Tuesday, January 9, 2018
The Sixth Circuit ruled today that voting rules on a proposed state constitutional amendment providing that the state constitution is not to be construed as protecting the right to abortion did not violate due process and equal protection. The ruling means that the state constitutional amendment can go into effect (although, given the federal right to abortion, it'll have no practical impact).
The case, George v. Hargett, arose when Tennessee voters approved an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution prohibiting construction of the state constitution to secure or protect the right to abortion or to require funding for abortion. Opponents of the measure sued, arguing that the voting rules for state constitutional amendments, found in Article XI, Section 3, of the state constitution, violated due process and equal protection.
Article XI, Section 3, provides:
if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the State voting for Governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.
The language is vague as to whether a vote must vote in both the gubernatorial election and on the amendment, or whether a voter could vote on the amendment without also voting in the gubernatorial election. (State practice said the latter.) So during the campaign, amendment supporters urged voters to vote for the proposed amendment, but not to vote in the gubernatorial election, in order to gain a numerical advantage. In contrast, amendment opponents urged voters to vote in both the gubernatorial election and on the amendment, in order to gain their own numerical advantage.
Tennessee voters voted in favor of the amendment. And for the first time in the state's history, the number of ballots cast on the amendment question exceeded the number of ballots in the gubernatorial election (reflecting the strength of the political campaign in favor of the amendment). This made the math easy: under Article XI, Section 3, the number of votes in favor of the amendment clearly exceeded half the number of total votes in the gubernatorial election.
Amendment opponents sued, arguing that Article XI, Section 3, under the prevailing interpretation, violated due process and equal protection. (They also argued for a different interpretation of Article XI, Section 3--that only those voters who also voted for governor could vote for the amendment--but the Sixth Circuit deferred to a final state court ruling that voters could vote on an amendment without also voting for governor.)
The Sixth Circuit rejected those claims. The court said that there was no due process violation, because no "voter's right to vote was burdened by government action." In short, the voting rules (set by the state court) allowed everyone to vote on the amendment, and counted all the votes on the amendment. The court said that there was no equal protection violation, because "[e]very vote cast--on the amendment and in the governor's race--was accorded the same weight."
The ruling ends the challenge and means that Tennessee's Constitution now contains a provision that prohibits an interpretation to secure or protect the right to abortion. But again: This'll have no practical effect on the right to abortion in the state, given the federal constitutional right to abortion.
In an extensive and well-crafted opinion in the consolidated cases of Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho, a three judge court found North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term. Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone.
Fourth Circuit Judge James Wynn's almost 200 page opinion for the majority, joined by Senior District Judge Britt, first discusses the facts involved in the North Carolina redistricting, some incidents and players of which will be familiar from the Supreme Court's opinion in Cooper v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case challenging only two districts and arising from an earlier North Carolina redistricting.
This is the 2016 plan at issue in Common Cause and League of Women Voters:
Judge Wynn's opinion carefully resolves the question of standing and justiability. Important to the justiciability analysis is the issue of judicially manageable standards, and Judge Wynn writes a robust support for social science, noting that the "Supreme Court long has relied on statistical and social science analyses as evidence that a defendant violated a standard set forth in the Constitution" and citing cases under the Equal Protection Clause such as Yick Wo v. Hopkins, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co. (It is interesting in this regard to (re)consider Chief Justice Roberts's statements during the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford disparaging social science.)
Judge Wynn wrote:
To hold that such widely used, and relied upon, methods cannot provide a judicially manageable standard for adjudicating Plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims would be to admit that the judiciary lacks the competence—or willingness—to keep pace with the technical advances that simultaneously facilitate such invidious partisanship and provide an opportunity to remedy it.
On the merits of the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Wynn's opinion found that there must be an intent to discriminate on a partisan basis and that there was such an effect, and then the burden would shift to the governmental defendant to prove that a legitimate state interest or other neutral factor justified such discrimination. Here, Judge Wynn's opinion concluded that all were resolved in the challengers' favor. On the First Amendment claim, Judge Wynn considered several strands of doctrine:
Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest. How can the First Amendment prohibit the government from disfavoring certain viewpoints, yet allow a legislature to enact a districting plan that disfavors supporters of a particular set of political beliefs? How can the First Amendment bar the government from disfavoring a class of speakers, but allow a districting plan to disfavor a class of voters? How can the First Amendment protect government employees’ political speech rights, but stand idle when the government infringes on voters’ political speech rights? And how can the First Amendment ensure that candidates ascribing to all manner of political beliefs have a reasonable opportunity to appear on the ballot, and yet allow a state electoral system to favor one set of political beliefs over others? We conclude that the First Amendment does not draw such fine lines.
In a brief separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part, District Judge Osteen, Jr., disagreed as the standard for proving intent in Equal Protection but concluded the standard was met; disagreed on the merits of the First Amendment claim; and agreed that there was a violation of Article I.
Judge Wynn's opinion gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new plan to the Court, but one wonders if North Carolina will also be aggressively pursuing remedies at the United States Supreme Court, especially given Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone.
Judge Trevor McFadden (D.D.C.) ruled today that Cause of Action Institute has standing to sue to seek former Secretary of State Colin Powell's work-related e-mails on his personal AOL account. The ruling means that the case can move forward.
Cause of Action Institute first sought the Powell e-mails through a FOIA request. But after the State Department said that the e-mails no longer exist, the organization sued under the Federal Records Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. State and the Archivist moved to dismiss, arguing that Cause's harm (not getting the e-mails) couldn't be redressed by a favorable court ruling, because, after all, the e-mails no longer exist. Without redressibility, there's no standing.
The court disagreed. Judge McFadden ruled, in short, that the government hadn't tried hard enough to obtain the missing e-mails, given its mandatory obligations to recover missing records under the FRA. The court followed the D.C. Circuit's lead in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Kerry, which held that a similar case seeking former Secretary Clinton's missing e-mails wasn't moot, and noted that further government investigation in that case led to the discovery of many of those e-mails. The same could be true here, the court reasoned, meaning that Cause could show that a court order for the government to investigate further could lead to the discovery of the e-mails--and that it therefore has standing.
Today's ruling--again, backed by the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Judicial Watch--means that Cause's case can move forward and seek a court order for the government to initiate action under the FRA through the Attorney General for recovery of the e-mails.
Thursday, January 4, 2018
In its opinion in Animal Defense League Fund v. Wadsen, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit largely affirmed the injunction of Idaho's so-called "Ag-Gag" law, Idaho Code § 18-7042.
Recall that Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill concluded that portions of the statute violated the First Amendment and enjoined them in 2015. The Idaho statute created a new crime, “interference with agricultural production" and provided that
A person commits the crime of interference with agricultural production if the person knowingly:
(a) is not employed by an agricultural production facility and enters an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
(b) obtains records of an agricultural production facility by force, threat, misrepresentation or trespass;
(c) obtains employment with an agricultural production facility by force, threat, or misrepresentation with the intent to cause economic or other injury to the facility's operations . . .
(d) Enters an agricultural production facility that is not open to the public and, without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations;
On appeal, the Ninth Circuit majority opinion, authored by Judge Margaret McKeown and joined by Judge Richard C. Tallman, affirmed the finding that subsections (a) and (d) violated the First Amendment, but held that subsections (b) and (c), criminalizing misrepresentations to obtain records and secure employment are not protected speech under the First Amendment and do not violate the Equal Protection Clause. In his partial dissent, Judge Carlos Bea argued that subsection (a), criminalizing misrepresentations to enter a production facility,should survive constitutional review.
What might be called the ethical center of the litigation is exemplified by the famous novel The Jungle (also discussed by the federal district judge) in which Upton Sinclair highlighted conditions in the meat-packing industry and which was based on the author's time working incognito in a packing plant. But the majority opinion also observes that the appeal "highlights the tension between journalists’ claimed First Amendment right to engage in undercover investigations and the state’s effort to protect privacy and property rights in the agricultural industry."
But the doctrinal center of the court's analysis of the Idaho statute criminalizing misrepresentation is the United States Supreme Court's fractured opinion in United States v. Alvarez (2012), holding unconstitutional the federal "stolen valor" statute criminalizing falsely claiming to have been awarded a military medal.
In short, the majority found that subsection (a)'s misrepresentation provision was protected speech under Alvarez subject to exacting scrutiny, which it did not survive, especially given the potential for selective prosecution and its overbreadth. On the other hand, subsection (b) pertaining to obtaining records was not protected speech under Alvarez because unlike subsection (a)'s "false statements made to enter property, false statements made to actually acquire agricultural production facility records inflict a property harm upon the owner, and may also bestow a material gain on the acquirer" and the provision is aimed at conduct. Somewhat similarly, subsection (c)'s criminalization of obtaining employment is not protected speech under Alvarez since the statements were made for material gain. The majority interestingly observed that it was almost as if "the Idaho legislature drafted this provision with Alvarez by its side," but interestingly did not observe that this provision would have criminalized Upton Sinclair as he researched his novel. Finally, subsection (d), the recordings clause, was not within the false statements analysis of Alvarez, but was a content-based prohibition that failed strict scrutiny.
With the proliferation of ag-gag laws, this Ninth Circuit opinion is sure to be relied on by the Tenth Circuit as it considers a district court 2017 decision in Animal Defense Fund v. Herbert holding Utah's ag-gag law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
[Images from NYPL public domain collection]
In its unanimous panel opinion in Wandering Dago, Inc. v. DeSito, the Second Circuit reversed the district court and held that the the denial of a permit to operate a food truck at the Empire State Plaza in Albany violated the First Amendment as well as the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall from our discussion of the district court's 2016 decision that the issue involved a program in 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" and various monuments and memorials in New York's capital city.
As the list of applicants was being processed, the application for "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.
The Second Circuit's opinion, authored by Judge Susan Carney, concluded that the case was clearly governed by the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Matal v. Tam ("The Slants" case) finding that the "disparagement" provision in the trademark statute constituted viewpoint discrimination and failed strict scrutiny. The district judge's decision was rendered before the Supreme Court's opinion, but she had rejected the applicability of the en banc Federal Circuit's opinion in In Re Simon Shiao Tam because she concluded the lunch program was a nonpublic forum. For the Second Circuit, however, the rejection of Wandering Dago's application based on viewpoint merited strict scrutiny under the First Amendment whether or not that "speech is categorized as commercial speech, speech in a public forum, or speech in a nonpublic forum."
Moreover, the Second Circuit held that the government's rejection of the lunch truck was not shielded by the doctrines of government speech (or government contractor speech). The district judge had held that the lunch program was "government speech," 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 and therefore not subject to the First Amendment. The Second Circuit opinion contains a full discussion of the record, but ultimately finds it "implausible" that the public would view the Wandering Dago truck as New York's speech. The Second Circuit again analogized to Matal v Tam, in which the Court rejected a government speech claim. As in Matal, the United States government did not "dream up" the trademarks, it "merely registered them," and similarly here, the New York Office of Government Services did not "dream up" the food truck's branding.
The Second Circuit applied strict scrutiny, even while noting that New York did not argue it could satisfy the standard, in order to "complete the analytical picture." Not surprisingly, the court found that the denial of the permit failed strict scrutiny.
More surprisingly, the Second Circuit also reversed the district judge's grant of summary judgment to the government on the Equal Protection Clause claim. In a brief passage, the court found that there was selective enforcement of the permit scheme with "intent to inhibit or punish the exercise of constitutional rights." This finding rested on New York's granting of permits to other vendors applying to participate in the Lunch Program, including the “Slidin’ Dirty” truck. Thus, the court concluded that Wandering Dago was being discriminated against for its free speech constitutional rights "in branding itself and its products with ethnic slurs."
While it is possible that New York will seek certiorari, it seems more likely that the state will accede to the decision and perhaps change its lunch program to make it less a permit scheme and more a government-sponsored "speech" event.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
D.C. Circuit Declines to Halt Election Integrity Commission Request for Voter Information for Lack of Standing
The D.C. Circuit ruled that the Electronic Privacy Information Center lacked standing to obtain an injunction halting a request by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for voter information from the states. The district court ruled earlier that EPIC had standing, but was unlikely to succeed on the merits, because the Commission wasn't an "agency" under the Administrative Procedure Act. The D.C. Circuit ruling has the same effect--denial of a preliminary injunction--but for a different reason: EPIC hasn't demonstrated a substantial likelihood of standing.
The ruling is only on EPIC's motion for a preliminary injunction. But EPIC's lack of standing at this preliminary stage may also mean that it (later) lacks standing to bring the claim at all. Based on the D.C. Circuit's ruling, it seems that only voters themselves, or an organization that represents voters, would have standing to bring this kind of claim.
EPIC initially brought the case to challenge the Commission's request for voter information without first conducting, and producing, a privacy impact assessment under the E-Government Act. EPIC argued that it was entitled to the assessment, and that its failure to receive it formed the basis of its standing.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court ruled that EPIC lacked both informational injury and organizational injury. As to the former, informational injury, the court said that EPIC "has not suffered the type of harm that section 208 of the E-Government Act seeks to prevent. Indeed, EPIC is not even the type of plaintiff that can suffer such harm." The court said that section 208 was designed to protect the privacy of individuals (here, voters), not an organization like EPIC, an organization that does not have members (much less voter members) and whose only interest is in "ensur[ing] public oversight of record systems."
As to organizational injury, the court said that, because the E-Government Act doesn't confer an informational interest on EPIC (as above), EPIC can't ground organizational injury on the Act. "It follows that any resources EPIC used to counteract the lack of a privacy impact assessment--an assessment in which it has no cognizable interest--were "a self-inflicted budgetary choice that cannot qualify as an injury in fact." Moreover, the Commission's request for voter information without an assessment didn't cause EPIC to take any particular measures.
Finally, the court said that halting the Commission's collection of voter data wouldn't likely redress any informational or organizational injury, anyway. That's because ordering the Commission to halt its collection of information--assuming the Commission is subject to the Act--"only negates the need (if any) to prepare an assessment, making it less likely that EPIC will obtain the information it says is essential to its mission of "focus[ing] public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues."
Friday, December 22, 2017
In the latest installment in the continuing saga of President Trump's various efforts to promulgate a travel ban, often called a Muslim Ban, the Ninth Circuit opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump has largely affirmed the preliminary injunction issued by District Judge Derrick Watson enjoining the Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court, over the stated disagreement of Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, issued a stay of the district judge's opinion earlier this month, as well as a stay in the related proceedings in the Fourth Circuit in IRAP v. Trump.
The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel does not disturb the status quo: "In light of the Supreme Court’s order staying this injunction pending 'disposition of the Government’s petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is sought,' we stay our decision today pending Supreme Court review." The Ninth Circuit does, however, narrow the district judge's injunction, to "give relief only to those with a credible bona fide relationship with the United States."
On the merits, the Ninth Circuit does not reach the constitutional claims including the Establishment Clause, unlike the Fourth Circuit in IRAP v. Trump, because it finds that the plaintiffs' statutory claims are sufficient to grant relief.
Yet the complex statutory framework of the Immigration and Nationality Act, INA, does implicitly invoke the scope of executive powers. In short, the Ninth Circuit finds that the Presidential Proclamation’s indefinite entry suspensions constitute nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas and therefore (in likelihood sufficient for the preliminary injunction) run afoul of 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a)(1)(A)’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination. As the Ninth Circuit opinion observes:
the Proclamation functions as an executive override of broad swaths of immigration laws that Congress has used its considered judgment to enact. If the Proclamation is—as the Government contends—authorized under [8 U.S.C.] § 1182(f), then § 1182(f) upends the normal functioning of separation of powers. Even Congress is prohibited from enabling “unilateral Presidential action that either repeals or amends parts of duly enacted statutes.” Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417, 439 (1998). This is true even when the executive actions respond to issues of “first importance,” issues that potentially place the country’s “Constitution and its survival in peril.” Id. at 449 (Kennedy, J., concurring). In addressing such critical issues, the political branches still do not “have a somewhat free hand to reallocate their own authority,” as the “Constitution’s structure requires a stability which transcends the convenience of the moment” and was crafted in recognition that “[c]oncentration of power in the hands of a single branch is a threat to liberty.” Id. at 449–50.
And the Proclamation’s sweeping assertion of authority is fundamentally legislative in nature. . . .
Recall that a few months ago, after granting certiorari in Hawai'i v. Trump, the United States Supreme Court instructed the Ninth Circuit to dismiss as moot the challenge to Travel Ban 2.0. It looks as if the Court will now have its chance to consider version 3.o.
December 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, International, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, December 21, 2017
The ruling ends the case, unless and until it's appealed.
The case arose when CREW and other plaintiffs (including hotel- and restaurant-owners who compete with Trump properties) sued the President for accepting gifts and emoluments from foreign and domestic sources without congressional approval, in violation of the Emoluments Clause. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief.
The government argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the case should be dismissed. Today Judge George B. Daniels (S.D.N.Y.) agreed.
The court said the "hospitality plaintiffs" lacked competitive standing, because they didn't sufficiently allege that President Trump's Emoluments Clause violations caused their injuries (lack of business due to competition with Trump properties) and that a successful suit would redress those injuries. The court explained:
Here, the Hospitality Plaintiffs argue that Defendant has adopted "policies and practices that powerfully incentivize government officials to patronize his properties in hopes of winning his affection." Yet . . . it is wholly speculative whether the Hospitality Plaintiffs' loss of business is fairly traceable to Defendant's "incentives" or instead results from government officials' independent desire to patronize Defendant's businesses. Even before Defendant took office, he had amassed wealth and fame and was competing against the Hospitality Plaintiffs in the restaurant and hotel business. It is only natural that interest in his properties has generally increased since he became President. As such, despite any alleged violation on Defendant's part, the Hospitality Plaintiffs may face a tougher competitive market overall. Aside from Defendant's public profile, there are a number of reasons why patrons may choose to visit Defendant's hotels and restaurants including service, quality, location, price and other factors related to individual preference. Therefore, the connection between the Hospitality Plaintiffs' alleged injury and Defendant's actions is too tenuous to satisfy Article III's causation requirement.
[Moreover,] Plaintiffs are likely facing an increase in competition in their respective markets for business from all types of customers--government and non-government customers alike--and there is no remedy this Court can fashion to level the playing field for Plaintiffs as it relates to overall competition. . . . [T]he Emoluments Clauses prohibit Defendant from receiving gifts and emoluments. They do not prohibit Defendant's businesses from competing directly with the Hospitality Plaintiffs.
The court went on to hold that the Hospitality Plaintiffs weren't within the zone of interests protected by the Emoluments Clause.
The court also held that CREW lacked standing, because its alleged harm (diversion of resources to monitor and respond to the President's Emoluments Clause violations) wasn't sufficient. "Here, CREW fails to allege either that Defendant's actions have impeded its ability to perform a particular mission-related activity, or that it was forced to expend resources to counteract and remedy the adverse consequences or harmful effects of Defendant's conduct. CREW . . . may have diverted some of its resources to address conduct it may consider unconstitutional, but which has caused no legally cognizable adverse consequences, tangible or otherwise, necessitating the expenditure of organizational resources."
Finally, the court ruled that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question (because of the Emolument Clause's textual commitment to a coordinate branch of government, Congress) and that the case wasn't ripe (because "a conflict between two coordinate branches of government . . . has yet to mature").
Friday, December 15, 2017
Judge Wendy Beetlestone (E.D. Pa.) ruled today that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was likely to succeed on the merits of its challenge to the Trump Administration's interim final rules rolling back Obamacare's contraception mandate. Judge Beetlestone issued a temporary injunction, halting enforcement of the rules.
The case, Pennsylvania v. Trump, arose when the administration issued two interim final rules that all but undid the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate for any organization that didn't want to enforce it. One rule, the Religious Exemption Rule, said that any organization could claim an exemption based on a sincerely held religious belief; the other, the Moral Exemption Rule, said the same thing for any organization that claimed a sincere moral objection. Under the rules, objecting organizations didn't have to seek an accommodation; they could simply drop coverage (with ERISA notice to their employees).
Pennsylvania sued, arguing that the IRFs violated the Administrative Procedure Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act , equal protection, and the Establishment Clause.
Judge Beetlestone first ruled that the Commonwealth had standing--for exactly the same reasons why Texas had standing to challenge President Obama's DAPA program in Texas v. United States:
There is no daylight between the 2015 Texas suit against the federal government and the current Commonwealth suit against the federal government. Like Texas, the Commonwealth challenges agency action in issuing regulations--here, the New IRFs. It is all the more significant that the Commonwealth, like Texas before it, sues to halt affirmative conduct made by a federal agency. . . . Furthermore, like Texas and Massachusetts [in Massachusetts v. EPA], the Commonwealth seeks to protect a quasi-sovereign interest--the health of its women residents. . . . According to the Commonwealth . . . the Agencies' New IRFs will allow more employers to exempt themselves from the ACA's Contraceptive Mandate. Consequently, the Commonwealth contends that Pennsylvania women will seek state-funded sources of contraceptive care. Such a course of action will likely cause the Commonwealth to expend more funds to protect its quasi-sovereign interest in ensuring that women residents receive adequate contraceptive care.
She went on to rule that the IRFs likely violated the APA, for two reasons. First, the administration violated notice-and-comment rules in issuing the IRFs. The court rejected the government's argument that it had statutory authority to bypass notice-and-comment procedures, and that special circumstances justified bypassing those procedures. Next, the IRFs violated federal law, the ACA. In particular, the ACA mandates coverage for women's preventative care, and doesn't provide an exception for religious or moral beliefs. Moreover, the accommodation process doesn't violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (as the government maintained), and so there's no RFRA reason for the Religious Exemption Rule. (The government didn't even try to argue that the RFRA mandated the Moral Exemption Rule.)
Because the court held that the Commonwealth would likely succeed on its APA claims, it didn't rule on the constitutional claims.
The court went on to conclude that the Commonwealth demonstrated the other elements of a preliminary injunction, too.
Thursday, December 14, 2017
The Ninth Circuit this week ruled that the Secretary of the Interior could withdraw, for up to twenty years, over one million acres of land near Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining claims. The ruling deals a blow to mining companies and local governments who brought the lawsuit. But the blow may be temporary, if the current administration reverses course and allows mining.
The case, National Mining Association v. Zinke, arose when then-Secretary Salazar exercised his authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and moved to withdraw the land from mining claims. Under the Act, the Interior Secretary has authority to withdraw large tracts of federal land from mining, so long as the Secretary publishes a notice in the Federal Register, affords an opportunity for public hearing and comment, and obtains consent to the withdrawal from any other department or agency involved in the administration of the relevant lands. Moreover, the Secretary can only withdraw land for 20 years, max, and has to report to Congress.
The Act also contains a legislative veto, allowing Congress, by concurrent resolution only (and not with a presidential signature), to veto the Secretary's withdrawal.
As soon as Salazar filed his Notice of Intent in the Federal Register, mining companies and local governments sued, arguing, among other things, that the Secretary lacked authority under the Act. Their theory went like this: The Act's legislative veto provision is unconstitutional under Chadha; the legislative veto is not severable from the rest of the Act (including the Secretary's authority to withdraw federal land); and therefore the unconstitutionality of the legislative veto provision dooms the entire withdrawal provision of the Act, including the Secretary's authority.
The Ninth Circuit rejected this theory. The court ruled that the legislative veto provision was severable, and didn't affect the Secretary's authority. Therefore, the Secretary could go ahead and initiate the withdrawal, pursuant to requirements under the Act, irrespective of the legislative-veto's invalidity.
The court went on to reject the several merits arguments against the Secretary's exercise of authority.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
In its opinion in Constitution Party v. Cortes, a Third Circuit panel found fault with the district judge's injunction imposing on the Constitution Party, as well as the other plaintiff small political parties - - - known in the opinion as the Aspiring Parties - - - a requirement of county-based signature-gathering requirements. The case arose out of a challenge to Pennsylvania's scheme for allowing small parties on the ballot. After finding this previous scheme unconstitutional, the district judge considered remedies, eventually adopting the remedy proposed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Under this scheme, the aspiring parties candidates could be placed on the ballot provided that they gather a certain number of signatures and that these signatures be from 10 different counties (or from 5 counties for some offices) of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.
The issue was whether these county-requirements were unconstitutional vote dilution under the Equal Protection Clause.
Relying on Reynolds v. Sims (1964) and Gray v. Sanders (1963), the panel acknowledged that geographical inequalities in state voting violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, a principle that was extended to signature-gathering requirements for ballot placement in Moore v. Ogilive (1969). The test, from the First Amendment case of Anderson v. Celebrezze (1983), which the court stated applied also to the equal protection context, required the court to
first consider the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected . . . that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate. It then must identify and evaluate the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule. In passing judgment, the Court must not only determine the legitimacy and strength of each of those interests; it also must consider the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’ s rights. Only after weighing all these factors is the reviewing court in a position to decide whether the challenged provision is unconstitutional.
The court noted that county-based signature-gathering requirements have "fared poorly" under the Anderson doctrine and discussed cases, it was nevertheless true that in some instances these requirements survived. The focus should be on the "real-world impact" of the voting restrictions. And it is a fact-intensive one.
Looking at the district judge's order, which had been fashioned under significant time pressure before an upcoming election, the Third Circuit panel found the absence of fact-finding fatal. It therefore vacated and remanded the case, noting that the district judge could certainly issue the same or a similar injunction if it engaged in a fact-intensive analysis and found the restrictions constitutional under Anderson.
On remand, it may be difficult for the parties to muster the kind of evidence that would be necessary to demonstrate how the county-specific requirement for signatures satisfy precise state interests that are not undermined by vote dilution.
The Third Circuit ruled that school board officials are entitled to qualified immunity from a First Amendment claim by a disruptive speaker who the board excluded from future meetings. But the court also ruled that immunity did not extend to the school board itself.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court for further proceedings on municipal liability.
The case, Barna v. Board of School Directors of the Panther Valley School District, arose when the school board excluded speaker Barna from future meetings because he had made threatening and disruptive comments at earlier meetings. After giving Barna a second chance, which he blew, the board's attorney sent Barna a letter barring him from attending all board meetings or school extracurricular activities because his conduct had become "intolerable, threatening and obnoxious" and because he was "interfering with the function of the School Board." The board permitted Barna to submit written questions, however.
Barna sued individual board officials and the board itself for violating his free speech. The district court granted qualified immunity to all defendants and dismissed the case.
The Third Circuit partially reversed. As to the individual board officials, the court said that Barna's right to free speech wasn't clearly established at the time, because Barna cited no Supreme Court authority saying otherwise, and because Fourth Circuit precedent went against him:
We therefore conclude that, given the state of the law at the time of the Board's ban, there was, at best, disagreement in the Courts of Appeals as to the existence of a clearly established right to participate in school board meetings despite engaging in a pattern of threatening and disruptive behavior. Even if a "right can be 'clearly established' by circuit precedent . . . there does not appear to be any such consensus--much less the robust consensus--that we require to deem the right Barna asserts here as clearly established.
While the court didn't rule on the merits--it didn't have to in order to grant qualified immunity, because it concluded that a right to free speech wasn't clearly established at the time--it noted that it had "twice upheld the temporary removal of a disruptive participant from a limited public forum like a school board meeting." The difference in this case: Barna's ban was permanent.
As to the board, the court reversed. The court noted that under Owen v. City of Independence municipalities do not enjoy qualified immunity from suit for damages under Section 1983. The court sent the issue back to the district court for determination whether the action was a pattern or practice under Monell and, if so, a determination on the merits.
Monday, December 11, 2017
A third district judge has issued a preliminary injunction against the President's ban on transgender troops in the military. In her opinion in Karnoski v. Trump, United States District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction on the basis of the plaintiffs' likelihood to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment claims.
Recall that after several tweets this past July, embedded President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." Recall that in October, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Doe v. Trump partially enjoined the president's actions denying the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive based on a lack of standing and granting the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives. Recall that in November, United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland in Stone v. Trump issued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures.
In Karnoski, Judge Pechman finds that the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the State of Washington all have standing to challenge the Presidential Memorandum and that the claims are ripe. She does grant the motion to dismiss as to the procedural due process claim.
On the merits, Judge Karnoski's analysis is succinct. She concludes that the policy "distinguishes on the basis of transgender status, a quasi-suspect classification, and is therefore subject to intermediate scrutiny." She then states that while the government defendants "identify important governmental interest including military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and preservation of military resources, they failed to show that the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly is related to the achievements of those interests." Indeed, she concludes, the reasons proffered by the President are actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions, and judgment of the military itself," quoting and citing Doe v. Trump.
Departing from the earlier cases, Judge Pechman also finds the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on a substantive due process claim based on a fundamental liberty interest:
The policy directly interferes with Plaintiffs' ability to define and express their gender identity, and penalizes plaintiffs for exercising their fundamental right to do so openly by depriving them of employment and career opportunities.
On the First Amendment claim, Judge Pechman concludes that the "policy penalizes transgender service members but not others for disclosing their gender identity, and is therefore a content based restriction."
She then quickly finds that on balance, the equities weigh in favor of the preliminary injunction.
With this third court finding the Presidential Memorandum has constitutional deficiencies, the transgender ban is unlikely to go into effect by January 1. Additionally, the Pentagon has reportedly announced that the ban will not take effect.
In its opinion in Frudden v. Pilling, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel essentially disagrees with itself.
The litigation, begun in 2011, involves a First Amendment challenge to a school uniform policy requiring students to wear shirts or sweatshirts with a logo of the name of the school, the school mascot (a gopher), and the school motto ("Tomorrow's Leaders"). An exemption to the uniform policy allowed students to wear "the uniform of a nationally recognized youth organization" on regular meeting days of that organization.
There was substantial disagreement over the level of First Amendment scrutiny to be applied.
Originally, the district judge applied intermediate scrutiny, and upheld the constitutionality of the school uniform policy. A panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the motto required strict scrutiny, and remanded the matter. On remand, the district judge held that the "Tomorrow's Leaders" motto survived strict scrutiny and that other claims were moot, did not merit damages, or there was qualified immunity.
On this second appeal, the new panel expressed its disagreement with strict scrutiny as the applicable standard. It first attempted a sua sponte en banc call, but it did not receive a majority vote of the judges. Then, considering itself "bound by the holding of the prior three-judge panel" it reluctantly held that the uniform policy, both the moot and the exemption, failed strict scrutiny.
The panel concluded that although fostering children's achievement was a compelling interest, the motto "Tomorrow's Leaders" was not narrowly tailored to achieve that interest: a content-neutral motto would hardly lessen the message. As to the exemption for other uniforms, the government interests justifying the exemption - - - consistency with other schools and parental convenience in not having to bring two uniforms - - - were not compelling.
Yet the panel also states, in a subsection entitled "Our Disagreement with the Result We Are Required to Reach," that strict scrutiny is the incorrect standard and that the motto and exemption would pass intermediate scrutiny:
According to the prior panel, the motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders” is subject to strict scrutiny because its viewpoint celebrates leadership at the expense of those who are followers. Anodyne, feel-good statements such as “Tomorrow’s Leaders” are common in public schools. A number of mottos would be subject to strict scrutiny and struck down under the panel’s rationale. What about a motto “We Succeed Together”? Some students are loners. What about “School Pride”? Some students are not proud of their school. What about “Stand Tall”? Some students are short. To subject such mottos to strict scrutiny makes no sense.
If mandatory school uniforms, including a motto “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” are subject only to intermediate scrutiny, we see no reason to subject to strict scrutiny an exemption for uniforms for recognized organizations to which students may belong. To jeopardize such a wide- spread and inoffensive practice similarly makes no sense.
The panel then found that the individual defendants had qualified immunity although the institutional defendants did not, and remanded the case for damages to be assessed against the school district and parent association.
The question of school dress codes, including uniforms, continues to be a vexing one under the First Amendment.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
In its opinion in French v. Jones, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Montana judicial ethics rule restricting political endorsements in campaigns.
Montana Code of Judicial Conduct 4.1(A)(7) prohibits judicial candidates from seeking, accepting, or using endorsements from a political party/organization or partisan candidate, although it does allow political parties to endorse and even provide funds to judicial candidates. Affirming the district judge and upholding the provision's constitutionality, the Ninth Circuit opinion by Judge Jay Bybee surveys the United States Supreme Court's two opinions on the First Amendment and judicial campaign ethics - - - Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002) and Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar (2015) - - - and notes that although the Supreme Court has provided "mixed guidance," the "clear shift in favor of state regulation" and "palpable change" in Williams-Yulee renders the arguments of the challengers unavailing.
After a rehearsal of the cases, including a Ninth Circuit en banc decision, Judge Bybee applied strict scrutiny. Montana's compelling governmental interest of "actual and perceived judicial impartiality" had been accepted in Williams-Yulee. The second interest in a "structurally independent judiciary" is also evaluated, with a supporting citation to The Federalist No. 78, and implicitly found to be even "more compelling." The major challenge, however, was that the judicial canon was not narrowly tailored because it was "fatally underinclusive." On this issue, Judge Bybee's opinion again relied on the change wrought by Williams-Yulee, quoting language disapproving on underinclusiveness. More specifically, the court found that the interest in judicial independence was differently served by endorsements from political parties (whose use was prohibited by the canon) than by endorsements by interest groups. Likewise, the court found that permitting judicial candidates to solicit and use money from political parties was unpersuasive because endorsements are more public, although the information regarding contributions is also available to the public.
Additionally, the court rejected the equation between the announcement prohibition in White, which was found unconstitutional, and the political party endorsement prohibition at issue. Party endorsement is not simply "shorthand" for views. "An endorsement is a thing of value: it may attract voters' attention, jumpstart a campaign, give assurance that the candidate has been vetted, or provide legitimacy to an unknown candidate . . ."
The court also rejected the argument that Montana did not show political endorsements cause harm noting that such an argument could lead to a finding that Montana's choice of nonpartisan judicial elections was itself unconstitutional. Moreover, the elimination of judicial elections entirely is not a less restrictive means consistent with Williams-Yulee.
Although Williams-Yulee was a closely divided case and its reasoning not entirely clear, it provides the basis on which courts are upholding judicial campaigning restrictions.
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the standards for a conditional use permit in Ventura County left too much discretion to the decisionmakers and therefore violated the First Amendment. The ruling reverses a district court's dismissal of the plaintiff's First Amendment claim and sends the case back for a decision on the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.
The case, Epona, LLC v. County of Ventura, arose when the corporation sought a conditional use permit to use the outdoor area on his rural property for outdoor weddings. County officials denied the permit, concluding that the use was "not compatible with the rural community," that it had "the potential to impair the utility of neighboring property or uses," and that it had "the potential to be detrimental to the public interest, health, safety, convenience, or welfare . . . and the findings [in the local zoning law]." The corporation's owner sued, arguing that the standards and denial violated the First Amendment, and that the denial violated RLUIPA. The district court dismissed the claims.
The Ninth Circuit reversed on the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that Ventura County's standards left too much discretion to the decisionmakers, and therefore raised the possibility of content-based discrimination.
The standards say that a person seeking a conditional use permit for an event, including a wedding, show that the event is (among other things):
(b) compatible with the character of surrounding, legally established development;
(c) not . . . obnoxious or harmful, [and must not] impair the utility of neighboring property or uses;
(d) not . . . detrimental to the public interest, safety, convenience, or welfare;
(e) compatible with existing and potential land uses in the general area where the development is to be located . . . .
The scheme requires permitting officials to make "specific factual findings," which arguably made the standards more determinate.
Nevertheless, the court looked to "the totality of the factors" regarding the scheme and concluded that "the [conditional use permit] scheme fails to provide definite and specific guidelines for permitting officials." Moreover, the court said that the scheme failed to provide a time limit (as required by Freedman v. Maryland), so "compounds the problem created by the lack of definite standards for permitting officials." "Together, these defects confer unbridled discretion on permitting officials in violation of the First Amendment."
At the same time, the court rejected the plaintiff's RLUIPA claim, because the corporation isn't "a religious assembly or institution."
The court sent the case back for a ruling on the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction on the First Amendment claim.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Adding to its docket on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, the Court agreed to hear the merits of Benisek v. Lamone, regarding Maryland's redistricting law, decided by a three judge court in August 2017.
Recall that the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford on October 3, 2017. In Gill, arising in Wisconsin, the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is best analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause or under the First Amendment inflected the oral arguments.
The three judge court opinion in Benisek deciding on the application of a preliminary injunction was divided. A majority of the found that the case essentially rejected the challengers' arguments, seemingly finding that the claims were not justiable and that they did not have merit, but ultimately resting on a decision that the matter should be not be decided pending the outcome in Gill v. Whitford and thus denying the motion for preliminary injunction. In an extensive dissenting opinion, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer makes a compelling argument that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District by the Democratic leadership diluted the votes of Republicans. Judge Niemeyer advanced a First Amendment standard to redressing unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering as:
(1) “those responsible for the map redrew the lines of his district with the specific intent to impose a burden on him and similarly situated citizens because of how they voted or the political party with which they were affiliated,”
(2) “the challenged map diluted the votes of the targeted citizens to such a degree that it resulted in a tangible and concrete adverse effect,” and
(3) “the mapmakers’ intent to burden a particular group of voters by reason of their views” was a but-for cause of the “adverse impact.”
Applying that standard, Judge Niemeyer would have found it clearly violated by the Sixth District.
While both the majority and Judge Niemeyer's dissent agree that partisan gerrymandering is "noxious" and destructive, the panel clearly divides on what the judiciary can or should do. For Niemeyer, judicial abdication "would have the most troubling consequences":
If there were no limits on the government’s ability to draw district lines for political purposes, a state might well abandon geographical districts altogether so as to minimize the disfavored party’s effectiveness. In Maryland, where roughly 60% of the voters are Democrats and 40% Republicans, the Democrats could create eight safe congressional districts by assigning to each district six Democrats for every four Republicans, regardless of the voters’ geographical location. In a similar vein, a Republican government faced with these same voters could create a map in which two districts consisted entirely of Democrats, leaving six that would be 53% Republican. Such a paradigm would be strange by any standard. A congressman elected in such a system could have constituents in Baltimore City, others in Garrett County, and yet others in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., preventing him from representing any of his constituents effectively. Similarly, members of a single household could be assigned to different congressional districts, and neighbors would be denied the ability to mobilize politically. Such partisan gerrymandering, at its extreme, would disrupt the “very essence of districting,” which “is to produce a different ... result than would be reached with elections at large, in which the winning party would take 100% of the legislative seats.” [citing Gaffney v. Cummings (1973)].
The role that Benisek will play as an addition to Gill v. Whitford in the Court's consideration of partisan gerrymandering is unclear, but several differences between the cases might be worth noting. First, Benisek centers the First Amendment analysis rather than the Equal Protection Clause or a combination. Second, Benisek involves one district within the state rather than the state as a whole. And third, the redistricting in Maryland involved in Benisek is the Democratic party in power, while the redistricting in Wisconsin in Gill v. Whitford is the Republican party in power. What, if any, difference these differences may ultimately make - - - and whether the Court will render the decisions of these cases close together - - - remains to be determined.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
The en banc D.C. Circuit unanimously ruled this week that FECA's per-election base limits on campaign contributions don't violate free speech.
The ruling could give the Supreme Court a chance to reevaluate its stance on the constitutionality of base contributions, or at least per-election base contributions, in light of its most recent ruling on contributions, McCutcheon v. FEC. The Court in that case held that aggregate limits on base contributions violate free speech, even if base contributions themselves don't.
The plaintiffs in Holmes v. FEC challenged FECA's $2,600 base limit per candidate per election. The law means that a person can contribute up to $2,600 to a candidate in a primary, another $2,600 to that candidate in the general, and yet another $2,600 to that candidate in any runoff. In the usual course of things (without a runoff) this allows a person to contribute up to $5,200 to a candidate for the whole cycle.
The plaintiffs claimed that per-election restriction violated free speech, although they didn't take on all base limits. In other words, they wanted to contribute $0 to their favored candidates in the primaries, but $5,200 in the generals. The per-election restriction prevented them from doing that, and they claimed that this violated the First Amendment.
The D.C. Circuit disagreed. Citing Buckley v. Valeo (upholding per-election base limits against a free speech challenge, but not ruling specifically on the per-election nature of them) the court said that Congress's decision in FECA to create per-election restrictions (and not entire cycle restrictions) was a permissible way to implement base limits. In short, the court said that Congress had to create some timeframe for base contribution restrictions--because that's how base contributions work--and a per-election timeframe doesn't seem unreasonable. Said the court:
Contrary to plaintiffs' account of FECA, there is no $5,200 base contribution ceiling split between the primary and general elections. Instead, the Act by its terms established a $2,000 contribution limit, adjusted for inflation, which 'shall apply separately with respect to each [primary, general, and runoff] election.'
. . .
To impose a meaningful contribution ceiling, then, Congress has no choice but to specify some time period in which donors can contribute the maximum amount. There are a host of alternatives in that regard.
. . .
Just as Buckley did not require Congress to explain its choice of $1,000 rather than $2,000 as itself closely drawn to preventing corruption, we see no basis for requiring Congress to justify its choice concerning the other essential element of a contribution limit--its timeframe--as itself serving that interest.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied individual defendants' renewed motion to dismiss a plaintiff's Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment. The ruling, which applies the Supreme Court's ruling from this summer in Ziglar v. Abbasi, means that the plaintiff's First Amendment Bivens action can move forward. (This isn't a ruling on the merits; it only says that the plaintiff's claim survives a motion to dismiss in light of Abbasi.)
The ruling is notable, because the Court appeared to substantially restrict Bivens actions in Abbasi essentially to those very few situations where the Court has allowed a Bivens action. (We posted on this here.) But this ruling reads Abbasi differently--not to prohibit a Bivens action under the First Amendment.
The case, Loumiet v. United States, arose when an attorney for a target of an investigation by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency complained to the OCC Inspector General that OCC investigators engaged in "highly unusual and disturbing" behavior during their investigation, including making racist comments to the target's staff. The OCC then initiated an enforcement proceeding against the plaintiff pursuant to the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, claiming that the plaintiff had "knowingly or recklessly . . . breach[ed his] fiduciary duty," and as a result "caused . . . a significant adverse effect" on the target of the investigation. An ALJ recommended dropping the matter, and the OCC agreed. The plaintiff filed for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act and won in the D.C. Circuit. That court ruled that "the Comptroller was not 'substantially justified' in bringing the underlying administrative proceedings against [the plaintiff]."
The plaintiff then brought a Bivens claim for retaliatory prosecution in violation of the First Amendment, among other claims. The court earlier declined to dismiss the case, but the individual defendants asked the court to reconsider after Abbasi came down this summer.
The court in this ruling again declined to dismiss the case.
The court assumed, without deciding, that the case raised a "new context" under Bivens. (The court said that the D.C. Circuit hadn't yet had an opportunity to rule on Abbasi, so it couldn't really say what a "new context" was in the post-Abbasi world of Bivens--in particular, whether Abbasi set a new standard for "new context.") The court went on to say that special factors did not counsel against a Bivens remedy:
Unlike the facts in Abbasi, this is not a case in which "high officers who face personal liability for damages might refrain from taking urgent and lawful action in a time of crisis." Rather, Plaintiff's prosecution was separate from, and subsequent to, the OCC's enforcement action against his bank client; the prosecution against Plaintiff does not seem to have been "urgent," driven by "crisis," or, for that matter, necessary to the underlying enforcement action against Plaintiff's client. Indeed, the Court already made a fact-specific inquiry that a Bivens claim will not deter lawful enforcement activity.
Finally, the court said that the defendants couldn't show that the plaintiff had alternative relief, here under the FIRREA, the Administrative Procedure Act, or the Equal Justice Act.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
In his opinion in Stone v. Trump, United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland isued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures.
Recall that after several tweets this past July (which Judge Garvis embeds in the opinion), President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex."
Recall also that last month in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions denying the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive based on a lack of standing and granting the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.
Judge Garvis has ordered a complete preliminary injunction. Unlike Judge Kollar-Kotelly in Doe, Judge Garvis found that several plaintiffs in Stone had standing regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive which takes effect March 23. Specifically, Judge Garvis found that it highly unlikely that plaintiffs Stone and Cole would be able to complete their medical plan before that date and that it was "at the very least plausible" that any policy exceptions would be applied to their scheduled post-March-23rd surgeries.
As for the merits, and the likelihood of success, Judge Garvis agreed with Doe. Judge Garvis discussed the Fifth Amendment protection of equal protection as applied to the military and found reason not to apply military deference, specifically mentioning the presidential tweets:
There is no doubt that the Directives in the President’s Memorandum set apart transgender service members to be treated differently from all other military service members. Defendants argue that deference is owed to military personnel decisions and to the military’s policymaking process. The Court does not disagree. However, the Court takes note of the Amici of retired military officers and former national security officials, who state “this is not a case where deference is warranted, in light of the absence of any considered military policymaking process, and the sharp departure from decades of precedent on the approach of the U.S. military to major personnel policy changes.” President Trump’s tweets did not emerge from a policy review, nor did the Presidential Memorandum identify any policymaking process or evidence demonstrating that the revocation of transgender rights was necessary for any legitimate national interest. Based on the circumstances surrounding the President’s announcement and the departure from normal procedure, the Court agrees with the D.C. Court that there is sufficient support for Plaintiffs’ claims that “the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.”
Similarly and succinctly, Judge Garvis found an equal protection violation:
The Court finds persuasive the D.C. Court’s reasons for applying intermediate scrutiny: transgender individuals appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification, and the Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender. The Court also adopts the D.C. Court’s reasoning in the application of intermediate scrutiny to the Directives and finds that the Plaintiffs herein are likely to succeed on their Equal Protection claim.
However, Judge Garvis also based the equal protection violation on a finding of failure to satisfy "rational basis" (or perhaps rational basis "with bite") review:
Moreover, the Court finds that, based on the exhibits and declarations currently on the record, the Directives are unlikely to survive a rational review. The lack of any justification for the abrupt policy change, combined with the discriminatory impact to a group of our military service members who have served our country capably and honorably, cannot possibly constitute a legitimate governmental interest. See U. S. Dep’t of Agric. v. Moreno, 413 U.S. 528, 534 (1973).
Thus, the Trump Administration now has two district judge opinions to appeal should it desire to pursue its new policies limiting transgender service members.