Monday, May 22, 2017
In its opinion in Cooper v. Harris, formerly McCrory v. Harris, the Court affirmed the findings of a three-judge District Court that North Carolina officials violated the Equal Protection Clause in the 2011 redistricting with regard to two districts: District 1 and District 12.
Recall that in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections (argued the same day as Cooper v. Harris), the Court clarified the analysis for reviewing racial gerrymandering claims and remanded the matter back to the three judge District Court to determine 11 out of the 12 districts at issue.
Justice Elana Kagan, writing for majority in Cooper v. Harris, provides the analytic structure for assessing challenges to racial gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause:
- First, the plaintiff must prove that “race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” quoting Miller v. Johnson (1995). This means that the legislature "subordinated other factors," including geographic ones, partisan advantage, and "what have you" to racial considerations.
- Second, if racial considerations predominated over others, the design of the district must withstand strict scrutiny, requiring a compelling governmental interest achieved by narrowly tailored means.
- A recognized compelling governmental interest is compliance with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is a compelling governmental interest. "This Court has long assumed that one compelling interest is complying with operative provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
- To satisfy the narrow-tailoring requirement, the state must show that it had “a strong basis in evidence” for concluding that the VRA required its action. "Or said otherwise, the State must establish that it had “good reasons” to think that it would transgress the Act if it did not draw race-based district lines," a standard which "gives States “breathing room” to adopt reasonable compliance measures that may prove, in perfect hindsight, not to have been needed."
The Court unanimously agrees that District 1 fails this standard. The racial intent in redistricting was clear. As to the means chosen, the Court rejected North Carolina's argument that it redesigned the district to comply with the VRA because in fact District 1 had historically been a "cross-over" district in which "members of the majority help a large enough minority to elect a candidate of its choice. In other words, there was no 'White Bloc' operating in District 1. The Court rejected North Carolina's argument that this could occur in the future, especially since the entire state was being redrawn. The Court notes that the officials seemed to believe - - - incorrectly - - - that they were required to draw a majority Black district, despite any evidence of "cross-over."
image: Appendix 1 to Court's opinion;
note District 1 in yellow and District 12 in orange.
The Court divided on the constitutionality of District 12, however. The only issue was whether or not the redistricting was racial; North Carolina did not argue it could satisfy strict scrutiny if race predominated. Writing for the Court, Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, affirmed the findings of the three judge district court that District 12 was redrawn with reference to race. North Carolina contended that the officials redrew the district only with reference to political affiliation (which would not violate the Equal Protection Clause), arguing that the goal was to "pack" District 12 with Democrats (and thereby render other districts more Republican). Justice Kagan noted that the determination of whether an act was racially-motivated or politically-motivated involved a "sensitive inquiry" and that racial identification is "highly correlated" with political affiliation. But for the majority, the District Court's finding of racial predominance must be affirmed:
The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration. And no error of law infected that judgment: Contrary to North Carolina’s view,the District Court had no call to dismiss this challenge just because the plaintiffs did not proffer an alternative design for District 12 as circumstantial evidence of the legislature’s intent.
Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy (who authored Bethune-Hill), vigorously contested the finding of racial intent. Alito faults the majority as well as the District Court as being obtuse: "The majority’s analysis is like Hamlet without the prince." This bit of snark in the body of the dissent, earns a rebuke from the majority in a footnote to its statement that this district is back before the Court for the sixth time, criticizing the dissent for simply adopting North Carolina's version: "Imagine (to update the dissent’s theatrical reference) Inherit the Wind retold solely from the perspective of William Jennings Bryan, with nary a thought given to the competing viewpoint of Clarence Darrow." In a counter footnote, Alito defends the opinion from merely accepting North Carolina's explanation.
The alternative map argument is also a point of contention. For the majority, it is one way of demonstrating that the redistricting officials acting on the basis of race:
If you were really sorting by political behavior instead of skin color (so the argument goes) you would have done—or, at least, could just as well have done—this. Such would-have, could-have, and (to round out the set) should-have arguments are a familiar means of undermining a claim that an action was based on a permissible,rather than a prohibited, ground.
But, the majority emphasizes, such strategies are "hardly the only way." For the dissent, a passage from Easley v. Cromartie, (2001) (Cromartie II), involving essentially the same district, is determinative: plaintiffs must show that the officials could have achieved their political goals in a manner with more racial balance.
Interestingly, in his brief concurring opinion, Justice Thomas references Cromartie II, in which he dissented. Thomas contends that Cromartie II misapplied the "deferential standard for reviewing factual findings," an error which the present decision "does not repeat."
May 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Backpage.com's challenge to a subpoena issued by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations was moot. The court dismissed Backpage.com's case and vacated earlier district court rulings.
The case arose when the Subcommittee sought to enforce its subpoena for Backpage.com documents to aid its investigation into the web-site's facilitation of sex trafficking. While the case worked its way between the district court and the D.C. Circuit, Backpage.com voluntarily provided the Subcommittee with a good many of the documents the Subcommittee sought (but withheld some other documents under claims of privilege). Before the D.C. Circuit could rule on Backpage.com's challenge to the subpoena, the Subcommittee wrapped up its investigation based on the released documents and issued its final report. The Subcommittee then moved to dismiss the case as moot.
In its ruling yesterday, the D.C. Circuit agreed with the Subcommittee. The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the district court might still order some relief (for example, an order that the Subcommittee destroy or return the documents still in its possession), thus keeping the case alive, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering a congressional committee to release documents used in a lawful investigation. In particular, the court wrote that under circuit law "the Clause affords Congress a 'privilege to use materials in its possession without judicial interference,' even where unlawful acts facilitated their acquisition." (Unlawful acts did not facilitate their acquisition here; instead, Backpage.com provided them.) In short, once documents come into the hands of a committee, "the subsequent use of the documents by the committee staff in the course of official business is privileged legislative activity."
The court rejected Backpage.com's argument that the Subcommittee waived its privilege by voluntarily subjecting itself to the court's jurisdiction (when it filed to enforce the subpoena): "[w]hen Congress petitions the court in a subpoena enforcement action, Congress does not waive its immunity from court interference with its exercise of its constitutional powers."
The court also rejected Backpage.com's argument that the case was capable of repetition but evading review. The court said a repeat was simply too speculative.
The ruling doesn't leave future subjects of congressional subpoenas without a remedy. According to the court, such subjects should refuse to comply during the legal proceedings so that the courts can hear their objections on the merits.
In other words, Backpage.com's mistake was voluntarily releasing the documents in the first place.
The separation-of-powers part of the ruling stands in contrast to the Court's holding in Church of Scientology of California v. United States, a case that the D.C. Circuit distinguished. In Church of Scientology, the IRS filed a petition to enforce a summons against a state-court clerk for tape recordings related to the Church in district court, and the Church intervened to oppose. While the case was on appeal, the clerk released the tapes to the IRS, at while point the appellate court dismissed the case as moot. The Supreme Court reversed, however, explaining that the case remained alive because the district court could still issue relief to the Church--a "destroy or return" order.
The D.C. Circuit said that Church of Scientology was different, however, because "the separation of powers, including the Speech or Debate Clause," bars a court from ordering that same kind of relief against Congress.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the federal scheme covering service-member retirement and disability pay preempts a state court divorce decree that granted the former spouse of a retired service-member a portion of his disability benefits.
The ruling in Howell v. Howell settles a split in the state courts.
The case involves the way that federal law provides for veterans' retirement and disability pay, and the way that state courts can divide that pay in a divorce. Under federal law, a qualified veteran receives taxable retirement pay. A qualified veteran can also receive nontaxable disability pay. But if a veteran opts to receive disability pay, the disability pay off-sets his or her retirement pay dollar for dollar, so that the total amount of pay remains the same. Still, most veterans who qualify for disability pay opt for disability pay, because it's not taxed.
Under the federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act of 1982, a state may treat a veteran's retirement pay as divisible property in a divorce. But the Act explicitly excludes disability pay from divisible retirement pay. The Supreme Court ruled in Mansell v. Mansell that a state court cannot divide disability pay in a divorce when the veteran received both retirement pay and disability pay before the divorce. (The Court held that the Act preempted a state court ruling to the contrary.) Howell tested whether the Act compelled this same result when a veteran opted for disability pay well after the divorce. (The difference matters, because the spouse in Howell would take a cut in total payments if the same rule applied when the veteran spouse opted for disability pay after the divorce.)
The unanimous Court (Justice Gorsuch recused) held that the same rule applied, whether the veteran spouse opted for disability pay before the divorce or after. The Court said that Mansell dictated the result, and that the different timing didn't matter: "the temporal difference highlights only that John's military retirement pay at the time it came to Sandra was subject to later reduction (should John exercise a waiver to receive disability benefits to which he is entitled)."
The Court also rejected the theory that the state court could "reimburse" or "indemnify" the spouse, rather than outright dividing the disability pay: "The difference is semantic and nothing more. . . . Regardless of their form, such reimbursement and indemnification orders displace the federal rule and stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the purposes and objectives of Congress." (Justice Thomas concurred but wrote separately to disagree with this latter portion of the ruling--on "purposes and objectives" pre-emption. "As I have previously explained, '[t]hat framework is an illegitimate basis for finding the pre-emption of state law.'")
The Court recognized the "hardship" that this result may "work on divorcing spouses," and noted that state courts might take this into account when it calculates the need for spousal support.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a damages claim against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple can move forward. The ruling reverses a lower court ruling that dismissed the case as moot and sends the case back for further proceedings.
This was one of three cases challenging Davis's refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of Obergefell. The other two sought declaratory and injunctive relief; this one sought monetary damages.
After Kentucky passed a law that permitted county clerks to issue licenses without their names--an accommodation to Davis's religious objection--same-sex couples, including the plaintiffs here, received their marriage licenses. Courts then dismissed the two cases seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as moot (because the plaintiffs received their licenses), and the lower court dismissed this case as moot, too.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court held that the plaintiffs' claim for monetary damages continued to be a live dispute, despite Kentucky's accommodation law, because it sought relief for past harms to the plaintiffs that weren't remedied by their eventual receipt of a license. The court noted that a claim for monetary damages for past harms can live on, even if other portions of a suit for declaratory and injunctive relief (or other, related suits for those forms of relief) become moot.
Judge Siler concurred, but added that Davis might argue on remand that she was protected by the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In particular, Judge Siler argued that the district court "should have the first opportunity upon remand to decide whether that or any other provision of the law would protect Davis as a qualified-immunity or absolute-immunity defense under the circumstances."
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Judge William H. Orrick (N.D. Cal.) issued a nationwide temporary injunction halting President Trump's executive order that sought to clamp down on sanctuary cities.
The ruling was a broadside against the EO, handing the plaintiffs, Santa Clara County and San Francisco, a decisive preliminary victory on nearly all the points they raised. But at the same time, the ruling is preliminary, and holds only that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their various claims. It's also certain to be appealed.
The ruling comes closely on the heels of the Justice Department's move last week to begin enforcement of the EO by informing certain "sanctuary cities" that they could lose DOJ Justice Assistance Grants if they failed to provide "documentation and an opinion from legal counsel" that they were in compliance with Section 1373.
But the lawsuit challenged the EO on its face, and not just as applied to DOJ JAG grants. And that turned out to be critical in Judge Orrick's decision. In particular, Judge Orrick held that the plain language of the EO threatened all "federal grants" to sanctuary cities, notwithstanding the administration's attempts to narrow that language. (Judge Orrick flatly rejected attempts to limit the EO, taking judicial notice of a variety of public statements of President Trump and administration officials about the breadth of the program.) Because the EO put all "federal grants" on the chopping block, Judge Orrick said that it swept way too far. (Judge Orrick wrote that nothing in the injunction prohibited the administration from enforcing lawful conditions on federal grants, or enforcing Section 1373, or designating jurisdictions as "sanctuary jurisdictions.")
Judge Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their separation-of-powers claim, because "Section 9 [of the Order, which conditions federal grants on compliance with Section 1373] purports to give the Attorney General and the Secretary the power to place a new condition on federal funds (compliance with Section 1373) not provided for by Congress." This was particularly troubling, because Congress has several times declined to put like conditions on other federal immigration laws.
Judge Orrick also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their Spending Clause claim, because (1) the conditions in the EO were not unambiguous (because it didn't exist when the states signed up for many of their federal grants, and because so much of the language is vague), (2) there's not a sufficient nexus between the federal funds at issue (from any federal grant) and compliance with Section 1373, and (3) the EO is coercive (because it could deny to local governments all their federal grants).
Judge Orrick also ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their Tenth Amendment challenge (because the EO would compel state and local governments "to enforce a federal regulatory program through coercion" and require state and local jurisdictions to honor civil detainer requests), their void-for-vagueness challenge (because so much of the EO is, well, vague), and their Due Process claim (because the EO contains no process before the feds could withhold already-issued federal grants).
In short, Judge Orrick ruled for the plaintiffs on all their claims. Just one went the other way: Judge Orrick declined to issue an injunction against President Trump himself.
Despite the lofty separation-of-powers and federalism issues that were (and are) at the core of the case, a good chunk of the ruling dealt with justiciability. Judge Orrick ruled that the plaintiffs had standing (because they suffered current budget uncertainty or a required change in policies to comply with the EO) and that the claims were ripe (because of the threatened injury, under MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech).
Friday, April 21, 2017
In its opinion in CTIA - The Wireless Ass'n v. City of Berkeley, a panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected First Amendment and preemption challenges to an ordinance requiring retailers to provide notices to consumers about their cell phone purchase. The notice, to be on a poster or handout, with the seal of the city, must read:
The City of Berkeley requires that you be provided the following notice:
To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radiofrequency (RF) exposure guidelines. If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.
As the notice implies, the FCC disclosures required to be included with the phone are similar if more extensive.
Affirming the district judge, the divided Ninth Circuit panel found that the required notice did not violate the First Amendment. As a compelled disclosure in a commercial context, the choice of standards was between the commercial speech test of Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of New York (1980) or the more lenient test for disclosure of Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio (1985). Writing for the majority, Judge William Fletcher found that the Zauderer test was appropriate, despite the fact that the disclosure did not involve "consumer deception." Judge Fletcher agreed with "sister circuits that under Zauderer the prevention of consumer deception is not the only governmental interest that may permissibly be furthered by compelled commercial speech," citing the D.C. Circuit's en banc opinion in American Meat Institute v. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Judge Fletcher's opinion reasoned that the Zauderer's language that the disclosure be “uncontroversial” should not be over-emphasized:
Given that the purpose of the compelled disclosure is to provide accurate factual information to the consumer, we agree that any compelled disclosure must be “purely factual.” However, “uncontroversial” in this context refers to the factual accuracy of the compelled disclosure, not to its subjective impact on the audience. This is clear from Zauderer itself.
Applying the deferential Zauderer standard, the court again confronted whether the disclosure was "purely factual" as well as being reasonably related to a substantial governmental interest. Judge Fletcher's opinion concluded the mandated notice was "literally true," based on FCC findings. The court rejected CTIA's argument that while it might be "literally true," the statement was "inflammatory and misleading." Judge Fletcher analyzed the compelled notice sentence by sentence, finding it true. For example, CTIA objected to the phrase “RF radiation,” but Judge Fletcher's opinion noted this is "precisely the phrase the FCC has used, beginning in 1996, to refer to radio-frequency emissions from cell phones," and that the city could not be faulted for using the technically correct term that the FCC itself uses.
It was on this point that the brief partial dissent by Judge Michelle Friedland differed. For Judge Friedland, consumers would not read the disclosure "sentences in isolation the way the majority does." She argues that taken as a whole,"the most natural reading of the disclosure warns that carrying a cell phone in one’s pocket is unsafe," and that "Berkeley has not attempted to argue, let alone to prove, that message is true." She accuses the city of "crying wolf" and advises the city if it "wants consumers to listen to its warnings, it should stay quiet until it is prepared to present evidence of a wolf."
In addition to the First Amendment claim, CTIA argued that the mandated disclosure was preempted by federal regulations. The court noted procedural problems regarding when the argument was advanced. Nevertheless, the court clearly concluded:
Berkeley’s compelled disclosure does no more than to alert consumers to the safety disclosures that the FCC requires, and to direct consumers to federally compelled instructions in their user manuals providing specific information about how to avoid excessive exposure. Far from conflicting with federal law and policy, the Berkeley ordinance complements and reinforces it.
But surely it is the First Amendment issues that are central to the case. The panel essentially divides on the limit to government mandated disclosures to consumers, an issue that vexed the DC Circuit not only in the American Meat Institute case mentioned above, but also in National Association of Manufacturers v. SEC (conflict minerals) and in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. FDA (cigarette labeling), both of which held the labeling requirements violated the First Amendment. One measure of the importance of the issue is the attorneys who argued CTIA in the Ninth Circuit: Theodore Olsen for the trade association of CTIA and Lawrence Lessig for the City of Berkeley. The Ninth Circuit's majority opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but as the divided panel evinces, there are fundamental disputes about warning labels.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
The Fifth Circuit today threw out a criminal case brought by Texas against a federal FBI deputy, citing Supremacy Clause immunity. The ruling means that the state's case against the officer ends, although the court noted that federal authorities could still bring a federal case.
The case arose when Charles Kleinert, specially deputized by the FBI to investigate bank robberies, accidentally shot a person during an investigation. The victim showed up to a bank that was closed after an actual robbery. When Kleinert, who was in the bank, came out, the victim gave Kleinert a false name and allegedly exhibited other suspicious behavior. When Kleinert called him on the false name, the victim fled. Kleinert followed and eventually nabbed the victim. In the course of a struggled, Kleinert's weapon discharged and struck and killed the victim.
A Travis County grand jury indicted Kleinert for manslaughter. Kleinert removed the case to federal court (under the "federal officer removal" statute) and moved to dismiss, arguing that he was immune from state prosecution under Supremacy Clause immunity. The district court agreed and dismissed the case; the Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Supremacy Clause immunity prohibits a state from punishing (1) a federal officer (2) authorized by federal law to perform an act (3) who, in performing the act, did no more than what the officer subjectively believed was necessary and proper and (4) that belief was objectively reasonable under the circumstances.
The Fifth Circuit held that Kleinert was authorized by federal law to pursue and arrest the victim, because, under the circumstances, he had probable cause that criminal activity was afoot. The court held that he had a subjective belief that his action was necessary and proper, because, under the circumstances, he acted consistently with his training, without any animus toward the victim. And the court said that Kleinert's belief was objectively reasonable, because his acts were consistent with what others would have done. (The state conceded that Kleinert was a federal officer.)
The ruling ends the state prosecution. But the court specifically noted that Kleinert might still be subject to federal prosecution.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
The United States Supreme Court's opinion in Nelson v. Colorado opened with this seemingly simple question:
When a criminal conviction is invalidated by a reviewing court and no retrial will occur, is the State obliged to refund fees, court costs, and restitution exacted from the defendant upon, and as a consequence of, the conviction?
Writing for the six Justice majority, Justice Ginsburg provided an equally simple response: "Our answer is yes."
The statutory scheme, Colorado's Compensation for Certain Exonerated Persons, provided the "exclusive process" for seeking a refund of costs, fees, and restitution according to the Colorado Supreme Court. However, recovery under this Exoneration Act applied "only to a defendant who has served all or part of a term of incarceration pursuant to a felony conviction, and whose conviction has been overturned for reasons other than insufficiency of evidence or legal error unrelated to actual innocence." The petitioners in the case were not within this category: one was convicted, had her conviction reversed, and was acquitted on retrial; the other was convicted, had one conviction reversed on appeal and another conviction vacated on postconviction review, and the state elected not to retry. The first petitioner was assessed more than $8,000 in costs, fees, and restitution and had $702.10 deducted from her inmate account while she was in jail; the second petitioner was assessed more than $4,000 in costs, fees, and restitution and paid the state $1977.75.
Justice Ginsburg's concise opinion articulates and applies the well-established balancing test for procedural due process from Matthews v. Eldridge (1976), under which a court evaluates a court evaluates (A) the private interest affected; (B) the risk of erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used; and (C) the governmental interest at stake.
The Court rejected Colorado's claim that the petitioners' had no private interest in regaining the money given that the convictions were "in place" when the funds were taken. Justice Ginsburg concluded that it makes no difference whether the initial court or a reviewing court adjudged the petitioners not guilty. To rule otherwise would be inconsistent with the presumption of innocence notion fundamental to "our criminal law." As to the risk of erroneous deprivation, Justice Ginsburg made clear that the risk was high and stressed that the petitioners were seeking refund rather than "compensation for temporary deprivation" of those funds such as interest. Finally, Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court found that Colorado has "no interest in withholding" the money "to which the State currently has zero claim of right."
Justice Alito, writing in a concurring opinion only for himself, contended that the correct standard was not Matthews v. Eldridge, but Medina v. California (1992) as Colorado had argued. For Alito, Medina was the correct standard because the refund obligation was part of the criminal process, especially pertinent with reference to restitution. Nevertheless, Alito concluded that even under Medina, stressing an historical inquiry, the Colorado statute failed due process: placing a heavy burden on criminal defendants, providing no opportunity for misdemeanor convictions, and excluding all but claims for actual innocence.
Justice Thomas, also writing only for himself, issued a dissenting opinion, arguing that the issue is whether the petitioners can show a "substantive" entitlement to a return of the money they paid. He concludes that they have no "substantive" right because once the petitioners paid the money - - - however wrongly - - - it became public funds to which they had no entitlement. Thus, because the "Due Process Clause confers no substantive rights," the petitioners have no right to a refund, despite the "intuitive and rhetorical appeal" of such a claim.
While the statute was amended to include vacated convictions effective September 2017, such an amendment may not be comprehensive enough to save the statutory scheme. While the Court does not discuss the widespread problem of carceral debt, there is a burgeoning scholarship on this issue.
[image: "A debtor in Fleet Street Prison, London" by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd, circa first half of the 19th century, via].
Sunday, April 16, 2017
In an opinion in excess of 100 pages in McGehee v. Hutchinson, United States District Judge Kristine Baker enjoined the scheduled execution of McGehee and eight other plaintiffs based on their likelihood to succeed on their Eighth Amendment and First Amendment claims.
The case arises from a highly unusual compressed execution schedule: "Governor Hutchinson set eight of their execution dates for an 11-day period in April 2017, with two executions to occur back-to-back on four separate nights." Judge Baker rejected the claim that the schedule alone violated any "evolving standards of decency" under the Eighth Amendment.
However, this unusual schedule did play some part in Judge Baker's conclusion that there was a likelihood of success on the merits of the plaintiffs' Eighth Amendment challenge to the use of midazolam as cruel and unusual punishment.
In a detailed recitation of the facts, including expert testimony rendered by both the plaintiffs and the State, Judge Baker noted that she "received much evidence in the last four days " and "filtered that evidence, considerable amounts of which involved scientific principles," and converted it into lay terms in the opinion. At times, Judge Baker's assessment of the expert testimony is quite precise: "Defendants’ witness Dr. Antognini’s reliance on animal studies while defense counsel simultaneously challenged plaintiffs’ witness Dr. Steven’s reliance on animal and in vitro studies seems inconsistent. This inconsistency went largely unexplained."
This factual record is important for applying the test for a challenge to a method of execution as the United States Supreme Court articulated in Glossip v. Gross (2015). As Judge Baker explained, plaintiffs have the burden of proving that “the State's lethal injection protocol creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain” and “the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.” On the first prong, Judge Baker concluded there is a "significant possibility" that plaintiffs will succeed in showing that the use of midazolam in the Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) "current lethal injection protocol qualifies as an objectively intolerable risk that plaintiffs will suffer severe pain." She continued that the
risk is exacerbated when considering the fact that the state has scheduled eight executions over 11 days, despite the fact that the state has not executed an inmate since 2005. Furthermore, the ADC’s execution protocol and policies fail to contain adequate safeguards that mitigate some of the risk presented by using midazolam and trying to execute that many inmates in such a short period of time.
The second prong under Glossip requires plaintiffs to show that “the risk is substantial when compared to the known and available alternatives.” Judge Baker stated that the "Supreme Court has provided little guidance as to the meaning of 'availability' in this context, other than by stating that the alternative method must be 'feasible, readily implemented, and in fact significantly reduce a substantial risk of severe pain.’" She then discussed the conflicting standards in the Circuits, concluding that the "approach taken by the Sixth Circuit provides a better test for 'availability' under Glossip," because the "Eleventh Circuit’s understanding of “availability” places an almost impossible burden on plaintiffs challenging their method of execution, particularly at the preliminary injunction stage." In deciding that there were alternatives available, Judge Baker found that "there is a significant possibility that pentobarbital is available for use in executions." The opinion noted that other states have carried out executions with this drug. The opinion also noted that "plaintiffs have demonstrated a significant possibility that the firing squad is a reasonable alternative."
Thus, Judge Baker found that both prongs of Glossip were likely to be satisfied under the Eighth Amendment claim.
On the First Amendment claim, the essence was that the limitations placed on counsel viewing the execution would deprive plaintiffs of their access to the courts during that time. Judge Baker noted there was some confusion regarding the actual viewing policy that would be operative, with the Director having "taken three or four different positions regarding viewing policies" during litigation. But, the "key aspect" of any policy "would force plaintiffs’ counsel to choose between witnessing the execution and contacting the Court in case anything should arise during the course of the execution itself."
In analyzing the First Amendment claim, Judge Baker used the highly deferential standard of Turner v. Safely (1987), with its four factors:
- First, “there must be a ‘valid, rational connection’ between the prison regulation and the legitimate government interest put forward to justify it.”
- Second, courts must consider “whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates.”
- “A third consideration is the impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates, and on the allocation of prison resources generally.”
- Finally, “the absence of ready alternatives is evidence of the reasonableness of a prison regulation.”
Judge Baker held that while there was a valid rational connection, there were alternative means and no impact on other prisoners. Thus, Judge Baker enjoined the Director "from implementing the viewing policies insofar as they infringe plaintiffs’ right to counsel and right of access to the courts," and charged the Director "with the task of devising a viewing policy that assures plaintiffs’ right to counsel and access to the courts for the entire duration of all executions."
Judge Baker issued her Preliminary Injunction on Saturday, April 15. Reportedly, there is already an emergency appeal to the Eighth Circuit, as well as an appeal of a stay by a state court judge to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
In her Opinion and Order in Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner, Indiana State Dept of Health, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt enjoined Indiana Code § 16-34-2-1.1(a)(5), requiring a woman to have an ultrasound at least eighteen hours prior to an abortion.
The judge found that Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) was likely to prevail on the merits under the undue burden standard rearticulated most recently in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) regarding the substantive due process right to an abortion. The new statute combined two prior Indiana laws – an ultrasound requirement and a time sensitive informed consent requirement – into one new law that required a woman seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound at least 18 hours before her abortion. Indiana's
principle rationale for the statute was fetal life, but the judge found that “the State has not provided any convincing evidence that requiring an ultrasound to occur eighteen hours prior to an abortion rather than on the day of an abortion makes it any more likely that a woman will choose not to have an abortion.” The judge was similarly unconvinced by the state's "alternative justification" of the "psychological importance" to the woman of viewing the ultrasound if she chose to do so. Even accepting the proposition that there could be psychological benefit, the evidence did not address the relevant question of the difference between "women having an ultrasound eighteen hours prior to the abortion as opposed to the day of the abortion."
The judge found that the burdens imposed by the statute, including increased travel distances and delays in obtaining abortion services, were not balanced by the state's unsubstantiated interest. Moreover, the judge found it relevant that the burdened women were mainly low-income women who would suffer financial burdens disproportionately, explaining that many women miss work because of these laws, and may have to reserve childcare for the days that they are away or traveling. Additionally, the judge weighed delays, explaining increases in double booked appointments, as well as increases in delays for women struggling to meet timing requirements for their abortions. The judge relied both on expert testimony as well as "specific examples" from nine woman relating to these burdens.
In sum, Judge Pratt concluded:
The new ultrasound law creates significant financial and other burdens on PPINK and its patients, particularly on low-income women in Indiana who face lengthy travel to one of PPINK’s now only six health centers that can offer an informed-consent appointment. These burdens are clearly undue when weighed against the almost complete lack of evidence that the law furthers the State’s asserted justifications of promoting fetal life and women’s mental health outcomes. The evidence presented by the State shows that viewing an ultrasound image has only a “very small” impact on an incrementally small number of women. And there is almost no evidence that this impact is increased if the ultrasound is viewed the day before the abortion rather than the day of the abortion. Moreover, the law does not require women to view the ultrasound imagine at all, and seventy-five percent of PPINK’s patients choose not to. For these women, the new ultrasound has no impact whatsoever. Given the lack of evidence that the new ultrasound law has the benefits asserted by the State, the law likely creates an undue burden on women’s constitutional rights.
The law was signed by now Vice President Pence when he was Governor of Indiana; it is uncertain whether the present state administration will pursue the same agenda.
h/t Juliet Critsimilios
Sunday, April 2, 2017
In a Memorandum Opinion and Order, Judge David Hale ruled on a motion to dismiss the complaint in Nwanguma v. Trump which includes a count of incitement to riot by then-candidate Trump during a campaign event in Louisville, Kentucky on March 1, 2016. The complaint alleges that the candidate told the crowd “Get ’em out of here,” when the plaintiffs were "peacefully protesting" at a campaign rally. Allegedly as a result of the candidate's encouragement, three individual defendants pushed, shoved, and struck the three plaintiffs. The complaint contended that candidate Trump should be held vicariously liable for the tortious actions of the individual defendants; Judge Hale dismissed this count as not having sufficient allegations that the candidate (or his campaign) "had the right to control the other defendants’ actions." The complaint also contained a count regarding the candidate's negligence and failure to protect, which Judge Hale did not dismiss.
Most important from a constitutional standpoint, Judge Hale denied Trump's motion to dismiss the incitement to riot claim despite the defendant's argument that Trump's statement "Get ’em out of here” was protected by the First Amendment. As Judge Hale relates, under the landmark case of Brandenberg v. Ohio (1969), as well as the Sixth Circuit's en banc decision in Bible Believers v. Wayne County (2015), speech may not be “sanctioned as incitement to riot unless
(1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action,
(2) the speaker intends that his speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and
(3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of his speech.”
Judge Hale analyzes each of these prongs in turn.
First, Judge Hale concludes that Trump's statement, “Get ’em out of here,” is phrased in the "imperative; it was an order, an instruction, a command." It is therefore unlike the protected speech in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co. (1982) (“If we catch any of you going in any of them racist stores, we’re gonna break your damn neck.”); Hess v. Indiana (1973) (“We’ll take the fucking street again.”); or Watts v. United States (1969) (“If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is L.B.J.”).
Second, Judge Hale concludes that the complaint states sufficient allegations of Trump's intent, although whether "he actually intended for violence to occur is beyond the scope of the Court’s inquiry at the motion-to-dismiss stage."
Third, Judge Hale rules that "the complaint adequately alleges that Trump’s statement was likely to result in violence—most obviously, by alleging that violence actually occurred as a result of the statement." Additionally, the complaint describes "a prior Trump rally at which a protestor was attacked."
The case is now on course to proceed.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
In an opinion and order in Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson has granted the motion to convert the previously issued Temporary Restraining Order against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780) (colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0") into a Preliminary Injunction. This has the effect of extending the time frame of the injunction as well as making appeal likely.
Judge Watson incorporated the rationales as stated in the previous TRO as we previously discussed, but elaborated on several matters. First, Judge Watson again considered the standing issues and again concluded that both the state of Hawai'i and the individual plaintiff, Dr. Ismail Elshikh, had standing.
On the likelihood of success on the merits, Judge Watson again set out the classic Establishment Clause test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) and again concluded that the first prong requiring the government action to have a primary secular purpose was not met.
Judge Watson declared that "As no new evidence contradicting the purpose identified by the Court has been submitted by the parties since the issuance of the March 15, 2017 TRO, there is no reason to disturb the Court’s prior determination" (emphasis in original).
Instead, the Federal Defendants take a different tack. They once more urge the Court not to look beyond the four corners of the Executive Order. According to the Government, the Court must afford the President deference in the national security context and should not “‘look behind the exercise of [the President’s] discretion’ taken ‘on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason.’” Govt. Mem. in Opp’n to Mot. for TRO 42–43 (quoting Kliendienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 770 (1972)), ECF No. 145. No binding authority, however, has decreed that Establishment Clause jurisprudence ends at the Executive’s door. In fact, every court that has considered whether to apply the Establishment Clause to either the Executive Order or its predecessor (regardless of the ultimate outcome) has done so.
(emphasis in original). The footnote to this passage includes citations to the recently decided Sarsour v. Trump (Virginia District Judge upholds EO 2) and Int’l Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump (Maryland District Judge enjoins part of EO 2). Judge Watson adds
The Court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has.
While future Executive action could cure the defects, the attempt by this second EO to merely sanitize the first EO was not sufficient.
Judge Watson declined to narrow the TRO's scope and the injunction is a nationwide one including sections 2 and 6. The judge stated he was
cognizant of the difficult position in which this ruling might place government employees performing what the Federal Defendants refer to as “inward-facing” tasks of the Executive Order.
Any confusion, however, is due in part to the Government’s failure to provide a workable framework for narrowing the scope of the enjoined conduct by specifically identifying those portions of the Executive Order that are in conflict with what it merely argues are “internal governmental communications and activities, most if not all of which could take place in the absence of the Executive Order but the status of which is now, at the very least, unclear in view of the current TRO.” Mem. in Opp’n 29. The Court simply cannot discern, on the present record, a method for determining which enjoined provisions of the Executive Order are causing the alleged confusion asserted by the Government.
In other words, the federal government cannot complain about the injunction's breadth if the government does not take steps necessary to narrow it. Quoting the Ninth Circuit panel on the original EO in Washington v. Trump, Judge Watson stated that "even if the [preliminary injunction] might be overbroad in some respects, it is not our role to try, in effect, to rewrite the Executive Order.”
Judge Watson's order and opinion set the stage for the case to be appealed to the Ninth Circuit, even as IRAP v. Trump is beginning to proceed in the Fourth Circuit.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
In his opinion in Sarsour v. Trump, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia Anthony Trenga denied the Plaintiffs' motion for Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction.
At issue is the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0."
Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," was enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump,; our backgrounder on the issues is here. The President withdrew the initial EO and the Ninth Circuit denied the sua sponte motion for en banc review, but in a somewhat unusual step there was a substantive dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee.
Recall also that regarding the March 6, 2017 EO ("Muslim Travel Ban 2.0"), two other federal district judges issued injunctions before the EO became effective. In Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson issued a TRO of sections 2 and 6 of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their Establishment Clause challenge. In International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a preliminary injunction of section 2(e) of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their statutory claim under the Immigration and Nationality Act and their constitutional claim under the Establishment Clause.Judge Trenga disagrees with both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, although the opinion does not engage in a substantial dialogue with these opinions.
For example, on the statutory claim in Sarsour v. Trump, Judge Trenga concludes after reviewing "the text and structure of the INA as a whole, and specifically, the practical, operational relationships" of the provisions, that the nondiscrimination restrictions of §1152 do not "apply to the issuance or denial of non-immigrant visas or entry under §1182(f). In a footnote, Judge Trenga acknowledges that the judge in IRAP v. Trump "attempted to reconcile these seemingly contradictory provisions," and simply adds, "There, the court concluded that Section 1152 bars the President from discriminating on the basis of nationality in the issuance of immigrant visas only." (footnote 12). Judge Trenga characterized the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as a "legislative rabbit warren that is not easily navigated," but his ultimate conclusion seems to be based on a broad view of Executive authority. Judge Trenga writes that the he "also has substantial doubts that Section 1152 can be reasonably read to impose any restrictions on the President’s exercise of his authority under Sections 1182(f) or 1185(a)."
Similarly, on the Establishment Clause claim Judge Trenga accorded the Executive broad deference. Unlike the judges in both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, Judge Trenga found that the facial neutrality of "EO-2" was determinative. Judge Trenga held that past statements - - - or the EO-2 statements (described in a footnote as including the President's statement that EO-2 was a "watered-down version" of EO-1, and Presidential Advisor Stephen Miller's statements) - - - have not "effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority":
In other words, the substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that Plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose. To proceed otherwise would thrust this Court into the realm of “‘look[ing] behind’ the president’s national security judgments . . . result[ing] in a trial de novo of the president’s national security determinations,” Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at *8, and would require “a psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts,” all within the context of extending Establishment Clause jurisprudence to national security judgments in an unprecedented way.
Likewise, on the Equal Protection claim, Judge Trenga concluded that although the EO would have a differential impact on Muslims, it was facially neutral. The Judge relied on an earlier Fourth Circuit case, Rajah v. Mukasy (2008) and articulated the standard as requiring merely a rational national security basis for an immigration measure to survive an Equal Protection Clause challenge. And again, Judge Trenga accorded the Executive wide discretion: "These are judgments committed to the political branches - - - not to the courts."
In sum, Judge Trenga's opinion aligns with the Ninth Circuit dissent from en banc review by Judge Bybee and is in opposition to the other district judges who have rendered opinions on the second EO which have enjoined its enforcement.
March 25, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, March 23, 2017
The Fifth Circuit ruled this week that a medical air-evacuation company has standing and that it sufficiently alleged that state defendants had "some connection" to the enforcement of state law against it to allow the company's preemption suit, including a request for injunctive relief, to move forward. The ruling remands the case to the district court for proceedings on the merits.
The case involves Texas's workers'-compensation scheme, which caps reimbursement to Air Evac's medi-vac air ambulances from an insurance company. Under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act, the Texas Workers' Compensation Commission sets reimbursements rates for insurers to pay health-care providers directly. The Act also prohibits health-care providers from billing a patient for any amount in excess of the set rate. The upshot is that "the initial bill goes to the insurer rather than the patient," at a set rate, here 125% of the Medicare rate for the same service.
Air Evac, along with other, similar health-care providers, challenged the rate through the state administrative-dispute system, arguing that it was preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act. They lost, and the lead plaintiff, PHI, appealed.
While the appeal was pending, Air Evac filed this case in federal court, seeking a declaration that the ADA preempted the TWCA and an injunction against TWCA enforcement (under Ex Parte Young). But the district court dismissed the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, because the state defendants weren't charged with enforcing the maximum-reimbursement scheme against Air Evac (because the rate "constraints the amount insurers can pay, rather than the amount air-ambulance companies can charge"), and because Air Evac "failed to show an enforcement proceeding concerning the balance-billing prohibition is imminent, threatened, or even intended."
The Fifth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that Air Evac had standing, because the maximum rate actually constrained the amount that Air Evac could receive, even though it operated directly on the third-party insurer (and not Air Evac). The court held that there was federal question jurisdiction, because Air Evac pleaded that the federal ADA preempted the TWCA. And the court ruled that the state defendants had "some connection" to enforcement of the maximum rate against Air Evac, again because the maximum rate actually constrained Air Evac's reimbursement, even if it operated on the insurer. The court declined to abstain while PHI's state appeal was pending, because the parties and claims were different.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits, the preemption claim.
Monday, March 20, 2017
The Fourth Circuit today dismissed a fire department battalion chief's First Amendment retaliation claim for his Facebook activity in violation of the Department's Social Media and Code of Conduct policies. The court also dismissed his facial challenge against the policies as moot.
The case arose when Howard County (Maryland) Fire and Rescue Services Battalion Chief Kevin Patrick Buker posted a series of statements and "likes" on his Facebook page. On January 20, 2013, Buker posted this while on duty (sics omitted):
My aide had an outstanding idea . . lets all kill someone with a liberal . . . then maybe we can get them outlawed too! Think of the satisfaction of beating a liberal to death with another liberal . . . its almost poetic . . .
He then "liked" a colleague's post that added ugly racial comments to this.
The assistant chief directed Buker to remove the posts pursuant to the Department's Social Media Policy. That Policy, relatively new at the time, prohibited employees from posting anything that "might reasonably be interpreted as discriminatory, harassing, defamatory, racially or ethnically derogatory, or sexually violent when such statements, opinions or information, may place the Department in disrepute or negatively impact the ability of the Department in carrying out its mission."
Buker removed the posts, but then posted comments criticizing the Social Media Policy and the "liberals" who were behind it. The Department moved Buker out of field operations and into an administrative assignment and began an investigation.
About three weeks later, another colleague posted to his own Facebook page a picture of an elderly woman with her middle finger raised, with a caption saying that he'll post whatever he wants, and a note stating, "for you Chief." Buker "liked" it.
Shortly after that, Buker was fired for violating the Social Media Policy and the Code of Conduct. (The Code of Conduct banned "conduct unbecoming," that is, "any conduct that reflects poorly on an individual member, the Department, or County government, or that is detrimental to the public trust in the Department or that impairs the operation and efficiency of the Department.")
Buker sued, arguing that the Department fired him in retaliation for his speech, and that the Social Media Policy and Code of Conduct Policy were facially unconstitutional. The Fourth Circuit disagreed.
Applying Pickering, the court held that two of Buker's posts (the one about assaulting liberals, and the one criticizing the Social Media Policy) addressed matters of public concern. (The court assumed, without deciding, that Buker's Facebook activity constituted a "single expression of speech.") But the court said that the Department's interest in efficiency and preventing disruption outweighed Buker's interests:
- Buker's Facebook activity "interfered with an impaired Department operations and discipline as well as working relationships within the Department.
- The posts "significantly conflicted with [his] responsibilities as battalion chief," including "acting as an impartial decisionmaker and 'enforcing Departmental policies and taking appropriate action for violations of those policies.'"
- Buker's "speech frustrated the Department's public safety mission and threatened 'community trust' in the Department, which is 'vitally important' to its function."
- Buker's activity "expressly disrespect[ed] [his] superiors" after he had been reprimanded.
- The posts "disregarded and upset the chain of command."
The court dismissed Buker's facial challenge to the Social Media Guidelines and Code of Conduct as moot. The court said that although the Department changed the policies to eliminate the earlier version's prohibitions on the private use of social media, the Chief and defendants' counsel both promised the court that the Department wouldn't re-implement the old guidelines (so as to make this a "voluntary cessation" case).
Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Recall the proceedings in Washington v. Trump in which a panel opinion upheld an injunction against the January 27, 2017 Executive Order by the President, now popularly known as Muslim Ban I. Because the President withdrew the EO, replacing it with the March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" - - - enjoined today in Hawai'i v. Trump - - - proceedings in the Muslim Ban I became irrelevant and the United States dismissed the appeal. Nevertheless, upon the request of a Ninth Circuit judge, a poll was taken to determine whether the Ninth Circuit should hear the case en banc and vacate the panel opinion. Today, the order on this en banc request was rendered, and the "matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the active
judges in favor of en banc reconsideration."
The order is accompanied by a paragraph concurring opining by Judge Reinhardt:
I concur in our court’s decision regarding President Trump’s first Executive Order – the ban on immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries. I also concur in our court’s determination to stand by that decision, despite the effort of a small number of our members to overturn or vacate it. Finally, I am proud to be a part of this court and a judicial system that is independent and courageous, and that vigorously protects the constitutional rights of all, regardless of the source of any efforts to weaken or diminish them.
The dissenting opinion of Judge Bybee, controversial in many quarters for his expansive views of Executive power, argues that the President's EO was "well within the powers of the presidency." Essentially, the dissent argues that the panel opinion did not sufficiently defer to the Executive and Congressional power over immigration. "The appropriate test for judging executive and congressional action affecting aliens who are outside our borders and seeking admission is set forth in Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)." The dissent faults the panel opinion because it "missed" the Court's 2015 opinion in Kerry v. Din, "in which Din (a U.S. citizen) claimed that the government’s refusal to grant her Afghani husband a visa violated her own constitutional right to live with her husband. A plurality held that Din had no such constitutional right."
Judge Bybee's opinion seems to suggest that the panel misconstrued the law in service of the judge's own personal agendas, even as the opinion criticizes personal attacks on judges:
We are all acutely aware of the enormous controversy and chaos that attended the issuance of the Executive Order. People contested the extent of the national security interests at stake, and they debated the value that the Executive Order added to our security against the real suffering of potential emigres. As tempting as it is to use the judicial power to balance those competing interests as we see fit, we cannot let our personal inclinations get ahead of important, overarching principles about who gets to make decisions in our democracy. For better or worse, every four years we hold a contested presidential election. We have all found ourselves disappointed with the election results in one election cycle or another. But it is the best of American traditions that we also understand and respect the consequences of our elections. Even when we disagree with the judgment of the political branches—and perhaps especially when we disagree—we have to trust that the wisdom of the nation as a whole will prevail in the end.
Above all, in a democracy, we have the duty to preserve the liberty of the people by keeping the enormous powers of the national government separated. We are judges, not Platonic Guardians. It is our duty to say what the law is, and the meta-source of our law, the U.S. Constitution, commits the power to make foreign policy, including the decisions to permit or forbid entry into the United States, to the President and Congress. We will yet regret not having taken this case en banc to keep those lines of authority straight.
Finally, I wish to comment on the public discourse that has surrounded these proceedings. The panel addressed the government’s request for a stay under the worst conditions imaginable, including extraordinarily compressed briefing and argument schedules and the most intense public scrutiny of our court that I can remember. Even as I dissent from our decision not to vacate the panel’s flawed opinion, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues. The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties. It does no credit to the arguments of the parties to impugn the motives or the competence of the members of this court; ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for effective advocacy. Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.
This dissenting opinion serves as a reminder that the question of the amount of deference to the Executive regarding a "Muslim ban" is a contentious one; this dissenting opinion may also serve as a roadmap to the arguments supporting broad executive power.
[Update: Federal District Judge Theodore Chuang finds the Mandel standard inapplicable in his opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump].
United States District Judge Derrick Watson has issued a Temporary Restraining Order in Hawai'i v. Trump against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0." Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here. Recall also that Judge Watson allowed Hawai'i to amend its original complaint challenging the previous EO.
Judge Watson's more than 40 page opinion first engages in an explanation of the facts giving rise to the litigation.
Next, Judge Watson concludes there is Article III standing. He finds that Hawai'i has standing based on its proprietary interests (and thus there was no need to reach the parens patriae standing theory). The first proprietary interest is the state's financial and intangible interests in its universities, very similar to the interests the Ninth Circuit found sufficient in Washington v. Trump, involving the previous EO. The second proprietary interest was to the state's "main economic driver: tourism." Additionally, Judge Watson concludes that Dr. Elshikh, added as a plaintiff in the amended complaint has standing, specifically addressing the Establishment Clause claim in which injury can be "particularly elusive." Moreover, his claim is ripe.
As to the likelihood of success on the merits prong of the TRO requirement, Judge Watson concluded that the plaintiffs "and Dr. Elshikh in particular" are likely to succeed on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim (and thus the court did not reach the other claims).
Judge Watson acknowledged that the EO does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion. There is no express reference, for instance, to any religion nor does the Executive Order—unlike its predecessor—contain any term or phrase that can be reasonably characterized as having a religious origin or connotation.
Nevertheless, the court can certainly look behind the EO's neutral text, despite the Government's argument to the contrary, to determine the purpose of the Government action. Judge Watson stated that the record before the court was "unique," including "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation" of the EO and its "related predecessor." Judge Watson then provided excerpts of several of Trump's statements, and rejected the Government's caution that courts should not look into the "veiled psyche" and "secret motives" of government decisionmakers:
The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7, 2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive
Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced
it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a
commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8.
On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.
In a footnote, Judge Watson lists "many more" examples.
Moreover, Judge Watson engaged with the plaintiffs' arguments that the EO was contextual, including pointing out that the security rationales listed in the EO included an incident involving an Iraqi national when Iraq was no longer included in the EO; the delayed timing of the EO; and the focus on nationality rather than residence. But Judge Watson noted that while such "assertions certainly call the motivations behind the Executive Order into greater question, they are not necessary to the Court's Establishment Clause determination."
Judge Watson does note that context could change and that the Executive is not forever barred, but as it stands the purpose of the EO is one that has a primary religious discriminatory purpose and will most likely not survive the Establishment Clause challenge.
Having found a likelihood of success on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Watson easily found there was irreparable harm and that a temporary restraining order was appropriate.
Judge Watson's injunction against Sections 2 and 6 of the EO applies "across the Nation." Should an emergency appeal be sought, Judge Watson's order already denies a stay of the TRO, but does direct the parties to submit a briefing schedule for further proceedings.
Thursday, March 9, 2017
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the California Desert Water Agency lacks standing to challenge a new Bureau of Indian Affairs regulation concerning taxes on leases on Native American lands to third parties. The ruling ends DWA's challenge, although DWA could resurrect it, if BIA later halts DWA taxes under the reg.
The case centers around a BIA reg on state and local government taxation of leases by non-Native Americans on Native American lands. The relevant subsection says that "[s]ubject only to applicable Federal law, the leasehold or possessory interest is not subject to any fee, tax, assessment, levy, or other charge imposed by any State or political subdivision of a State. Leasehold or possessory interests may be subject to taxation by the Indian tribe with jurisdiction."
The DWA, which assess taxes on these leases, sued under the APA. But the Ninth Circuit ruled that it lacked standing.
The court said that the regulatory language "[s]ubject only to applicable Federal law," incorporated existing case law, in particular, White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker (1980), which held that courts must apply a fact-specific balancing test in order to determine whether federal law preempts any particular state effort to regulate non-Native American conduct on tribal lands. In other words, the reg, as understood incorporating the Bracker test, couldn't preempt and halt DWA taxation until a court, applying the Bracker test, said so. The reg by its own force doesn't preempt. And with no preemption of DWA taxation, DWA doesn't have a harm, and without a harm DWA lacks standing. (Indeed, after BIA issued the reg, DWA continued to collect taxes on these leases, with no direct threat of enforcement by the BIA.)
The court went on to reject DWA's argument that notwithstanding Bracker incorporation, it still suffered a harm, because the reg would encourage leaseholders not to pay their taxes. The court applied Linda R.S. v. Richard D. and Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org. in support of its conclusion that "a plaintiff in DWA's position lacks standing if, notwithstanding the relief sought, the third parties would retain discretion to continue their harmful behavior or, alternatively, if it is too speculative to conclude that they would modify their behavior in the way the plaintiff desires."
Sunday, March 5, 2017
Reversing the district judge, the D.C. Circuit's opinion in United States v. Bronstein upheld the prohibition of certain speech in the United States Supreme Court against a challenge that it was unconstitutionally vague and thus violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The statute, 40 U.S.C. § 6134, entitled “Firearms, fireworks, speeches, and objectionable language in the Supreme Court Building and grounds,” provides:
It is unlawful to discharge a firearm, firework or explosive, set fire to a combustible, make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds.
The district judge had found that “harangues” and “orations” are terms that “cannot be determined without reference to subjective perceptions and individual sensitivities," and thus the statute was not sufficiently precise. The unanimous D.C. Circuit panel found that the statute's
core meaning is delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the Court. In the context of the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, the terms’ core meaning proscribes determinable conduct.
Moreover, the court found that "while “harangue” and “oration” may not roll off the average person’s tongue today," this "does not alter their possession of a settled meaning around public speeches." The general sense is "making a speech to a public assembly," and based on the title of the statute, the sense is clear that this pertains to "noises" intended to "disrupt the court's operations."
In its application, the opinion by Judge Janice Rogers Brown somewhat oddly includes a cinematic reference:
Turning to the facts here, a person of ordinary intelligence could read this law and understand that, as a member of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audience, making disruptive public speeches is clearly proscribed behavior—even in staccato bursts, seriatim. And yet, in a coordinated fashion, each Appellee is alleged to have directed a variation of the same message to the Justices of the Supreme Court and the assembled audience. Their coordinated standing, facing the bench, and messaging indicate the Appellees were addressing the Court and gallery. Cf. MY COUSIN VINNY (20th Century Fox 1992) (Judge Chamberlain Haller: “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair! . . . When you’re addressing this court, you’ll rise and speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.”). Viewed objectively, these alleged acts could easily be considered speeches to a public assembly that tended to disrupt the Court’s operations—conduct covered by § 6134’s prohibition of “make a harangue or oration.”
Earlier in the Bronstein opinion, joined by Judge Srinivasan and Senior Judge Williams, Judge Brown does provide more of the substance of the speeches which included objections to Citizens United and the legal construction of money as speech. Judge Brown notes that the protest occurred on "April Fools Day of 2015;" the protest group describes the timing as being on the eve of the one year anniversary of McCutcheon v. FEC. (There were no arguments on April 2, the actual anniversary, or the day after).
While a due process decision, Bronstein is consistent with judicial rejection of First Amendment challenges to statutes prohibiting expression in and around the United States Supreme Court. We've previously discussed the "special status" of the United States Supreme Court building, the Supreme Court's efforts to ensure its regulations were constitutional, as well as the D.C. Circuit's opinion in Hodge v. Talkin (2015) which upheld the constitutionality of statutory prohibitions of assembly and display of flags or signs on the United States Supreme Court plaza, and the arrest of a person for wearing a jacket with the word "Occupy" on it.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
In its opinion in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.
Recall that the challenge was to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Virginia did consider race in the redistricting, but the question was whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court required an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race.
In the opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court clarified the relationship between traditional redistricting principles and unconstitutional racial gerrymandering:
The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit misshapen districts. It prohibits unjustified racial classifications.
More precisely, although there is a racial classification if "redistricting legislation that is so bizarre on its face that it is unexplainable on grounds other than race," as in Shaw v. Reno, (1993), this "inconsistency between the enacted plan and traditional redistricting criteria is not a threshold requirement or a mandatory precondition in order for a challenger to establish a claim of racial gerrymandering." The Court admitted that "to date " it had not affirmed a racial predominance finding, or remanded a case for a determination of predominance, "without evidence that some district lines deviated from traditional principles." Nevertheless, "there may be cases where challengers will be able to establish racial predominance in the absence of an actual conflict by presenting direct evidence of the legislative purpose and intent or other compelling circumstantial evidence."
Given this articulation of the standard, the three-judge court's analysis of whether there was racial gerrymandering applied only to the portions of the districts that deviated from traditional requirements was clearly problematical. Indeed,
the basic unit of analysis for racial gerrymandering claims in general, and for the racial predominance inquiry in particular, is the district.
The ultimate object of the inquiry, however, is the legislature’s predominant motive for the design of the district as a whole. A court faced with a racial gerrymandering claim therefore must consider all of the lines of the district at issue; any explanation for a particular portion of the lines, moreover, must take account of the district wide context. Concentrating on particular portions in isolation may obscure the significance of relevant district wide evidence, such as stark splits in the racial composition of populations moved into and out of disparate parts of the district, or the use of an express racial target. A holistic analysis is necessary to give that kind of evidence its proper weight.
The Court declined the parties' request to apply this standard and remanded the matter of eleven districts.
As to the twelfth district (district 75), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's finding that race predominated but also that the redistricting satisfied strict scrutiny. The Court found that not violating §5 of the Voting Rights Act - - - operative then despite the VRA's subsequent erosion in Shelby County v. Holder - - - was a compelling government interest and that the district was narrowly tailored to serve that interest. In his partial dissent, Justice Thomas insisted that this very analysis "is fundamentally at odds with our “color-blind” Constitution, which “neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,” citing Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting). Justice Thomas then argued that this "contradiction illustrates the perversity of the Court’s jurisprudence in this area as well as the uncomfortable position in which the State might find itself."
Despite the articulation of a somewhat new standard, Bethune-Hill does not seem to be a major opinion and the Court states its "holding in this case is controlled by precedent." Interestingly, the Court did not issue its opinion on the other racial gerrymandering case, McCrory v. Harris, arising in North Carolina and argued on the same day.