court found that the latter - - - the "informational privacy" interest - - - was implicated.  This right must not only relate to a "fundamental liberty interest" but must satisfy either of two conditions: "the release of personal information could lead to bodily harm" or "the information released was of a sexual, personal, and humiliating nature."  The judge found that both 'the potential for harm' and 'the personal nature' conditions were satisfied.  The judge rejected the State's argument that the plaintiffs had not satisfied the harm prong because they had not shown sufficiently specific danger to themselves; it recognized "hostility and intolerance" and cited supporting Second Circuit caselaw.

The judge then applied strict scrutiny, writing that when

state action infringes upon a fundamental right, “such action will be upheld under the substantive due process component of the Fourteenth Amendment only where the governmental action furthers a compelling state interest, and is narrowly drawn to further that state interest.”  Defendant vaguely identifies two purported interests–albeit not in the context of a fundamental right–in support of the Policy: (1) “maintaining accurate state identification documents” to “promote effective law enforcement” and, (2) ensuring “that the information on the license is consistent with other state records describing the individual.”

[citations and footnote omitted].   The judge found that the means chosen - - - the restrictive policy - - - bears "little, if any, connection" to the "purported interests."  The judge considered two facts especially salient.  First, the Michigan policy applied only to those wishing to change the sex designation on a drivers license, not to procure an original drivers license (in which case a passport would be acceptable identification).  Second,  Michigan's policy was especially restrictive: the majority of other states, as well as the federal government, did not require a certified birth certificate and thus the judge stated she was "unable to conclude at this juncture that the Policy narrowly serves the state’s interest in maintaining “accurate” identification documents or promoting effective law enforcement."

While the complaint raised other constitutional claims, including an equal protection claim, the judge found the motion to dismiss need not be considered as to those claims given the conclusion that there is a valid substantive due process claim which will move forward.


November 18, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Federal Judge Applies Intermediate Scrutiny in Transgender Equal Protection Claim

Considering a complaint regarding an arrest during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests, United States District Judge Jed Rakoff has allowed the Equal Protection Clause claim to proceed in his opinion  in Adkins v. City of New York.

 The judge based his opinion on the Second Circuit's 2012 decision in United States v. Windsor (affirmed on other grounds by the United States Supreme Court):

[The Second Circuit in] Windsor held that gay people were a quasi-suspect class on the basis of four factors: gay people have suffered a history of persecution; sexual orientation has no relation to ability to contribute to society; gay people are a discernible group; and gay people remain politically weakened. While transgender people and gay people are not identical, they are similarly situated with respect to each of Windsor’s four factors.

OccupyJudge Rakoff then applied each of the factors (derived from Carolene Products' footnote four) to hold that transgender people are a quasi-suspect class.  Indeed, Judge Rakoff decides that in each of the factors, transgender people more easily meet the factor than "gay people" did at the time of the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor.  For example, on the political weakness factor, Judge Rakoff reasoned:

Fourth, transgender people are a politically powerless minority. “The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination.” Windsor, 699 F.3d at 184. Particularly in comparison to gay people at the time of Windsor, transgender people lack the political strength to protect themselves. For example, transgender people cannot serve openly in the military, see Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03 at 48 (incorporating changes as of September 13, 2011), as gay people could when Windsor was decided. See Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Pub.L. No. 111–321, 124 Stat. 3515. Moreover, like gay people, it is difficult to assess the degree of underrepresentation of transgender people in positions of authority without knowing their number relative to the cisgender population. However, in at least one way this underrepresentation inquiry is easier with respect to transgender people: for, although there are and were gay members of the United States Congress (since Windsor, in both houses), as well as gay federal judges, there is no indication that there have ever been any transgender members of the United States Congress or the federal judiciary.

In applying intermediate scrutiny, the judge rejected the government's argument that there was an important safety interest by concluding that there were no actual safety concerns according to the allegations of the complaint (taken as true in the procedural posture of the motion to dismiss).  Judge Rakoff continued:

Moreover, defendants cannot argue their actions were substantially related to ensuring plaintiff’s safety when they removed him from an allegedly safe place and caused him injury, albeit minimal injury, by handcuffing him to a wall next to the sole bathroom in the precinct.

The judge found that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, especially given that the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor occurred after the October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest.  However, the judge found that the City of New York could be held liable under a specific pattern on conduct in the unequal treatment of transgender persons.

Thus, the case moves to settlement as so many of the Occupy arrest cases have done - - - unless New York City chooses to appeal the decision that transgendered individuals merit intermediate scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

[image via]

November 17, 2015 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 9, 2015

President, DAPA Lose at Fifth Circuit

A sharply divided panel of the Fifth Circuit ruled today that states had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits in their case against the President's deferred action program for parents of Americans and lawful permanent residents, or DAPA. The ruling affirms a nationwide injunction issued by the lower court and means that the government is barred from enforcing DAPA across the country--unless and until the government files for and wins a stay and appeals.

The ruling is a win for plaintiff-states that don't like DAPA and a loss, though perhaps not unexpected (at the conservative Fifth Circuit), for the government.

The dispute between the majority and the dissent on the merits comes down to whether DAPA is really an exercise of discretionary non-enforcement (majority says no; dissent says yes) and whether DAPA violates federal law (majority says yes; dissent says no). The majority and dissent also dispute the states' ability to bring the suit in the first place, or their standing.

This ruling is surely not the last say on the question; this case is undoubtedly going to the Supreme Court.

The court issued four key holdings. First, the court said that the states had standing, and that the case is justiciable. Next, the court said that DAPA likely violated notice-and-comment rules of the APA. Third, the court said that DAPA likely violated federal law (the Immigration and Naturalization Act) and therefore violated substantive APA requirements. Finally, the court said that the district court was within its discretion to issue a nationwide injunction.

The court did not address the plaintiffs' Take Care Clause challenge.

As to standing, the court said as an initial matter that the states were due "special solicitude" for standing under Massachusetts v. EPA. The court went on to say that the states had standing because DAPA would require them to issue drivers licenses to DAPA beneficiaries, because DAPA would "impos[e] substantial pressure on them to change their laws" for drivers licenses, and because the states "now rely on the federal government to protect their interests" in immigration matters.

On the procedural APA claim, the court ruled that the states "established a substantial likelihood that DAPA would not genuinely leave the agency and its employees free to exercise discretion," despite conflicting evidence on the point, apparently ignored by the lower court. The court also ruled that DAPA is a substantive rule (and not procedural), because "receipt of DAPA benefits implies a 'stamp of approval' from the government and 'encodes a substantive value judgment,' such that the program cannot be considered procedural." As a result, according to the court, DAPA was subject to APA notice-and-comment rulemaking, and, because the government didn't use notice and comment, the states had a substantial likelihood of success on their procedural APA claim.

On the substantive APA claim, the court said that DAPA is "manifestly contrary to the [Immigration and Naturalization Act]," in particular, the INA's "specific and intricate provisions" that "directly addressed the precise question at issue." The court rejected the government's claim that DAPA is consistent with historical practice.

Importantly, the court did not "address whether single, ad hoc grants of deferred action made on a genuinely case-by-case basis are consistent with the INA . . . ." It only concluded "that the INA does not grant the Secretary discretion to grant deferred action and lawful presence on a class-wide basis to 4.3 million otherwise removable aliens."

Finally, the court said that the district court could issue a nationwide injunction, because, in short, immigration is a nationwide issue that calls for uniform regulation.

Judge King wrote a lengthy and sharp dissent, challenging the majority at each turn.

November 9, 2015 in Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Supremes Take Up Contraception Mandate Accommodation

The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear the cases testing whether the government's accommodation to the "contraception mandate" violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The move was expected. The Court will likely hear oral arguments in March 2016.

The cases involve HHS's requirement under the Affordable Care Act that employers' health insurance plans include certain kinds of contraception, and the government's accommodation to that requirement for religious non-profits. (Religions are already exempt.) The accommodation simply requires non-profit that objects to providing contraception on religious grounds to so notify the government (a letter will do, or the non-profit can use a government form). At that point, the government requires the insurer or third-party administrator to provide contraception, free of charge, directly to the non-profit's employees.

Some religious non-profits argue that the accommodation itself violates the RFRA, because their notification to the government triggers the provision of contraception. Seven circuits have rejected that claim; only the Eighth Circuit has accepted it. We posted most recently, on the Eighth Circuit's ruling, here.

The accommodation isn't a new idea. The Court itself identified it as a possible solution to objecting closely held for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby. But the Court didn't say whether it would violate the RFRA--that issue simply wasn't before the Court.

The parties in the case will argue whether the accommodation creates a "substantial burden" on their religious freedoms and, if so, whether it is narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest.

The non-profits' arguments push the bounds of the RFRA. After all, if an accommodation can be a "substantial burden"--and one that operates in such a minimally intrusive way--it's hard to see what couldn't be a substantial burden on some religion. Moreover, to get to the non-profits' result, the courts have to accept their view of how the law works--that the accommodation triggers the provision of contraception (in contrast to the view that the law itself triggers the requirement that insurers provide contraception). The Eighth Circuit (and the Eighth Circuit alone) got there, but seemingly by deferring to the non-profits' view of their own religion, as I explained here. Under RFRA, the courts certain defer to a religion on its own tenets and beliefs, but it's hard to see why the courts should extend that deference to a religious belief about the way the law works.

November 7, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Standing, Access Case Meets Sharply Divided Court

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Spokeo v. Robins, the case testing whether Congress can confer standing on a plaintiff by statute, even when the plaintiff lacks a sufficient and independent harm for Article III standing purposes.

The case is important for what it will say about access to the courts, and, in particular, class actions. The justices at oral arguments seemed sharply divided along conventional ideological lines, with progressives favoring access and conservatives, including Justice Kennedy, going the other way. If so, the case will take its place among the line of cases coming out of the Roberts Court that limit access to the judiciary and favor (corporate and government) defendants.

(Check out the outstanding Vanderbilt roundtable on the case, with six different takes, available here.)

The case arose when Spokeo, the owner of a web-site that provides searchable reports containing personal information about individuals, reported false information about Thomas Robins. For example, Spokeo reported that Robins had a graduate degree (he doesn't), that he was employed in a professional or technical field, with "very strong" "economic health" and wealth in the "Top 10% (he's unemployed), and that he's in his 50s, married, with children (he's not in his 50s, not married, and no children).

Robins filed suit, claiming that Spokeo's representations violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. He sought damages under the Act for a willful violation. Robins claimed that Spokeo's false report made it harder for him to find a job.

Justices Kagan and Scalia marked out the competing positions early in Spokeo's argument, and at times bypassed Spokeo's attorney (Andrew Pincus) entirely and simply argued with each other. At one point, Justice Scalia even intervened to answer a question for Pincus, and then told Pincus that it was the right answer. In short, Justice Kagan argued that Congress identified a concrete harm in the Act and provided a remedy for it; Justice Scalia argued that any harm was merely "procedural," because any harm was only Spokeo's violation of the Act's procedures (with no additional concrete harm). Here's a little of the exchange:

Justice Kagan: But did that procedural requirement--this is--this is exactly what Lujan says, "It's a procedural requirement the disregard of which could impair a concrete interest of the plaintiff."

And we distinguished that from procedural requirements in vacuo.

. . .

Justice Scalia: Excuse me. That--that would lead to the conclusion that anybody can sue . . . not just somebody who--whose information was wrong.

Pincus seemed to make an important concession in response to a question by Justice Kennedy, whether "Congress could have drafted a statute that would allow [Robins] to bring suit?" Pincus said yes, and proceeded to describe it--basically a statute that required a plaintiff to show a concrete harm that would be sufficient for Article III. If Justice Kennedy is in play, Pincus's softer position may assuage any concerns over an extreme position that Congress can never confer standing. The softer position also saves other statutes that have similar Congress-confered-standing provisions. (Justice Kennedy picked up this theme with Robins's attorney (William Consovoy) and noted that Consovoy's position of a Congress-created-harm (alone) seemed circular--but Consovoy didn't seem to give a satisfying answer.) At one point Pincus made another important concession: some plaintiffs might have standing under the FCRA, so long as they show an independent and sufficient harm.

On the other side, Chief Justice Roberts pressed Consovoy early on the limits of his argument--a point we're likely to see in the opinion:

Chief Justice Roberts: What about a law that says you get a--a--$10,000 statutory damages if a company publishes inaccurate information about you? . . . The company publishes your phone number, but it's wrong. That is inaccurate information about you, but you have no injury whatever. Can that person bring an action for that statutory damage?

Consovoy didn't have a response, or, rather, his response only opened new cans of worms. (Justice Breyer intervened and offered an interpretation of the statutory language that gives a cause of action to "any consumer who has obtained--who suffers from false information.") Chief Justice Roberts and Consovoy had a similar exchange later in the argument, too. Consovoy maintained that the FCRA was different than the Chief's hypotheticals, because the FCRA authorizes damages only for someone who was injured. He didn't seem to persuade the Chief on this point, though, despite Justice Breyer's help.

Justice Alito pointed to the record and argued that it didn't support a concrete harm. Indeed, he pointed out that nobody in the record (other than Robins himself) searched for him on Spokeo--a "quintessential speculative harm"--probably another point we'll see in the final opinion.

Chief Justice Roberts asked a different question--and a far more loaded one (politically, and constitutionally)--to the government, amicus for Robins:

Chief Justice Roberts: [L]et's kind of say your--your--Congress thinks that the president is not doing enough to stop illegal immigration, so it passes a law that says, anyone in a border State--so it's particularized--who is unemployed may bring an action against an illegal immigrant who has a job. And they get damages, maybe they get an injunction.

. . .

And I would have thought that the--the president would be concerned about Congress being able to create its own enforcement mechanism. I thought that you would be concerned that that would interfere with the executive prerogative.

The government tried to distinguish the hypo, but, again, counsel probably didn't persuade the conservatives.

November 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

En Banc Sixth Circuit Rejects "Heckler's Veto" in "Bible Believers" Protest at Arab-American Festival

The en banc Sixth Circuit's opinion in Bible Believers v. Wayne County clearly rejected the existence of a "heckler's veto" to inflammatory but protected speech under the First Amendment's speech clause, as well as finding the speech protected under the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The en banc court also found that the government was liable and that there was no qualified immunity.

Recall that last year a panel of the Sixth Circuit rejected the constitutional challenges of the Bible Believers group, affirming the district judge's grant of summary judgment for the government.

The underlying controversy arose when a group known as the "Bible Believers," Evangelical Christians, came to the Arab International festival on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan - - - as they had done the year before - - - to "preach."  Their speech included "strongly worded" slogans on signs, t-shirts, and banners (e.g., "Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder"),  a "severed pig's head

Repin, Demontsration 1905, via

on a stick" (intended to protect the Bible Believers by repelling observers who feared it), statements through a megaphone castigating the following of a "pedophile prophet" and warning of "God's impending judgment."  A crowd gathered, seemingly mostly of children and adolescents, who yelled back and threw items at the preachers.  A law enforcement asked the Bible Believers to leave, and - when pressed - saying they would be cited for disorderly conduct. They were eventually escorted out.

The Sixth Circuit's extensive en banc opinion, authored by Judge Eric Clay - - - and in which 8 (including Clay) of the 15 Sixth Circuit judges joined - - - resolutely "confirms" the free speech protections that should be accorded to a speaker even when "angry, hostile, or violent crowds" seek to silence that speaker. 

The opinion first finds that the Bible Believers' speech was protected, rejecting exception of incitement (to riot) and fighting words.  The "fighting words" discussion is regrettably short - - - a single paragraph - - - and summarily advances the "objective standard" requiring the insult to be likely to provoke the "average person" (emphasis in original) and moreover to be directed at an "individual."  In the context of the facts here, these principles deserved further exploration.

After a brief discussion of the public forum, the en banc opinion then discussed at length the "heckler's veto" doctrine and concluded it was not a viable doctrine.  Applying that conclusion, the opinion discussed law enforcement performance, citing the video record (which the court did at several points in the opinion): there was "next to no attempt made by the officers to protect the Bible Believers or prevent the lawless actions of the audience" and  it was not sufficient an effort "to maintain peace among a group of rowdy youths" - - - i.e., the crowd at the festival - - - if it consists of  a"few verbal warnings and a single arrest.  The court advised:

We do not presume to dictate to law enforcement precisely how it should maintain the public order. But in this case, there were a number of easily identifiable measures that could have been taken short of removing the speaker: e.g., increasing police presence in the immediate vicinity, as was requested; erecting a barricade for free speech, as was requested; arresting or threatening to arrest more of the law breakers, as was also requested; or allowing the Bible Believers to speak from the already constructed barricade to which they were eventually secluded prior to being ejected from the Festival. If none of these measures were feasible or had been deemed unlikely to prevail, the WCSO [Wayne County Sheriff's Office] officers could have called for backup—as they appear to have done when they decided to eject the Bible Believers from the Festival—prior to finding that it was necessary to infringe on the group’s First Amendment rights. We simply cannot accept Defendants’ position that they were compelled to abridge constitutional rights for the sake of public safety, when at the same time the lawless adolescents who caused the risk with their assaultive behavior were left unmolested.

In a very brief analysis, the court held that the free exercise claim "succeeds on the same basis as the free speech claim."  As for the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court's discussion is similarly summary, but its analysis seems much too conclusory:

The Festival included a number of other religious organizations that came to share their faith by spreading a particular message. There are several distinctions between the Bible Believers and these other groups. Mainly, the Bible Believers chose, as was their right, not to register for an assigned table under the information tent. Instead, they paraded through the Festival and proselytized, as was also their right, while carrying signs and a severed pig’s head. Although these actions set them apart from the other speakers and religious organizations at the Festival, they do not do so in any relevant respect. Any speaker could have walked the Festival grounds with or without signs if they chose to do so. The Bible Believers, like the other religious organizations at the Festival, sought to spread their faith and religious message. Although they declined to utilize the tent set aside for outside groups, their conduct was at all times peaceful while they passionately advocated for their cause, much like any other religious group. Wayne County did not threaten the Bible Believers based on their decision to march with signs and banners, but based on the content of the messages displayed on the signs and banners. The county’s disparate treatment of the Bible Believers was based explicitly on the fact that the Bible Believers’ speech was found to be objectionable by a number of people attending the Festival. Wayne County therefore violated the Bible Believers’ right to equal protection by treating them in a manner different from other speakers, whose messages were not objectionable to Festival-goers, by burdening their First Amendment rights.

The en banc court also held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity and that municipal liability was established.  On these issues, there were vigorous dissents.  And indeed, the en banc majority seems on tenuous ground, especially given its earlier discussion of Sixth Circuit precedent in Glasson v. City of Louisville decided in 1975:

In this Circuit, a modicum of confusion is understandable with respect to the prohibition against the heckler’s veto due to Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith affirmative defense.  . . . . Therefore, to the extent that Glasson’s good-faith defense may be interpreted as altering the substantive duties of a police officer not to effectuate a heckler’s veto, it is overruled.

Yet in the discussion of qualified immunity, the en banc court reasoned:

To the extent that Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith defense confused the issue of whether a heckler’s veto constitutes a constitutional violation, the facts and analysis in Glasson nonetheless alerted Defendants that removing a peaceful speaker, when the police have made no serious attempt to quell the lawless agitators, could subject them to liability.

That both the district judge and a previous panel of the Sixth Circuit had found that law enforcement's actions were constitutional, this seems a harsh conclusion - - - and is inconsistent with recent qualified immunity in First Amendment cases.  (For example, recall the unanimous Supreme Court 2014 opinion in Lane v. Franks, not cited in the Sixth Circuit opinions).

On the whole, the Sixth Circuit opinion validates the First Amendment right of provocative, offensive, and "challenging speech" - - - including symbolic speech such as marching with a pig's head on a stick - - - and requires law enforcement to protect such speech against (physically) hostile reactions by directing their efforts against those who are hostile rather than the speakers.   As Judge John Rogers, dissenting, suggested, one way to view the underlying controversy was that the "Bible Believers were hecklers seeking to disrupt the cultural fair" being held by the Arab-American community as an expressive enterprise.  The en banc majority clearly rejected that view - - - and held that the government should be liable for damages.

October 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ninth Circuit on Unconscious Bias, Equal Protection, and Batson

A divided Ninth Circuit panel has affirmed the district judge in granting habeas corpus and vacating a death sentence in its opinion in Crittenden v. Chappell.

Crittenden's claimed the prosecutor at trial excluded an African-American prospective juror on account of her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The Ninth Circuit had previously clarified that the peremptory challenge at issue need not be motivated solely by race, but only “motivated in substantial part” by race, “regardless of whether the strike would have issued if race had played no role.” On remand, the district judge found that the prosecutor was substantially motivated by race.

Lady-justice-juryWhile there are several issues in the case, including deference, appellate procedure, and retroactivity, the issue of "intent" under equal protection doctrine in the Batson context was central. The district judge's opinion engaged in specific comparisons regarding jurors and also stated "[t]he [side-by-side juror] comparisons demonstrate that . . . [the prosecutor] was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race."   The relevance of "unconsciously" was a division among the Circuit judges.  For the majority, this was a "passing comment" in the district judge's opinion, and "all the court meant was, whatever the explanation for the prosecutor’s racial motive, that motive was a substantial reason for his use of a peremptory strike." (emphasis in original).  The majority added, "In other words, why the prosecutor had a conscious racial motive to strike [the potential juror] Casey in the first place – whether or not 'unconscious racism' partly explained that motive – was simply irrelevant to the Batson inquiry."  It interestingly added this footnote:

It was relevant, of course, to the prosecutor’s reputation. The district court’s reference to “unconscious racism” spared him from being found a racist. By suggesting the prosecutor may have had more benign racial motives for the strike, or that his racial motive may have been influenced by unconscious racism, the court hoped to shield the prosecutor from possible disrepute. As the court made clear, however, this effort was not designed to – and did not – detract from the court’s key finding that the strike was consciously motivated by race.

Thus, because the majority upheld the district court’s finding of a conscious racial motive, "we do not – and need not – address whether unconscious bias can establish a Batson violation."

Judge Margaret McKeown dissented from the opinion authored by Judge Raymond Fisher and joined by Judge Marsha Berzon, arguing that there needed to be a clearer indication of discriminatory purpose:

The remaining question is whether, in striking [the potential juror] Casey, the prosecutor had a discriminatory purpose. “‘Discriminatory purpose’ . . . implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected . . . a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Hernandez v. New York (1991) (plurality) (quoting Person. Admin. of Mass. v. Feeney,  (1979)). The touchstone, as described in our caselaw, is whether race was a “substantial motivating factor” in the prosecutor’s decision to strike Casey.

(ellipses in original).  For dissenting judge McKeown, the burden was on the defendant to prove purposeful discrimination and he failed to do so. She added,

This case calls to mind Justice Breyer’s observation that the Batson inquiry can be an “awkward, sometime hopeless, task of second-guessing a prosecutor’s instinctive judgment—the underlying basis for which may be invisible even to the prosecutor exercising the challenge.” Miller-El v. Dretke (2005) (Breyer, J., concurring). In view of the record of what actually happened, the trial judge’s findings and the ultimate composition of the jury, our retrospective parsing simply cannot elevate ambiguous, speculative foundation to proof that the prosecutor was motivated in substantial part by racism.

The problem of the degree of proof of intent in equal protection claims generally and Batson specifically has vexed the courts.  Recall that the United States Supreme Court will be taking another look at equal protection doctrine under Batson this term in Foster v. Humphrey; the lower court had held that  merely because the prosecutor's notes and records revealed "that the race" - - - meaning Black - - - "of prospective jurors was either circled, highlighted or otherwise noted on various lists" did not establish purposeful discrimination. 

October 27, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 26, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Bivens Remedy for Overseas Violations in Criminal Terrorism Investigation

The D.C. Circuit on Friday ruled in a fractured opinion that a U.S. citizen secretly detained, transferred involuntarily between countries, and threatened with torture by FBI agents did not have a claim for violation of the Fourth Amendment in federal courts. That's because "special factors" counseled against such a remedy under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents.

The ruling means that Plaintiff Meshal's case is dismissed, and leaves him without a remedy. It also makes it yet even more difficult for plaintiffs like Meshal to get their cases heard in federal court. 

The FBI originally detained and held Meshal because of his alleged connections to al Qaeda; it later released him without charges.

The court wrote that Meshal's claim involved a "new context" for Bivens--a strike against him right out of the gate:

Not only does Meshal's claim involve new circumstances--a criminal terrorism investigation conducted abroad--it also involves different legal components--the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections. Such a different context requires us to think anew. To our knowledge, no court has previously extended Bivens to cases involving either the extraterritorial application of constitutional protections or in the national security domain, let alone a case implicating both--another signal that this context is a novel one.

Because the case arose in a "new context," the court looked to special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. And it found two, which, taken together, left Meshal without a Bivens cause of action: (1) the case involves "the military, national security, or intelligence," and (2) the conduct occurred outside the borders of the United States. The court also said that a host of "practical factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, including requiring the court to second guest executive officials operating in foreign justice systems, unknown diplomatic consequences of the suit, and forcing the courts to answer hard questions about the extraterritorial application of the Constitution outside of peacetime.

Judge Kavanaugh wrote separately to especially emphasize the military, counter-terrorism, and foreign context of the suit--the "new context" that triggered the special factors analysis and weighted so heavily against a Bivens claim.

Judge Pillard wrote a lengthy and scathing dissent, dissecting the court's analysis point-by-point. Judge Pillard was particularly concerned about the blind judicial deference to the government's mere invocation, without reasonable explanation, of foreign policy and national security as special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy. She summed up the strange and deeply disturbing result:

Had Meshal suffered these injuries in the United States, there is no dispute that he could have sought redress under Bivens. If Meshal's tormentors had been foreign officials, he could have sought a remedy under the Torture Victim Protection Act. Yet the majority holds that because of unspecified national security and foreign policy concerns, a United States citizen who was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and threatened with disappearance by United States law enforcement agents in Africa must be denied any remedy whatsoever.

October 26, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds Bulk of Gun Restrictions Against Second Amendment Challenges

In its extensive opinion in the consolidated cases of  New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass'n v. Cuomo and  The Connecticut Citizens' Defense League v. Malloy, a panel of Second Circuit substantially upheld gun restrictions passed by New York and Connecticut subsequent to the December 2012 "mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut." The court largely affirmed the district judge's opinion finding the bulk of New York's SAFE Act constitutional.

The central challenge was a Second Amendment one and the court applied the two-step inquiry that is becoming accepted throughout the circuits.

The first question is whether the government restriction burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment: the Second Amendment protects only “the sorts of weapons” that are (1) “in common use” and (2) “typically possessed by law‐abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

If so, the court then moves to the second inquiry, determining initially the "level of scrutiny" to be applied by considering two factors: (1) “how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right” and (2) “the severity of the law’s burden on the right.”  After determining the level of scrutiny - - - here, intermediate scrutiny - - - the court then applies the standard asking "whether the statutes at issue are 'substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest.'"
Affirming the respective district judges, the Second Circuit upheld the constitutionality of state prohibitions on semiautomatic assault weapons and large‐capacity magazines.  The Second Circuit held that Connecticut's specific prohibition on the non‐ semiautomatic Remington 7615 and New York's "seven‐round load limit" violated the Second Amendment.
Manet, Mister Pertuiset, The Lion Hunter, 1881 via
The court also considered several due process vagueness challenges to specific provisions in the laws, reversing the conclusion of the New York federal district judge that certain provisions - - - pertaining to “versions” and “muzzle breaks”- - - were unconstitutionally vague.
The Second Circuit's opinion is closely reasoned and well within what is becoming the standard within all the circuits.  Although the opinion several times mentions the absence of clear United States Supreme Court precedent - - - reminding that neither District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) nor McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) "delineated the precise scope of the Second Amendment or the standards by which lower courts should assess the constitutionality of firearms restrictions" - - - this should not be a case that the Second Circuit would be moved to reconsider or that the Supreme Court would find worthy of review - - - unless a ban on the possession of automatic assault weapons should be subject to strict scrutiny under the Second Amendment.

October 19, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Third Circuit Reinstates Constitutional Claim Against NYC for Muslim Surveillance

The Third Circuit's 60 page opinion today in Hassan v. City of New York reverses and remands the terse dismissal of the complaint in February 2014 by United States District Judge William Martini.  The original complaint alleged that the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeted New Jersey Muslims solely on the basis of religion, thereby violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The district judge found that there was no standing - - - in part because the plaintiffs did not know about their surveillance until it was revealed by the press and thus had no injury - - - and that the complaint did not state a plausible claim - - - in part because the "police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself."

The unanimous opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro, joined by Julio Fuentes, and with a very brief concurrence by Jane Roth regarding the standard of equal protection scrutiny to be applied, comes complete with a Table of Contents.  (Query whether opinions are increasingly availing themselves of a brief-like TOC: compare District Judge Shira Scheindlin's opinion in the NYC stop and frisk lawsuit, although her opinion is more than 3 times as long with many more footnotes.  Or perhaps there is something about NYC police practices that calls for a TOC?).

After a rehearsal of the NYC surveillance program and its disclosure, the court considers the problem of Article III standing.  For the Third Circuit, the "injury in fact" requirement of standing is satisfied by the plaintiffs' allegation of the denial of equal treatment on the basis of their religion under the Equal Protection Clause, as well as the First Amendment.  The court rejected NYC's arguments that there needed to be a tangible benefit denied, that there needed to be an overt condemnation (interestingly contrasting Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education); and that the injuries were not sufficiently particularized.  As to the "fairly traceable" causation requirement, the court soundly rejected the contention that it was the only disclosure of the surveillance by the press rather than the surveillance itself that caused the injury. Finally, in its brief discussion of "redressability," the court, quoting an Eleventh Circuit case, noted that "While we cannot predict 'the exact nature of the possible relief . . . without a full development of the facts, an order enjoining the policy and requiring non-discriminatory investigation and enforcement would redress the injury.'"

On the equal protection issue, the Third Circuit held that the complaint plausibly alleged that the NYC surveillance program made a facial religious classification.  It further held that this religious classification does not require an "invidious motive.": 

While the absence of a legitimate motive may bear on whether the challenged surveillance survives the appropriate level of equal-protection scrutiny, “intentional discrimination” need not be motivated by “ill will, enmity, or hostility” to contravene the Equal Protection Clause.

The court here interestingly cites the district judge's decision in the NYC stop and frisk case. 

The Third Circuit thus finds that the NYC surveillance program was facially religious, but then discussed the tier of scrutiny that religious classifications should merit:

Perhaps surprisingly, neither our Court nor the Supreme Court has considered whether classifications based on religious affiliation trigger heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. . . .

Although the answer to this question is not found in binding precedent, we hardly write on a clean slate. To start, it has long been implicit in the Supreme Court’s decisions that religious classifications are treated like others traditionally subject to heightened scrutiny, such as those based on race.  [Citations omitted]

This line of comment can be traced back to the famous footnote four of the Supreme Court’s 1938 decision in Carolene Products, where the Court suggested that discriminatory legislation should “be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment” if “directed at particular religious, or national, or racial minorities.”

After discussing a number of appellate court decisions, the Third Circuit panel held:

Today we join these courts and hold that intentional discrimination based on religious affiliation must survive heightened equal-protection review. Before turning more fully to our reasoning, however, we pause to reiterate that the term “heightened scrutiny,” as we use it, encompasses both “intermediate scrutiny” and “strict scrutiny.”

The panel stated that it need not - - - and should not - - - "determine in connection with its motion to dismiss which of the two applies, and we leave that question for the District Court in the first instance when and if it becomes necessary to decide it."  However, the court does engage in a Carolene Products-type of analysis to substantiate its conclusion, devoting some discussion to the "immutability" factor (which of course was not in the Carolene Products footnote).  It also noted that the "history of religious discrimination in the United States is intertwined with that based on other protected characteristics, including national origin and race," and that the allegations of the complaint reflected this intertwinement.

It is on this point that Judge Roth differs, arguing in her concurrence that intermediate scrutiny should apply and providing a somewhat personal explanation:

In my opinion, “intermediate scrutiny” is appropriate here. I say this because “intermediate scrutiny” is the level applied in gender discrimination cases. I have the immutable characteristic of being a woman. I am happy with this condition, but during my 80 years on this earth, it has caused me at times to suffer gender discrimination. My remedy now for any future gender discrimination would be reviewed with “intermediate scrutiny.” For that reason, I cannot endorse a level of scrutiny in other types of discrimination cases that would be stricter than the level which would apply to discrimination against me as a woman.

The Third Circuit did acknowledge the national security interest, but added that "it is often where the asserted interest appears most compelling that we must be most vigilant in protecting constitutional rights," explicitly invoking Korematsu and Hirabayashi.

The court's relatively brief First Amendment conclusion similarly rejects NYC's claim that animus must be proven.

The court concludes:

What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight—that “[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.” [citation omitted].

image via



October 13, 2015 in Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Judge Allows Challenge to D.C. School Funding to Move Forward

Judge Tanya Chutkan (D.D.C.) last week denied the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss key parts of a claim by D.C. charter schools that the D.C. government under-funded them in comparison to District public schools. The lengthy ruling is laden with analysis on the constitutional relationship between Congress and the District, much of it indeterminate, reminding us just how complicated this relationship can be.

The plaintiff charter schools brought the case, arguing that the D.C. government funneled extra money to D.C. public schools, but not charter schools, in violation of the District Clause and Home Rule Act, the Supremacy Clause, and the School Reform Act. In particular, the plaintiffs argued that the D.C. government violated the Home Rule Act by altering a a congressional act (the School Reform Act) without specific congressional authorization. The District countered that it has authority under the Home Rule Act to amend or repeal the School Reform Act, because the School Reform Act applies only to the District.

Judge Chutkan ruled that neither the case law nor the Home Rule Act tells when Congress acts in tandem with the D.C. City Council (so that the Council could alter a congressional act), or when Congress has the final word--at least in the abstract. So she turned to the text and history of the School Reform Act to answer the question here. But Judge Chutkan said that the School Reform Act was similarly indeterminate. She wrote that the Act's apparent mandatory language on equal school funding for charters and public schools wasn't dispositive, because "if the District can (and has) repealed Acts of Congress that used the term 'shall,' then that term alone cannot necessarily delineate Congress' intent with respect to the Council's authority.'" Moreover, Judge Chutkan said that the legislative history of the School Reform Act didn't answer the question. The upshot: "As it stands, the uniform funding formula is on the books, and it is not clear whether it has been violated, whether it has been amended or repealed by Council enactments (through Congressional acquiescence or otherwise), or whether the challenged actions do not implicate or conflict with the funding formula at all." She thus denied the District's motion to dismiss the District Clause, Home Rule Act, and School Reform Act claims. The ruling means that these claims can move forward.

In contrast, Judge Chutkan did dismiss the plaintiffs' Supremacy Clause claim. That's because the Supremacy Clause doesn't apply to congressional acts over D.C.; the District Clause does. The analysis is the same, Judge Chutkan wrote, but the Supremacy Clause doesn't do the work.

October 6, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

California Court Upholds Anti-Paparazzi Law Against First Amendment Challenge

California's so-called anti-paparazzi law has been upheld against a facial First Amendment challenge by a state appellate court in its opinion in Raef v. Superior Court of Los AngelesRecall that Paul Raef was charged under California Vehicle Code, section 40008, subdivision (a) which increases the punishment for reckless driving and other traffic offenses committed with the intent to capture an image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person for a commercial purpose for his  "alleged high-speed pursuit of pop star Justin Bieber and failure to stop when police attempted to pull him over."  The court concluded that the Vehicle Code provision is a law of general application that does not single out the press for special treatment, does not target speech, and is neither vague nor overbroad.

Banksy, "Photo Rat" via

The court reasoned that Vehicle Code section 40008 is not limited to paparazzi chasing celebrities or reporters gathering news. Instead, the statute targets “any person” who commits an enumerated traffic offense with the intent to capture the image, sound, or physical impression of “another person” for a commercial purpose.  The court distinguished both Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm’r of Revenue (1983), finding a paper and ink tax unconstitutional,  and Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Board (1991), holding NY's "Son of Sam" law unconstitutional. 

In considering the expressive activity of taking photographs, the court considered ACLU v. Alvarez in which the Seventh Circuit held unconstitutional a broad anti-eavesdropping statute prohibiting video recording of police officers.  But  the court reasoned that even assuming "that the intent to take a photograph or make a recording of another person generally is entitled to First Amendment protection as a speech-producing activity, we are not persuaded that section 40008 punishes that intent per se or that the commercial purpose requirement imposes a content-based restriction on speech."

Instead, the court relied on Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993) - - - even as it recognized the differences in the enhanced penalties for a bias crime - - - to conclude that it is the conduct not the intent that is being punished:

the conduct which section 40008 targets is not garden-variety tailgating, reckless driving, or interference with the driver’s control of a vehicle. It involves “relentless” pursuits of targeted individuals on public streets, as well as corralling and deliberately colliding with their vehicles. Such goal-oriented conduct hounds the targeted individuals, causing them to react defensively and escalating the danger to the violators, the targeted individuals, and the public. Because the predicate statutes do not require that the traffic offenses be committed with a specific intent and for a particular purpose, it cannot be said that the conduct they punish is indistinguishable from that subject to section 40008.

The court also rejected the argument that the statute made a content-based distinction of "commercial purpose", based in last Term's opinion in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Relatedly, the court found that Reed's language did not support any finding that the California statute was targeted at First Amendment activity.  "Since the legal sanction is triggered by the noncommunicative aspects of the violator’s conduct, any incidental effect on speech does not necessarily raise First Amendment concerns."  And finally, the court found that any incidental burden on speech survives intermediate scrutiny.

As to overbreadth and vagueness, the court reiterated the standard for a facial challenge and noted that

   To the extent that Raef and amici are concerned about “the possibility of overzealousness on the part of the arresting officer and not vagueness in the criminal statute,” their concerns “can be adequately dealt with in the course of prosecution of individual cases on their individual facts.” . . . . Hypothetical concerns over potential misuse of the statute to unfairly target the press do not justify invalidating it on its face.

Thus it seems Paul Raef may be raising the as-applied challenges to his prosecution under the statute.

September 30, 2015 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seventh Circuit Upholds Chicago's Weed and Fence Ordinances

In its opinion in Discount Inn v. City of Chicago, the Seventh Circuit has rejected constitutional challenges to the city's fence and weed ordinances, affirming the district judge's dismissal of the complaint.  The plaintiff, a corporation that Judge Posner's opinion for the unanimous panel notes is inadequately identified in the record, sought "recovery of the fines that it has paid for violating" the ordinances —"it claims to have been fined more than twenty times." 

Discount Inn alleged that the challenged ordinances violate the prohibition in the Eighth Amendment of “excessive fines.”  Basically, Judge Posner rejects this claim with a simple statement: "A fine topped off at $600 can hardly be deemed an excessive penalty for violating the ordinance."

Discount Inn also alleged that the challenged "weed ordinance is vague and forbids expressive activity protected by the First Amendment."  Posner does recognize that it is possible that plants could have an expressive dimension:

The gardens of Sissinghurst Castle and of Giverny might well be recognized as works of art were they in the United States. There may be gardens in Chicago, whether consisting of native or other plants, that are or should be recognized as works of art.

However, he ultimately dispatches the First Amendment claim thusly:

the plaintiff’s claim that the free‐speech clause insulates all weeds from public control is ridiculous. It’s not as if the plaintiff invented, planted, nurtured, dyed, clipped, or has otherwise beautified its weeds, or that it exhibits or in‐ tends or aspires to exhibit them in museums or flower shows. Its weeds have no expressive dimension. The plaintiff just doesn’t want to be bothered with having to have them clipped.

Thus, this should be a rather routine affirmance of a dismissal. 

However, Judge Posner has taken the opportunity to provide some discourse - - - and some illustrations - - - of "weeds."  Posner writes:

there is an ambiguity in the concept of a “weed,” an ambiguity brought out by comparing “weed” to ”native plant.” A native plant, like a weed (or perhaps it could be thought of as an elite type of weed), is “born” and matures normally without human intervention although it may also have been deliberately planted. It need not be destructive. In contrast, an “invasive plant species” enters either naturally or by human transport into an area in which native or other valued plants are growing, and squeezes out or otherwise injures or destroys those plants. Cf. 40 C.F.R. § 166.3, defining “invasive species” for purposes of federal pesticide regulations as “any species that is not native to [a particular] eco‐system, and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

Here is one of the five photographs included in the 16 page opinion:


This image, like the other images in the opinion, and some of the discussion, is not in the record.

This opinion seems more confirmation of ConLawProf Josh Blackman's labeling of Judge Posner as the "most flagrant, and brazen offender" of the appellate rule against fact-finding. 

Nevertheless, coupled with the Second Circuit's decision on "credit card surcharges," this case could be a great introduction in First Amendment: Neither prices nor weeds are speech.

September 30, 2015 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds New York's Credit Card Surcharge Prohibition

Reversing United States District Judge Jed Rakoff who had declared unconstitutional New York General Business Law § 518 prohibiting sellers from imposing a surcharge on customers who use credit cards, the Second Circuit's opinion in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman held that the law does not violate either the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause.

The expressive element in the challenge to pricing regulation is not immediately obvious.  But as Judge Debra Ann Livingston's opinion for the unanimous panel explains:

Section 518 does not prohibit all differentials  between the price ultimately charged to cash customers and the price ultimately charged to credit‐card customers; it forbids charging credit‐card customers an additional amount above the regular price that is not also charged to cash customers, but it permits offering cash customers a discount below the regular price that is not also offered to credit‐card customers. (That is, it allows what we have termed “cash discounts.”) To illustrate, if a seller’s regular price is $100, it may not charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100, but if the seller’s regular price is $103, it may charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100.

Plaintiffs’ submissions reveal that they are claiming First Amendment protection for two distinct kinds of pricing schemes. First, Plaintiffs aver that they would like to post only a single price for their goods and services and charge more than that price to credit‐card customers, but are prohibited from doing so by Section 518.  (Five Points Academy: “It is not our intention to display two separate prices for each good and service that we offer, but rather to display—with roughly equal prominence—a single set of prices and the credit card surcharge amount.”); (Expressions Hair Design: “We would like to . . . characterize the price difference as  a 3% credit‐card surcharge on top of the listed cash price.”). In other words, Plaintiffs are seeking First Amendment protection for the kind of straightforward single‐sticker‐price scheme that Section 518 clearly prohibits. Second, Expressions Hair Design (the only Plaintiff to do so) currently posts two different prices for its services—one for credit‐card customers and one for cash customers—and fears being prosecuted for characterizing this price differential as a “surcharge,” or for telling its customers that credit costs “more.”

The court is clear that prices are not expressive.  It also rejects the argument that the statute actually bans an expressive label it disfavors ("credit-card discount") while permitting one a label it approves ("cash discount").  As the court explains,

Plaintiffs’ chief error—or, perhaps more accurately, the central flaw in their argument—is their bewildering persistence in equating the actual imposition of a credit‐card surcharge (i.e., a seller’s choice to charge an additional amount above the sticker price to its credit‐card customers) with the words that speakers of English have chosen to describe that pricing scheme (i.e., the term “credit‐card surcharge”).

Yet this was also the error of the district judge who applied the test from Central Hudson and concluded the NY law failed it.

The court also rejected the arguments that the NY statute is unconstitutional as applied to Expressions Hair Design's "dual price" scheme and an overbreadth challenge to other "hypothetical" pricing schemes.  The court found that the New York courts had not ruled on such questions and that Section 518 was "readily susceptible" to a narrowing construction that would eliminate the constitutional issues.  The court declined to certify the question to the New York Court of Appeals.

Finally, the court very succinctly resolved the due process vagueness challenge by finding that the statute had a "core meaning that can reasonably be understood."

Thus, sellers doing business in New York are again constitutionally prohibited from imposing credit card surcharges.  Cash discounts, however, remain permissible.


September 29, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

SEC Target Can't Jump the Gun (to Federal Court)

The D.C. Circuit ruled in Jarkesy v. SEC that the target of an SEC administrative proceeding has to run the administrative course before he can challenge the proceeding in federal court for violating his constitutional rights.

The ruling aligns with a recent Seventh Circuit decision, but is at odds with some of the district courts that have ruled on the question.

The SEC brought an administrative proceeding against George Jarkesy, charging him with securities fraud. Before the SEC ruled on the case, but after Jarkesy's co-respondents settled (in a way that didn't look good for Jarkesy), Jarkesy sued in federal court to stop the proceeding, arguing that it violated various constitutional rights.

The district court dismissed Jarkesy's case, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

The court applied the two-part framework in Thunder Basin Coal Co. v. Reich and held (1) that congressional intent to require a litigant to proceed exclusively through the SEC's statutory scheme of administrative and judicial review was "fairly discernible in the statutory scheme" itself and (2) that Jarkesy's claims were "of the type Congress intended to be reviewed within [the SEC's] statutory structure."

The court rejected an argument that Jarkesy's case was like the plaintiffs' challenge in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB. In that case, the Supreme Court sustained district-court jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' facial constitutional challenge to Sarbanes-Oxley. The court also rejected an approach that would distinguish between different types of constitutional challenges (allowing some on collateral attack, but not allowing others). The court explained:

We do not read the Free Enterprise Court's characterization of the plaintiffs' claims in that case, however, to define a new category of collateral claims that fall outside an otherwise exclusive administrative scheme. In its subsequent decision in Elgin [v. Department of the Treasury], the Court considered and rejected the idea that one could divine an exception to an otherwise exclusive administrative scheme based on the distinction between various types of constitutional challenges. "[A] jurisdictional rule based on the nature of an employee's constitutional claim would deprive the aggrieved employee, the MSPB, and the district court of clear guidance about the proper forum for the employee's claims at the outset of the case," the Court wrote, dismissing the plaintiffs' proposed line between constitutional challenges to statutes and other types of constitutional arguments to be "hazy at best and incoherent at worst." The Elgin Court also rejected the dissent's proffered rule making an exception to the CSRA scheme specifically for facial attacks on statutes. The Court explained that "the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges is not so well defined that it has some automatic effect or that it must always control the pleadings and disposition in every case involving a constitutional challenge."

September 29, 2015 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

D.C. Circuit to Rehear Judgment Vacating Military Commission Conviction

The D.C. Circuit announced that it would rehear en banc a panel's earlier judgment vacating the military commission conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul, an alien enemy combatant who one time bragged about his role in the 9/11 attacked.

A panel this past June vacated al Bahlul's conviction for inchoate conspiracy. The panel said that the conviction violated Article III because it was based on "the purely domestic crime" of inchoate conspiracy, which is not an offense under the international law of war.

The panel's summer ruling was a victory for al Bahlul and a blow to the government in conducting military commission trials. But the court's latest ruling gives it a second bite at this apple. The ruling vacates the panel's summer judgment and sets oral argument before the entire court for December 1, 2015.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Rejects Franchisers' Constitutional Challenges to Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

Affirming the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in International Franchise Ass'n v. City of Seattle rejected all of the constitutional challenges to a Seattle provision that deemed franchises included in the definition of "large employers" and thus subject to the new $15 minimum wage.  Recall that the complaint challenged  the provision under the (dormant) commerce clause, equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, preemption under the Lanham Act (trademarks), and state constitutional provisions.

Photo by Steve Rhodes via

The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel's opinion found that there was not a likelihood of success on any of the constitutional claims, devoting most of its analysis to dormant commerce clause doctrine.  The panel first rejected the argument that the franchise regulation expressly discriminated against franchises as interstate commerce and was thus not "facially neutral." The panel also rejected the argument that the Seattle provision had a discriminatory purpose, noting that while there was some evidence that some persons involved in considering the issue were critical of franchise employment practices, even the strongest evidence of this (in an email), did not show that even this person "intended to burden out-of-state firms or interfere with the wheels of interstate commerce," and "[m]ore importantly, they also do not show that City officials wished to discriminate against out-of- state entities, bolster in-state firms, or burden interstate commerce."  Lastly, the panel rejected the argument that the Seattle provision discriminatory effects, agreeing with the district judge that the United States Supreme Court's decisions on dormant commerce clause can be "difficult to reconcile" and noting:

 We lack Supreme Court authority assessing whether a regulation affecting franchises ipso facto has the effect of discriminating against interstate commerce. Nor has the Supreme Court addressed whether franchises are instrumentalities of interstate commerce that cannot be subjected to disparate regulatory burdens. While regulations that expressly classify based on business structure or impose disparate burdens on franchises present interesting questions, our review is limited to considering whether the district court applied improper legal principles or clearly erred in reviewing the record.

 The footnote to this paragraph includes an extensive citation to lower courts that have considered the issue of whether measures that affect national chains violate the dormant Commerce Clause.  The Ninth Circuit panel concluded:

[T]he evidence that the ordinance will burden interstate commerce is not substantial. It does not show that interstate firms will be excluded from the market, earn less revenue or profit, lose customers, or close or reduce stores. Nor does it show that new franchisees will not enter the market or that franchisors will suffer adverse effects.

The Ninth Circuit panel dispatched the Equal Protection Clause claim much more expeditiously.  The Ninth Circuit applied the lowest form of rational basis scrutiny  - - - citing F.C.C. v. Beach Commc’ns, Inc. (1993) sometimes called "anything goes" rational basis - - - and finding there was a legitimate purpose (without animus) and the law was reasonably related to that purpose.

The court's discussion of the First Amendment claim was similarly brief, not surprising given that the court found the Speech Clause's threshold requirement of "speech"  was absent: "Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is plainly an economic regulation that does not target speech or expressive conduct."

Additionally, the court agreed with the district judge that there was no preemption under the Lanham Act and no violation of the Washington State Constitution.

The Ninth Circuit panel did disagree with the district judge regarding some minor aspects of the non-likelihood to prevail on the merits preliminary injunction factors.  But on the whole, the opinion is a strong rebuke to the constitutional challenges to the Seattle laws.

Given the stakes (and the attorneys for the franchisers) a petition for certiorari is a distinct possibility.  Meanwhile, as we suggested when the case was filed, for ConLawProfs looking for a good exam review or exam problem, International Franchise Ass'n v. Seattle has much potential.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)