Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds DMV Ban of "Choose Life" License Plate Against First Amendment Challenge

In its divided opinion in Children First Foundation v. Fiala, the Second Circuit held that the Commissioner of Motor Vehicle's rejection of "Choose Life" license plates for the state's specialty plate program is constitutional.  Judge Pooler, joined by Judge Hall, reversed the district judge's conclusion that the rejection violated the First Amendment. 

The Second Circuit's divided opinion enters the fray of what might be called the developing doctrine of license plates, be they state-mandated, vanity, or as here, "specialty" plates issued by the state as a means of raising revenue. As we've discussed, the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld.  

The progenitor of this doctrine is the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard (1977) involving compelled speech.  This Term the Court heard oral arguments in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans; a divided Fifth Circuit had held that the rejection of the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate (featuring the Confederate flag) was a violation of the First Amendment as impermissible content and viewpoint discrimination.  The Second Circuit stayed the mandate of its decision pending the outcome of Walker. 

The specialty license plate litigation involves the intersection of a number of First Amendment doctrines.  As Judge Pooler's opinion in Children First Foundation expressed its holding:

We conclude that the content of New York’s custom license plates constitutes private speech [rather than government speech] and that the plates themselves are a nonpublic forum. CFF’s facial challenge fails because New York’s custom plate program did not impermissibly vest the DMV Commissioner with unbridled discretion in approving custom plate designs. Furthermore, that program, as applied in this case, was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires of restrictions on expression in a nonpublic forum.

License
Judge Pooler's well-structured opinion supports this conclusion.  First, the court considers whether the license plate is government speech or private speech.  If the speech is government speech, then the First Amendment has little application. (Recall that this was the position of the dissenting judge in the Fifth Circuit's decision in Sons of Confederate Veterans).  Agreeing with other circuits, the court reasons that an application of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum (2009) and Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n (2005) leads to " little difficulty concluding that such an observer would know that motorists affirmatively request specialty plates and choose to display those plates on their vehicles, which constitute private property."

Next, Judge Pooler's opinion considers the type of forum and concludes it is a "nonpublic forum," rejecting a comparison to a designated public forum formed when the government accepts advertising on buses.   Nevertheless, the opinion notes that the prohibition of "unbridled discretion" as a type of prior restraint is prohibited even in nonpublic forums. 
 
However, the court finds that the DMV does not exercise unbridled discretion that renders the DMV specialty license plate program facially unconstitutionally.  The court does note that the statute and regulation afford the DMV "broad discretion" and - - - standing alone - - - their ability "to provide an adequate safeguard against the Commissioner’s exercise of unbridled authority is dubious."  This argument is the centerpiece of Judge Livingston's extensive dissent.  For the majority, the agency policies and practices, written and unwritten, are highly pertinent.  The court specifically considers whether there was a uniform application.  It approvingly notes that the DMV denied a vanity plate for "RU486," with its reference to the so-called "morning-after pill."  And the court distinguishes specialty plates like "Cop Shot" and "Union Yes":

bringing to justice individuals who have attacked police officers cannot reasonably compare—either by its very nature or by the level of contentiousness that surrounds it—to the issue of abortion. With respect to the decision to issue a “Union Yes” plate, while the myriad issues pertaining to organized labor in the United States are social and political in nature, there is no basis to conclude that the Department failed to apply the policy against creating plates that touch upon contentious political issues as opposed to having applied the policy and merely reaching a different result than it did with the “Choose Life” plate.

Finally, regarding the as-applied challenge, which in some respects overlaps with the facial challenge, the court noted that while the distinction between viewpoint and content discrimination can be "hazy," a rejection of all abortion-related speech in a nonpublic forum is the type of content related policy that is subject only to a reasonableness requirement.  The court recognized the state's legitimate interests of avoiding road rage and avoiding the appearance of the government endorsing one side in a contentious political debate.  Interestingly, regarding "road rage," the court rejected CFF’s contention that because the “Choose Life” plates have been "available for purchase in other states for twelve years with no definitive proof of ill effects," this  and concluded that this did not render unreasonable New York’s decision, especially given the timing of the application and ejection when "the DMV was aware of violent protests and bombings at abortion clinics." 
 
Additionally, the court rejected CFF's due process and equal protection claims.
 
The Second Circuit's opinion is sure to be reevaluated when the United States Supreme Court renders its decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, as the court recognized when it stayed its mandate.  The court's delivery of its decision before Walker could be subjected to much speculation.

 

May 27, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Contraception Mandate Accommodation Opponents Rebuffed--Again

Federal appeals courts this week dealt two (more) blows to opponents of Obamacare's religious accommodation to the contraception mandate. A Seventh Circuit panel ruled that the accommodation did not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby, and the full D.C. Circuit declined to re-hear an earlier panel ruling against opponents.

Together the rulings should put an end to this chapter of challenges to Obamacare. But by now we've learned never to say never . . . .

The cases grow out of religious non-profits' opposition to the government-created religious accommodation to Obamacare's contraception mandate. The accommodation requires a religious non-profit to complete a form to notify its health insurer (or third-party administrator) that the non-profit objects to providing contraception as part of its health insurance plan. The law then requires the insurer or third-party administrator to provide contraception coverage directly to plan participants, free of charge.

Opponents say that the accommodation--the form that notifies the insurance company of the religious objection--itself violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because it "triggers" the provision of contraception coverage to plan participants.

The Seventh Circuit categorically rejected that claim last February. But then the Supreme Court handed down Hobby Lobby, holding that the contraception mandate violated the RFRA as applied to a self-insured, closely-held, for-profit corporation, and requiring an accommodation. But Hobby Lobby also contained language suggesting that an accommodation of the type challenged by religious non-profits would skirt any RFRA problem. The Supreme Court then vacated the Seventh Circuit ruling and remanded for reconsideration in light of Hobby Lobby.

The Seventh Circuit panel this week again ruled against the challengers, citing the same problems in the original case (before Hobby Lobby)--under the law the non-profit doesn't act as a "conduit" for the provision of contraception (the law itself does this), and the case was under-developed at the trial level. As to Hobby Lobby, the panel said that the Supreme Court recognized the accommodation as valid, but that the Court "did leave open . . . the possibility that the accommodation sought and obtained there would not prevent religious beliefs or practices from being substantially burdened in some cases." But the Seventh Circuit said that those beliefs or practices weren't burdened here, by the accommodation. In particular, the court wrote that Notre Dame couldn't come up with any workable alternative to the accommodation that wouldn't "impede the receipt of [contraception] benefits," especially given the undeveloped factual record in the case.

The D.C. Circuit (also, and again) came to the same conclusion in denying a rehearing en banc. Its earlier panel ruling in Priests for Life came down after Hobby Lobby, so already considered any effects of that case.

The principal problem with the challenges is that, contrary to the challengers' claims, it's not the accommodation that triggers the provision of contraception; it's the law that does that. In the language of the Seventh Circuit, the non-profits don't act as a "conduit" for the provision of contraception, because the law itself requires insurers and administrators to provide contraception. And a mistaken interpretation of the law is not a burden on religion. Or, as Judge Pillard put it in her concurring opinion to the D.C. Circuit's denial of en banc review:

The dispute we resolved is legal, not religious. Under the ACA regulations, a woman who obtains health insurance coverage through her employer is no more entitled to contraceptive coverage if her employer submits the disputed notice than if it does not. The ACA obligation to provide contraceptive coverage to all insured women does not depend on that notice. Nothing in RFRA requires that we accept Plaintiffs' assertions to the contrary.

 

May 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Maryland Tax Case Displays Court's Dormant Commerce Clause Fault Lines

The Supreme Court this week upheld Maryland's income tax system against a Dormant Commerce Clause challenge. The sharply divided ruling put on full display the Court's fault lines in this area, even as the five-Justice majority set out a bright line test for tax challenges under the Dormant Commerce Clause.

Our preview of the case, Comptroller v. Wynne, is here, with the full factual background. In brief: Maryland income tax consists of a state tax and a county tax. Residents who pay income tax to another jurisdiction (because they earn income there) are allowed a credit against the state tax, but not the county tax. This means that residents who earn out-of-state income are taxed on that income by the other jurisdiction, and by Maryland (under the county tax). (For out-of-staters earning income in Maryland, Maryland imposes a state income tax and a "special resident tax" (in lieu of the county tax).) Maryland residents who earned pass-through income from an S-corporation that earned income in several states sued, arguing that the "double taxation" violated the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The Court disagreed. Justice Alito wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Kennedy, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Alito wrote that the case was an easy application of precedent and the "internal consistency test." That test asks whether, if every state adopted the challenged tax structure, taxes would "inherently discriminate against interstate commerce without regard to the tax policies of other States." If so, the category of taxes "is typically unconstitutional." Justice Alito said that Maryland's tax system violated the rule, because a Marylander earning out-of-state income would be taxed on that income twice (once by the out-of-state jurisdiction, and once by the Maryland county), whereas a Maryland earning in-state income would be taxed only once.

Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Scalia and Kagan. She argued that there's a long history "of States imposing and this Court upholding income taxes that carried a similar risk of double taxation," and that the majority's internal consistency test is deeply flawed. She also argued that "[f]or at least a century, 'domicile' has been recognized as a secure ground for taxation of residents' worldwide income," and based on the domicile principle Maryland's tax system (of its own residents) is valid. Justice Ginsburg gave several reasons for this principle, including the benefits that residents receive and the political influence that residents wield--both hotly disputed by Justice Alito. Justice Ginsburg also argued that the cases relied on by the majority involved gross receipts taxes, not income taxes. She said that the difference matters: "For decades--including the years when the majority's 'trilogy' was decided--the Court has routinely maintained that 'the difference between taxes on net income and taxes on gross receipts from interstate commerce warrants different results' under the Commerce Clause."

Finally, Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented separately, maintaining their positions that there is no Dormant Commerce Clause.

The upshot of this fractured ruling is that the internal consistency test is the rule for Dormant Commerce Clause challenges to state tax practices, and that the Court will strike tax practices that result in this kind of "double taxation" of out-of-state income.

May 21, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Supreme Court Finds Qualified Immunity for San Francisco Officers in Mental Disability

The United States Supreme Court's opinion in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan arises from an incident in which two police officers shot Teresa Sheehan, a woman suffering from a schizoaffective disorder who was living in a group home for those with mental illness. 

San_francisco_montage_asemblageThe seemingly primary issue upon which certiorari was granted was whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, 42 U. S. C. §12132, required law enforcement officers  to "provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.”  The Court, in an opinion by Justice Alito, found fault with the attorneys litigating on behalf of San Francisco and dismissed this first question presented as improvidently granted.  In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Kagan, also faulted the attorneys for San Francisco, noting that the Petition for Certiorari

assured us (quite accurately), and devoted a section of its argument to the point, that "The Circuits Are In Conflict On This Question.”

But, Justice Scalia continued,

Imagine our surprise, then, when the petitioners’ principal brief, reply brief, and oral argument had nary a word to say about that subject.

Instead, the petitioners argued that "the issue is not (as the petition had asserted) whether Title II applies to arrests of violent, mentally ill individuals, but rather how it applies under the circumstances of this case, where the plaintiff threatened officers with a weapon."

We were thus deprived of the opportunity to consider, and settle, a controverted question of law that has divided the Circuits, and were invited instead to decide an ADA question that has relevance only if we assume the Ninth Circuit correctly resolved the antecedent, unargued question on which we granted certiorari.

Scalia had especially harsh words for the attorneys for San Francisco, casting aspersion on their integrity:

Why, one might ask, would a petitioner take a position on a Circuit split that it had no intention of arguing, or at least was so little keen to argue that it cast the argument aside uninvited? The answer is simple. Petitioners included that issue to induce us to grant certiorari.

Scalia states that the Court would never have granted certiorari on the first question as it was argued in the briefs and would certainly have never granted certiorari on the"fact-bound" qualified immunity issue.  Scalia, with Kagan, dissented from the Court's holding on the qualified immunity issue:

I would not reward such bait-and-switch tactics by proceeding to decide the independently “uncertworthy” second question. And make no mistake about it: Today’s judgment is a reward. It gives the individual petitioners all that they seek, and spares San Francisco the significant expense of defending the suit, and satisfying any judgment, against the individual petitioners. I would not encourage future litigants to seek review premised on arguments they never plan to press, secure in the knowledge that once they find a toehold on this Court’s docket, we will consider whatever workaday arguments they choose to present in their merits briefs.

The Court, absent Justice Breyer who did not participate in the case, did "reward" San Francisco by finding that the police officers were protected by qualified immunity: "no precedent clearly established that there was not 'an objective need for immediate entry' here."  The somewhat particular facts - - - the situation involved an entry and then a re-entry of Sheehan's room - - - nevertheless involved a "straightforward" and exceedingly brief qualified immunity analysis. 

And a reversal of the Ninth Circuit.

While the attorneys for the City and County of San Francisco may have endured a scolding, Scalia is correct that the Court's decision is ultimately a reward.

[image via]

May 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Disability, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DC Circuit Holds No Clearly Established Right Not To Be Tasered

In its opinion in Lash v. Lemke, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the grant of a summary judgment in favor of law enforcement officers in a suit filed by an Occupy D.C. protestor for a violation of Fourth and First Amendment rights.

Judge Griffith, writing for the court, and joined by Chief Judge Garland and Judge Kavanaugh, described the arrest of Ryan Lash at the Occupy DC encampment in January 2012 by United States Park Police Officers Tiffany Reed, Frank Hilscher, and Jennifer Lemke:

Officer Tiffany Reed, who had been following Lash as he hurried through the tents, stepped up behind Lash and seized his arms from the rear. Lash pulled his arms away and held them in front of his body, continuing to walk away as he insisted that he was innocent. Reed again sought to restrain Lash from behind and Lash again pulled his arms away from her. Reed then took hold of Lash’s left arm while Hilsher approached and seized his right arm. Lemke approached at the same time and drew her Taser from its holster, holding it ready.

Though Lash’s arms were now held by two different officers, he continued to struggle to keep his feet while Reed and Hilsher worked for several moments to gain control of him. Lemke, standing nearby and behind the trio, fired her Taser into Lash’s lower back. He fell to the ground, and the officers handcuffed him.

Lash argued that Lemke’s use of the Taser constituted excessive force in violation of Lash’s Fourth Amendment rights and was motivated by retaliatory animus against his protected expression in violation of his First Amendment rights.  The defendant officers raised qualified immunity and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor.

Relying on Ashcroft v. al- Kidd (2011), the DC Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the "claimed right, whether it exists or not, is by no means 'clearly established.'"  In so doing, however, the court acknowledged that this inquiry cannot be abstract, but must occur "in the specific context of the case."  This "context," the court further acknowledged, depended on whether Lash was "resisting arrest." 

This would seemingly make summary judgment - - - requiring no genuine disputes of material fact - - - difficult, but the court interestingly relied on multiple video-recordings of the "episode" which rendered Lash's description a "visible fiction."   

Here is one of the videos of the incident:

 

The court further rejected Lash's arguments regarding the video as conclusive:

Lash argues that we may not rely on the videorecordings in this way because they “cannot fully convey everything that people at the scene felt” such as “how much force one person is exerting” or “the level of detail a person will experience in the moment.” This is no argument at all. The Supreme Court has explained that we determine whether a right is clearly established based on the “objective legal reasonableness of an official’s acts,”  protecting officers from liability unless “it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.”  Subjective factors like those Lash identifies here cannot shed any light on whether a reasonable officer in these circumstances would have believed her actions violated Lash’s clearly established rights. It is that objective test, not Lash’s knowledge or Lemke’s thoughts, that determines the scope of qualified immunity. The videorecordings in the record provide us all we need to determine what a reasonable officer would have known at the scene. And we do not hesitate to conclude from the videorecording that there is “no genuine issue of material fact” regarding Lash’s active resistance.

[citations omitted]

Given the increased use of videorecordings in cases against police officers, the court's discussion of 'what the video shows' might be expected to be used in other cases.

Here, however, the court concludes that Lash was "actively resisting arrest," and thus there was no clearly established right not be subject to a Taser. 

 As to the First Amendment claim, the court quickly found that Lash did not show the officer had "retaliatory animus."

 

May 18, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Film, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Obamacare Opponents Lack Standing--Again

Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled in American Freedom Law Center v. Obama that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the federal government's "transitional policy" and "hardship exemption," which permit individuals temporarily to maintain health insurance coverage through plans that are not compliant with the general requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

The ruling deals a blow to opponents of the government's exemption--but a fully predictable one.

The plaintiffs' theory of standing turned on market forces driving up an AFLC staff member's premiums. It goes like this: When the federal government temporarily exempted certain individuals from enrolling in non-compliant plans (in reaction to the political blow-back after many folks received notices that their insurance would be cancelled and changed to comply with the ACA), this depleted the pool of individuals enrolling in ACA-compliant plans; and that drove up the costs of those plans. Plaintiff Muise was enrolled in such a plan, and, indeed, saw his premiums rise.

In short, Muise argued that his premiums rose in his compliant plan because the government's exemption meant that fewer people enrolled in compliant plans.

Judge Walton disagreed. He noted that insurance premiums can fluctuate for any number of reasons, not just the government's exemption, and that the plaintiff's theory suffered from other defects in the causal chain. Quoting from the government's motion to dismiss:

[the] [p]laintiffs have not established any of the links in the causal chain . . . that would be necessary to their apparent theory of standing to challenge this particular exemption. [The] [p]laintiffs have not alleged, for example, that there are individuals in Michigan with cancelled policies; that any such individuals consider the other policies available to them to be unaffordable; that any such individuals have availed themselves of [the defendants'] "hardship" exemption for consumers with cancelled policies; that, but for this exemption, any such individual would have purchased "minimum essential coverage" . . .; that in purchasing such coverage, that individual would have entered the same risk pool as these [p]laintiffs; and that such individual's addition to the risk pool would have lowered [the] [p]laintiffs' premiums.

The ruling is consistent with similar rulings in other district courts.

May 17, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

DC Circuit Says No Standing to Challenge Clean Water Act Determination

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled in National Association of Home Builders v. EPA that a development association lacked standing to challenge the EPA's determination that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River are traditional navigable waters, subject to federal regulation. The court said that the plaintiff was barred by collateral estoppel, based on the same court's earlier ruling against the same plaintiff lodging the same complaint.

But two judges argued that the earlier ruling was flat wrong, rearguing an issue that the court wrangled over just three years ago. (The full D.C. Circuit denied en banc review of the earlier ruling in 2012.)

Home Builders filed its original lawsuit in 2009, challenging the determination by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers that two reaches of the Santa Cruz River were traditional navigable waterways. That determination requires any party that wishes to dredge or discharge into the river, or any waterway with a "significant nexus" to the river, to get a federal permit. Parties who don't know whether they need a permit can seek a Jurisdictional Determination from the Corps.

Home Builders sued to stop the designation, on the theory that its members would have to choose between applying for a permit and facing enforcement penalties. The D.C. Circuit dismissed the case, holding that Home Builders lacked standing unless and until the agencies applied the determination to a particular property:

the owner or developer of the property suffers no incremental injury in fact from the [determination] and any challenge to it is therefore premature. In the meanwhile, [Home Builders'] members face only the possibility of regulation, as they did before the [determination]: Any watercourse on their property may (or may not) turn out to be subject to [Clean Water Act] dredging permit requirements because of a nexus (or not) with the two Santa Cruz reaches.

Home Builders came back in this latest suit with additional allegations designed to fill the standing gaps in its original case. But the D.C. Circuit said they weren't enough: Home Builders' standing in the second case has exactly the same problems it did in the first.

The ruling means that Home Builders, and its members, have to wait until later in the process--until the agencies determine that particular land is covered--until they can challenge the original designation of the Santa Cruz.

But two judges on the panel argued that the first ruling was flat wrong. Judges Silberman and Sentelle wrote that any regulated party has standing to challenge an agency rule:

And the law is rather clear; any party covered by an agency's regulatory action has standing to challenge a rule when it issues--it certainly need not wait until a government agency seeks to enforce a rule. That proposition is so clearly established it is beyond question. Nor do parties have to wait until the government takes preliminary steps before enforcing--clearing its throat, so to speak. It is only necessary for a potential litigant to show that it is part of the regulated class and its behavior is likely affected by the government's action.

 

May 16, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seventh Circuit Says No Immunity for Prosecutor, Lab Techs in Civil Rights Case

The Seventh Circuit ruled in Armstrong v. Daily that a prosecutor and two crime lab technicians were not entitled to qualified immunity after they bungled an investigation that resulted in a faulty trial and foiled the plaintiff's attempts to demonstrate his innocence. In all, this top-to-bottom outrageous investigation put a wrongfully convicted plaintiff behind bars for 29 years.

Ralph Armstrong brought the civil rights case against prosecutor John Norsetter and state lab technicians Karen Daily and Daniel Campbell. Armstrong was convicted of rape and murder in 1981 and sentenced to life plus 16 years. The prosecution had two key pieces of physical evidence against him: drug paraphernalia found at the crime scene that could have shown who was in the victim's apartment the evening she was murdered; and a bathrobe belt used as the murder weapon.

The drug paraphernalia was never examined; instead, it was tossed in a trash bag, left in an office storage locker at the police station, and eventually lost. The bathrobe belt was tested crudely for DNA in 1980, which didn't rule out Armstrong. (The prosecution also relied on the identification by an eyewitness who Norsetter had hypnotized. Armstrong challenged this evidence in a prior case, where he lost his habeas claim at the Seventh Circuit.)

Armstrong later presented new DNA testing definitively excluding him and, in 2005, won a new trial through the state courts. A state court also ordered the prosecution to inform the defense of future DNA tests and to allow the defense to be present for any handling of the evidence. Armstrong stayed in prison.

Norsetter then ordered new testing of the belt, without telling Armstrong (despite the court order). Daily and Campbell conducted testing that consumed the entire DNA sample from the belt. The results could not confirm or eliminate Armstrong as the source, because the test they used could not distinguish between men with the same father. (This is important, because Armstrong's brother, who died in 2005, earlier confessed to the crime.) Norsetter never disclosed to Armstrong or the technicians that Armstrong's brother might be a suspect.

After Armstrong's attorneys learned that the prosecution's secret testing destroyed the evidence, they moved to dismiss charges against him. The court found that the prosecution acted in bad faith and dismissed the charges because the destruction of that evidence had irreparably compromised his right to a fair trail. Armstrong remained in prison for the three years between the destruction of the evidence in 2006 and the court's dismissal in 2009.

Armstrong then sued Norsetter, Daily, and Campbell, arguing that they violated his civil rights. Norsetter claimed absolute immunity as a prosecutor for the destruction of DNA evidence and qualified immunity for the destruction of the drug paraphernalia; Daily and Campbell claimed qualified immunity. The district court denied these claims, except as to Norsetter's involvement in the destruction of DNA evidence.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed. As to Norsetter, it ruled that Norsetter did not enjoy absolute immunity for his investigatory acts, and that he did not enjoy qualified immunity because he acted in bad faith in allowing the destruction of the drug paraphernalia and DNA sample. As to Daily and Campbell, the court said that

we must assume that Daily and Campbell's actions caused Armstrong to suffer a loss of liberty as he languished in prison for three more years after Daily said he was excluded by the earlier DNA tests and after the last sample had been destroyed in the [later] test of the newly discovered stain.

The court rejected the defendant's arguments that a state tort action could have provided Armstrong a remedy sufficient to satisfy federal due process under Parratt v. Taylor. In a lengthy discussion, the court said that the argument was based on a fundamental mis-reading of Parratt. In short:

When Parratt and its progeny are read carefully, then, and are read against the broader sweep of due process jurisprudence, they do not bar Armstrong's claims based on deprivation of his liberty through deliberate destruction of exculpatory evidence. More specifically, Parratt does not bar Armstrong's claims because the defendants' conduct was not "random and unauthorized" and the available state remedies are not adequate.

The court recognized "some disagreement among the courts about the conditions for obtaining a civil remedy for destruction of exculpatory evidence, those disagreements do not support a qualified immunity defense."

Judge Flaum argued that Norsetter should get qualified immunity, because his destruction of the drug paraphernalia was negligent, not "in bad faith."

May 13, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds Admissibility of Rap Video and Tattoos Against First Amendment Challenge

In its opinion in United States v. Pierce,  the Second Circuit considered the arguments of co-defendant/appellant Melvin Colon regarding the admissibility of a rap video and images of tattoos in the criminal trial. The unanimous opinion, authored by Judge Denny Chin, affirmed the convictions of Colon and his co-defendants for conspiracy, racketeering, murder, narcotics trafficking, and firearms offenses largely related to their activities as members of a "violent street gang, dubbed the Courtlandt Avenue Crew (ʺCACʺ) by the government,"  as well as a gang known as Godʹs Favorite Children, or ʺGFC.ʺ

750px-Mozart_graffiti
Mozart Graffiti via

Colon contended that his First Amendment rights were violated when the district court permitted the government to present as evidence a rap video and images of his tattoos, some of which he had posted to his Facebook page.  The "rap video" portrayed Colon as rapping: ʺYG to OG / Somebody make somebody nose bleed/ Iʹm OG shoot the Ruger / Iʹm a shooter.ʺ A witness, also seen in the video, testified for the prosecution that the Young Gunnaz crew, or YG, was feuding with the OG (formerly the GFC). The images of the tattoos introduced at trial were explained by the Second Circuit as including:

a close‐up of Colonʹs hand, showing his ʺY.G.K.ʺ tattoo, which stands for ʺYoung Gunnaz Killer.ʺ In some of the photographs Colon is pointing a gun at his Y.G.K. tattoo, indicating, according to the government, his desire to harm members of the Young Gunnaz. Other tattoos depicted in the photographs introduced at trial included one on his right arm that read ʺCourtlandtʺ; tattoos on his left arm that referenced [co-defendant] Meregildoʹs nicknames (ʺYoungʺ and ʺKillaʺ); and one stating ʺM.I.P. [Mac In Peace] T‐Money,ʺ referring to Harrison, the former leader of CAC.

The Second Circuit panel rejected the First Amendment challenges to the introduction of the evidence. First, the court noted that the conviction did not rest on the expression: "here, the speech is not 'itself the proscribed conduct,'" interestingly citing United States v. Caronia, the 2012 Second Circuit case reversing a conviction for promoting the off-label use of prescription drugs. Additionally, the Second Circuit considered Colon's argument that the rap lyrics were merely "fictional artistic expressions," and discussed the New Jersey Supreme Court decision last year in State v. Skinner, noting that the court there observed that ʺ[o]ne would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well‐known song ʹI Shot the Sheriff,ʹ actually shot a sheriff.ʺ  However, the Second Circuit distinguished Skinner in which the court reversed the conviction (although not explicitly on the basis of the First Amendment), by concluding that here the rap lyrics and tattoos were properly admitted, because they were relevant and their probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.  Specifically - - - if cursorily - - - the Second Circuit reasoned:

The government proffered the rap video to show Colonʹs animosity toward the Young Gunnaz, as well as his association with CAC. The government similarly offered the tattoo evidence to help establish his motive for violence against the Young Gunnaz, and to show his loyalty to Harrison and Meregildo ‐‐ indeed other members of CAC had similar tattoos. Hence, the rap video and tattoos were relevant, their probative value was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, and Colonʹs First Amendment rights were not implicated when the district court admitted the evidence from his social media account.

As in other cases raising First Amendment challenges to the introduction of expressive evidence, the First Amendment issues are subsumed into the evidentiary one.

Colon also challenged a portion of the Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. § 2703(c)(1), regarding the subpoenaing of Facebook for page content.  Appellant Colon, however, is not challenging the Government's acquisition of his own Facebook content, however, but argued that SCA's prohibition of his subpoena of Facebook content from a witness, denied him his Fifth Amendment due process right to present evidence and his Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses.  Colon managed to obtain some of the Facebook postings through the work of a private investigator and his attorney used it in cross-examination and introduced portions of it.  The Second Circuit declined to reach the constitutional question, given that "Colon possessed the very contents he claims the SCA prevented him from obtaining, and his suggestion that there could have been additional relevant exculpatory material in the Parsons Account is purely speculative."

The court's opinion resolves the issues before it (including a sentencing issue which earned a remand), but does little to elucidate the important First Amendment concerns that remain regarding the admissibility of rap lyrics and tattoos in criminal trials.

May 11, 2015 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Music, Opinion Analysis, Race, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Illinois Has a Pension Protection Clause, and it Really Means What it Says

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's efforts to cut public pensions violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

The case means that the state can't balance its budget on the backs of state workers who are members of a public retirement system. It also means that the state supreme court takes the state constitutional Pension Clause seriously.

The case arose after the state legislature, and former Governor Quinn signed, Senate Bill 1 in late 2013. Senate Bill 1, which became Public Act 98-599, cut state workers' public pension benefits in several ways. State workers sued, arguing, among other things that the cuts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

The Pension Protection Clause says that "[m]embership in any pension or retirement system of the State *** shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." The Clause was added in the 1970 constitution in order to protect state workers from pension cuts in a system that had been (and since has been) chronically underfunded.

The Illinois high court's ruling says that the Clause means what it says. In fact, the court said exactly that: "We held in [Kanerva v. Weems] that the clause means precisely what it says." And this means that "once an individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual." The court called the question "easily resolved."

The court also rejected the state's argument that its fiscal situation is so dire that it has to dip into public pension funds by using its "reserved sovereign powers." The court said that things might be bad, but they've been bad before, and will be bad again. It's no reason to violate the Pension Protection Clause. The court also said that other provisions of the 1970 constitution contained limitations or suspension provisions; not so the Public Pension Clause.

May 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Contract Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

District Judge Rejects Challenges to Requirement that Government Contractors Post Employee Rights Notice

In an opinion today in National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) v. Perez, Judge Amit Mehta of the District of Columbia District Court rejected various challenges to the Department of Labor's so-called "Posting Rule," a regulation requiring, as a condition of nearly all federal contracts, that contractors post workplace notices informing their employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  The "Posting Rule" is derived from President Obama's Executive Order 13496, promulgated in January 2009 pursuant to the Procurement Act.

140px-DOL_Seal_with_HammerThe central constitutional challenge is that the "Posting Rule" is compelled speech and violates the First Amendment as an unconstitutional condition.  The court's first task was to determine the relevance of a NAM v. NLRB, 717 F.3d 947 (D.C. Cir. 2013), overruled in part by Am. Meat Inst. v. U.S. Dep’t of Agric., 760 F.3d 18 (D.C. Cir. 2014).  The judge concluded that while the posting at issue in NAM was "nearly identical," that case was not a First Amendment one - - - although it drew on some First Amendment principles - - - but an interpretation of §8(c) of the NLRA which prohibits the expression of views, argument, or opinions as constituting an unfair labor practice. 

Instead, the challenge here was analogous to the Supreme Court's decision in Rumsfeld v. FAIR involving the Solomon Amendment directed at law schools. 

There is little material distinction between FAIR and this case. The facts differ, but the First Amendment analysis and outcome are the same. Like the Solomon Amendment, the Posting Rule is a “far cry” from the government-mandated speech deemed unconstitutional in Barnette and Wooley.  Requiring an employer to post government speech about labor rights is “simply not the same as forcing a student to pledge allegiance, or forcing a Jehovah’s Witness to display the motto ‘Live Free or Die,’ and it trivializes the freedom protected in Barnette and Wooley to suggest that it is.”

Moreover, the Posting Rule does not require a contractor to speak at all. Rather, the contractor is required to host government speech as a condition of receipt of a federal contract. That, of course, presents a contractor with a choice—agree to post the Notice or forgo federal contracting. But that choice is no different than the one presented by the Solomon Amendment— either accommodate a military recruiter or forgo federal funds.

Additionally, the Posting Rule does not interfere with the contractor’s ability to convey a different message. A contractor can still express its own views or engage in lawful activities to discourage unionization. Indeed, nothing in the rule prevents a contractor from creating its own posting and placing it next to the Department of Labor-drafted Notice, so as to make clear that the Notice does not reflect the contractor’s own views and its display is government mandated. *** A contractor’s speech is thus not “affected by the speech it [is] forced to accommodate.” 

Nor are employees likely to believe that the Notice is their employer’s speech.

[citations omitted].  The court rejected NAM's attempt to distinguish FAIR because the speech here is a “slanted list of rights that unfairly promotes unionization while pointedly omitting a host of other critical employee rights,” noting even if the court could determine the meaning of "slanted," it is well settled that the government may make content-based choices about its own speech.

The court rejected NAM's arguments regarding preemption, as well as its statutory and administrative law arguments.  It therefore entered summary judgment in favor of the government.

Given the vigor with which NAM has litigated similar issues, it will most likely appeal.  However, recently appointed Judge Mehta has authored a closely reasoned opinion that should withstand review.
NOTICE[image via]

May 7, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Second Circuit Finds NSA's Bulk Telephony Metadata Collection Not Authorized by Congress

In its lengthy, well-reasoned, and unanimous opinion in American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) v. Clapper, the Second Circuit today concluded that NSA's bulk telephony metadata collection is not authorized by §215 of the PATRIOT Act, 50 USC §1861(b)(2)(A).   After hearing oral arguments last September, the panel reversed the district court's opinion that had rejected both the statutory and constitutional challenges to the scheme.  Recall that this widespread collection has been controversial since the program was first revealed through information obtained by Edward Snowden; we've additionally discussed the issues here, here, and here.

CallwaitingThe Second Circuit, in the opinion authored by Gerard Lynch, did agree with the district judge that the ACLU plaintiffs had standing to challenge the collection of call records.  The court stated that "the government’s own orders demonstrate that appellants’ call records are indeed among those collected as part of the telephone metadata program."  The court rejected the government's contention that any alleged injuries depend on the government's reviewing the information collected rather than simply collecting it: the collection is [challenged as] a seizure and the Fourth Amendment prohibits both searches and seizures.  The court distinguished Amnesty International v. Clapper in which the United States Supreme Court's closely divided opinion concluded that the alleged standing was based on a "speculative chain of possibilities."  Instead:

appellants’ alleged injury requires no speculation whatsoever as to how events will unfold under § 215 – appellants’ records (among those of numerous others) have been targeted for seizure by the government; the government has used the challenged statute to effect that seizure; the orders have been approved by the FISC; and the records have been collected.

The panel likewise held that the ACLU organizations have standing to assert a First Amendment violation regarding its own and its members' rights of association.

However, the court did not rule on the Fourth and First Amendment claims explicitly, although its conclusion regarding §215 occurs in the shadow of the constitutional issues, or as the court phrases it: "The seriousness of the constitutional concerns" has "some bearing on what we hold today, and on the consequences of that holding." 

What the court does hold is that "the telephone metadata program exceeds the scope of what Congress has authorized and there violates §215."  After a discussion of the program and §215, it first considers the government's arguments that the judiciary is precluded from considering the issue.  The court interestingly observes that judicial preclusion here would "fly in the face of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance."

[I]t would seem odd that Congress would preclude challenges to executive actions that allegedly violate Congress’s own commands, and thereby channel the complaints of those aggrieved by such actions into constitutional challenges that threaten Congress’s own authority. There may be arguments in favor of such an unlikely scheme, but it cannot be said that any such reasons are so patent and indisputable that Congress can be assumed, in the face of the strong presumption in favor of APA review, to have adopted them without having said a word about them.

The court likewise held that there was no implicit preclusion.  

On the merits of the §215 challenge, the court essentially found that the government's interpretation of "relevant" was too broad.  The court noted that both parties relied on the grand jury analogy, supported by the statute's language and legislative history.  Yet for the court, the government's argument faltered on this very ground:

Search warrants and document subpoenas typically seek the records of a particular individual or corporation under investigation, and cover particular time periods when the events under investigation occurred. The orders at issue here contain no such limits. The metadata concerning every telephone call made or received in the United States using the services of the recipient service provider are demanded, for an indefinite period extending into the future. The records demanded are not those of suspects under investigation, or of people or businesses that have contact with such subjects, or of people or businesses that have contact with others who are in contact with the subjects – they extend to every record that exists, and indeed to records that do not yet exist, as they impose a continuing obligation on the recipient of the subpoena to provide such records on an ongoing basis as they are created. The government can point to no grand jury subpoena that is remotely comparable to the real‐time data collection undertaken under this program.

Moreover, the court relies on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PLCOB) Report regarding the overbreadth, noting that "counterterrorism in general" is not sufficiently narrow.  Further, the court states that the government's interpretation reads the "investigation" language of §215 out of the statute, and even more specifically, §215's language "relevant to an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment)."
 
Again, the court squarely rests its conclusion on §215 and avoids the constitutional issues.  Nevertheless, it does discuss them.  It largely relegates the First Amendment issue to a footnote (footnote 12).  Its discussion of the Fourth Amendment issue is more robust, including a discussion of  Smith v. Maryland, the 1979 pen register case, and United States v. Jones, the 2012 GPS case.
 
These constitutional issues would - - - should? - - - shape any understanding by Congress according to the court.
 
Concurring, Judge Robert Sack, emphasizes that the role of the courts should not be minimized.  Judge Sack's concurrence is also worth reading its more robust discussion of the First Amendment issues.
 
Perhaps unexpectedly, the court does not enjoin the metadata collection program.  The court notes that §215 is set to expire and that it is "prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape."   Yet, it strongly implies, it remains ready and able to reach the constitutional issues if necessary.
 
[image "Call Waiting" via]
 

May 7, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing, State Secrets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court OKs Prosecution Use of Cell Tower Location

The en banc Eleventh Circuit ruled this week in United States v. Davis that a court order, pursuant to the Stored Communications Act, compelling the production of a telephone company's business records containing information as to cell tower locations (and linking the defendant's calls to those towers) did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The ruling reverses an earlier panel decision, which held that the order violated the Fourth Amendment. The panel nevertheless affirmed the conviction, however, based on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

The ruling tests traditional Fourth Amendment rules against technological advances--and their ability to reveal vast amounts of highly personal data. The court applied a traditional Fourth Amendment approach, but invited Congress to revisit the appropriate balance between technology and privacy in cases like this.

The defendant, Quartavious Davis, was charged with several counts for his role in a string of robberies. At Davis's trial, the prosecution introduced telephone records  from Metro PCS, obtained through an earlier court order, showing the telephone numbers for each of Davis's calls and the number of the cell tower that connected each call. An officer-witness then connected the location of the cell towers with the addresses of the robberies, placing Davis near the robbery locations around the time of the robberies. (The evidence showed the location of the cell towers that connected Davis's calls, but not the precise location of Davis or his phone.) Davis was convicted and sentenced to 1,941 months in prison.

The court order for the records was based on the Stored Communications Act. The SCA provides that a federal or state governmental entity may require a telephone service provider to disclose "a record . . . pertaining to a subscriber to or a customer of such service (not including the contents of communications)" if "a court of competent jurisdiction" finds "specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe" that the records sought "are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." This does not require a showing of probable cause. Davis argued that the order violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Eleventh Circuit rejected Davis's arguments. The court wrote that the SCA actually provides greater privacy protections than a routinely issued subpoena to third parties for a wide variety of business records (credit card statements, bank statements, and the like). This, it said, was no different. It also wrote that Davis claimed no trespass, and that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the location of cell towers to which he voluntarily sent call signals, or in the business records of his third-party provider. The court thus concluded that there was no "search."

But even if there were a search, the court held that it was reasonable, balancing the government interests against Davis's expectations of privacy. It said that the government had compelling interests in investigating and preventing crimes, and that Davis had, at most, a diminished expectation of privacy.

Judges Martin and Jill Pryor dissented, arguing that technological advances, "which threaten to cause greater and greater intrusions into our private lives," threaten "to erode our constitutional protections."

 

May 7, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fourth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

D.C. Circuit Rebuffs Challenge to CFPB

The D.C. Circuit last week dismissed a case challenging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under separation of powers. The ruling in Morgan Drexen, Inc. v. CFPB held that the plaintiffs lacked standing and should pursue their constitutional claims against the CFPB in a CFPB enforcement action pending in another federal district court.

The ruling ends this particular challenge to the CFPB (for now), but allows the plaintiff to pursue its challenge in the enforcement action.

Morgan Drexen filed the claim after the CFPB threatened enforcement action against the firm for violations of the Consumer Financial Protection Act and the Telemarketing Sales Rule in its bankruptcy and debt-relief services. Kimberly Pisinski, an attorney who contracts with Morgan Drexen for paralegal services, joined the suit on the theory that the CFPB's enforcement action against Morgan Drexen would affect her own law practice.

Morgan Drexen and Pisinski sought declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the CFPB is unconstitutional because its powers are overbroad, it's headed by a single director who is removable only for cause, it is funded outside the ordinary appropriations process, and judicial review of its actions is limited.

But soon after Morgan Drexen and Pisinski sued in the D.C. District, the CFPB filed an enforcement action against Morgan Drexen in the Central District of California. Pisinski, who apparently really, really wanted to be a part of the action, moved to intervene in that suit, too. (The court denied her motion. The court also recently granted the CFPB's motion for sanction and default judgment against Morgan Drexen, finding that "[d]efendants willfully and in bad faith engaged in a coordinated and extensive effort to deceive the Court and opposing counsel" and having "blatantly falsified evidence . . . concealing this fact from the Court, opposing counsel, and even their own counsel at every turn.")

The D.C. Circuit ruled that Morgan Drexen could lodge its constitutional claims against the CFPB in the enforcement case in the Central District of California instead of in its case in the D.C. District. The court said that Morgan Drexen wouldn't suffer any harm in harm in doing so, and that it'd support judicial economy.

The court also ruled that Pisinski lacked standing. That's because she didn't allege a CFPB enforcement action would harm her practice, or that she engaged in any illegal conduct as a Morgan Drexen contractor:

In sum, Pisinski has failed to proffer evidence in support of any of her theories of standing: that she was responsible for Morgan Drexen's allegedly illegal conduct, that her practice is or will be economically harmed by the Bureau's enforcement action against Morgan Drexen, or that implicit accusations by the Bureau that she exercised too little control over Morgan Drexen or engaged in illegal conduct herself could damage her professional standing. The record evidence does not show that she used Morgan Drexen's allegedly illegal services or that there is a substantial risk that the Bureau's enforcement action will cause harms to her practice or professional reputation that she has asserted.

Judge Kavanaugh dissented, arguing that Pisinsky had standing, and that the majority's approach is "more complicated than it needs to be."

May 6, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ninth Circuit Rejects First Amendment Challenge to Disclosure of Significant Donors to NonProfit

The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Center for Competitive Politics v. Harris rejected a First Amendment challenge to a disclosure of major donors requirement.

Form-990The nonprofit Center for Competitive Politics  (CCP)- - - an organization to promote the First Amendment and "campaign freedom"- - - sought to enjoin the California Attorney General from requiring it to disclose the names and contributions of the Center’s “significant donors” on Internal Revenue Form 990 Schedule B, which the Center must file with the state in order to maintain its registered status with the state’s Registry of Charitable Trusts.  The unanimous panel affirmed the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction.

The court rejected as a "novel theory" CCP's argument that the disclosure requirement alone is so injurious that it must meet strict scrutiny. 

CCP is correct that the chilling risk inherent in compelled disclosure triggers exacting scrutiny—“the strict test established by NAACP v. Alabama,” —and that, presented with a challenge to a disclosure requirement, we must examine and balance the plaintiff’s First Amendment injury against the government’s interest. However, CCP is incorrect when it argues that the compelled disclosure itself constitutes such an injury, and when it suggests that we must weigh that injury when applying exacting scrutiny. Instead, the Supreme Court has made it clear that we must balance the “seriousness of the actual burden” on a plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. Here, CCP has not shown any “actual burden” on its freedom of association.

[citations omitted].  The court largely relies on  the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Doe v. Reed, (John Doe I) in which the Court upheld the constitutional of Washington's disclosure of petition signatures.  Indeed, the Ninth Circuit panel noted that

unlike in John Doe No. 1 or in other cases requiring the disclosure of the names of petition signatories, in this case, the disclosure would not be public. The Attorney General keeps Form 990 Schedule B confidential. Although it is certainly true that non-public disclosures can still chill protected activity where a plaintiff fears the reprisals of a government entity, CCP has not alleged any such fear here. CCP instead argues that the Attorney General’s systems for preserving confidentiality are not secure, and that its significant donors’ names might be inadvertently accessed or released. Such arguments are speculative, and do not constitute evidence that would support CCP’s claim that disclosing its donors to the Attorney General for her confidential use would chill its donors’ participation.

However, the Ninth Circuit left open the possibility that CCP could show "a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure of [its] contributors’ names will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties" that would warrant relief on an as-applied challenge, just as the Court did in Doe v. Reed.  Recall that on remand in Doe v. Reed the Ninth Circuit found no such probability.  Given the confidential nature of the 990 Form here, CCP would most likely have an even more difficult time showing such a probability.

The Ninth Circuit also rejected the preemption claim.  Essentially although the Form is required by the federal IRS, federal law does not bar state attorneys from requesting the information in the form.

 

UPDATE: On May 15, 2015, the Center for Competitive Politics filed an Emergency Application for Injunction Pending Certiorari in the United States Supreme Court; more here.

May 1, 2015 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Supreme Court Upholds Florida's Judicial Campaign Solicitation Ban in Williams-Yulee

In its 5-4 opinion in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the Court concluded that Florida's Code of Judicial Conduct 7C(1) prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign funds by judicial candidates does not violate the First Amendment. 

From the oral arguments, it did seem as if the opinion would be closely divided, but it was less predictable that Chief Justice Roberts would be writing for the majority upholding Florida's Canon7C(1).  In the majority opinion, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in full, and by Ginsburg except as to part II, Roberts began:

Our Founders vested authority to appoint federal judges in the President, with the advice and consent of the Sen- ate, and entrusted those judges to hold their offices during good behavior. The Constitution permits States to make a different choice, and most of them have done so. In 39 States, voters elect trial or appellate judges at the polls. In an effort to preserve public confidence in the integrity of their judiciaries, many of those States prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns. We must decide whether the First Amendment permits such restrictions on speech.

We hold that it does. Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money. We affirm the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.

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However, writing only for a plurality, Chief Justice Roberts, relying on Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002), held that a "State may restrict the speech of a judicial candidate only if the restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest."  The plurality rejected the Florida Bar's argument, supported by several amici, that the Canon should be subject to the more permissive standard of Buckley v. Valeo (1976) requiring that the law be  “closely drawn” to match a “sufficiently important interest.” It concluded that the  “closely drawn” standard is a "poor fit" for this case which is a claimed violation of a right to free speech rather than a claimed violation of “freedom of political association.”

Justice Ginsburg, concurring, reiterated her dissent in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White regarding the standard of review, and emphasized that the Court's "recent campaign-finance decisions, trained on political actors, should not hold sway for judicial elections," specifically discussing Citizens United (2010) and McCutcheon (2014).  Justice Breyer, who joined the Chief Justice's opinion in full, nevertheless wrote briefly regarding the standard of review, reiterating his previous statements that  he views "this Court’s doctrine referring to tiers of scrutiny as guidelines informing our approach to the case at hand, not tests to be mechanically applied."

Despite the highest scrutiny, however, Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court declared that

Canon 7C(1) advances the State’s compelling interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, and it does so through means narrowly tailored to avoid unnecessarily abridging speech. This is therefore one of the rare cases in which a speech restriction withstands strict scrutiny.

The Court found that “protecting the integrity of the judiciary” and “maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary” were both compelling governmental interests.  (The Court did not discuss a specific interest of lawyers or their clients in judicial integrity).  As to the narrow tailoring, the Court rejected the "underinclusive" argument - - - essentially that judicial candidates could indirectly solicit campaign funds - - - by noting that while underinclusivity may raise a "red flag," there is no "freestanding 'underinclusiveness limitation.'”  Here, the Court concluded that

personal solicitation by judicial candidates implicates a different problem than solicitation by campaign committees. However similar the two solicitations may be in substance, a State may conclude that they present markedly different appearances to the public. Florida’s choice to allow solicitation by campaign committees does not undermine its decision to ban solicitation by judges.

There are three dissenting opinions by the Justices: Scalia, joined by Thomas; Kennedy, and Alito.  As the author of Caperton v. Massey, on which the Court partially relies for its compelling governmental interest in judicial integrity, Kennedy's opinion is perhaps most noteworthy.  (And recall that Chief Justice Roberts dissented in Caperton).  Caperton, based in due process rather than free speech, is uncited in Kennedy's concurring opinion, which focuses on the First Amendment:

This separate dissent is written to underscore the irony in the Court’s having concluded that the very First Amendment protections judges must enforce should be lessened when a judicial candidate’s own speech is at issue. It is written to underscore, too, the irony in the Court’s having weakened the rigors of the First Amendment in a case concerning elections, a paradigmatic forum for speech and a process intended to protect freedom in so many other manifestations.

At the crux of Kennedy's dissent, as the other dissents, is the similarity of judicial elections to political elections.  The distinction - - - or lack thereof - - - between judicial and other elections is the linchpin on which the differing views of the case pivot.  Chief Justice Roberts ends the Court's opinion with an originalist reflection on that distinction:

The desirability of judicial elections is a question that has sparked disagreement for more than 200 years. Hamilton believed that appointing judges to positions with life tenure constituted “the best expedient which can be devised in any government to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws.” The Federalist No. 78, at 465. Jefferson thought that making judges “dependent on none but themselves” ran counter to the principle of “a government founded on the public will.” 12 The Works of Thomas Jefferson 5 (P. Ford ed. 1905). The federal courts reflect the view of Hamilton; most States have sided with Jefferson. Both methods have given our Nation jurists of wisdom and rectitude who have devoted themselves to maintaining “the public’s respect . . . and a reserve of public goodwill, without becoming subservient to public opinion.” Rehnquist, Judicial Independence, 38 U. Rich. L. Rev. 579, 596 (2004).

It is not our place to resolve this enduring debate. Our limited task is to apply the Constitution to the question presented in this case. Judicial candidates have a First Amendment right to speak in support of their campaigns. States have a compelling interest in preserving public confidence in their judiciaries. When the State adopts a narrowly tailored restriction like the one at issue here, those principles do not conflict. A State’s decision to elect judges does not compel it to compromise public confidence in their integrity.

 

April 29, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Plaintiffs Shoot a Blank in Assault Weapon Ban Challenge

A divided panel of the Seventh Circuit today upheld a local ordinance banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines against a Second Amendment challenge. The ruling in Friedman v. City of Highland Park means that the ordinance, by Highland Park, a Chicago suburb, stays in place for now. But this case is a good candidate for en banc and even Supreme Court review, so we likely haven't seen the end of it.

The case is full of turns. For example, Judge Easterbrook, for the majority, used history against the plaintiffs, even though opponents of gun regulation have so often used history in support of their points. He also used federalism against the plaintiffs, even though opponents of gun regulation so often look to "states' rights" in this and other areas. He turned the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia into a point about the states' ability to decide what weapons should be available to civilians. And finally he turned the gun-rights victories at the Supreme Court against the plaintiffs: If the plaintiffs can already possess handguns and long-guns for self-defense (as the Court has ruled, why do they also need semi-automatic weapons?

The case is also full of both social science and common sense. For example, "That laws similar to Highland Park's reduce the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons is established by the data." And, "But assault weapons with large-capacity magazines can fire more shots, faster, and thus can be more dangerous in the aggregate. Why else are they the weapons of choice in mass shootings?"

But aside from the turns, the social science, and the common sense, the case is notable for the Second Amendment rule it uses. Judge Easterbrook declined to apply any particular tier of scrutiny and instead applied this test:

[W]hether a regulation bans weapons that were common at the time of ratification or those that have "some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia," and whether law-abiding citizens retain adequate means of self-defense.

Judge Easterbrook essentially said that this is the best a lower court can do when the Supreme Court has declined to set a particular level of scrutiny (or other test).

As to the requirement of a reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, the court said that "states, which are in charge of militias, should be allowed to decide when civilians can possess military-grade firearms, so as to have them available when the militia is called to duty." As to whether the law allows other means of self-defense, the court noted that Highland Park residents can still use handguns and long-guns for self-defense, and that the Court said that was enough.

He even at one point went so far as to say that if Highland Park's ban only "reduces the perceived risk from a mass shooting, and makes the public feel safer as a result, that's a substantial benefit."

In wrapping up, Judge Easterbrook went even more deferential:

The best way to evaluate the relation among assault weapons, crime, and self-defense is through the political process and scholarly debate, not by parsing ambiguous passages in the Supreme Court's opinions. The central role of representative democracy is no less part of the Constitution than is the Second Amendment: when there is no definitive constitutional rule, matters are left to the legislative process.

And he went more on federalism:

Another constitutional principle is relevant: the Constitution establishes a federal republic where local differences are cherished as elements of liberty, rather than eliminated in a search for national uniformity. McDonald circumscribes the scope of permissible experimentation by state and local governments, but it does not foreclose all possibility of experimentation. Within the limits established by the Justices in Heller and McDonald, federalism and diversity still have a claim. Whether those limits should be extended is in the end a question for the Justices.

Judge Manion dissented, arguing that the "ordinance infringes upon the rights of . . . citizens to keep weapons in their homes for the purpose of defending themselves, their families, and their property."

April 27, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Obamacare Survives Origination Challenge

The Fifth Circuit on Friday dismissed a case challenging both the individual and employer mandates in the Affordable Care Act under the Origination Clause. The court said that the individual plaintiff challenging the individual mandate lacked standing, and that the corporation challenging the employer mandate was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. The ruling dismisses the case, with little or no chance of a successful appeal.

The case, Hotze v. Burwell, was brought by a medical doctor, Steven Hotze, and his employer, Braidwood Management. The plaintiffs argued that the ACA's individual and employer mandates violated the Origination Clause, because they are "bills for raising Revenue" that did not "originate in the House." Their theory: The ACA was a Senate amendment to a shell of a House bill that already passed, so that in fact the ACA really originated in the Senate. If so--and if the individual mandate is authorized by the Taxing Clause (and not the Commerce Clause), as the Court held--then, they claimed, the whole ACA should have started in the House. Because it really didn't, it violated the Origination Clause.

But there was a problem even before the court got to the merits: Hotze already had health insurance through Braidwood, and so would not have to purchase insurance or pay the tax penalty. This meant that he didn't suffer a harm.

Hotze neglected to say in his complaint that his insurance wasn't up to ACA snuff (and that he'd have to drop it and buy new insurance or pay the tax penalty), so all he had for an injury was that the ACA forced him to make hard health-insurance choices. The court said that this wasn't enough for standing.

Hotze also argued that when the employer mandate takes effect, Braidwood would have to offer him less desirable insurance. The court said that this theory wasn't tightly enough tied (or at all tied) to the individual mandate, however, so this didn't support standing, either.

Finally, Hotze said that the ACA forced his insurance premiums up. The court rejected this theory, too, saying that it amounts to a generalized grievance.

The court also dismissed Braidwood's challenge to the employer mandate, but this time under the Anti-Injunction Act. The AIA bars courts from hearing any challenge to restrain the assessment or collection of any tax.

Even if the court had addressed the merits, however, this case didn't appear to be going anywhere. That's because the ACA did originate in the House, even if in a shell bill later amended by the Senate to include the full ACA. The plaintiffs argued that the Senate amendment wasn't germane to the House bill (and was thus an unconstitutional end-run around the Origination Clause), but the government argued that the Origination Clause didn't contain a germane-ness requirement--a point the district court found convincing.

The district court dismissed the case on the merits, ruling that the ACA didn't violate the Origination Clause. Good bet the Fifth Circuit would have, too.

April 27, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

No Gas in Auto Emission Standard Suit

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge EPA and NHTSA's standards for greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. The ruling means that the case is dismissed, and the standards stay in place.

The case, Delta Construction v. EPA, tests a joint effort by the EPA and NHTSA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and trucks. The agencies issued coordinated rules, one set of rules for cars and, later, one set for trucks. (The D.C. Circuit previously upheld the car rules, and the Supreme Court denied review.)

The plaintiffs--business, associations, and individuals in California, and Plant Oil Powered Diesel (or POP Diesel), a company that promotes the use of vegetable oil in place of traditional diesel fuel--sued, arguing that the regulations were arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act. The California plaintiffs challenged the EPA rules only; POP Diesel challenged both the EPA and NHTSA rules. The California plaintiffs argued that the regs jacked up the price of cars and trucks in the state; POP Diesel argued that the truck rule makes its product economically unfeasible.

The court held that the California plaintiffs lacked standing, because they couldn't show causation and redressability. That's because even if they won on the merits--and the court struck the EPA rules--the NHTSA rules would still drive the prices of their vehicles up. In other words, because both agencies' sets of rules did the same thing, defeating one wouldn't solve their alleged problem.

As to POP Diesel, the court said that it didn't fall within the zone of interests protected by the portion of the Clean Air Act governing emissions standards for motor vehicles. The court said that economic interests, like POP Diesel's, without more, aren't within the congressional goals of the Act, and that POP Diesel's green approach alone doesn't put it within the Act's zone of interests.

The court dismissed the case and ended the plaintiffs' challenge to the emissions regs.

April 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit Upholds Arizona's Voter Registration Form for Party Preference

Before 2011, Arizona law required that voter registration forms include a blank space for the registrant’s party preference.  But a 2011 law required the voter registration form distributed by the Arizona Secretary of State to list the two largest parties (as measured by number of registered voters) on the form, as well as provide a blank line for “other party preferences.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-152(A)(5).

In response to the amendment, the Arizona Secretary of State revised box 14 on the Registration Form, and the opinion includes this illustration:

 

Arizona_registrationMinority parties Arizona Green Party and the Arizona Libertarian Party challenged the new law as violative of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  In its opinion in Arizona Libertarian Party v. Bennett, the Ninth Circuit upheld the statute as constitutional.

The panel majority opinion by Judge Tashima noted the intertwining of the equality and First Amendment claims:

“Restrictions on voting can burden equal protection rights as well as ‘interwoven strands of liberty’ protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments—namely, the ‘right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs, and the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively.’”

It stated that the party challenging the law bears “the initial burden of showing that [the state’s] ballot access requirements seriously restrict the availability of political opportunity" and that here any burden was de minimis.  The panel thus applied rational basis scrutiny which the new form easily passed.

Concurring, Judge McKeown argued that the rational basis review burden-shifting standards derived from Ninth Circuit precedent and which the majority applied were "inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges." Instead, the court should apply the balancing tests articulated in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) and reiterated in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), although Judge McKeown acknowledged that the "semantic distinction between the balancing test and the rational basis standard" may make little difference in most cases.  Indeed, here Judge McKeown recognized that Arizona's asserted interests in reducing printing costs and easing administrative efficiency are “sufficiently weighty to justify” the speculative burden on the plaintiff minority parties' rights.

 

April 24, 2015 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)