Monday, April 23, 2018

Ninth Circuit Says Monkey Has Article III Standing

The Ninth Circuit ruled today that a monkey had Article III standing to sue for copyright infringement. But the court also ruled that the monkey lacked statutory standing under the Copyright Act, so dismissed the claim.

The case, Naruto v. Slater, arose when wildlife photographer David Slater left his camera unattended in a reserve on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, to allow crested macaque monkeys to photograph themselves. Naruto, one of the monkeys, did just that, and Slater published his picture in a book of "monkey selfies." Naruto, through his next of friend PETA, sued for copyright infringement.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that Naruto had Article III standing. The court said that circuit precedent tied its hands--the Ninth Circuit previously ruled in Cetacean Community v. Bush that the world's whales, porpoises, and dolphins could have Article III standing to sue, although they lacked statutory standing under the relevant environmental statutes--and went on to urge the Ninth Circuit to reverse that precedent.

But the court further held that Naruto lacked statutory standing under the Copyright Act, because that Act doesn't permit a monkey to sue. It dismissed Naruto's case on this ground.

The court ruled that PETA didn't have next-of-friend standing, because it didn't assert a relationship with Naruto, and because "an animal cannot be represented, under our laws, by a 'next friend.'"

April 23, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sixth Circuit Strikes Ohio Statute Defunding Planned Parenthood

In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Himes, a unanimous Sixth Circuit panel, affirming the district judge, found Ohio 's Revised Code § 3701.034 unconstitutional under the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. The Ohio statute prohibited all funds it receives through six non-abortion-related federal health programs, such as the Violence Against Women Act, from being used to fund any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions, or becomes or continues to be an affiliate of any entity that performs or promotes nontherapeutic abortions. The statute was aimed at Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.

The state relied upon cases such as Maher v. Roe and Rust v. Sullivan, but the court's opinion, authored by Judge Helene White, stated:

Plaintiffs do not claim an entitlement to government funds. They acknowledge the government’s right to define the parameters of its own programs, and have complied with all program requirements. What they do claim is a right not to be penalized in the administration of government programs based on protected activity outside the programs.

Instead, Judge White wrote, the correct precedent was Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (AOSI) (2013). Recall that in the "prostitution-pledge" case, the United States Supreme Court held unconstitutional under the First Amendment a provision of a federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work. For the Sixth Circuit, AOSI "reiterated that the government may not require the surrender of constitutional rights as a condition of participating in an unrelated government program." In short,

the government cannot directly prohibit Plaintiffs from providing and advocating for abortion on their own time and dime, [ and thus ] it may not do so by excluding them from government programs for which they otherwise qualify and which have nothing to do with the government’s choice to disfavor abortion.

The Sixth Circuit found that the Ohio statute violated unconstitutional conditions based on constitutional infringements of both the Due Process Clause and the First Amendment. On the due process issue, the court found that the due process right to an abortion was at issue. The court rejected the "importation" of the undue burden standard into this analysis, but also reasoned that even under the undue burden analysis, especially in the United States Supreme Court's most recent abortion ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the statute violated due process.

On the First Amendment claim, relating to the Ohio statute's denial of funds to any organization that promotes abortions, again the Sixth Circuit quoted Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (AOSI): the government does not "have the authority to attach ‘conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself.’ "

While there is some potential for a circuit split given the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Planned Parenthood of Indiana, Inc. v. Commissioner of Indiana State Department of Health, 699 F.3d 962 (7th Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 569 U.S. 1004 (2013), the Sixth Circuit extensively analyzes the Seventh Circuit's opinion and concludes that because it was decided before Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (AOSI), it is no longer persuasive.

 

April 19, 2018 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SCOTUS Finds INA Deportation Provision for "Crime of Violence" Unconstitutionally Vague

In its opinion in Sessions v. Dimaya, the United States Supreme Court held that a portion of the definition of "crime of violence" in 18 U.S.C. §1, as applied in the deportation scheme of the Immigration and Nationality Act,  see 8 U. S. C. §§1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), 1229b(a)(3), (b)(1)(C), is unconstitutionally vague.

The Court's somewhat fractured opinion concluded that the residual clause, §16(b), which defines a “crime of violence” as “any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense" is unconstitutionally vague.

Justice Kagan's opinion was joined in its entirety by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Gorsuch joined only Parts I, III, IV–B, and V, thus making these sections the opinion of the Court.

The Court's opinion relied on Johnson v. United States (2015), authored by Justice Scalia, in which the Court found a similar residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), defining “violent felony” as any felony that “otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another,” 18 U. S. C. §924(e)(2)(B) unconstitutionally “void for vagueness” under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

The Court in Dimaya ruled that

§16(b) has the same “[t]wo features” that “conspire[d] to make [ACCA’s residual clause] unconstitutionally vague" {in Johnson}.  It too “requires a court to picture the kind of conduct that the crime involves in ‘the ordinary case,’ and to judge whether that abstraction presents” some not-well-specified-yet-sufficiently- large degree of risk. The result is that §16(b) produces, just as ACCA’s residual clause did, “more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates.”

The United States and the dissenting opinions attempted to distinguish the INA provision from the ACCA provision in several ways. Kagan, writing for the Court in Part IV that "each turns out to be the proverbial distinction without a difference." 

34033716420_bd72e5fd56_zGiven Gorsuch's joining with the perceived more liberal-leaning Justices on the Court, his concurring opinion is sure to attract attention.  Gorsuch's substantial opinion (18 textual pages to Kagan's 25 page opinion for the Court and plurality), leans heavily on the foundations of due process, beginning

Vague laws invite arbitrary power. Before the Revolu­tion, the crime of treason in English law was so capa­ciously construed that the mere expression of disfavored opinions could invite transportation or death.

More importantly, Gorsuch disavows any notion that the context of immigration deportation merits any special consideration and that the Court's holding is narrow, stressing that the problem with the statute is the procedural one of failing to provide notice (and standards for judges) rather than the substantive choice by Congress.

Taken together with Johnson, the holding in Dimaya means that statutes must be much more precise when defining a "crime of violence" or risk being held unconstitutionally vague.

[image: caricature of Justice Neil Gorsuch by Donkey Hotey via]

April 17, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

District Judge Holds Transgender Military Ban Subject to Strict Scrutiny

In her opinion and Order in Karnoski v. Trump, United States District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington has reaffirmed her previous preliminary injunction (December 2017) on the basis of the plaintiffs' likelihood to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment claims in their challenge to the President's ban on transgender troops in the military, and further decided that the military ban is subject to strict scrutiny. (Recall that previous to Judge Pechman's preliminary injunction, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Doe v. Trump partially enjoined the president's actions and United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland in Stone v. Trump issued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures).

The government's motion for summary judgment and to dissolve the preliminary injunction relied in large part on the President's new policy promulgated in March 2018. As Judge Pechman phrased it, the 2018 Presidential Memorandum

purports to "revoke" the 2017 Memorandum and “any other directive [he] may have made with respect to military service by transgender individuals,” and directs the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to “exercise their authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”

Nypl.digitalcollections.a20151f8-d3cf-5c25-e040-e00a18066189.001.wRejecting the government defendants' argument that the controversy was now moot, Judge Pechman concluded that the 2018 Memorandum and Implementation Plan "do not substantively rescind or revoke the Ban, but instead threaten the very same violations that caused it and other courts to enjoin the Ban in the first place." The judge acknowledged that there were a few differences, but was not persuaded by the government defendants' argument that the 2018 policy did not now mandate a “categorical” prohibition on service by openly transgender people.

Similarly, Judge Pechman found that the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the plaintiff State of Washington continued to have standing.

Most crucial in Judge Pechman's order is her decision that transgender people constitute a suspect class and thus the ban will be subject to strict scrutiny. (Recall that in the previous preliminary injunction, Judge Pechman ruled that transgender people were at a minimum a quasi-suspect class). In this opinion, she considers four factors:

  • whether the class has been “[a]s a historical matter . . . subjected to discrimination,”
  • whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,
  • whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define [it] as a discrete group,"
  • whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.”

After a succinct analysis, she concludes that suspect class status is warranted and because the "Ban specifically targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society," it  "must satisfy strict scrutiny if it is to survive."

However, Judge Pechman did not decide on the level of deference the government defendants should be accorded. Instead, she concluded that

On the present record, the Court cannot determine whether the DoD’s deliberative process—including the timing and thoroughness of its study and the soundness of the medical and other evidence it relied upon—is of the type to which Courts typically should defer.

However, she did agree with the government defendants that President Trump was not subject to injunctive relief, but did remain as a defendant for the purpose of declaratory relief.

Thus, Judge Pechman directed the parties to "proceed with discovery and prepare for trial on the issues of whether, and to what extent, deference is owed to the Ban and whether the Ban violates equal protection, substantive due process, and the First Amendment."

[image, Revolutionary War era soldier, NYPL, via]

 

April 14, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Gender, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

District Court Says No Standing to Sue President for Ethics Disclosure

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) ruled yesterday that an attorney appearing pro se lacked standing to sue President Trump for alleged deficiencies in his financial disclosure report that he was required to file as a candidate. The ruling ends this challenge.

The case, Lovitky v. Trump, arose when attorney Jeffrey Lovitky obtained a copy of then-candidate Trump's financial disclosure report from the Office of Government Ethics and discovered what he believed to be deficiencies in the reporting. Lovitky sued, arguing that the report included President Trump's personal debts and business debts, and that this "commingl[ing]" of personal and non-personal liabilities "mak[es] it impossible to identify which of the liabilities listed on the financial disclosure report were the liabilities of the President, in violation of [federal law]." Lovitky sought mandamus relief that would "direct[] the President to amend his financial disclosure report . . . for the purpose of specifically identifying any debts he owed during the [relevant] reporting period." Lovitky also sought declaratory relief.

The court ruled that Lovitky lacked standing to sue, because his requested relief wouldn't redress his claimed injuries. (The court didn't address whether he had a sufficient injury for standing purposes, because he lacked redressability.) As to mandamus, the court surveyed circuit law allowing mandamus against the president as to a ministerial duty, but, quoting the D.C. Circuit, noted that "[i]t is not entirely clear . . . whether, and to what extent, these decisions remain good law after [the Supreme Court's plurality opinion in Franklin v. Massachusetts]." Ultimately, the court said that because of this ambiguity it "would hesitate to issue mandamus even if Defendant's duty to specifically disclose personal liabilities were ministerial, but because the Court has found that it is a discretionary duty, the Court cannot do so."

As to declaratory relief, the court noted that it, too, wasn't obviously available against the president post Franklin. Regardless, the court said that because mandamus wasn't available, and because the Declaratory Judgment Act doesn't create an independent basis for jurisdiction, declaratory relief had no jurisdictional hook, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction.

April 11, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 9, 2018

District Court Upholds Massachusetts's Assault Weapons Ban

Judge William G. Young (D. Mass.) last week rejected a Second Amendment challenge to Massachusetts's assault weapon ban. Judge Young held that covered rifles fell outside the Second Amendment and thus enjoyed no constitutional protection.

The case, Workman v. Healey, tested the state's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. The state ban was styled on the federal assault weapons ban, but, unlike Congress, the Massachusetts Legislature made the ban permanent. Plaintiffs sued in early 2017, arguing that the ban violated the Second Amendment.

The court disagreed. Judge Young wrote that the banned weapons fell outside the core of the Second Amendment and enjoyed no constitutional protection. He declined to apply any level of scrutiny and simply upheld the ban. The court explained:

Consequently, "Heller . . . presents us with a dispositive and relatively easy inquiry: Are the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines 'like' 'M-16 rifles,' i.e., 'weapons that are most useful in military service,' and thus outside the ambit of the Second Amendment?" The undisputed facts in this record convincingly demonstrate that the AR-15 and [large-capacity magazines] banned by the Act are "weapons that are most useful in military service." As a matter of law, these weapons and [large-capacity magazines] thus fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment and may be banned.

The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the AR-15 is a popular firearm, and therefore enjoys Second Amendment protection:

Yet the AR-15's present day popularity is not constitutionally material. This is because the words of our Constitution are not mutable. They mean the same today as they did 227 years ago when the Second Amendment was adopted. The test is not the AR-15's present day popularity but whether it is a weapon "most useful in military service."

Judge Young went on to quote Justice Scalia from Scalia Speaks.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the ban is vague (because it doesn't define what "copies or duplicates" of assault weapons means) and that enforcement violated the Ex Post Facto Clause (because the state attorney general issued a notice that could punish existing ownership of banned weapons).

April 9, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

District Court Says No Standing to Sue U.S. Government for Actions of Israelis

Judge Randolph D. Moss (D.D.C.) ruled in Siegel v. U.S. Dep't of Treasury that plaintiffs lacked standing to sue the U.S. government for anti-Palestinian actions of Israelis. The court rejected the plaintiffs' theory that U.S. aid to Israel caused their harm, and that judicial relief would redress it. The ruling means that the case is dismissed.

The plaintiffs in the case were U.S. taxpayers and two individuals who claimed that Israeli settlers took their property with the support of the Israeli military. They alleged that U.S. aid to Israel contributed to Israeli actions that were detrimental to Palestinians. The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing; the district court agreed.

As to the taxpayers, the court said their "harm" was too diffuse to support standing. As to the two displaced individuals, the court said that they alleged a sufficient harm, but that they didn't sufficiently allege that U.S. aid to Israel caused their harm, or that judicial relief would redress it. The court said the two individual plaintiffs' "chain of reasoning is too remote and too speculative for several reasons." In short,

Plaintiffs ultimately ask the court to "pile conjecture on conjecture" and to reduce the complex decisions surrounding Israeli activity in the territory at issue to a single determinative variable. As this Court has previously explained, "[s]uch 'unadorned speculation as to the existence of a relationship between the challenged government action and the third-party conduct will not suffice to invoke the federal judicial power.'"

March 29, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Circuit Says NY Can Use Surplus Highway Toll Revenue for Canals

The Second Circuit ruled that New York's practice of using surplus revenue from highway tolls to fund its canal system did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. The ruling means that New York can continue this practice.

The court ruled that Congress specifically approved the practice in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. That Act authorizes state authorities to collect highway tolls without repaying the federal government (for federal financial aid to construct and improve highways in the first place) so long as it first used those funds for specified purposes under the Act. If so, then a state could use all excess toll revenues "for any purpose for which Federal funds may be obligated by a State under [Title 23]." This includes "historic preservation, rehabilitation and operation of historic transportation buildings, structures, or facilities (including historic railroad facilities and canals)." A separate provision--a "Special Rule"--paralleled this rule and added specific conditions for the New York State Thruway.

The court said that the ISTEA "permitted the Thruway Authority to allocate excess toll revenues (1) to any transportation facilities under the Thruway Authority's jurisdiction or (2) for any project eligible to receive federal assistance under Title 23." According to the court, this "plain language of the ISTEA manifestly contains . . . 'unmistakably clear' evidence of an intent to authorize the Thruway Authority to use excess highway toll revenues for canal purposes."

Because Congress validly authorized this under its Commerce Clause authority, it can't violate the Dormant Commerce Clause.

March 29, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

District Court Says Maryland, D.C. Have Standing in Emoluments Case Against Trump

Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) ruled today that Maryland and D.C. have standing to sue President Trump for violations of the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses. At the same time, Judge Messitte said that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue with regard to Trump properties other than the Trump International Hotel in D.C.

The ruling says nothing about the merits and only means that the case can move forward, beyond this preliminary stage. Recall that a district judge ruled the other way in CREW's Emoluments Clause case against President Trump.

The case involves Maryland's and D.C.'s challenge to payments that President Trump receives as owner of his world-wide properties. The plaintiffs argue that these payments violate the Domestic and Foreign Emoluments Clauses. The President moved to dismiss the case based on lack of standing. Today the district court denied that motion.

The court ruled that the plaintiffs sufficiently alleged injuries-in-fact to their quasi-sovereign, proprietary, and parens patriae interests. As to their quasi-sovereign interest, the court said that other states' use of the Trump International Hotel on official business "rather clearly suggests that Maryland and the District of Columbia may very well feel themselves obliged, i.e., coerced, to patronize the Hotel in order to help them obtain federal favors." As to proprietary interests, the court said that "the President's ownership interest in the Hotel has had an almost certainly will continue to have an unlawful effect on competition, allowing an inference of impending (if not already occurring) injury to Plaintiffs' proprietary interests" in their own properties. Finally, as to the plaintiffs' parens patriae interest, the court said that "[i]t can hardly be gainsaid that a large number of Maryland and District of Columbia residents are being affected and will continue to be affected when foreign and state governments choose to stay, host events, or dine at the Hotel rather than at comparable Maryland or District of Columbia establishments, in whole or in substantial part simply because of the President's association with it."

The court also held that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded causation and redressability, and that the plaintiffs fell within the "zone of interests" of the Emoluments Clauses and that the case was not a nonjusticiable political question.

The court, citing a string of Supreme Court precedent, said that the plaintiffs' request for injunctive and declaratory relief against the President didn't violate the separation of powers.

But the court limited the case to a challenge based on the President's interest in the Trump International Hotel in D.C. (and not based on other Trump properties around the country or around the world). The court did not foreclose challenges based on those other properties in other cases, but said only that Maryland and D.C. had failed sufficiently to plead standing against Trump-owned properties outside D.C.

March 28, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sixth Circuit Upholds State Single-Subject Ballot-Initiative Rule Against First Amendment Challenge

The Sixth Circuit ruled last week that Ohio's single-subject rule for ballot initiatives doesn't violate the First Amendment. The ruling upholds a state Ballot Board order requiring the plaintiffs to split their initiative--which includes one question on term limits for state supreme court justices and another to apply all laws "that apply to the people" of the state "equally to the members and employees of the General Assembly"--into two.

The case, Committee to Impose Term Limits v. Ohio Ballot Board, arose when the state Ballot Board rejected the plaintiffs' request to include a ballot question with two parts--one to impose term limits on Ohio supreme court justices, and the other to apply laws equally to members of the General Assembly. The Board ruled that state single-subject rule for ballot initiatives required the plaintiffs to split the questions. The plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Board's ruling violated the First Amendment.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the single-subject rule was a content-based restriction on speech and instead applied the Anderson-Burdick balancing test for "minimally burdensome and nondiscriminatory regulations." Under the balancing test, the court said that the single-subject rule amounted to only a minimal burden on the plaintiffs, but that it was justified by multiple state interests (avoiding confusion at the ballot box, promoting informed decision-making, preventing logrolling).

The ruling aligns with every other circuit that addressed the question post-Buckley v. Valeo.

March 26, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

District Court: No First Amendment Right Against Release of FEC Investigation

 

Judge Amy Berman Jackson (D.D.C.) ruled on Friday that donors to a PAC don't have a First Amendment right against public disclosure of their identities as part of the FEC investigation file into their political contributions.

The ruling means that the FEC investigation file, including the contributors' identities, will be released, unless and until the ruling is appealed.

The case, John Doe 1 & John Doe 2 v. FEC, arose when the FEC launched an investigation into a series of transactions that landed Now or Never PAC with a $1.7 million contribution. The FEC's OGC learned that John Doe 2 sent about $1.7 million to Government Integrity; that Government Integrity wired about that amount to American Conservative Union; and that American Conservative Union, in turn, sent that amount on to Now or Never PAC.

The FEC's OGC recommended that the Commission find reason to believe that John Does 1 and 2 violated FECA's prohibition on "mak[ing] a contribution in the name of another person or knowingly permit[ting] his name to be used to effect such a contribution." The FEC rejected the recommendation, however, and sent the case to conciliation. Based on the results of conciliation, the FEC found that there was reason to believe that the plaintiffs, the PACs, and the treasurer of Now or Never violated FECA's prohibitions on making or receiving contributions in another person's name. 

The FEC also advised that it would put the documents related to the case on the public record.

The John Does sued, arguing that this violated their First Amendment rights, among other things.

Judge Jackson disagreed. She noted initially that "plaintiffs do not make any claim that anyone's associational rights are being infringed, and disclosing the identities of plaintiffs here would not involve the disclosure of anyone's internal operations or political strategies." She also noted that the FEC recently revised its disclosure policy and tailored it "to minimize the burdens on constitutional rights while providing for sufficient disclosure to advancing legitimate concerns of deterring future violations and promoting Commission accountability." 

She then wrote that "the constitutional issue has already been decided in the agency's favor." Quoting Citizens United

The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.

Judge Jackson went on to hold that the FEC's disclosure policy is reasonable (under the APA) and consistent with FOIA.

March 26, 2018 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

District Court Rejects Suit Against Trump for Violations of the Presidential Records Act

Judge Christopher Cooper (D.D.C.) today dismissed a suit against President Trump for violations of the Presidential Records Act. Judge Cooper ruled that the plaintiffs, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the National Security Archive, didn't have a valid statutory or mandamus claim, and that they failed to state a Take Care Clause claim (if they even had one). The ruling ends the case, unless and until CREW appeals.

The case involves the White House practice of using instant-delete apps to delete text messages that might otherwise be subject to recording-keeping requirements. The White House has not denied the practice. CREW alleged that it violates the PRA, and that the President's use of executive orders (instead of administrative action) to side-step PRA requirements violates the Take Care Clause. But Judge Cooper ruled that CREW didn't have a cause of action, and that it didn't state a Take Care claim.

As to the statutory causes of action, the court declined to say whether under circuit law the PRA denies judicial review, and instead ruled that even if it didn't, CREW failed to state a valid mandamus claim. The court said that the PRA didn't create a "clear and compelling duty" on the part of the President to issue record classification guidelines, and so CREW couldn't get mandamus:

While the Presidential Records Act may obligate the President to take steps to preserve records, it nowhere dictates which steps to take. And while CREW may question the effectiveness of any guidance the President has issued regarding the preservation of his records, the Act nowhere clearly and definitively directs him to issue particular guidelines. Because CREW has not identified a ministerial duty, it has failed to state a valid mandamus claim.

As to the Take Care claim, the court said even if CREW could get declaratory relief against the President directly under the Take Care Clause, CREW's claim wouldn't fall within it:

Even assuming some universe of viable Take Care Clause claims exists, CREW's claim here does not fall within it. CREW does not challenge any of the President's executive orders themselves, nor does it argue that they exceed the President's authority to issue. Nor does CREW offer any reason why an administration could not, in good faith, elect to act through executive order rather than administrative action, even if that decision has incidental effects on the preservation of government records and the public's access to them. And the Court is aware of no authority preventing the President from electing to "faithfully execute" the laws by executive order rather than administrative process (assuming, of course, that the particular executive order at issue does not exceed the President's authority). Put another way, CREW does not dispute that the President has the discretion to make policy by executive order. The Supreme Court has advised that "[h]ow the President chooses to exercise the discretion Congress has granted him is not a matter for [the courts'] review." The Court will not ignore that counsel here.

March 21, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

New York Judge: Trump Not Immune From Defamation Suit by Summer Zervos

In her opinion in Zervos v. Trump, New York County Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter ruled that the lawsuit for defamation by Summer Zervos against now-President Trump could proceed, denying a motion to dismiss or to stay by Trump based on his presidential status.

Recall that Summer Zervos filed the law suit a few days before Trump was inaugurated. Recall also that one of the major issues was whether or not a sitting president was amenable to suit in state court: In other words, did the rule in the United States Supreme Court's unanimous 1997 decision of Clinton v. Jones holding that then-President Clinton was subject to suit in federal court extend to state court?

Justice Schecter's first paragraph answers the question without hesitation, beginning with a citation to Clinton v. Jones and stating that the case left open the question of whether "concerns of federalism and comity compel a different conclusion for suits brought in state court," but adding "they do not." Her analysis is relatively succinct, beginning with a simple statement: "No one is above the law" and concluding that "In the end, there is absolutely no authority for dismissing or staying a civil action related purely to unofficial conduct because defendant is the President of the United States."

Justice Schecter also denied the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and thus discussed the defamation claim which obliquely raises First Amendment issues. (The first 8 pages of the 19 page opinion detail the allegations of the complaint.) The motion to dismiss had essentially argued that Mr. Trump's statements were mere hyperbole. Justice Schecter disagreed:

Defendant--the only person other than plaintiff who knows what happened between the two of them--repeatedly accused plaintiff of dishonesty not just in his opinion but as a matter of fact. He not only averred that plaintiff told "phony stories" and issued statements that were "totally false" and "fiction," he insisted that the events "never happened" and that the allegations were "100% false [and] made up.”

A reader or listener, cognizant that defendant knows exactly what transpired, could reasonably believe what defendant's statements convey: that plaintiff is contemptible because she "fabricated" events for personal gain. . . . . Defendant used "specific, easily understood language to communicate" that plaintiff lied to further her interests . . .  His statements can be proven true or false, as they pertain to whether plaintiff made up allegations to pursue her own agenda.  Most importantly, in their context, defendant's repeated statements--which were not made through op-ed pieces or letters to the editor but rather were delivered in speeches, debates and through Twitter, a preferred means of communication often used by defendant- -cannot be characterized simply as opinion, heated rhetoric, or hyperbole. That defendant's statements about plaintiff's veracity were made while he was campaigning to become President of the United States, does not make them any less actionable. . . .  

 Thus, it seems that the lawsuit against the President, now joined by a declaratory judgment suit by Stormy Daniels which we discussed here and since removed to federal, will proceed apace. Assuming, of course, that the President's lawyers do not attempt an interlocutory appeal.

4096px-Hans_Makart_-_Allegory_of_the_Law_and_Truth_of_Representation_-_Google_Art_Project

image: Hans Makart, Allegory of the Law and Truth of Representation, circa 1881 via

 

March 20, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Executive Privilege, Federalism, First Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 19, 2018

D.C. District Says No Standing for Groups to Challenge FDA Inaction on Hair Product

Judge Trevor McFadden (D.D.C.) ruled that two organizations lacked standing to challenge the FDA's failure to act on their petition to regulate hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde. The ruling dismisses the plaintiffs' challenge.

The case arose when the plaintiff-organizations petitioned the FDA to regulate formaldehyde-containing hair-straighteners. The FDA looked into it, but ultimately declined to issue new regs. So the organizations sued. The FDA argued that they lacked standing, and the court agreed.

The court ruled that the plaintiff-organizations lacked organizational standing, because the only harms they alleged were increased educational expenses (to educate the public about the products) and lobbying expenses. As to the educational expenses, the court said they don't count for standing purposes, because public education is what the organizations do, anyway. As to lobbying expenses, the court said that "injuries to an organization's government lobbying and issue advocacy programs cannot be used to manufacture standing, because that would allow lobbyists on either side of virtually any issue to take the Government to court."

The court also ruled that the plaintiffs lacked associational standing. That's because they sought only injunctive relief, but only alleged that their members suffered prior harm (so that their remedy wouldn't redress the harm). The court noted that the organizations couldn't really allege likely future harm on behalf of their members, anyway, because they don't know that the harm will happen.

While the court dismissed the case for lack of standing, it also provided a pretty good roadmap under circuit law for pleading a case like this, where an agency fails to take action, based on an organization's increased workload as a result of the inaction, or an organization's inability to obtain information based on agency inaction.

March 19, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 16, 2018

Fourth Circuit Says Students Have Standing to Challenge "Disturbing," "Disorderly Conduct" Laws

The Fourth Circuit ruled this week in Kenny v. Wilson that a group of primary and secondary school students had standing to lodge a facial First Amendment challenge against South Carolina's "Disturbing Schools Law" and "Disorderly Conduct Law." The ruling says nothing about the merits, however; that's for remand. (Although it's kind of hard to see how these laws aren't unconstitutionally vague.)

The laws are basically what their titles imply. The Disturbing Schools Law makes it unlawful

(1) for any person willfully or unnecessarily (a) to intefere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State, (b) or loiter about such school or college premises or (c) to act in an obnoxious manner thereon; or

(2) for any person to (a) enter upon any such school or college premises or (b) loiter around the premises, except on business, without the permission of the principal or president in charge.

The Disorderly Conduct Law says:

Any person who shall (a) be found on any highway or at any public place or public gathering in a grossly intoxicated condition or otherwise conducting himself in a disorderly or boisterous manner, (b) use obscene or profane language on any highway or at any public place or gathering or in hearing distance of any schoolhouse or church . . . shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not more than one hundred dollars or be imprisoned for not more than thirty days.

Plaintiffs-students lodged facial vagueness challenges to the laws, after they were disciplined for violations. But they sought declaratory and injunctive relief, not damages, so standing became an issue.

The court said that they had standing, for two independent reasons. First, the court said that they had standing under Babbitt v. Farm Workers, because "[t]hey attend school without knowing which of their actions could lead to a criminal conviction," and "there is a credible threat of future enforcement" that's not "imaginary or wholly speculative." Next, the court said they had standing because the plaintiffs alleged an "ongoing injury in fact" based on a "sufficient showing of self-censorship, which occurs when a claimant is chilled from exercising his right to free expression."

March 16, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Fifth Circuit Rules on Texas Anti-Sanctuary Law

The Fifth Circuit earlier this week upheld most of Texas's SB4, the state law banning local jurisdictions from adopting sanctuary-city policies. The ruling means that most of SB4 stays in place and applies to Texas jurisdictions.

The ruling is a victory for Texas, which adopted the measure in order to crack-down on sanctuary cities in the state. It's only preliminary--so goes to the plaintiffs' likelihood of success on the merits, and not (necessarily) the merits themselves--but, given the nature of the (facial challenge) case, is certainly the same as a ruling on the merits.

SB4 has three provisions at issue in the case: (1) the "materially limit" provision, which bans local jurisdictions from "prohibit[ing] or materially limit[ing]" an officer from asking a lawfully detained individual's immigration status, from sharing that status with federal agencies, and from assisting federal agencies in enforcement; (2) the "detainer" provision, which requires local officers to comply with federal immigration detainers; and the "endorsement" provision, which prohibits local officers from endorsing sanctuary policies.

Here's what the court said:

The "Materially Limit" Provision

The court rejected the plaintiffs' claims that federal law preempted these prohibitions and that "materially limit" is unconstitutionally vague. As to preemption, the court said that federal law didn't field-preempt, because "SB4 and the federal statutes involve different fields": "Federal law regulates how local entities may cooperate in immigration enforcement; SB4 specifies whether they cooperate." The court said that it "could perhaps define the field broadly enough to include both SB4 and federal legislation, but the relevant field should be defined narrowly." It also said that Congress didn't state a clear purpose to field-preempt. Finally, the court said that the Tenth Amendment points against field preemption:

The plaintiffs acknowledge that the Tenth Amendment prevents Congress from compelling Texas municipalities to cooperate in immigration enforcement. Congress could not pass a federal SB4. But if that is so, it seems impossible that Congress has occupied the field that SB4 regulates.

The court also held that the requirements weren't conflict preempted, because, under the requirements, local officers could comply with both federal law and SB4. In particular, the court said that any authority (or requirement) that SB4 imposed upon local officers did not conflict with the allowable cooperation between local and federal officers under federal immigration law, and the authority of federal immigration officials.

Finally, the court held that "materially limit" isn't unconstitutionally vague, especially in the context of this facial challenge.

The "Detainer" Provision

The court held that this provision, which requires local officers to notify federal officials when they release an alien and to maintain custody of the alien up to 48 hours after the preexisting release date so that DHS can assume custody, did not violate the Fourth Amendment on its face (although the court didn't, and couldn't, say whether it might violate the Fourth Amendment in any particular case).

The "Endorse" Prohibition

The court held that SB4's provision that a "local entity or campus police department" may not "endorse a policy under which the entity or department prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws" violated the First Amendment. The court rejected a narrowing construction of "endorse" offered by the state. The court noted, however, that "[t]his conclusion does not . . . insulate non-elected officials and employees, who may well be obliged to follow the dictates of SB4 as 'government speech.'" But this issue wasn't before the court (because the plaintiffs "do not represent the public employees putatively covered by Garcetti and the government speech doctrine.")

March 15, 2018 in Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Massachusetts High Court on Public Funding of Churches and the State Anti-Aid Amendment

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled last week on the constitutionality of local grants going to church improvements under the state Anti-Aid Amendment. The ruling balances the interests behind the Anti-Aid Amendment, on the one hand, and the Free Exercise Clause under Trinity Lutheran, on the other, and comes out with a cautious thumb on the scale in favor of anti-aid.

The case, Caplan v. Town of Acton, arose when a local church applied for and received two grants of public funds for church improvements--one for a "Master Plan for Historic Preservation," covering several renovation and preservation projects on the facilities, and one for restoration and preservation of the church's religious-themed stained-glass windows. Taxpayers sued under the state private-attorney-general provision, arguing that the grants violated the state constitutional Anti-Aid Amendment. That Amendment prohibits the "grant, appropriation or use of public money . . . for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society."

Two questions came to the court. First, does the Anti-Aid Amendment categorically bar the grants, or are the grants subject to a three-factor test that the state uses for a companion provision in the Amendment? (A categorical bar would prohibit the grants without further inquiry, whereas the three-factor test could permit the grants if they met certain factors.) Next, if the three-factor test applies, do the grants satisfy it?

The court ruled that the Anti-Aid Amendment isn't categorical, and is instead subject to its three-factor test. (That test looks to whether a motivating purpose of each grant was to aid the church; whether the grant would have the effect of substantially aiding the church; and whether the grant avoid the risks of the political and economic abuses that prompted the passage of the Amendment.) The court gave three reasons: (1) because the three-factor test applies to a companion provision in the Amendment, it made sense to apply it to this provision, too; (2) the Amendment by its own terms requires a case-by-case analysis, which is consistent with a three-factor test (but not a categorical approach); and (3) a categorical approach "invites the risk of infringing on the free exercise of religion" under Trinity Lutheran. As to that last reason, the court said that the three-factor test allowed it to account for the Amendment without violating free exercise, Trinity Lutheran style.

As to the application of the test, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their challenge to the stained-glass window grant, but remanded the case on the "Master Plan" grant.

Two justices concurred, and one dissented, arguing in different ways how the Amendment and the grants stacked up against Trinity Lutheran.

March 14, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal District Judge: Equal Protection Prohibits Policy Banning Transgender Student from Facilities

In his opinion in M.A.B. v. Board of Education of Talbot County, United States District Judge George Russell, III of the District of Maryland denied the motion to dismiss by the school board of a challenge to its decision to require M.A.B., a transgender boy, to use restrooms and locker rooms for girls.

Judge Russell first found that the school's decision violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), entering the murky waters left by the United States Supreme Court's stay and vacation of the Fourth Circuit's decision in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board after the Trump Administration change interpretation of the anti-discrimination policy.

Judge Russell also decided that the school's decision violated the Equal Protection Clause, in an extensive discussion relying upon the developing transgender equal protection doctrine, including the Seventh Circuit's 2017 decision in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District as well as the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Glenn v. Brumby, the only two circuits to have ruled on the issue, and district court cases in the school context such as Evanacho v. Pine-Richland School District and those regarding the transgender military ban such as Doe v. Trump and Stone v. Trump

Judge Russell found that classifications based on transgender status merit intermediate scrutiny for two reasons. First, he found that transgender classifications were tantamount to sex classifications, specifically discussing sex-stereotyping.

Second, he found that "transgender individuals are, at minimum, a quasi-suspect class," under a four-factor test similar to that first articulated in Carolene Products footnote 4:

  • whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination;”
  • whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society;"
  • whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;”  and
  • whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.” 

FootnoteJudge Russell then analyzed each of these factors, with an interesting reference in a footnote, and found them satisfied, concluding that intermediate scrutiny was appropriate, and quoting the standard as that articulated in United States v. Virginia (VMI). 

While Judge Russell's opinion seemed to cast some doubt on whether the school board's proffered privacy rationale could satisfy the "important" prong, especially as described in VMI, he noted that the procedural posture of the decision was a motion to dismiss. However, even assuming privacy was an important interest, he concluded that the means chosen - - - the banning of the transgender male student from male bathrooms and locker rooms - - - was not substantially related to the privacy interest. Again, Judge Russell quoted Whitaker rejecting the school board's attempt to distinguish it on the basis that locker rooms were not at issue in the Seventh Circuit case and stated that Whitaker's "reasoning applies with similar force."Judge Russell then countered the school board's argument that "if M.A.B. changing clothes in the designated restrooms makes him feel humiliated and embarrassed, as well as alienated from his peers, then students who use those restrooms for greater privacy will feel the same way," with four separate reasons why the argument was flawed. For example, Judge Russell wrote that the school board's argument "overlooks the entire context surrounding the Policy:  "It singles M.A.B. out, quite literally because it does not apply to anyone else at the High School, and marks him as different for being transgender."  On the contrary, Judge Russell wrote, "a boy who makes the personal choice to change clothes in a single-use restroom or stall does not experience any such singling out at the hands of his school."

Judge Russell, however, did not grant M.A.B.'s motion for preliminary injunction, given M.A.B.'s status for the current school year, but "aware that the parties likely hope for a resolution to this case before the following school year," directed "the parties to confer and submit to the Court a joint proposed scheduling order." 

March 14, 2018 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit on the Territory of Guam's Criminal Jurisdiction and Constitutional Status

In its opinion in United v. Obak, the Ninth Circuit rejected a criminal defendant's argument that Article III §2 cl. 3 and the Sixth Amendment negated the jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Guam over his trial.

In the panel opinion by Judge M. Margaret McKeown, the court "quickly dispense[d]" with the challenge to the district court's subject matter jurisdiction, noting that under the Organic Act of Guam, the District Court of Guam has the same jurisdiction as a district court of the United States.

However, the Ninth Circuit construed the jurisdictional challenge as also a constitutional venue challenge, which relied on two constitutional provisions:

Under Article III, Section 2, clause 3, “Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.” U.S. Const. Art. III § 2, cl. 3. The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to a jury trial in “the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law.” U.S. Const. amend. VI.

783px-Coat_of_arms_of_Guam.svgThe issue, however, is whether such constitutional rights extend to the residents of Guam, an "unincorporated territory," because apart from "certain 'fundamental rights,' constitutional rights do not automatically apply to unincorporated territories such as Guam" and Congress must extend other constitutional rights by statute.

The court held that under the Organic Act of Guam Congress had not extended Article III §2 to persons residing in Guam, citing a 1954 Ninth Circuit case which the court stated "still stands." 

The court, however, noted that Sixth Amendment protections were extended to Guam in 1968, under the Mink Amendment revising the Guam Organic Act. Nevertheless, this very extension abrogated the challenge:

To give effect to the congressional extension of the Sixth Amendment to Guam, it makes no common sense to claim that Guam is not a state or a district such that venue cannot be laid in Guam. Otherwise, having the same “force and effect” in Guam as “in any State of the United States” would strip away part of the amendment as extended to Guam.

Thus, the court concluded that

To hold differently would require us to ignore the constitutional and statutory framework established for Guam, overturn established precedent, and effectively strip federal district courts located in unincorporated territories of the ability to hear certain cases.

Yet while the court's conclusion seems correct, it does illustrate the continuing diminished constitutional status of United States citizens residing in United States territories.

March 14, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sixth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Eleventh Circuit Says No Clearly Established Right Against Arrest for Wearing a Mask at a Protest

A divided panel of the Eleventh Circuit ruled today that officers enjoyed qualified immunity against First and Fourth Amendment claims after arresting an Atlanta Ferguson protestor for wearing a "V for Vendetta" mask. The ruling ends the protestor's civil-rights action against the officers.

The case, Gates v. Khokhar, arose when officers arrested Austin Gates for wearing the mask during the Atlanta protest, and failing to take it off when so ordered by police. Officers charged Gates with a violation of Georgia's Anti-Mask statute, which, with certain exceptions not relevant here, makes it a misdemeanor for a person to "wear[] a mask, hood, or device by which any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed, or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer" while he is "upon any public way or public property." Gates sued, arguing that his arrest violated the First and Fourth Amendments.

The Eleventh Circuit ruled that the officers enjoyed qualified immunity and dismissed Gates's federal constitutional claims. The court said that the Georgia Supreme Court had narrowed the Anti-Mask statute to cases where (1) the mask is worn with the intent to conceal the identity of the wearer and (2) the wearer of the mask "knows or reasonably should know that [his] conduct provokes a reasonable apprehension of intimidation, threats, or violence."

Under this standard, the court said that the officers didn't violate any clearly established First or Fourth Amendment right. In particular, the majority held that under the circumstances the officers could have reasonably believed that Gates wore the mask to cover his entire face and with an intent to intimidate, and that they therefore had "arguable" probable cause for his arrest. (The court reminded us that "arguable" probable cause--the standard for qualified immunity from a Fourth Amendment claim--is a pretty low standard and doesn't require an officer to have specific evidence of intent. In any event, as to intent, the court said that the circumstances of the protest, the fact that officers previously ordered mask-wearers to remove masks on threat of arrest (even if Gates didn't hear this), and the symbolic threat behind the Guy Fawkes mask all suggested that an officer could infer intent to intimidate.)

Judge Williams dissented. She argued that the majority "fail[ed] to adequately address the First-Amendment implications of the conduct and statute at issue here." In particular, she wrote that "the specific right at issue here--whether individuals can be subject to arrest for wearing a mask during a peaceful protest--was "clearly established" at the time of Gates' arrest."

The panel unanimously held that the officers enjoyed absolute immunity against Gates's state-law claims.

March 13, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)