Monday, December 11, 2017
In its opinion in Frudden v. Pilling, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel essentially disagrees with itself.
The litigation, begun in 2011, involves a First Amendment challenge to a school uniform policy requiring students to wear shirts or sweatshirts with a logo of the name of the school, the school mascot (a gopher), and the school motto ("Tomorrow's Leaders"). An exemption to the uniform policy allowed students to wear "the uniform of a nationally recognized youth organization" on regular meeting days of that organization.
There was substantial disagreement over the level of First Amendment scrutiny to be applied.
Originally, the district judge applied intermediate scrutiny, and upheld the constitutionality of the school uniform policy. A panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the motto required strict scrutiny, and remanded the matter. On remand, the district judge held that the "Tomorrow's Leaders" motto survived strict scrutiny and that other claims were moot, did not merit damages, or there was qualified immunity.
On this second appeal, the new panel expressed its disagreement with strict scrutiny as the applicable standard. It first attempted a sua sponte en banc call, but it did not receive a majority vote of the judges. Then, considering itself "bound by the holding of the prior three-judge panel" it reluctantly held that the uniform policy, both the moot and the exemption, failed strict scrutiny.
The panel concluded that although fostering children's achievement was a compelling interest, the motto "Tomorrow's Leaders" was not narrowly tailored to achieve that interest: a content-neutral motto would hardly lessen the message. As to the exemption for other uniforms, the government interests justifying the exemption - - - consistency with other schools and parental convenience in not having to bring two uniforms - - - were not compelling.
Yet the panel also states, in a subsection entitled "Our Disagreement with the Result We Are Required to Reach," that strict scrutiny is the incorrect standard and that the motto and exemption would pass intermediate scrutiny:
According to the prior panel, the motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders” is subject to strict scrutiny because its viewpoint celebrates leadership at the expense of those who are followers. Anodyne, feel-good statements such as “Tomorrow’s Leaders” are common in public schools. A number of mottos would be subject to strict scrutiny and struck down under the panel’s rationale. What about a motto “We Succeed Together”? Some students are loners. What about “School Pride”? Some students are not proud of their school. What about “Stand Tall”? Some students are short. To subject such mottos to strict scrutiny makes no sense.
If mandatory school uniforms, including a motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” are subject only to intermediate scrutiny, we see no reason to subject to strict scrutiny an exemption for uniforms for recognized organizations to which students may belong. To jeopardize such a wide- spread and inoffensive practice similarly makes no sense.
The panel then found that the individual defendants had qualified immunity although the institutional defendants did not, and remanded the case for damages to be assessed against the school district and parent association.
The question of school dress codes, including uniforms, continues to be a vexing one under the First Amendment.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
In its opinion in French v. Jones, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Montana judicial ethics rule restricting political endorsements in campaigns.
Montana Code of Judicial Conduct 4.1(A)(7) prohibits judicial candidates from seeking, accepting, or using endorsements from a political party/organization or partisan candidate, although it does allow political parties to endorse and even provide funds to judicial candidates. Affirming the district judge and upholding the provision's constitutionality, the Ninth Circuit opinion by Judge Jay Bybee surveys the United States Supreme Court's two opinions on the First Amendment and judicial campaign ethics - - - Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002) and Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar (2015) - - - and notes that although the Supreme Court has provided "mixed guidance," the "clear shift in favor of state regulation" and "palpable change" in Williams-Yulee renders the arguments of the challengers unavailing.
After a rehearsal of the cases, including a Ninth Circuit en banc decision, Judge Bybee applied strict scrutiny. Montana's compelling governmental interest of "actual and perceived judicial impartiality" had been accepted in Williams-Yulee. The second interest in a "structurally independent judiciary" is also evaluated, with a supporting citation to The Federalist No. 78, and implicitly found to be even "more compelling." The major challenge, however, was that the judicial canon was not narrowly tailored because it was "fatally underinclusive." On this issue, Judge Bybee's opinion again relied on the change wrought by Williams-Yulee, quoting language disapproving on underinclusiveness. More specifically, the court found that the interest in judicial independence was differently served by endorsements from political parties (whose use was prohibited by the canon) than by endorsements by interest groups. Likewise, the court found that permitting judicial candidates to solicit and use money from political parties was unpersuasive because endorsements are more public, although the information regarding contributions is also available to the public.
Additionally, the court rejected the equation between the announcement prohibition in White, which was found unconstitutional, and the political party endorsement prohibition at issue. Party endorsement is not simply "shorthand" for views. "An endorsement is a thing of value: it may attract voters' attention, jumpstart a campaign, give assurance that the candidate has been vetted, or provide legitimacy to an unknown candidate . . ."
The court also rejected the argument that Montana did not show political endorsements cause harm noting that such an argument could lead to a finding that Montana's choice of nonpartisan judicial elections was itself unconstitutional. Moreover, the elimination of judicial elections entirely is not a less restrictive means consistent with Williams-Yulee.
Although Williams-Yulee was a closely divided case and its reasoning not entirely clear, it provides the basis on which courts are upholding judicial campaigning restrictions.
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the standards for a conditional use permit in Ventura County left too much discretion to the decisionmakers and therefore violated the First Amendment. The ruling reverses a district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's First Amendment claim and sends the case back for a decision on the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.
The case, Epona, LLC v. County of Ventura, arose when the corporation sought a conditional use permit to use the outdoor area on his rural property for outdoor weddings. County officials denied the permit, concluding that the use was "not compatible with the rural community," that it had "the potential to impair the utility of neighboring property or uses," and that it had "the potential to be detrimental to the public interest, health, safety, convenience, or welfare . . . and the findings [in the local zoning law]." The corporation's owner sued, arguing that the standards and denial violated the First Amendment, and that the denial violated RLUIPA. The district court dismissed the claims.
The Ninth Circuit reversed on the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that Ventura County's standards left too much discretion to the decisionmakers, and therefore raised the possibility of content-based discrimination.
The standards say that a person seeking a conditional use permit for an event, including a wedding, show that the event is (among other things):
(b) compatible with the character of surrounding, legally established development;
(c) not . . . obnoxious or harmful, [and must not] impair the utility of neighboring property or uses;
(d) not . . . detrimental to the public interest, safety, convenience, or welfare;
(e) compatible with existing and potential land uses in the general area where the development is to be located . . . .
The scheme requires permitting officials to make "specific factual findings," which arguably made the standards more determinate.
Nevertheless, the court looked to "the totality of the factors" regarding the scheme and concluded that "the [conditional use permit] scheme fails to provide definite and specific guidelines for permitting officials." Moreover, the court said that the scheme failed to provide a time limit (as required by Freedman v. Maryland), so "compounds the problem created by the lack of definite standards for permitting officials." "Together, these defects confer unbridled discretion on permitting officials in violation of the First Amendment."
At the same time, the court rejected the plaintiff's RLUIPA claim, because the corporation isn't "a religious assembly or institution."
The court sent the case back for a ruling on the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction on the First Amendment claim.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Adding to its docket on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, the Court agreed to hear the merits of Benisek v. Lamone, regarding Maryland's redistricting law, decided by a three judge court in August 2017.
Recall that the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford on October 3, 2017. In Gill, arising in Wisconsin, the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is best analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause or under the First Amendment inflected the oral arguments.
The three judge court opinion in Benisek deciding on the application of a preliminary injunction was divided. A majority of the found that the case essentially rejected the challengers' arguments, seemingly finding that the claims were not justiable and that they did not have merit, but ultimately resting on a decision that the matter should be not be decided pending the outcome in Gill v. Whitford and thus denying the motion for preliminary injunction. In an extensive dissenting opinion, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer makes a compelling argument that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District by the Democratic leadership diluted the votes of Republicans. Judge Niemeyer advanced a First Amendment standard to redressing unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering as:
(1) “those responsible for the map redrew the lines of his district with the specific intent to impose a burden on him and similarly situated citizens because of how they voted or the political party with which they were affiliated,”
(2) “the challenged map diluted the votes of the targeted citizens to such a degree that it resulted in a tangible and concrete adverse effect,” and
(3) “the mapmakers’ intent to burden a particular group of voters by reason of their views” was a but-for cause of the “adverse impact.”
Applying that standard, Judge Niemeyer would have found it clearly violated by the Sixth District.
While both the majority and Judge Niemeyer's dissent agree that partisan gerrymandering is "noxious" and destructive, the panel clearly divides on what the judiciary can or should do. For Niemeyer, judicial abdication "would have the most troubling consequences":
If there were no limits on the government’s ability to draw district lines for political purposes, a state might well abandon geographical districts altogether so as to minimize the disfavored party’s effectiveness. In Maryland, where roughly 60% of the voters are Democrats and 40% Republicans, the Democrats could create eight safe congressional districts by assigning to each district six Democrats for every four Republicans, regardless of the voters’ geographical location. In a similar vein, a Republican government faced with these same voters could create a map in which two districts consisted entirely of Democrats, leaving six that would be 53% Republican. Such a paradigm would be strange by any standard. A congressman elected in such a system could have constituents in Baltimore City, others in Garrett County, and yet others in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., preventing him from representing any of his constituents effectively. Similarly, members of a single household could be assigned to different congressional districts, and neighbors would be denied the ability to mobilize politically. Such partisan gerrymandering, at its extreme, would disrupt the “very essence of districting,” which “is to produce a different ... result than would be reached with elections at large, in which the winning party would take 100% of the legislative seats.” [citing Gaffney v. Cummings (1973)].
The role that Benisek will play as an addition to Gill v. Whitford in the Court's consideration of partisan gerrymandering is unclear, but several differences between the cases might be worth noting. First, Benisek centers the First Amendment analysis rather than the Equal Protection Clause or a combination. Second, Benisek involves one district within the state rather than the state as a whole. And third, the redistricting in Maryland involved in Benisek is the Democratic party in power, while the redistricting in Wisconsin in Gill v. Whitford is the Republican party in power. What, if any, difference these differences may ultimately make - - - and whether the Court will render the decisions of these cases close together - - - remains to be determined.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
The en banc D.C. Circuit unanimously ruled this week that FECA's per-election base limits on campaign contributions don't violate free speech.
The ruling could give the Supreme Court a chance to reevaluate its stance on the constitutionality of base contributions, or at least per-election base contributions, in light of its most recent ruling on contributions, McCutcheon v. FEC. The Court in that case held that aggregate limits on base contributions violate free speech, even if base contributions themselves don't.
The plaintiffs in Holmes v. FEC challenged FECA's $2,600 base limit per candidate per election. The law means that a person can contribute up to $2,600 to a candidate in a primary, another $2,600 to that candidate in the general, and yet another $2,600 to that candidate in any runoff. In the usual course of things (without a runoff) this allows a person to contribute up to $5,200 to a candidate for the whole cycle.
The plaintiffs claimed that per-election restriction violated free speech, although they didn't take on all base limits. In other words, they wanted to contribute $0 to their favored candidates in the primaries, but $5,200 in the generals. The per-election restriction prevented them from doing that, and they claimed that this violated the First Amendment.
The D.C. Circuit disagreed. Citing Buckley v. Valeo (upholding per-election base limits against a free speech challenge, but not ruling specifically on the per-election nature of them) the court said that Congress's decision in FECA to create per-election restrictions (and not entire cycle restrictions) was a permissible way to implement base limits. In short, the court said that Congress had to create some timeframe for base contribution restrictions--because that's how base contributions work--and a per-election timeframe doesn't seem unreasonable. Said the court:
Contrary to plaintiffs' account of FECA, there is no $5,200 base contribution ceiling split between the primary and general elections. Instead, the Act by its terms established a $2,000 contribution limit, adjusted for inflation, which 'shall apply separately with respect to each [primary, general, and runoff] election.'
. . .
To impose a meaningful contribution ceiling, then, Congress has no choice but to specify some time period in which donors can contribute the maximum amount. There are a host of alternatives in that regard.
. . .
Just as Buckley did not require Congress to explain its choice of $1,000 rather than $2,000 as itself closely drawn to preventing corruption, we see no basis for requiring Congress to justify its choice concerning the other essential element of a contribution limit--its timeframe--as itself serving that interest.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied individual defendants' renewed motion to dismiss a plaintiff's Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment. The ruling, which applies the Supreme Court's ruling from this summer in Ziglar v. Abbasi, means that the plaintiff's First Amendment Bivens action can move forward. (This isn't a ruling on the merits; it only says that the plaintiff's claim survives a motion to dismiss in light of Abbasi.)
The ruling is notable, because the Court appeared to substantially restrict Bivens actions in Abbasi essentially to those very few situations where the Court has allowed a Bivens action. (We posted on this here.) But this ruling reads Abbasi differently--not to prohibit a Bivens action under the First Amendment.
The case, Loumiet v. United States, arose when an attorney for a target of an investigation by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency complained to the OCC Inspector General that OCC investigators engaged in "highly unusual and disturbing" behavior during their investigation, including making racist comments to the target's staff. The OCC then initiated an enforcement proceeding against the plaintiff pursuant to the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, claiming that the plaintiff had "knowingly or recklessly . . . breach[ed his] fiduciary duty," and as a result "caused . . . a significant adverse effect" on the target of the investigation. An ALJ recommended dropping the matter, and the OCC agreed. The plaintiff filed for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act and won in the D.C. Circuit. That court ruled that "the Comptroller was not 'substantially justified' in bringing the underlying administrative proceedings against [the plaintiff]."
The plaintiff then brought a Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment, among other claims. The court earlier declined to dismiss the case, but the individual defendants asked the court to reconsider after Abbasi came down this summer.
The court in this ruling again declined to dismiss the case.
The court assumed, without deciding, that the case raised a "new context" under Bivens. (The court said that the D.C. Circuit hadn't yet had an opportunity to rule on Abbasi, so it couldn't really say what a "new context" was in the post-Abbasi world of Bivens--in particular, whether Abbasi set a new standard for "new context.") The court went on to say that special factors did not counsel against a Bivens remedy:
Unlike the facts in Abbasi, this is not a case in which "high officers who face personal liability for damages might refrain from taking urgent and lawful action in a time of crisis." Rather, Plaintiff's prosecution was separate from, and subsequent to, the OCC's enforcement action against his bank client; the prosecution against Plaintiff does not seem to have been "urgent," driven by "crisis," or, for that matter, necessary to the underlying enforcement action against Plaintiff's client. Indeed, the Court already made a fact-specific inquiry that a Bivens claim will not deter lawful enforcement activity.
Finally, the court said that the defendants couldn't show that the plaintiff had alternative relief, here under the FIRREA, the Administrative Procedure Act, or the Equal Justice Act.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
In his opinion in Stone v. Trump, United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland isued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures.
Recall that after several tweets this past July (which Judge Garvis embeds in the opinion), President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex."
Recall also that last month in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions denying the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive based on a lack of standing and granting the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.
Judge Garvis has ordered a complete preliminary injunction. Unlike Judge Kollar-Kotelly in Doe, Judge Garvis found that several plaintiffs in Stone had standing regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive which takes effect March 23. Specifically, Judge Garvis found that it highly unlikely that plaintiffs Stone and Cole would be able to complete their medical plan before that date and that it was "at the very least plausible" that any policy exceptions would be applied to their scheduled post-March-23rd surgeries.
As for the merits, and the likelihood of success, Judge Garvis agreed with Doe. Judge Garvis discussed the Fifth Amendment protection of equal protection as applied to the military and found reason not to apply military deference, specifically mentioning the presidential tweets:
There is no doubt that the Directives in the President’s Memorandum set apart transgender service members to be treated differently from all other military service members. Defendants argue that deference is owed to military personnel decisions and to the military’s policymaking process. The Court does not disagree. However, the Court takes note of the Amici of retired military officers and former national security officials, who state “this is not a case where deference is warranted, in light of the absence of any considered military policymaking process, and the sharp departure from decades of precedent on the approach of the U.S. military to major personnel policy changes.” President Trump’s tweets did not emerge from a policy review, nor did the Presidential Memorandum identify any policymaking process or evidence demonstrating that the revocation of transgender rights was necessary for any legitimate national interest. Based on the circumstances surrounding the President’s announcement and the departure from normal procedure, the Court agrees with the D.C. Court that there is sufficient support for Plaintiffs’ claims that “the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.”
Similarly and succinctly, Judge Garvis found an equal protection violation:
The Court finds persuasive the D.C. Court’s reasons for applying intermediate scrutiny: transgender individuals appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification, and the Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender. The Court also adopts the D.C. Court’s reasoning in the application of intermediate scrutiny to the Directives and finds that the Plaintiffs herein are likely to succeed on their Equal Protection claim.
However, Judge Garvis also based the equal protection violation on a finding of failure to satisfy "rational basis" (or perhaps rational basis "with bite") review:
Moreover, the Court finds that, based on the exhibits and declarations currently on the record, the Directives are unlikely to survive a rational review. The lack of any justification for the abrupt policy change, combined with the discriminatory impact to a group of our military service members who have served our country capably and honorably, cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest. See U. S. Dep’t of Agric. v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534 (1973).
Thus, the Trump Administration now has two district judge opinions to appeal should it desire to pursue its new policies limiting transgender service members.
Judge William H. Orrick (N.D.Cal.) granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs and issued a nationwide permanent injunction against the defunding and enforcement provisions of President Trump's sanctuary cities executive order.
The ruling deals a serious blow to the President and his efforts to rein in sanctuary cities. This ruling goes to the EO itself, not AG Sessions's interpretation and enforcement of the EO, as the more recent temporary injunctions did. We posted most recently on the case in Philadelphia here.
Judge Orrick noted that nothing had changed from his earlier temporary injunction. He summarized his ruling this way:
The Constitution vests the spending powers in Congress, not the President, so the Executive Order cannot constitutionally place new conditions on federal funds. Further, the Tenth Amendment requires that conditions on federal funds be unambiguous and timely made; that they bear some relation to the funds at issue; and that they not be unduly coercive. Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the President disapproves. Because the Executive Order violates the separation of powers doctrine and deprives the Counties of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights, I GRANT the Counties' motions for summary judgment and permanently enjoin the defunding and enforcement provisions of Section 9(a).
Recall that Section 9(a) says that "[i]n furtherance of [the policy to ensure that states and their subdivisions comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373], the [AG] and the Secretary [of Homeland Security] . . . shall ensure that jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373 (sanctuary jurisdictions) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes . . . ." Importantly, the EO didn't specify which federal grants were at risk; it apparently applied to all federal grants.
AG Sessions tried to restrict the EO to JAG/Byrne grants from the Justice Department, but Judge Orrick had nothing of it: "The AG Memorandum not only provides an implausible interpretation of Section 9(a) but is functionally an 'illusory promise' because it does not amend Section 9(a) and does not bind the Executive Branch. It does not change the plain meaning of the Executive Order."
Judge Orrick said that a nationwide injunction was appropriate "[b]ecause Section 9(a) is unconstitutional on its face, and not simply in its application to the plaintiffs here . . . ."
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Judge Michael Baylson (E.D. Pa.) granted a preliminary injunction yesterday against the government's enforcement of it's anti-sanctuary cities moves against Philadelphia, and enjoyed AG Sessions from denying the city's Byrne JAG grant for FY 2017.
The ruling is a major victory for the city, and a significant strike against the federal crack-down on sanctuary cities. It follows a similar, but less sweeping, ruling in the Chicago case.
Judge Baylson ruled that AG Sessions's order to condition DOJ Byrne JAG grants on Philadelphia's agreement to give federal authorities notice when city officials detain an unauthorized alien (the "notice condition"), to give federal authorities access to city jails (the "access condition"), and to certify that it complies with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373 likely violate federal law and the Constitution.
In particular, Judge Baylson ruled that the conditions violate the Administrative Procedure Act, because they're arbitrary and capricious. He also ruled that they "are improper under settled principles of the Spending Clause, the Tenth Amendment, and principles of federalism." On the constitutional issues, he said that the conditions are not sufficiently related to the purposes of the Byrne JAG grant program (in violation of the conditioned-spending test under South Dakota v. Dole), because "[i]mmigration law [the purpose of the conditions] has nothing to do with the enforcement of local criminal laws [the purpose of Philadelphia's Byrne JAG grant]." He also said that the conditions were ambiguous (also in violation of South Dakota v. Dole), because "the Access and 48-hours Notice Conditions cannot have been unambiguously authorized by Congress if they were never statutorily authorized," and the "malleable language [of Section 1373] does not provide the 'clear notice that would be needed to attach such a condition to a State's receipt of . . . funds.'" (The court also said, but "[w]ithout specifically so holding," that "Philadelphia is likely to succeed on the merits of its Tenth Amendment challenge" to the conditions, because the notice and access conditions "impose affirmative obligations on Philadelphia, with associated costs of complying with such conditions," and because the compliance condition (on 1373) "would inherently prevent Philadelphia from, among other things, disciplining an employee for choosing to spend her free time or work time assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration laws" (and thus commandeers the city).
Finally, Judge Baylson noted that Philadelphia isn't a sanctuary city, anyway--at least not in the way defined by federal law. In particular, he wrote that the city "substantially complies with Section 1373."
Thursday, November 9, 2017
A sharply divided Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sitting en banc for the first time in its history, ruled that the ACLU and Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Clinic have standing to seek redacted portions of FISC rulings that set out the legal basis for a government bulk-data-collection program. The ruling means that the movants' efforts to obtain the rulings can move forward, although it does not say anything about the merits.
The case arose after two newspapers in June 2013 released classified information about a surveillance program run by the government since 2006. The DNI then declassified further details about the bulk-data-collection program and acknowledge that the FISC approved much of it under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the "business records" provision.
The movants filed a motion with the FISC, asking the FISC to unseal its opinions on Section 215. They argued that because officials had revealed key details of the program, there was no need to keep the legal justification for it secret, and moreover that they had a First Amendment right of access under Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia.
The government released more information about the program, including a white paper that explained how FISC judges periodically approved the directives to telecommunications providers to produce bulk telephonic metadata. At the same time, the FISC asked the government to review several of its opinions and then released redacted versions of those opinions relating to Section 215.
The movants then filed another motion to unseal classified sections of the FISC rulings. The government provided yet more redacted FISC opinions and moved to dismiss the second motion. The government argued that it would merely duplicate already-released opinions, and that the movants lacked standing.
As to standing, the FISC disagreed. In particular, the court said that the movants had a concrete and actual harm, "because the opinions are currently not available to them. . . . [M]oreover, it is sufficiently 'particularized' from that of the public because of Movants' active participation in ongoing debates about the legal validity of the bulk-data-collection program." The court emphasized that for the purpose of determining standing, it "must . . . assume that Movants are correct that they have a constitutional right of access--so long as that right is cognizable." In other words, the court said that the movants' standing couldn't turn on the viability of their substantive claim.
The dissent argued that "[n]o member of the public would have any 'right' under the First Amendment to ask to observe a hearing in a FISC courtroom. Still less should we be inventing such a 'right' in the present circumstances." Moreover, the dissent said that the movants, instead of seeking access to judicial proceedings, really only wanted the FISC "to rule that they have a 'right' of access to the information classified by the Executive Branch and that Executive Branch agencies must defend each redaction in the face of Movants' challenge." The dissent said that the movants therefore had no legally protected interests.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Ninth Circuit Requires Disclosure of Identifying Information on Website Rejecting First Amendment Claim
In its opinion in In Re Grand Jury Subpoena, No. 16-03-217, a panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected an attempt to quash a grand jury subpoena seeking identifying information of users who posted anonymous reviews of a company on the website, Glassdoor.com. Glassdoor is a website where "employers promote their companies to potential employees, and employees post reviews of what it's like to work at their companies." The subpoena relates to a company involved in the grand jury's investigation of a government contractor administering Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare programs, seemingly prompted by comments that the company was acting unethically.
Glassdoor raised two First Amendment claims supporting the appeal of the denial of its motion to quash. First, Glassdoor argued that its users' right to associational privacy was infringed. The unanimous panel opinion, authored by Judge Richard Tallman, quickly dispatched this "tenuous" claim. There is no actual association among the users who "do not so much 'discuss' employment conditions as independently post their individual views." Thus, the users do not constitute "an expressive association like the Jaycees, the Boy Scouts, or the NAACP." Indeed, the court implied that this associational argument was inconsistent with Glassdoor's other claim: anonymity.
The court considered this second claim, the right to anonymous speech, more extensively. The court decided that the applicable precedent was Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), in which the United States Supreme Court famously held that a reporter did not have a First Amendment right to protect sources, known as the "reporters' privilege." As the Ninth Circuit expressed it, Branzburg held that "a reporter - - - even one who has promised his sources anonymity - - - must cooperate with a grand jury investigation unless there is evidence that the investigation is being conducted in bad faith." Judge Tallman's opinion rejected the argument that Branzburg is limited to newsgathering and that a Ninth Circuit case, rendered one day after Branzburg and proposing a compelling interest test, should control. Thus, for the Ninth Circuit, the only issue was whether the grand jury proceeding was in bad faith; an assertion that Glassdoor did not make.
In short, the court found no reason to "carve out an exception" to the Branzburg principle and no reason to remand. Glassdoor has few legally viable options other than to disclose the identifying information on the website.
Monday, October 30, 2017
In an Order and Opinion in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions to limits the service of transgender persons in the United States military. Judge Kollar-Kelly denied the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive, but granted the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.
Recall that this lawsuit, filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of several complaints challenging the president's military action, and included claims for a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's 76 page opinion, which begins with a recitation of the President's "statement via Twitter" on July 26, 2017, announcing that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This was followed almost a month later by the President's Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." The President's Twitter statement and the subsequent Presidential memorandum are the centerpiece of the Government's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing and that their claims are not ripe under Article III.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote:
Defendants have moved to dismiss this case, principally on the basis that the Court lacks jurisdiction. Although highly technical, these jurisdictional arguments reduce to a few simple points: the Presidential Memorandum has not effected a definitive change in military policy; rather, that policy is still subject to review; until that review is complete, transgender service members are protected; and any prospective injuries are too speculative to require judicial intervention.
These arguments, while perhaps compelling in the abstract, wither away under scrutiny.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's opinion then spends the majority of the opinion discussing the standing and ripeness issues. As to the Surgery challenge, the opinion concludes that "none of the Plaintiffs have demonstrated an injury in fact with respect to the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive," because none of the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are substantially likely to be impacted by the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive" In fact, the plaintiffs' medical procedures would be performed. However, there was standing on the Accession and Retention Directives because although an Interim Guidance possibly protects some transgender service members and allows for waivers,
The President controls the United States military. The directives of the Presidential Memorandum, to the extent they are definitive, are the operative policy toward military service by transgender service members.
Moreover, "the injury in fact element of standing in an equal protection case is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the imposition of the barrier.”
Compared to the extensive analysis of the Article III issues, Judge Kollar-Ketelly's analysis of the equal protection claim based on the Fifth Amendment is much more succinct. The opinion first determines the level of scrutiny, deciding on intermediate scrutiny for two reasons.
First, "on the current record, transgender individuals—who are alone targeted for exclusion by the Accession and Retention Directives—appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification," considering whether they have "experienced a ‘history of purposeful unequal treatment’ or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities," and whether they have been as a group “relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process," and whether the group “exhibit[s] obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group.” Judge Kollar-Ketelly found that transgendered people satisfied these criteria, noting that although there was no binding precedent on this issue, other courts had reached similar conclusions and citing Evancho v. Pine-Richland Sch. Dist.
Second, Judge Kollar-Ketelly was "also persuaded that the Accession and Retention Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender, which is itself subject to intermediate scrutiny. It is well-established that gender-based discrimination includes discrimination based on non- conformity with gender stereotypes."
In the application of intermediate scrutiny, Judge Kollar-Ketelly recited the rule of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), and held that the Accession and Retention Directives relied on overbroad stereotypes and were not substantially related to the Government's stated interests. The opinion then considered the question of deference in the military context:
Nonetheless, given the deference owed to military personnel decisions, the Court has not based its conclusion solely on the speculative and overbroad nature of the President’s reasons. A second point is also crucial. As far as the Court is aware at this preliminary stage, all of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself. As described above, the effect of transgender individuals serving in the military had been studied by the military immediately prior to the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum. In connection with the working group chaired by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the RAND National Defense Research Institute conducted a study and issued a report largely debunking any potential concerns about unit cohesion, military readiness, deployability or health care costs related to transgender military service. The Department of Defense Working Group, made up of senior uniformed officers and senior civilian officers from each military department, unanimously concluded that there were no barriers that should prevent transgender individuals from serving in the military, rejecting the very concerns supposedly underlying the Accession and Retention Directives. In fact, the Working Group concluded that prohibiting transgender service members would undermine military effectiveness and readiness. Next, the Army, Air Force and Navy each concluded that transgender individuals should be allowed to serve. Finally, the Secretary of Defense concluded that the needs of the military were best served by allowing transgender individuals to openly serve. In short, the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself. This highly unusual situation is further evidence that the reasons offered for the Accession and Retention Directives were not substantially related to the military interests the Presidential Memorandum cited.
the President abruptly announced, via Twitter—without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans—that all transgender individuals would be precluded from participating in the military in any capacity. These circumstances provide additional support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.
Finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the equal protection claim, the opinion quickly dispatched the other considerations used in evaluating the issuance of a preliminary injunction, finding them met.
Expect the government to appeal as well as opinions in the other pending cases.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) ruled this week that the Defense Department's enhanced vetting policies for noncitizen-soldiers who seek to apply for expedited citizenship under federal law likely violates the Administrative Procedure Act. The court also provisionally certified a class in the case, and certified a class in a related case challenging a different aspect of the same problem.
The rulings are significant, even if preliminary, wins for the two groups of noncitizens soldiers in their efforts to apply for citizenship by virtue of their military service. The rulings are also a significant setback for the DOD's efforts to ramp-up security screenings for noncitizen soldiers before they can apply for citizenship, and yet another setback for the administration in its immigration policies.
One ruling, Kirwa v. DOD, says that the DOD's failure to issue a certain form, the N-426, to noncitizen reservists who applied for service before October 13, 2017, and who were (and are) awaiting assignment to basic training likely violates the APA. (The N-426 is a form that simply certifies a noncitizen-soldier's military service. It's a requirement for a noncitzien reservists and active-duty soldiers to apply for an expedited path to citizenship under federal law.) That same ruling also provisionally certifies a class; a related ruling, Nio v. DOD, later this week certified a class in a different case (more below).
Kirwa arose when DOD changed course in the spring of 2017 and began to decline requests for a certain form, the N-426, which simply certifies a noncitizen soldier's military service as a prerequisite to his or her citizenship application, to noncitizen reservists who were awaiting assignment to basic training. (DOD previously issued the N-426 to noncitizen reservists during this period, although an earlier policy change, in September 2016, led to some earlier delays in issuing the form.) Plaintiffs sued to get the DOD to issue the forms, but DOD then issued new policy guidance on October 13, 2017. The new guidance imposed additional security-vetting requirements before the DOD would issue the N-426 to noncitizen-reservists, further delaying the plaintiffs' ability to apply for citizenship (and subjecting them to deportation proceedings in the meantime). The plaintiffs amended their complaint and motion for class certification based on the new guidance.
The court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their Administrative Procedure Act claim, because the "DOD offered no reasoned explanation for this change, thereby suggesting that DOD's decision was an arbitrary and capricious one." (The court ruled that it could hear the case under the APA, despite the government's claim that the APA didn't reach this kind of decisionmaking and despite the government's claim that the case touched on national security.) Moreover, the court said that the October 13 guidance changed the ground-rules for the plaintiffs, who enlisted based on very different policies and processes for noncitizen-reservists to apply for expedited citizenship. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and provisionally certified a class (noting that it included about 2,000 individuals).
In Nio, the court certified a class of noncitizen-soldiers who had a completed N-426 form and applied for expedited citizenship with DHS, but were held up because of DOD's enhanced vetting processes. (The court noted that there are about 400 to 500 members of the class.)
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Judge Vince Chhabria (N.D. Cal.) today denied the states' motion for a preliminary injunction in the their case against the Trump administration for halting cost-sharing reduction ("CSR") payments to insurance companies on the Obamacare exchanges. We posted on the complaint here.
Judge Chhabria ruled that the plaintiff-states did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, because Congress didn't appropriate funds for the CSRs, even though the ACA requires that the government pay them:
In sum, the [ACA] requires the federal government to pay insurance companies to cover the cost-sharing reductions. The federal government is failing to meet that obligation. If there was no permanent appropriation in the Act, Congress is to blame for the failure, because it has not been making annual appropriations for CSR payments. The Administration cannot fix Congress's error, because the Constitution prevents the Administration from making payments on its own. In contrast, if the Act created a permanent appropriation, the Administration is legally at fault for the federal government's failure to meet its obligation under the Act to make CSR payments. On the merits, it's a close and complicated question, even if the Administration may seem to have the better argument at this stage.
As to the other preliminary injunction factors, Judge Chhabria noted that most of the states in the lawsuit have taken measures with the insurance companies to offset the impact of the administration's decision not to pay CSRs to the consumers. States did this by encouraging insurance companies to increase premiums in certain plans so that consumers would qualify for higher premium tax credits (which, unlike the CSRs, have a permanent appropriation under the ACA). For most consumers, the court said, the higher premium tax credits would well offset any harm based on the administration's decision not to pay CSRs.
The ruling means that the court won't require the administration to make CSR payments, at least for now.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
The state of Maryland owns and maintains a 40 foot "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md. Reversing the district judge, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the government cross violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause in a divided opinion in American Humanist Association v. Maryland-Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The panel was unanimous in its conclusion that the challengers, both the association and individuals, had standing: The individuals, for example, alleged "specific unwelcome direct contact with the Cross; that is, they have each regularly encountered the Cross as residents while driving in the area, the Commission caused such injury by displaying the Cross, and the relief sought -- enjoining the display of the Cross -- would redress their injury."
The judges disagreed, however, regarding the application of the Establishment Clause. In the well-reasoned majority opinion by Judge Thacker, the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) is not conclusive, especially given Justice Breyer's concurrence which stressed factors for determining whether or not the monument should be deemed passive and further stressed that the well-established Lemon test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) remained a "useful guidepost." The majority thus analyzed the case "pursuant to the three-prong test in Lemon with due consideration given to the factors outlined in Van Orden."
The court first found that there was a legitimate secular purpose to the cross, considering that it was erected to local soldiers who died in World War I. As to the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion prong, the court engaged in a detailed analysis of the symbol of the cross, and found it specifically Christian. It rejected the argument that in Europe, the Latin Cross might be a neutral symbol for the war dead of World War I. Further, the fact that this cross had been in place for 90 years was not determinative and the secular symbols accompanying the cross were also not sufficient:
the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones. The Cross is by far the most prominent monument in the area, conspicuously displayed at a busy intersection, standing four stories tall, and overshadowing the other monuments, the tallest of which is only ten feet tall and located approximately 200 feet from the Cross. The other monuments composing the Veterans Memorial Park are anywhere from 200 feet away to a half-mile away. The immense size and prominence of the Cross necessarily “evokes a message of aggrandizement and universalization of religion, and not the message of individual memorialization and remembrance that is presented by a field of gravestones.”
Thus, a "reasonable observer" - - - most likely viewing the 40 foot cross from the highway - - - would fairly understand the Cross to have the primary effect of endorsing religion. This is even true, the court reasoned, if the reasonable observer knew the history of the cross as memoralizing the war dead, because then this reasonable observer would also know that the original private organizers of the cross monument pledged "devotion to faith in God, and that same observer knows that Christian-only religious activities have taken place at the Cross.
On the third "excessive entanglement" prong of Lemon, the court found that additionally
displaying the Cross, particularly given its size, history, and context, amounts to excessive entanglement because the Commission is displaying the hallmark symbol of Christianity in a manner that dominates its surroundings and not only overwhelms all other monuments at the park, but also excludes all other religious tenets. The display aggrandizes the Latin cross in a manner that says to any reasonable observer that the Commission either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one in the same, or both.
Dissenting, Chief Judge Gregory argued that
the majority misapplies Lemon and Van Orden to the extent that it subordinates the Memorial’s secular history and elements while focusing on the obvious religious nature of Latin crosses themselves; constructs a reasonable observer who ignores certain elements of the Memorial and reaches unreasonable conclusions; and confuses maintenance of a highway median and monument in a state park with excessive religious entanglement.
For the dissenting judge, the large size of the cross is only one factor that a reasonable observer would notice and the majority's opinion would lead to a rule that all "large crosses are unconstitutional despite any amount of secular history and context" if the the crosses were on government land.
Given the continuing and renewed debates about the entwinement of Christianity and government, this may be a plausible candidate for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
[image from the opinion's appendix].
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
A few hours after Hawai'i District Judge Derrick Watson granted a nationwide preliminary injunction in Hawai'i v. Trump in an extensive order based largely on statutory grounds, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang has also issued a nationwide injunction against the so-called "Muslim Ban 3.0" in an almost 100 page opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump.
Recall that Judge Chuang had issued an injunction against the enforcement of Muslim Ban 2.0, which the en banc Fourth Circuit had affirmed finding that the plaintiffs have standing and that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause challenge to the Executive Order. The United States Supreme Court, having granted certiorari to the case (as well as Hawai'i v. Trump), had recently vacated the Fourth Circuit opinion given the Government's suspension of version 2.0 of the "Muslim Ban" (President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), with Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017, known colloquially as "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban" or EO "3.0."
In short, although there are some differences in this third iteration, including the addition of nationals from the countries of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela, as well as Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Judge Chuang concluded that "Muslim Ban 3.0" suffered from the same constitutional infirmities as the previous bans.
Judge Chuang found that the Plaintiffs had standing and that parts on the Proclamation conflicted with the Immigration and Nationality Act, similar to the conclusions of Judge Watson in Hawai'i v. Trump. However, because the statutory claims were not sufficient to enjoin the challenge to nonimmigrantion visas, Judge Chuang proceeded to the constitutional claims.
On the Establishment Clause challenge, Judge Chuang ultimately concluded that the Plaintiffs had a likelihood of prevailing on the merits. The central question, as it had been previously, is the extent to which the President's motivation is a "Muslim Ban" and thus comes within the First Amendment's prohibition as most exemplified by McCreary County. v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005) and the first prong of the well-established test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), essentially requiring a government act to have a secular purpose. Given that courts had previously held that the two previous iterations of the travel ban were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, Judge Chuang considered whether this new Proclamation was still tainted by that motivation or if it had been replaced by nuetral considerations such as national security. The "taint" does not persist forever, but neither should courts be "absentminded" as to the context.
Judge Chuang wrote:
Thus, while Defendants assert that the Proclamation’s travel ban was arrived at through the routine operations of the government bureaucracy, the public was witness to a different genealogy, one in which the President—speaking “straight to the American people,” — announced his intention to go back to and get even tougher than in EO-1 and EO-2. Notably, the June 5 tweet calling for a “much tougher version” reveals that even before President Trump had received any reports on the DHS Review that ostensibly identified the need for a travel ban, the first of which he received over a month later on July 9, 2017, the President had already decided that the travel ban would continue. His September 15, 2017 tweet calling for a “far larger, tougher” travel ban, issued the same day that that the final report was received, reinforced this position. . . . [The President's] statements
Here, those statements do not offer “persuasive” rejection of the President’s prior calls for a Muslim ban, or his stated intention to use a ban on certain “dangerous territory” to effectuate a Muslim ban, nor do they show that the stated intention to impose a Muslim ban has been “repealed or otherwise repudiated.” Rather, they cast the Proclamation as the inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban, and, in echoes of McCreary, convey the message that the third iteration of the ban—no longer temporary—will be the “enhanced expression” of the earlier ones.
[citations omitted]. Thus, Judge Chuang concluded that
where the Proclamation itself is not sufficiently independent of EO-2 to signal a purposeful, persuasive change in the primary purpose of the travel ban, and there were no other public signs that “as persuasively” as the original violation established a different primary purpose for the travel ban, it cannot find that a “reasonable observer” would understand that the primary purpose of the Proclamation’s travel ban is no longer the desire to impose a Muslim ban.
Having concluded that the Plaintiffs would likely prevail on the merits of the First Amendment claim, Judge Chuang did not discuss the Equal Protection challenge.
Judge Chuang issued an Order enjoining enforcement of section 2 of the Proclamation.
Like the injunction issued in Hawai'i v. Trump, this is sure to be appealed by the Trump Administration.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
In the third iteration of the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban" before the courts, federal District Judge Derrick Watson has issued an Order granting a nationwide preliminary injunction in Hawai'i v. Trump.
Recall that Judge Watson previously issued a preliminary injunction in Hawai'i v. Trump regarding a previous incarnation of the travel ban and that the United States Supreme Court has not yet disposed of the case to which it granted certiorari although it did vacate a similar Fourth Circuit case.
In today's Order and Opinion, Judge Watson began pointedly:
Professional athletes mirror the federal government in this respect: they operate within a set of rules, and when one among them forsakes those rules in favor of his own, problems ensue. And so it goes with EO-3.
The constitutional issues before the court involved standing of the States and of the individual plaintiffs. Given that the judge had previously held there was standing and there had been no substantial changes, Judge Watson unsurprisingly held there was standing. Judge Watson also held the claims were ripe and justiciable, rejecting the government's "troubling" contentions that the statutory challenges were not reviewable.
Judge Watson rests the likelihood to succeed on the merits conclusion on the statutory claims and did not discuss any constitutional issues. However, embedded in the statutory analysis is the question of Executive powers. For Judge Watson, EO-3 "improperly uses nationality as a proxy for risk" and its findings are "inconsistent with and do not fit the restrictions that the order actually imposes."
Judge Watson repeats the Plaintiffs' assertion that the President has never repudiated his early calls for a Muslim ban and that the "record has only gotten worse." In support, the Order's footnote 9 reads:
For example, on June 5, 2017, “the President endorsed the ‘original Travel Ban’ in a series of tweets in which he complained about how the Justice Department had submitted a ‘watered down, politically correct version’” to the Supreme Court. TAC ¶ 86 (quoting Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (June 5, 2017, 3:29 AM EDT) https://goo.gl/dPiDBu). He further tweeted: “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” TAC ¶ 86 (quoting Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (June 5, 2017, 3:25 AM EDT), https://goo.gl/9fsD9K). He later added: “That’s right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won’t help us protect our people!” TAC ¶ 86 (quoting Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump), Twitter (June 5, 2017, 6:20 PM EDT), https://goo.gl/VGaJ7z). Plaintiffs also point to “remarks made on the day that EO-3 was released, [in which] the President stated: ‘The travel ban: The tougher, the better.’” TAC ¶ 94 (quoting The White House, Office of the Press Sec’y, Press Gaggle by President Trump, Morristown Municipal Airport, 9/24/2017 (Sept. 24, 2017), https://goo.gl/R8DnJq).
Judge Watson enjoined the federal defendants from
"enforcing or implementing Sections 2(a), (b), (c), (e), (g), and (h) of the Proclamation issued on September 24, 2017, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats” across the Nation. Enforcement of these provisions in all places, including the United States, at all United States borders and ports of entry, and in the issuance of visas is prohibited, pending further orders from this Court."
The Judge also preemptively denied a stay in the case of emergency appeal - - - which will surely follow.
Thursday, October 12, 2017
The en banc Ninth Circuit ruled this week that a denial of a zoning permit to open a gun store did not violate the Second Amendment rights of local residents (to buy guns) or the gun shop (to sell them).
The case, Teixeira v. County of Alameda, arose when the unincorporated county denied a conditional use permit to Teixeira to open a gun shop under a county ordinance. The ordinance say that firearms retailers can't operate within 500 feet of residential districts, schools and day-cares, other firearm retailers, and liquor stores. After some back-and-forth, the Zoning Board found that Teixeira's proposed shop was within 500 feet of two homes, and so denied the permit.
Teixeira sued, arguing that the ordinance requiring a conditional use permit violated his own Second Amendment right (to sell) and the Second Amendment rights of county residents (to buy). The en banc court rejected these claims.
The court ruled first that the plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege that the ordinance impeded any county resident from buying a gun:
Alameda County residents may freely purchase firearms within the County. As of December 2011, there were ten gun stores in Alameda County. Several of those stores are in the non-contiguous, unincorporated portions of the County. In fact, Alameda County residents can purchase guns approximately 600 feet away from the proposed site of Teixeira's planned store, at a Big 5 Sporting Goods Store.
The court therefore held that the ordinance did not violate the Second Amendment rights of county residents to buy.
As to the gun-store owners' right to sell, the court surveyed the text and history of the Second Amendment and concluded that it did not protect the right to sell firearms. "[T]he right of gun users to acquire firearms legally is not coextensive with the right of a particular proprietor to sell them." (The court rejected an analogy to the First Amendment for booksellers, writing that "bookstores and similar retailers who sell and distribute various media, unlike gun sellers, are themselves engaged in conduct directly protected by the First Amendment.") Because the ordinance didn't restrict Second Amendment rights, the court said it was "necessarily allowed by the Amendment."
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
In an Order of denial of en banc review in CTIA- The Wireless Ass'n v. City of Berkeley, a concurring opinion by the original majority judges and a dissenting opinion demonstrate the continuing controversies surrounding the constitutionality of compelled commercial speech.
Recall that the original panel opinion in April upheld the constitutionality of Berkeley's mandated notice to purchasers of cell phones regarding exposure to RF radiation. The First Amendment issue was the controversial choice of standards in compelled disclosure in a commercial context: is the correct standard 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)? A majority of the panel, affirming the district judge, held that Zauderer applied.
In the denial of rehearing and the denial of en banc review, the original panel judges in the majority, Fletcher and Christen,wrote briefly to rearticulate their views. While they stated their panel opinion "largely speaks for itself," they stressed that their opinion was consistent with other circuits. The opinion has a thorough yet succinct list of the cases in this area. They concluded that:
Our colleague would have us create a circuit split with the D.C., First, Second and Sixth Circuits. We decline to do so on two grounds. First, circuit splits are generally to be avoided. Second, and more important, we believe that our four sister circuits got it right.
Writing a dissenting opinion from the denial of en banc was not Judge Friedland of the original panel - - - who did vote for rehearing - - - but Judge Kim Wardlaw, who wrote that although she does not ordinarily file "dissentals" (quotes in original), she believes that the Ninth Circuit should clarify that Zauderer's rational basis standard should apply only when the government compels speech to prevent consumer deception. She discussed the recent Ninth Circuit panel decision finding warnings about sugary drinks violated the First Amendment. She argued that there was the potential for conflicting results as "district judges to make essentially factual judgments about a disclosure’s veracity and its burden on a business even before the parties have developed an evidentiary record."
Judge Wardlaw concluded by stating that she is "looking forward" to the next compelled disclosure case. Most likely, she will not have too long to wait as this continues to be a contentious issue.
The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that California's prorator license law likely violates the Dormant Commerce Clause. In the same ruling, the court held that California's mandatory disclosure requirements likely did not violate the First Amendment, and that the case did not warrant Younger abstention. The court sent the case back for further proceedings.
The case, Nationwide Biweekly v. Owen, arose when California prosecutors and regulators targeted Nationwide Biweekly Administration for fraud investigations involving one of its mortgage-payoff products. Here's how it works: a consumer would pay to Nationwide his or her monthly mortgage bill every two weeks, instead of paying to the lender directly every month. Nationwide would then pay the lender every month. This meant that a consumer would pay to his or her lender, through Nationwide, an extra monthly payment each year and thus pay off the loan sooner. Nationwide advertised the product as a "100% savings," but failed adequately to disclose the discount rate (based on the time-value of money) and fees for the product. So what appears to be a cost-free (and thus savings-only) product in fact is not cost-free.
The Monterey County District Attorney's Office sent Nationwide a letter about the practice and alleged that Nationwide was violating several California laws. In particular, the DA's office wrote that Nationwide was violating two provisions that required it to say that it's not affiliated with the lender in any solicitation to consumers for its product. The letter also said that Nationwide was violating California's "prorator" registration law, which required a "prorator" (a "person who, for compensation, engages in whole or in part in the business of receiving money or evidences thereof for the purpose of distributing the money or evidences thereof among creditors in payment or partial payment of the obligations of the debtor") to obtain a license. But under California law, such a license is only available to a corporation if the corporation is "organized under the laws of this State for that purpose." The Commissioner later sent Nationwide a letter notifying the corporation that it was investigating Nationwide's unlicensed business activity.
Nationwide filed suit in the Northern District, seeking to enjoin enforcement of the disclosure requirements by the DA. A Nationwide subsidiary later filed suit in the Northern District seeking to enjoin enforcement of the registration requirement against the Commissioner. The court rejected Nationwide's motion for a preliminary injunction in both cases, and Nationwide filed notices of appeal.
About a month after the opening appellate briefs were filed, the DA and the Commission filed a joint enforcement suit in California Superior Court. The district court dismissed both federal cases under Younger, and Nationwide appealed.
The Ninth Circuit ruled first that Younger abstention was not appropriate, because "before the date that the state case was filed, the district court had already conducted proceedings of substance on the merits." In particular, the court "spend a substantial amount of time evaluating the merits of the cases in considering and denying (in a detailed and reasoned order) Nationwide's motions for preliminary injunctions."
The court went on to hold that Nationwide was unlikely to succeed on its First Amendment claim. It ruled that under Zauderer, the "required disclaimers--short, accurate, and to the point--are reasonably related to California's interest in preventing . . . deception."
Finally, the court said that California's licensing requirement likely violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, because California's requirement makes in-state incorporation a prerequisite to getting a license to engage in interstate commerce.
Judge Montgomery argued in dissent that the federal proceedings were still at an embryonic stage and the court should have abstained under Younger.