Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Court Can't Second-Guess Prosecution's Charging Decisions

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in U.S. v. Fokker Services B.V. that a federal district court cannot deny an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act for a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) because the court disagrees with the government's charging decisions. The ruling, a victory for both parties, reverses the district court's decision on separation-of-powers grounds and remands the case.

The case arose when the parties asked the court for an exclusion of time under the Speedy Trial Act in order to allow the defendant to meet the government's conditions under the DPA. (The DPA provided that the government would defer prosecution so long as Fokker met certain conditions over an 18-month period. But if Fokker failed to meet the conditions after 18 months, the Speedy Trial Act would have prevented the government to pursue prosecution. So the parties moved the court for an exclusion of time under the Act.) The court denied the motion, saying that it disagreed with the government's decision to charge only the corporation, and not its individual officers, with violations. Both parties appealed.

The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said that "[t]he Constitution allocates primacy in criminal charging decisions to the Executive Branch," and that "the Judiciary generally lacks authority to second-guess those Executive determinations, much less to impose its own charging preference." So when the court denied an exclusion of time because of its disagreement with the government's charging decision, it exceeded its own authority and intruded into the prerogative of the Executive.

The court said that "we construe [the Speedy Trial Act] in a manner that preserves the Executive's long-settled primacy over charging decisions and that denies courts substantial power to impose their own charging preferences."

The case now goes back to the district court for an order excluding time under the Speedy Trial Act and implementation of the DPA.

April 5, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 4, 2016

Court Says States Can Use Total Population to Draw Legislative Districts

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in Evenwel v. Abbott that states can use total population--and need not use voter-eligible population--to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle in drawing legislative districts.

The ruling is a setback for a group of conservative Texas voters that argued that states must use voter-eligible population in drawing legislative districts. Using voter-eligible population (as compared to total population) would benefit rural, and conservative, areas in a state like Texas, because urban areas contain a higher proportion of non-voter-eligible persons (who would count in measuring total population, but not voter-eligible population).

The case arose when a group of Texas voters argued that their votes were diluted as compared to the votes of eligible voters in other state senate districts, thus violating the one-person-one-vote principle. The state drew its state senate map based on total population, but the voters claimed that this resulted in inequalities. In particular, the voters claimed that their senate district contained a far greater eligible-voter population than other districts of equal total population. (The state senate map had a deviation between districts of 8.04 percent when measured by total population--the population that the state used in drawing the maps. This deviation is within the 10 percent deviation range that is presumptively permissible under the one-person-one-vote principle. But when measured by voter-eligible population, the map had a deviation of 40 percent--well outside that presumptively permissible point.) The voters argued that the state must use voter-eligible population in drawing districts.

The unanimous Supreme Court disagreed. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the Court, said that constitutional history, precedent, and practice show that a state may use total population in drawing legislative districts. In short: we've always done it this way, and we've said it's OK, so it's OK.

The Court declined to say whether a state may use voter-eligible population.

April 4, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

South Africa's Constitutional Court on Corruption, Presidential and Legislative Responsibilities, and the Constitution

The controversy at the center of today's unanimous judgment by the South Africa Constitutional Court in Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others arises from "improvements" to President Jacob Zuma's private residence in Nkandla done at public expense. 

President_Jacob_Zuma's_Nkandla_homestead
Zuma's Nkandla Residence via

Although the cost of "security features" can be born by the state, other improvements - - - such as the visitors' centre, amphitheater, cattle kraal, chicken run, and swimming pool involved in this case - - - should not be state-funded and should be personally paid by the President.

The constitutional questions in the case are not only about apportioning costs, however, but are about apportioning power in the South Africa government. 

The South Africa Constitution establishes the "Public Protector" (sections 181, 182) as an independent entity with the power

a. to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or in the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice;

b. to report on that conduct; and

c. to take appropriate remedial action.

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Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, via

In this case, the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela (pictured left) investigated the allegations of "irregular expenditure" and issues a report in 2014 directing the President to make reimbursements  and reprimand the Ministers involved in the expenditures; this report was also submitted to the National Assembly. 

The President basically refused to comply and the National Assembly "resolved to absolve the President of all liability."  Once the matter reached the Constitutional Court's exclusive jurisdiction, President Zuma essentially agreed that he would pay the costs of improvement.  Thus, the decision in the case is not surprising.

Nevertheless, the Constitutional Court's decision is an important one.  It strongly sides with the Public Protector and states that her remedial action taken against the President is "binding."  Additionally, it finds that both the President and the National Assembly acted unconstitutionally:

The failure by the President to comply with the remedial action taken against him, by the Public Protector in her report of 19 March 2014, is inconsistent with section 83(b) of the Constitution read with sections 181(3) and 182(1)(c) of the Constitution and is invalid.

The resolution passed by the National Assembly absolving the President from compliance with the remedial action taken by the Public Protector in terms of section 182(1)(c) of the Constitution is inconsistent with sections 42(3), 55(2)(a) and (b) and 181(3) of the Constitution, is invalid and is set aside.

Jennifer Elgot has a good basic overview of the 52 page decision and background controversy in her piece in The Guardian.

Pierre deVos, Constitutional Law Professor at University of Cape Town has a terrific discussion on his blog Constitutionally Speaking.

 

 

March 31, 2016 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Union Fair Share Fees Survive, by Equally Divided Court

An equally divided Supreme Court today affirmed the Ninth Circuit's ruling upholding public-sector union fair-share fees against a First Amendment challenge. The one-sentence per curiam ruling said nothing on the merits.

The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, almost surely represented the end of public-sector union fair-share fees. The Court had sent a couple signals in recent Terms that it was prepared to overturn Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the 1977 case upholding fair-share fees, and oral arguments earlier this year suggested that this was the case to do it.

But with Justice Scalia's passing (after oral arguments in the case), the Court divided four to four, upholding the lower court, which upheld fair-share fees.

The ruling today leaves fair-share fees on the books--at least for now, unless and until Justice Scalia's replacement votes with the four traditional conservatives to overturn it in a future case. But the Court's more recent cases--the ones that teed up the challenge in Friedrichs--also stay on the books. So Abood and the Ninth Circuit ruling in Friedrichs still represent the law, but under Harris and Knox, Abood is still hanging by a thread.

The new justice will be the swing vote on this issue, and will say whether public-sector union fair-share fees stay, or go.

March 29, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Tenth Circuit Says No Standing to Challenge Colorado's Gun Laws

In a case that's just crazy enough to have come right out of a ConLaw exam, the Tenth Circuit ruled this week that a group of nonprofits and businesses lacked standing to challenge Colorado's background-check requirement and ban on the possession, sale, and transfer of large-capacity magazines under the Second Amendment and the ADA.

The ruling says nothing on the merits, of course. But it is a pretty good "how-to" on losing on standing (if you're looking for such a thing): the ruling recounts, in detail, the plaintiffs' numerous and surprising missteps and lost opportunities in pressing their standing arguments.

First, the court rejected the plaintiffs' economic injury claim. But this isn't (necessarily) because it's a bad claim; instead, it's because the plaintiffs don't make it. "While compelling arguments may exist as to why we should adopt [an accepted approach on economic burdens when compliance is coerced by the threat of enforcement], the plaintiffs fail to make those arguments in their opening brief, and we decline to make them on their behalf." So the Tenth Circuit denied the plaintiffs' newly generated economic injury theory and applied the district court's credible-threat-of-prosecution test.

Next, under that test, the court said that a number of plaintiffs simply waived their challenge to the district court's ruling as to the background-check requirement. As to those left over, these organizations could only show that they had standing to challenge the background check by showing that it was a burden to comply with the background check--which means, of course, that they couldn't satisfy the credible-threat-of-prosecution test. One organization that alleged that it previously violated the background-check requirement ran into another problem: the prosecutor declined to prosecute. And as to current or future violations: the head of the organization pleaded the Fifth and thus declined to give any details.

Third, a good number of plaintiffs failed to provide any evidence of standing to challenge the large-capacity-magazine ban at the district court. They didn't appeal, and the plaintiffs didn't appeal the district court's failure to address other plaintiffs below. That left just one group on appeal. But that group couldn't establish associational standing on behalf of its member, because her large-capacity magazine was grandfathered by the ban, and her claim that she might eventually want to buy another was too speculative an injury.

Finally, two individuals argued that the gun laws violated the ADA, but failed to allege anything other than that they were disabled. The court said that this may be enough to show standing under the ADA, but it's not enough to show that they had constitutional standing to challenge the gun laws at issue here.

There were other problems with the plaintiffs' case, equally baffling. Take a peek if you're trawling for a good standing fact pattern for your next exam, or if you're looking for a good example how not to argue standing.

March 24, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Split Rulings for Illinois Public Employees

The Illinois Supreme Court today issued two opinions on state constitutional provisions as they relate to public employees' compensation. One went for the employees; the other went for the state.

In the first, Jones v. Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, the court ruled that the state's effort to cut back on promised annuity payment increases under public-sector union contracts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause. The case involved Public Act 98-641, which would have, among other things, cut the flat annual annuity increases under the contract in order to bring the funds back to solvency. Union members sued, arguing that the provision violated the state constitution's Pension Protection Clause, which says: "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

The court agreed. It said that the Clause means what it says--"shall not be diminished" really means "shall not be diminished"--and that Public Act 98-641 therefore violates it. The court rejected the state's arguments that the Act, when read as a whole, actually provides a net benefit to members and that the Act was part of a bargained-for exchange supported by consideration.

While Jones is a win for public employees, the other case, State of Illinois v. AFSCME, most certainly is not. In AFSCME, the state legislature failed to fund a promised 2-percent raise for certain government employees, even though that raise itself was a concession by those employees, who were entitled to a 4-percent raise under their contract. (In order to meet the state's fiscal crisis, the union and state agreed to a 2-percent raise on schedule, and a later, additional 2-percent raise, for a total of 4 percent--the contractual amount.) AFSCME took the case to an arbitrator and won, but the court reversed. The court said that the state constitutional Appropriations Clause overrode the agreement. That Clause reads: "The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State." Moreover, an Illinois statute qualifies all public-sector collective bargaining with this language: "Subject to the appropriation power of [the legislature] . . . ." The court said that the Appropriations Clause and Illinois law together mean that the legislature can effectively override a promised contractual raise by failing to fund it.

Justice Kilbride dissented on this point. He argued that the legislature's failure to fund the 2-percent raise constituted a violation of the state constitution's Contract Clause.

March 24, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Eighth Circuit Says No Standing to Challenge Ban on Disclosing Execution Team

The Eighth Circuit ruled today that the ACLU lacked standing to bring a case against the director of the Missouri Department of Corrections to stop him from enforcing the state's ban on revealing the identities of execution team members. The ruling is a set-back for the ACLU and its efforts to disclose information about the state's executions, and, in particular, who provides the drugs. (Publicizing the providers has been an effective strategy by anti-death-penalty advocates to get those providers to stop providing.)

The case arose when the ACLU realized that it may have posted information about Missouri's executions (obtained under the Missouri Sunshine Law) that included "the identity of a current or former member of an execution team" in violation of a state law that prohibits revealing this information. The organization only realized the potential violation after it saw how the Department defined the members of the team--to include "anyone selected by the department director who provides direct support for the administration of lethal chemical, including individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the lethal chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure." So the organization removed the material from its web-site and moved quickly to sue the director for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the law violated free speech, free press, and due process.

The director moved to dismiss, claiming that he was immune under the Eleventh Amendment, that the ACLU lacked standing, and that the claims failed as a matter of law.

The Eighth Circuit today sided with the director on immunity and standing (and didn't say anything on the merits). The court ruled that the director was immune, because under the law he has no role in enforcing the prohibition, even if he has authority to define the members of the execution team. But the court said that defining the members wasn't an enforcement action within the meaning of Ex Parte Young.

The court also ruled that the ACLU lacked standing. That's (again) because the director has no authority to enforce the prohibition. (Instead, the law provides for a civil cause of action by any execution team member against anyone who reveals his or her identity.) The court said that this means that the director's action (defining the execution team) didn't cause the ACLU's injury, and an injunction against the director wouldn't redress it.

But the court did recognize that the ACLU suffered an injury--an objectively reasonable fear of legal action that chills its speech. Because this fear derives from the possibility of a team member's suit, the organization could probably could sue a team member who appears in its materials for the same relief. Or it could post the material, wait to be sued, and then raise the constitutional defenses.

March 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Eleventh Amendment, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

United States District Judge: Same-Sex Ruling (and 14th Amendment) Do Not Apply in Puerto Rico

In a 10 page opinion, Senior United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez denied the joint motion for summary judgment in Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla regarding a challenge to Puerto Rico's same-sex marriage ban.

Recall that in October 2104, Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez had largely relied upon Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question" to find that there was no constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  In the appeal to the First Circuit, the Solicitor General of Puerto Rico decided that it would not defend the same-sex marriage ban.   And then the United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

The First Circuit thus remanded Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla to Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez "for further consideration in light of Obergefell v. Hodges" and specifically stated "We agree with the parties' joint position that the ban is unconstitutional." The parties submitted a  Joint Motion for Entry of Judgment with a proposed order.

In rejecting the parties' joint motion, Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez contended that because Puerto Rico was a "stranger to the proceedings" in Obergefell which involved same-sex marriage bans in the Sixth Circuit (Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee), it was not bound by the decision.  This reasoning is similar to some of the arguments most recently raised by some Justices on the Supreme Court of Alabama. 

Additionally - - - and perhaps with more legal grounding - - - he concluded that Obergefell does not apply to Puerto Rico because it is not a "state":

the fundamental right to marry, as recognized by the Supreme Court in Obergefell, has not been incorporated to the juridical reality of Puerto Rico.

The judge based this "juridical reality" on his conclusion that the doctrine of selective incorporation only applies to states and not Puerto Rico, or perhaps more correctly, that the Fourteenth Amendment itself is not applicable to Puerto Rico "insofar as it is not a federated state." 

Additionally, Judge Perez-Gimenez asks "does the Constitution follow the flag?" and concludes that under The Insular Cases (1901), territorial incorporation of specific rights is questionable:

Notwithstanding the intense political, judicial and academic debate the island’s territorial status has generated over the years, the fact is that, to date, Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory subject to the plenary powers of Congress over the island under the Territorial Clause.More importantly, jurisprudence, tradition and logic teach us that Puerto Rico is not treated as the functional equivalent of a State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. As explained by the Supreme Court, “noting the inherent practical difficulties of enforcing all constitutional provisions ‘always and everywhere,’ the Court devised in the Insular Cases a doctrine that allowed it to use its power sparingly and where it would be most needed.” Boumedine v. Bush. 

Thus, this court believes that the right to same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico requires: further judicial expression by the U.S. Supreme Court; or the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, see e.g. Pueblo v. Duarte, 109 D.P.R. 59 (1980)(following Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and declaring a woman’s right to have an abortion as part of the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment); incorporation through legislation enacted by Congress, in the exercise of the powers conferred by the Territorial Clause, see Const. amend. Art. IV, § 3; or by virtue of any act or statute adopted by the Puerto Rico Legislature that amends or repeals Article 68 [prohibiting same-sex marriage].

In staking out a position regarding Puerto Rico's status, Judge Perez-Gimenez's opinion reverberates with the two cases regarding Puerto Rico presently before the United States Supreme Court even as it looks back to his earlier opinion hostile to the right of same-sex marriage. 800px-Map_of_USA_PR

[updated: March 11, 2016:  Further discussion of these issues available here].

March 9, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 7, 2016

United States Supreme Court Reverses Alabama Supreme Court's Denial of Full Faith and Credit to Lesbian "Second-Parent" Adoption

In a brief and straightforward per curiam opinion today in V.L. v. E.L.,  the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the Alabama Supreme Court's denial of full faith and credit to a Georgia adoption involving a lesbian couple. 

As we discussed last September when the Alabama Supreme Court's opinion was rendered, it relied in large part on the dissenting opinion of a Georgia Supreme Court in a different case to support its conclusion that the Georgia courts did not have proper "jurisdiction" over the adoption. 

The United States Supreme Court stated that the Alabama Supreme Court's "analysis is not consistent with this Court's controlling precedent." It continued:

Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s reasoning would give jurisdictional status to every requirement of the Georgia statutes, since Georgia law indicates those requirements are all mandatory and must be strictly construed. That result would comport neither with Georgia law nor with common sense.

As Justice Holmes observed more than a century ago, “it sometimes may be difficult to decide whether certain words in a statute are directed to jurisdiction or to merits.” Fauntleroyv. Lum, 210 U. S. 230, 234–235 (1908). In such cases, especially where the Full Faith and Credit Clause is concerned, a court must be “slow to read ambiguous words, as meaning to leave the judgment open to dispute, or as intended to do more than fix the rule by which the court should decide.” Id., at 235. That time-honored rule controls here. The Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there is no established Georgia law to the contrary. It follows that the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit.

That the parties to the case are lesbians - - - "two women who were in a relationship" - - - is made apparent by the United States Supreme Court.  This fact most likely figured largely in the Alabama Supreme Court's original majority ruling given the well-known hostility of its controversial chief justice to sexual minority rights.  However, given Friday's odd dismissal of the same-sex marriage litigation by the Alabama Supreme Court and today's United States Supreme Court definitive and unanimous reversal, it seems as if the opinions of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw (pictured below),  who dissented in E.L. as well as the earlier same-sex marriage opinions, has been vindicated.

Shaw
Alabama Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw

 

March 7, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Family, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Alabama Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage

The Supreme Court of Alabama has issued its opinions- - - totaling 170 pages typescript - - - in Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Citizens Action Program, and John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County dismissing all pending petitions and motions that seek relief from having to issue marriage licenses.  And yet, the lengthy concurring opinions in the case contradict rather than support this dismissal.

Recall that in January, controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an Administrative Order forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect." Earlier, after an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Justice Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue.  In a March 2015 opinion  in  this same case - - - Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute - - - known as API,  the court, without Justice Moore and over a dissent by Justice Shaw held  that the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, art. I, § 36.03, Ala. Const. 1901, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, § 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, are constitutional. Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment.  A few months later, the United States Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In today's opinions, Chief Justice Moore is center-stage and plays a confusing part.

Ala-s-ct

First, he provides a "statement of nonrecusal."  He discusses his own participation in various aspects of this continuing litigation and concludes he is not reviewing his own Administrative Order but instead "the effect of Obergefell."  

Second, in his own "specially concurring" opinion, his ultimately conclusion is that Obergefell is incorrectly decided and that the Alabama Supreme Court is under no duty to obey it.  He writes quite personally:

I took my first oath to support the Constitution of the United States in 1965 at the United States Military Academy on the banks of the Hudson River at West Point, New York. On this very site General George Washington defended the northwest territory against British invasion during the Revolutionary War. I repeated that oath many times during my military service in Western Europe, Vietnam, and locations in the continental United States. Following my military service and upon graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law, I again took an oath to "uphold and support" the United States Constitution. As a private practitioner, deputy district attorney, circuit judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on two separate occasions, I took that oath and have administered it to other Judges, Justices, Governors, and State and local officials. In both civilian and military life the oath of loyalty to the Constitution is of paramount importance. **** The oath I took as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West

Point stated, in part, "that I will at all times obey the legal orders of my superior officers, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." 57 Bugle Notes, at 5 (1965) (emphasis added). Later, as a company commander in Vietnam, I knew the importance of following orders. The success or failure of a mission and the lives of others depended on strict adherence to the chain of command. The principle of obedience to superior orders is also crucial to the proper functioning of a court system. Nevertheless, the principle of obedience to superior officers is based on the premise that the order given is a lawful one.

He then discusses "Lt. William Calley, a unit commander at My Lai in Vietnam who was convicted of killing 22 innocent civilians," to support his "military analogy" that one should not simply "follow orders" when the orders are immoral.

Third,  Chief Justice Moore's opinion is the major, if not majority opinion. 

The opinion garnering the most Justices - - - three - - - is by Justice Stuart and is quite short, but speaks volumes.  It reads in full:

Motions and petitions are dismissed without explanation by this Court for numerous reasons as a matter of routine. When a Justice issues a writing concurring in or dissenting from an order summarily dismissing a pending motion or petition the writing expresses the explanation for the vote of only the Justice who issues the writing and of any Justice who joins the writing. Attributing the reasoning and explanation in a special concurrence or a dissent to a Justice who did not issue or join the writing is erroneous and unjust.

Justice Greg Shaw also concurs specially, but his is the opinion that supports the conclusion. Justice Shaw had dissented from the March 2015 Order.   He now concludes that given Obergefell, the March 2015 Order "no longer has a field of operation or any legal effect."  

It is the accepted legal doctrine and the historic legal practice in the United States to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court as authoritative on the meaning of federal law and the federal Constitution. Arguments have been put forth suggesting that this doctrine and this practice are incorrect. Those arguments generally have not been accepted by the courts in this country. For example, in Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the argument by certain state officials that they were not bound by that Court's decisions.

The idea that decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States are to be followed is not something new or strange. Thus, the members of this Court who would follow the Obergefell decision would not, as either Chief Justice Moore or Justice Parker suggests, be "bow[ing their] knee[s] to the self-established judicial despots of America," "blindly follow[ing] the unsubstantiated opinion of 'five lawyers,'" "'shrink[ing] from the discharge'" of duty, "betray[ing]" their oaths, "blatantly disregard[ing] the Constitution," standing "idly by to watch our liberties destroyed and our Constitution violated," participating in the "conversion of our republican form of government into an aristocracy of nine lawyers," or be adhering to a perceived "evil."  They would, quite frankly, be doing what the vast majority of past and present judges and lawyers in this country have always assumed the Constitution requires, notwithstanding the unconvincing arguments found in the requests before us and in the specially concurring opinion of Chief Justice Moore. I charitably say the arguments are "unconvincing" because virtually no one has ever agreed with their rationales.

 [footnote omitted].

Justice Shaw certainly seems to have the better view and the citation of Cooper v. Aaron is exactly on point.  But given the result, it does not seem as if the National Guard will be marching into Montgomery any time soon.

Could this part of the saga be concluded?

AL_state_capitol_postcard_1

 

March 4, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Tenth Circuit Strikes Disclosure Requirements as to Small Scale Issue Organization

The Tenth Circuit ruled today in Coalition for Secular Government v. Williams that burdensome state disclosure requirements as applied to a small-scale issue-advocacy nonprofit violate the First Amendment. The ruling means that Colorado's disclosure requirements cannot apply against the Coalition for Secular Government's small-scale advocacy against a statewide "personhood" ballot initiative in the 2014 general election.

The Coalition for Secular Government is a small outfit (one person) that devotes itself to printing and distributing material against a proposed "personhood" amendment in Colorado each time it comes up for a vote--the last in 2014. Because the Coalition collects donations to support its operations, the state constitution and implementing laws and regulations require the Coalition to register as an "issue committee" and to disclose information about contributors. These turn out to be quite a hassle, especially for a small group, so the Coalition sued, arguing that they violate the First Amendment.

The Tenth Circuit agreed. The court applied "exacting scrutiny" and concluded that "the minimal informational interest [in disclosure] cannot justify the associated substantial burdens [of compliance]." The court noted that the small-scale nature of the Coalition had an impact on both sides of the balance. As to the informational interest, "the strength of the public's interest in issue-committee disclosure depends, in part, on how much money the issue committee has raised or spent," and the informational interest in the Coalition's spending (about $3,500) was nothing like the informational interest in a group that spent, say, $10 million. As to the burden, the court noted that a small-scale organization like the Coalition faces greater challenges in compliance than a large-scale outfit.

At the same time, the court declined to say whether the state constitutional threshold for issue-committee reporting (a mere $200) constituted a facial violation of the First Amendment. As a result, that threshold is still on the books.

 

March 2, 2016 in Association, Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Finds No Constitutional Violation in Denying Permit to "Wandering Dago" Food Truck

In her extensive opinion in Wandering Dago, Inc.  v. Desito, United States District Judge for the Northern District of New York Judge Mae D'Agostino granted summary judgment for the government against the First Amendment and Equal Protection claims of "Wandering Dago" resulting from the denial of a permit to operate a food truck at the Empire State Plaza in Albany (pictured below), a facility owned by the state of New York and operated by the state Office of General Services (OGS) under Commissioner RoAnn Desito.

 In the summers of 2013 and 2014, OGS administered "The Empire State Plaza Summer Outdoor Lunch Program," permitting vendors to operate food trucks for limited hours on the plaza, intended to provide "lunch options to the approximately 11,000 State employees who work at Empire State Plaza, as well as for visitors to the Capitol, State Museum, performing arts center" - - - known as The Egg - - - and various monuments and memorials in New York's capital city.  As the list of applicants was being processed, the name "Wandering Dago" attracted attention of OGS employees, one who "recognized the term 'dago' as 'a highly offensive term for Italians,'" and after conducting a "computer search" to determine whether this was true, his conclusion was not only "confirmed" but it was "revealed" that the term has been "used to refer to people of Spanish and Portuguese descent, as well as Italians."  OGS denied the application "on the grounds that its name contains an offensive ethnic slur and does not fit with OGS' policy of providing family-friendly policy."  Wandering Dago's application the next year was similarly rejected.

800px-The_Egg_at_Empire_State_Plaza

The First Amendment claims were primary; the Equal Protection Clause claims having been previously dismissed and warranting little more analysis when re-plead.  On the First Amendment, Judge D'Agostino identified the problem common to so much free speech litigation: this case does not fit neatly into any particular First Amendment "framework."  Thus, Judge D'Agostino engaged in several strands of analysis, most prominently being "forum" analysis, but also government speech, employee (contractor) speech, and commercial speech.

As to forum doctrine, Judge D'Agostino rehearses the well-know different types of forum, ultimately deciding that the forum is a "nonpublic forum."  Key to this conclusion, as is so often true, is the definition of the forum.  For Judge D'Agostino, the forum is not Empire State Plaza, but the lunch program - - - "which happens to take place within the grounds that comprise the Empire State Plaza."  That OGS required permits and controlled the "forum" contributes to this view.

Yet even under a nonpublic forum, the government must be "reasonable" and content/viewpoint neutral.  As to the reasonableness, Judge D'Agostino discounted the fact that the policy was not written or even previously articulated.  Somewhat confusingly, the judge decided that the owners of Dago did not intend to express anything particular by the name, and therefore there could be no viewpoint/content discrimination and similarly found that there was no problem with unbridled discretion.  The judge rejected the applicability of  In Re Simon Shiao Tam, in which the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment because  it did not involve a forum, but an application of strict scrutiny.  Judge D'Agostino also distinguished cases in which the proprietor was denied the entire opportunity to sell the goods rather than simply not allowed to participate in a particular program.

The particular program aspect supports the judge's conclusion that "government speech" was at issue, relying on Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans in which the Court found that Texas's program of specialty license plates was government speech.

While Judge D'Agostino's opinion is well-structured and comprehensive, the analysis regarding content/viewpoint discrimination, no matter the forum type, will most likely be fertile ground for appeal.  On government speech, the case may provide the Second Circuit with an opportunity to clarify the limits of Walker.

March 2, 2016 in Equal Protection, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

D.C. Circuit Sends Disclosure Requirement Challenge to 3-Judge Court

The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Independence Institute v. FEC that a nonprofit organization's First Amendment challenge to federal electioneering disclosure requirements must go to a three-judge court (and not be dismissed). The ruling keeps alive the nonprofit's challenge to disclosure requirements for its "electioneering communication" under the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act--even if its constitutional arguments seem, well, weak.

Independence Institute, a 501(c)(3), sought to run a radio ad in favor of a federal statute that would reform federal sentencing, and to encourage citizens to express their support for the law to Colorado's Senator Mark Udall. But Udall was running for re-election at the time, so the radio spot would qualify as an electioneering communication under BCRA. That would trigger disclosure requirements, forcing Independence Institute to disclose its donors to the FEC.

Independence Institute complained, arguing that forced disclosure violated the First Amendment, and sought review by a three-judge court. The district judge denied the request, concluding that the plaintiff's claims were foreclosed by McConnell v. FEC and Citizens United, both of which upheld disclosure requirements against a facial challenge and against one particular as-applied challenge.

A divided panel of the D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said that Independence Institute's arguments passed the low standard the Court recently set in Shapiro v. McManus--denying a three-judge court only when a claim is "essentially fictitious, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, and obviously without merit." In particular, Independence Institute argued that its as-applied claim against the disclosure requirement was different than the as-applied claim that the Court rejected in Citizens United, because Citizens United was a 501(c)(4) organization (not a (c)(3), like Independence), and that Citizens United therefore had a lesser interest in privacy, and that the government had a greater interest in publicly identifying Citizens United's donors. (Independence also argued that the First Amendment bars compelled disclosure unless the electioneering communication is unambiguously campaign-related (not an issue ad, as here). The court didn't address this.)

That seems pretty weak, but not "essentially fictitious, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, and obviously without merit," according to the court.

Judge Wilkins dissented, arguing that the issue's been settled by the Court.

The ruling sends the case to a three-judge court for further proceedings. While this isn't a ruling on the merits--and seems like a poor test case to challenge disclosure requirements--the ruling nevertheless keeps the case alive.

March 1, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 29, 2016

Federal Magistrate Finds All Writs Act Not Sufficient to Compel Apple to "Unlock" IPhone in Brooklyn Case

Bearing remarkable similarity to the ongoing controversy in California often styled as FBI v. Apple, a federal magistrate in the Eastern District of New York today sided with Apple, finding that the All Writs Act does not grant judicial authority to compel Apple to assist the government in "unlocking" an iPhone by bypassing the passcode security on a iPhone. 

In his 50 page Memorandum and Order in  In Re Order Requiring Apple, Inc. to Assist in the Execution of a Search Warrant Issued By This Court, Magistrate James Orenstein concluded that while the All Writs Act as applied here would be in "aid of jurisdiction" and "necessary and proper," it would not be "agreeable to the usages and principles of law," because Congress has not given such specific authority to the government.  Similar to Apple's argument in the California case, Magistrate Orenstein notes the constitutional argument:

The government's interpretation of the breadth of authority the AWA confers on courts of limited jurisdiction thus raises serious doubts about how such a statute could withstand constitutional scrutiny under the separation-of-powers doctrine.

There is no mention of the First, Fifth, or Fourth Amendments.

500px-Apple_Computer_Logo_rainbow.svgMagistrate Orenstein engaged in an application of the United States v. New York Telephone Co. (1977) factors, finding that even if the court had power, it should not exercise it.   The magistrate found that New York Telephone was easily distinguished.  On the unreasonable burden factor, the magistrate stated:

The government essentially argues that having reaped the benefits of being an American company, it cannot claim to be burdened by being seen to assist the government. See Govt. II at 19 (noting the "significant legal, infrastructural, and political benefits" Apple derives from being an American company, as well as its "recourse to the American courts" and to the protection of "American law enforcement ... when it believes that it has been the victim of a crime"); id at 19-20 ("This Court should not entertain an argument that fulfilling basic civic responsibilities of any American citizen or company ... would 'tarnish' that person's or company's reputation."). Such argument reflects poorly on a government that exists in part to safeguard the freedom of its citizens – acting as individuals or through the organizations they create – to make autonomous choices about how best to balance societal and private interests in going about their lives and their businesses. The same argument could be used to condemn with equal force any citizen's chosen form of dissent.

At the end of his opinion, Judge Orenstein reflected on the divisive issues at stake and concluded that these were ones for Congress.

But Congress will certainly not be acting in time to resolve the pending controversies.  Unlike the California case, this warrant and iphone resulted from a drug prosecution and had proceeded in a somewhat haphazard manner.  Pursuant to the Magistrate's request about other pending cases,

Apple identified nine requests filed in federal courts across the country from October 8, 2015 (the date of the instant Application) through February 9, 2016.  In each, Apple has been ordered under the authority of the AWA (or has been told that an order has been requested or entered) to help the government bypass the passcode security of a total of twelve devices; in each such case in which Apple has actually received a court order, Apple has objected. None of those cases has yet been finally resolved, and Apple reports that it has not to date provided the requested assistance in any of them. 

So it seems that the California "terrorism" case is not unique.  Judge Orenstein's opinion is well-reasoned and well-structured and could easily be echoed by the federal courts in California - - - and elsewhere. 

February 29, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

District Judge Dismisses Complaint Seeking Judge Cebull's Emails

Recall the controversy in 2012 regarding the racist and sexist emails of Judge Richard Cebull of the District of Montana reportedly regarding President Obama?  Judge Cebull resigned about a year later, as the matter was being investigated by judicial committees. The Ninth Circuit Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability entered its Decision in January 2014 incorporated the findings of judicial misconduct of other committees, but found that remedial action was "inoperative" given Cebull's retirement. 

In Adams v. Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability, two Montana journalists sought more information than the Committee included in that decision, including additional emails, and brought suit against the Committee and other defendants.  In an 25 page Order today, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed the complaint without leave to amend.  Judge Rogers's decision included several grounds.

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circa 1894 via

First, Judge Rogers concluded that the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability was protected by federal sovereign immunity and that the Committee had not waived that immunity.

Second, Judge Rogers considered the Defendants' claim that the plaintiff journalists lacked standing.  Citing First Amendment cases such as Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), Judge Rogers found that the plaintiffs did suffer "injury in fact" as journalists.  However, Judge Rogers concluded that the plaintiff journalists failed to satisfy another element of standing, the causation inquiry, stating that "Plaintiffs have not alleged that their injury is fairly traceable to any conduct of the Committee, at least not with clarity."  She thus dismissed the complaint for lack of standing.

Third, Judge Rogers entertained the Committee's arguments that it was protected by judicial immunity.  Judge Rogers found that the Committee had both judicial immunity and quasi-judicial immunity, and granted the motion to dismiss on both these grounds.

Fourth, the Committee sought judicial deliberative privilege regarding Judge Cebull's emails.  However, Judge Rogers found that the particular emails sought were not "in pertinent part, communications relating to official judicial business."

Fifth and finally, was the First Amendment claim.  The Defendants claimed that the emails were "investigative materials" shielded from First Amendment disclosure by the confidentiality provision of the Judicial Council’s Reform and Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, 28 U.S.C section 360.  Judge Rogers framed the issue thusly:

(i) assuming Defendants are correct that the emails are “investigative materials” covered by 360(a), is that confidentiality restriction consistent with the First Amendment?; and alternatively,

(ii) assuming the emails are not “investigative materials” covered by 360(a), does the First Amendment provide any right or claim to compel their disclosure by Defendants?

The Court turns to the Press-Enterprise II framework to determine if, under either formulation, Plaintiffs’ access claim is one that meets the historical experience and logic criteria, such that a qualified First Amendment right of access exists.

Using the experience and policy framework of Press Enterprise II (1986) Judge Rogers concluded that under either formulation of the issue, the press did not sustain a claim for access to the emails. Instead, the "more general rule set forth by the Supreme Court in Houchins [v. KQED (1978) ] — that the First Amendment right of the public or the press does not grant unlimited access to all government information or information within the government’s control—prevails.

Thus, it seems we will never be have an opportunity to read  the other (presumably offensive) emails that Judge Cebull sent through his official judicial accounts when he was a sitting judge.  Given the multiple grounds on which Judge Rogers relied, and the well-reasoned First Amendment discussion,  any appeal would have much to overcome in order to be successful.

 

February 25, 2016 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sixth Circuit Finds Ohio's False Campaign Speech Law Violates First Amendment

In a relatively brief opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a panel of the Sixth Circuit found that Ohio's false campaign statute, Ohio Rev. Code § 3517.21(B)(9),  violates the First Amendment.

Recall that the Sixth Circuit had previously decided that the constitutional challenge was not ripe for review, but that the United States Supreme Court unanimously reversed in June 2014.  On remand, District Judge Timothy Black concluded that the statute violated the First Amendment.

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Hannah Trapnel, a Quaker and a pretended prophet. Line engraving after R. Gaywood, 1823, via

The Sixth Circuit panel reasoned that any Sixth Circuit precedent supporting the view that falsehoods were categorically excluded from the First Amendment had been abrogated by United States v. Alvarez,  (the "stolen valor" case).  Instead, the panel found that the Ohio law both targeted core speech and was a content-based regulation, and thus strict scrutiny was applicable.  The Sixth Circuit reasoned that

Ohio’s interests in preserving the integrity of its elections, protecting “voters from confusion and undue influence,” and “ensuring that an individual’s right to vote is not undermined by fraud in the election process” are compelling.

However, the means chosen were not narrowly tailored:

in their (1) timing, (2) lack of a screening process for frivolous complaints, (3) application to non-material statements, (4) application to commercial intermediaries, and (5) over-inclusiveness and under-inclusiveness.

Additionally, the Sixth Circuit noted:

Ohio’s political false-statements laws have similar features to another Ohio election law that the Supreme Court found unconstitutional. In McIntyre [v. Ohio Elections Committee (1995)] , the Supreme Court struck down Ohio’s election law prohibiting anonymous leafleting because its prohibitions included non-material statements that were “not even arguably false or misleading,” made by candidates, campaign supporters, and “individuals acting independently and using only their own modest resources,” whether made “on the eve of an election, when the opportunity for reply is limited,” or months in advance. Ohio’s political false-statements laws have all of the same flaws. Such glaring oversteps are not narrowly tailored to preserve fair elections.

The use of McIntyre is an interesting one because the "right to be anonymous" recognized in McIntyre seemed to rest in part on the government interest in ensuring truthfulness and cited the Ohio campaign falsehoods law in support.

Given that the court did recognize as compelling the government's interests in addressing lies in campaigns, is there any possibility that a government could craft a narrowly tailored regulation?  It seems doubtful.

February 24, 2016 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Federal District Judge Finds Recording Police Conduct Not Protected by First Amendment

In a Memorandum Opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, recently appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Mark Kearney held that the First Amendment does not protect video-recording of the police absent a "stated purpose of being critical of the government." 

For Judge Kearney, video-recording is conduct and there is no "expressive" element unless there is an explicit intent of being critical of police conduct. Mere "observation," Judge Kearney wrote, is not expressive.  It is not within the First Amendment unless the observers are "members of the press."

Judge Kearney rather unconvincingly distinguished the First Circuit's 2011 opinion in Glik v. Cunniffee, by stating [in a footnote], "In Glik, the plaintiff expressed concern police were using excessive force arresting a young man in a public park and began recording the arrest on his cell phone and the police then arrested plaintiff."  Even if valid, this distinction is problematical.  It may be pertinent with regard to one plaintiff, Richard Fields, who took a picture of 20 or so police officers outside a home hosting a party.  However, with regard to the other plaintiff, Amanda Geraci, who the judge notes is a "self-described 'legal observer'" with training, the distinction seems to be one without a difference: she was at a protest and "moved closer" to videotape an officer arresting one of the protesters when a police officer restrained her and prevented her from doing so.

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image via

Judge Kearney thus granted the motion for summary judgment on the First Amendment claims.  The judge did, however, deny summary judgment on the Fourth Amendment claims for unreasonable search and false arrest (for Fields) and excessive force (for Geraci).  Yet however these claims are resolved, the First Amendment ruling is one that is exceedingly suitable for Third Circuit review.

 

February 23, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Finds "Parents for Megan's Law" a State Actor in Fourth Amendment Challenge

In her opinion in Jones v. County of Suffolk (NY) and Parents For Megan's Law, Judge Joanna Seybert found that the group was a state actor for constitutional purposes and that the complaint stated a valid Fourth Amendment claim. 

The facts as alleged in the complaint illustrate the continuing constitutional issues with civil monitoring of persons convicted of sex offenses.  Jones, convicted in 1992, is a low-risk sex offender subject to numerous requirements under the New York Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA).  New York's Suffolk County (on Long Island), passed an additional act, the Community Protection Act, which Judge Seybert described as including "aggressive sex offender monitoring and verification."  The county act authorized the county law enforcement agency to enter into a contract with the organization Parents for Megan's Law (PFML), a “victim’s advocacy organization that campaigns for increased punitive regulation of people registered for past sex offenses” and “has called for legislative changes that, among other things, would require people convicted of SORA offenses to live far away from population centers.”  The contract requires PML to "use ex-law enforcement personnel" to "engage in proactive monitoring of registered sex offenders."  And "proactive" would be one way to describe the actions of the PFML personnel who came to Jones' home several times, waited for him at the doorstep, asked for his driver's license and kept it for several minutes,  questioned him about his employment, and warned that they would make further unannounced visits to his home and work. 

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Illustration from Hound of the Baskervilles via

In its motion to dismiss, PFML argued that it was a private entity not subject to constitutional constraints.  Judge Seybert, relying on Second Circuit precedent, held that there was a "close nexus" and a "delegation of a public function," and thus PML was a state actor.  This was not an ordinary contract, but one in which the police department directed the monitoring operations of the PFML.  Important to her analysis, there was a letter from the county police department informing designated  sex offenders that they would be required to provide identification to PML personnel, thus "creating the appearance of joint action" between the state and the organization.

The letter was also important to Judge Seybert's Fourth Amendment analysis.  The judge distinguished the allegations here from Florida v. Jardines (2013), on which both parties relied, regarding the constitutionality of a so-called "knock and talk" by law enforcement:

Defendants assert that because PFML agents’ interactions with Jones can be classified as a “knock and talk,” no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. However, the allegations in the Complaint raise questions about whether a reasonable person in Jones’ position would feel free to terminate his interactions with PFML. The questioning here did not take place in an open field, or a Greyhound bus, but rather within Jones curtilage--an area afforded heightened Fourth Amendment protection. Moreover, in advance of the visits, Jones received a letter from the SCPD instructing him that he would be visited by PFML for the purpose of verifying his address and employment information. Although the letter stated that Jones would be “asked to provide them with personal identification” and “requested to provide employment information,” the letter begins by stating that “registered sex offenders are required to provide this information under [SORA].” Citizens do not often receive letters from the police announcing home visits by third-party groups. At the very least, the letter is ambiguous as to whether compliance was mandatory. Finally, the description of PFML agents’ conduct gives the distinct impression that compliance was not optional. The fact that the agents waited for fifteen minutes on Jones’ porch while he was in the shower, “followed [him] closely” as he walked to retrieve his driver’s license, and told Jones that “they may make subsequent, unannounced appearances at his job,” gives the encounter the appearance of a seizure of Jones’ person, rather than a consensual “knock and talk.”

Judge Seybert did dismiss the complaint's due process claim, which Jones argued were based on a right to familial association that had been injured by the PFML "visits" to his home.  Judge Seybert reasoned that there was no "invasion of a liberty interest" that was "separate and apart" from the Fourth Amendment claim and thus an independent substantive due process claim could not proceed.

While there are other issues before the court - - - including whether a state (or county) can delegate its sex offender monitoring to a private group are also before the court as a matter of state law - - - the constitutional constraints governing the monitoring of designated sex offenders seems to be squarely presented.

February 23, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2016

District Court Says Drone Strike Case Raises a Political Question

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) dismissed a complaint by the estates of two persons killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Judge Huvelle ruled that the complaint, which sought a declaration that the strike violated the Torture Victim Protection Act and customary international law, raised a non-justiciable political question.

The case, Bin Ali Jaber v. U.S., grew out of a drone strike that killed five individuals in Yemen. The estates of two of the victims sued, seeking a declaration that the U.S. violated the TVPA and international law. The government moved to dismiss the case as a non-justiciable political question.

Judge Huvelle granted the motion. She wrote that the court lacked judicially manageable standards for judging the legality of a drone strike, and that the decision to order the strike was a "policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion."

Judge Huvelle distinguished Comm. of U.S. Citizens Living in Nicaragua v. Reagan and Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta--cases in which the courts held that tort claims arising from foreign policy decisions were justiciable--because the plaintiffs in those cases raised constitutional claims. "Because the judiciary is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, constitutional claims can require a court to decide what would otherwise be a political question, but no such claims have been made here."

Judge Huvelle recognized that her ruling was in tension with Judge Weinstein's decision in In re Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation--with claims "not materially distinguishable from plaintiffs'." But she said, "[O]f course, this Court is bound by the decisions of the D.C. circuit, not the Eastern District of New York."

February 22, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Second Circuit: Is "Hispanic" a "Race"?

In a case involving both 42 USC §1981 and Title VII, a panel of the Second Circuit in its opinion in Village of Freeport v. Barrella addressed the question of whether "Hispanic" was included in definitions of race.  In a word, the answer was yes.  In a few words, Judge Jose Cabranes' opinion for the panel answered:

Based on longstanding Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedent, we reiterate that “race” includes ethnicity for purposes of § 1981, so that discrimination based on Hispanic ancestry or lack thereof constitutes racial discrimination under that statute. We also hold that “race” should be defined the same way for purposes of Title VII.

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Don Quixote by Pablo Picasso, 1955, via

The plaintiff, Barrella, argued that the Village official had not appointed him chief of police because Barrella was a white Italian‐American, and that the Village had instead appointed a less‐qualified Hispanic. A jury found in favor of Barrella.  At trial and on appeal, the Village contended that there was no "race" discrimination or classification, because "Hispanic" is not a race.  Judge Cabranes' opinion discussed the "societal confusion" regarding "Hispanic," and included an interesting Appendix on the various labels the United States Census has used, starting in 1930.  The court, however, clearly stated:

The existence of a Hispanic “race” has long been settled with respect to §1981. Although that statute never uses the word “race,” the Supreme Court has construed it as forbidding “racial” discrimination in public or private employment.  The Court has further defined “racial discrimination,” for purposes of §1981, as including discrimination based on “ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”

But the clarity with regard to §1981 does not exist with regard to Title VII, which is further complicated by an "analytic" problem.  The Second Circuit recognized that although its precedent had "avoided the question so far,"

 the proper categorization of Hispanicity has important analytical implications. Section 1981 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race but not on the basis of national origin.  Accordingly, if we were to treat Hispanicity as a national origin, but not as a race, for purposes of Title VII, plaintiffs in cases involving pro‐ or anti‐Hispanic discrimination might in some circumstances need to present two different factual arguments in order to invoke the distinct remedies of that statute along with those of § 1981.

 In deciding the issue of "Hispanicity," the Second Circuit disapproved of the district judge's decision to treat the question as one of fact: "The meaning of the word “race” in Title VII is, like any other question of statutory interpretation, a question of law for the court."  The error was harmless, however.  On the question of law, the Second Circuit clearly held that "race" encompasses "ethnicity" for purposes of Title VII, just as in §1981.

On the ultimate disposition, an evidentiary issue caused the Second Circuit to vacate the judgment and remand the case for a new trial.  Yet the case makes an important contribution in the continuing dialogue on the meanings of race - - - both statutory and otherwise. 

February 17, 2016 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)