Monday, July 21, 2014

Ninth Circuit Delays Execution Until Condemned Gets Information

The Ninth Circuit on Saturday ordered the delay of a scheduled execution until the condemned prisoner gets information about the two-drug cocktail that Arizona plans to use.  The court ruled (on a motion for a preliminary injunction) that Joseph Rudolph Wood III had a likelihood of success on the merits, or that he raised a "serious question" on the merits, that the state's denial of information violated the First Amendment. 

The order comes on the heels of a ruling last week by a California federal district judge that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment.  The court's opinion noted the recent botched executions in Oklahoma and Ohio in recognizing the need for publicity and public scrutiny of methods of execution.

The court held that Wood likely had a First Amendment right to information about the cocktail.  The court said that this right derived from the First Amendment right to information about different stages the criminal process, and in particular the right to view executions in California First Amendment Coalition, a Ninth Circuit case that says that "the public enjoys a First Amendment right to view executions from the moment the condemned is escorted into the execution chamber . . . ."

The court also looked to historical practice in transparency in execution methods.  It said that the "evidence does not conclusively establish a historical tradition of public access to the sources of lethal injection or the qualifications of executioners," but still

such exhaustiveness is not required at the preliminary injunction stage.  Instead, we ask only whether Wood raises "serious questions" going to the merits.

Answer: Yes, he does.

The ruling means that Arizona has to provide more particular information about its method of lethal injection before it can execute Wood.  The ruling is a victory for transparency in executions and will likely contribute to the growing public pressure against the death penalty.

July 21, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

No Constitutional Damages for Victims of Rape in Military

The D.C. Circuit ruled on Friday that survivors of rape and sexual assault in the military did not have constitutional damage claims against military officers who failed to address the prevalence of sexual misconduct and retaliation in the Navy and Marine Corps, even in the face of congressional mandates to take action.  (The plaintiffs did not sue their assailants in this case; instead, they sued higher-ups for perpetuating and grossly mismanaging the problem.)  The ruling means that this avenue of relief--the constitutional tort--is unavailable, and that survivors will have to look elsewhere for a remedy.

The three-judge panel declined to apply a Bivens remedy to the survivors' claims that officers violated the First, Fifth, and Seventh Amendments.  (A Bivens remedy would have allowed the survivors to sue the officers for monetary damages, even though there's no statutory authorization for such a suit.)  The court said that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy.  (The court did not say whether other avenues of relief were available, the other part of the Bivens inquiry.)  In particular, the court wrote that "the military context" and "Congress's extensive legislation on this specific issue" were "special factors that counsel decisively against authorizing a Bivens remedy."

The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that rape and sexual assault were not "incident to service," and that therefore the military context shouldn't foreclose a Bivens remedy.  The court said that the plaintiffs did not sue their assailants for rape and sexual assault; instead, they sued higher-ups for creating and failing to change a hostile environment--"a decade's worth of military management decisions," which, according to the court, is exactly the kinds of military decisions that fall outside Bivens's scope.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that officers ignored Congress in failing to establish an investigatory commission and failing to create a database.  The court said that Congress's extensive regulation of the issue, without creating a statutory civil damages remedy, was telling, and that it would violate separation-of-powers principles for the courts to step in and create a remedy when Congress declined.

The ruling aligns with the Fourth Circuit's Cioca v. Rumsfeld and adds to the recent line of cases rejecting Bivens claims for military torture, including Doe v. Rumsfeld, Vance v. Rumsfeld, and Lebron v. Rumsfeld.  In other words, it adds to the well established body of law that says that courts defer entirely  to the military in defining the kinds of military actions that fall outside of Bivens--even when those actions quite clearly have nothing to do with running a good ship.

July 19, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tenth Circuit on the Oklahoma Same-Sex Marriage Ban

What does the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals panel decide in its 106 page divided opinions in Bishop v. Smith?  It's complicated.  

But essentially the Tenth Circuit affirms the district judge's opinion finding the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and extends to Oklahoma its own ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert (by this same panel) from a few weeks ago finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 2.04.37 PMThe complications are caused in part by the procedural posture of the case.   For the majority opinion, authored Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes (as was Herbert v. Kitchen),  the major issue was the standing of the plaintiffs, specifically on the "redressability" prong of standing.  Recall that Oklahoma has both a constitutional amendment and a statute limiting marriage to "a man and a woman" and that the Oklahoma constitutional amendment not only prohibits same-sex marriage but prohibits its recognition even if valid in another state.

The plaintiffs, in a lawsuit filed in 2004 soon after the state constitutional amendment was adopted, challenged only the state constitutional amendment but not the statute. 

Affirming the district judge, the Tenth Circuit held plaintiffs nevertheless had standing because "the statutory prohibitions are subsumed in the challenged constitutional provision, an injunction against the latter’s enforcement will redress the claimed injury."  However, again affirming the district judge, the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the "recognition" portion of the constitutional amendment because the defendant - - - the clerk of court - - - could not redress the non-recognition injury. 

This problem as to the non-recognition of marriage claim is further complicated by the fact that the Tenth Circuit, in considering a dismissal of the Governor and Attorney General as defendants who could redress the injury stated - - - or seemed to state?  - - - that the Clerk of the Court was the correct defendant.  Thus, under a "law of the case" argument, the courts should be bound by that determination.  The Tenth Circuit panel decided it was not bound, in part because of the "new evidence" of an affidavit by the Court Clerk describing her duties.  It also rejected a nonseverability of the recognition and nonrecognition portions of the provision, finding that because it had not been made earlier it was waived. 

As to the merits, the majority held that it was governed by its ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert, although facts and arguments differed "in some respects," the "core holdings are not affected by those differences."  The panel majority did discuss two additional arguments: a Baker v. Nelson argument that lower courts were not free to consider doctrinal developments and the addition of a government interest that "children have an interest in being raised by their biological parents."

Judge Holmes concurred separately to discuss why "animus" was not an appropriate analysis.  Judge Holmes notes that the district judge "wisely" did not rely on animus, and that most of the other decisions invalidating same-sex marriage laws have "exercised the same forebearance."  But, he noted, several other district judges have relied on animus, citing Baskin v. Bogan, Henry v. Himes, DeLeon v. Perry, and Obergefell v. Wymyslo - - - interestingly none of which are in the Tenth Circuit - - - and he used the concurrence to endeavor "to clarify the relationship between animus doctrine and same-sex marriage laws and to explain why the district court made the correct decision in declining to rely upon the animus doctrine."

In his relatively brief partially dissenting opinion,  Judge Paul Kelly contended that there was no standing to challenge the constitutional amendment absent a challenge to the statute and would not reach the merits.  However, he also disagreed on the merits, as he did in the panel's decision in Kitchen v. Herbert.  For Judge Kelly, as he phrases it here:

Removing gender complementarity from the historical definition of marriage is simply contrary to the careful analysis prescribed by the Supreme Court when it comes to substantive due process. Absent a fundamental right, traditional rational basis equal protection principles should apply, and apparently as a majority of this panel believes,  the Plaintiffs cannot prevail on that basis. Thus, any change in the definition of marriage rightly belongs to the people of Oklahoma, not a federal court.

This will be the heart of the matter when - - - rather than if - - - these cases reach the United States Supreme Court.  For now, however, the Tenth Circuit stayed its "mandate pending the disposition of any subsequently-filed petition for writ of certiorari."

July 18, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

California Federal Judge Declares Death Penalty Violates Eighth Amendment

In his opinion today in Jones v. Chappell, federal judge Cormac Carney vacated the death sentence of Ernest Dewayne Jones as violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  

Jones was sentenced to death in 1995 and has been on "death row" in California State Prison at San Quentin since then.  For Judge Carney, this is precisely the problem.  As Carney writes:

Since 1978, when the current death penalty system was adopted by California voters, over 900 people have been sentenced to death for their crimes. Of them, only 13 have been executed. For the rest, the dysfunctional administration of California’s death penalty system has resulted, and will continue to result, in an inordinate and unpredictable period of delay preceding their actual execution. Indeed, for most, systemic delay has made their execution so unlikely that the death sentence carefully and deliberately imposed by the jury has been quietly transformed into one no rational jury or legislature could ever impose: life in prison, with the remote possibility of death. As for the random few for whom execution does become a reality, they will have languished for so long on Death Row that their execution will serve no retributive or deterrent purpose and will be arbitrary.

[emphasis in original]. 

Thus, it is not the arbitrariness in the imposition of the death sentence that is unconstitutional, but the arbitrariness in the execution of the death sentence that renders it unconstitutional.  

Judge Carney's analysis centered on his finding that of the more than 700 persons presently on California's "death row,"

their selection for execution will not depend on whether their crime was one of passion or of premeditation, on whether they killed one person or ten, or on any other proxy for the relative penological value that will be achieved by executing that inmate over any other.  Nor will it even depend on the perhaps neutral criterion of executing inmates in the order in which they arrived on Death Row. Rather, it will depend upon a factor largely outside an inmate’s control, and wholly divorced from the penological purposes the State sought to achieve by sentencing him to death in the first instance: how quickly the inmate proceeds through the State’s dysfunctional post-conviction review process.

Judge Carney then discussed Jones' situation as an example.

To be sure, however, Judge Carney did not view Jones' situation as unique.  Indeed, the opinion contains an 18 page color-coded appendix listing the status of more than 500 persons sentenced to death in California between 1978 -1997.   Here's a bit of it, with the entry for Ernest Jones:

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 9.49.23 PM

Thus, Judge Carney's careful reasoning applies to every person sentenced to death in California, even those sentenced more recently.  California's Attorney General and Governor now have some serious litigation choices to make.

July 16, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

D.C. Circuit: No Free Speech for Complaining Teacher

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a former teacher in the D.C. schools did not enjoy protection under the First Amendment after he was fired for sending an e-mail complaining about his principal's misrepresentation of student test scores to former Chancellor Michelle Rhee. 

The teacher, Bruno Mpoy, had a long list of complaints against his principal, Donald Presswood, when he sent an e-mail to Rhee.  Nearly all of these involved classroom conditions.  But after Mpoy was fired (and undoubtedly aware of the first part of the Garcetti test and the D.C. Circuit's interpretation of it), he focused on this sentence in the e-mail:

Dr. Presswood, the principal of Ludlow Taylor, misrepresented students' performance and results on the DCCAS Alternative [the achievement test used to measure student learning and improvement].

Mpoy argued that this sentence was not written pursuant to his official responsibilities--and that he therefore jumped the first Garcetti hurdle by showing that he spoke "as a citizen."  (As a threshold matter, in order for a public employee's speech to enjoy First Amendment protection, the employee must have spoken (1) as a citizen and (2) on a matter of public concern.  Only then, if a plaintiff can so show, the court goes on to apply the free speech test, whether the government "had an adequate justification for treating the employee differently from any other member of the general public.")

The D.C. Circuit disagreed.  The court ruled that Mpoy wrote this sentence in his capacity as an employee:

In [the context of the e-mail], the sentence about the misrepresentation of the students' results was also plainly a greivance about Presswood's interference with Mpoy's duty to assess and ensure the achievement of his students.

That means that Mpoy didn't even get out of the gate under Garcetti.  No citizen speech; no protected speech; no First Amendment protection.

The court added a section to address the recently decided Lane v. Franks.  In that case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena," when testifying was outside the scope of the employee's "ordinary job responsibilities."  The court considered the possibility that the adjective "ordinary" signalled a narrowing of the area of employee speech left unprotected by Garcetti.  

But the court said that it didn't have to decide that; it ultimately didn't matter.  That's because the school officials could reasonably believe that they could have fired Mpoy--and therefore enjoyed qualified immunity.

July 15, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

On Remand, Fifth Circuit Panel Reconsiders UT's Affirmative Action Plan from Fisher v. University of Texas

By a divided opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a panel of the Fifth Circuit has held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

Recall that more than a year ago, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge).  The Court remanded the case for a  "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation."  The  opinion,  authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal"  of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.

 Today's Fifth Circuit panel decision, authored by Judge Patrick Higginbotham, and joined by Judge Carolyn Dinen King, first decided that it would consider the case.   The panel rejected the standing arguments, including the fact that Abigail Fisher graduated from another university in 2012, because the "actions of the Supreme Court do not allow our reconsideration" of the standing issue.  In other words, the Court knew about the standing issues when it remanded the case in June 2013.  The panel also carefully considered the Court's remand language: "The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”  Fisher argued that the Court required the Fifth Circuit to perform the reconsideration, while the University of Texas argued that the matter should be remanded to the district judge.  On this issue, the Fifth Circuit sided with Fisher, holding that because "there are no new issues of fact that need be resolved, nor is there any identified need for additional discovery; that the record is sufficiently developed; and that the found error is common to both this Court and the district court," a remand to the district judge  "would likely result in duplication of effort."

The panel majority's opinion then discussed in detail the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policies and efforts.  It noted:

“Narrow tailoring does not require exhaustion of every race neutral alternative,” but rather “serious, good faith consideration of workable race- neutral alternatives that will achieve the diversity the university seeks.”  Put simply, this record shows that UT Austin implemented every race-neutral effort that its detractors now insist must be exhausted prior to adopting a race- conscious admissions program—in addition to an automatic admissions plan not required under Grutter that admits over 80% of the student body with no facial use of race at all.

Nevertheless, the panel recognized that this "automatic admissions plan" - - - the Top Ten Percent plan - - - achieves diversity because of the segregation of Texas' high schools.  Under the "holistic view" of Grutter for the remaining 20%, absent a consideration of race, the selection would not be racially diverse.

appendix
appendix 2 in the opinion

Concluding its 40 page opinion, the panel wrote:

In sum, it is suggested that while holistic review may be a necessary and ameliorating complement to the Top Ten Percent Plan, UT Austin has not shown that its holistic review need include any reference to race, this because the Plan produces sufficient numbers of minorities for critical mass. This contention views minorities as a group, abjuring the focus upon individuals— each person’s unique potential. Race is relevant to minority and non-minority, notably when candidates have flourished as a minority in their school— whether they are white or black. Grutter reaffirmed that “[j]ust as growing up in a particular region or having particular professional experiences is likely to affect an individual’s views, so too is one’s own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race still matters.” We are persuaded that to deny UT Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter. The need for such skill sets to complement the draws from majority-white and majority-minority schools flows directly from an understanding of what the Court has made plain diversity is not. To conclude otherwise is to narrow its focus to a tally of skin colors produced in defiance of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court which eschewed the narrow metric of numbers and turned the focus upon individuals. This powerful charge does not deny the relevance of race. We find force in the argument that race here is a necessary part, albeit one of many parts, of the decisional matrix where being white in a minority-majority school can set one apart just as being a minority in a majority-white school—not a proffer of societal discrimination in justification for use of race, but a search for students with a range of skills, experiences, and performances—one that will be impaired by turning a blind eye to the differing opportunities offered by the schools from whence they came.

....  the backdrop of our efforts here includes the reality that accepting as permissible policies whose purpose is to achieve a desired racial effect taxes the line between quotas and holistic use of race towards a critical mass. We have hewed this line here, persuaded by UT Austin from this record of its necessary use of race in a holistic process and the want of workable alternatives that would not require even greater use of race, faithful to the content given to it by the Supreme Court. To reject the UT Austin plan is to confound developing principles of neutral affirmative action, looking away from Bakke and Grutter, leaving them in uniform but without command—due only a courtesy salute in passing.

Dissenting, Judge Emilio Garza essentially contended that the majority was giving deference to the University.  He noted that it is not impossible  "for a public university to define its diversity ends adequately for a court to verify narrow tailoring with the requisite exacting scrutiny," even with the use of "critical mass."  But he somewhat confusing stressed that

What matters now, after Fisher, is that a state actor’s diversity goals must be sufficiently clear and definite such that a reviewing court can assess, without deference, whether its particular use of racial classifications is necessary and narrowly tailored to those goals.

Yet what will matter now is whether this panel will have the last say.  The Fifth Circuit could grant en banc review or the United States Supreme Court will grant certiorari and take yet another look at affirmative action.  

 

July 15, 2014 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Second Circuit Says Required Urine Test Substantially Burdens Religious Freedom

The Second Circuit ruled last week in Holland v. Goord that prison authorities substantially burdened a Muslim prisoner's free exercise of religion when they punished him for failing to complete a urine test within a three-hour window during fasting time for Ramadan.  The plaintiff couldn't complete the test because he refused to drink water during his fast.  (H/t to reader Jeff Wadsworth.)

The ruling means that the case goes back to the trial court to determine whether the prison authorities had a sufficient penalogical interest in requiring the urine test (and the water drinking, in order to facilitate the test) under Turner v. Safley.  But that doesn't look good for the state: the Second Circuit noted that there was no good reason why the authorities couldn't administer the test (and require the plaintiff to drink water) after sundown (indeed, the plaintiff suggested this option himself).  It also noted that the prison subsequently changed its own regulations to allow a religious accommodation to urine testing.

The Second Circuit rejected the plaintiff's invitation to disregard the "substantial burden" test from Employment Division v. Smith.  Instead, the court ruled that the urine test met that requirement, drawing on its own cases saying that the denial of a religious meal is a substantial burden on religion.

The court also rejected the trial court's conclusion that the urine test and water drinking were mere de minimis burdens (because the plaintiff could have made up a drink of water during the fast with one extra day of fasting).  The court said that the plaintiff sufficiently showed that this would have been a "grave sin," even if he could have made up for it.

Because the state changed its rules on urine testing to allow a religious accommodation, the court denied the plaintiff's request for injunctive relief under both his free exercise claim and his RLUIPA claim.  The court rejected other claims, too.  But it remanded the free exercise claim for determination whether the state had a sufficient penalogical interest in conducting the urine test the way that it did, and, if not (as is likely), for money damages.

July 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Seventh Circuit Finds Indiana's Clergy-Only Marriage Solemnization Statute Violates the First Amendment

In its 11 page opinion  today in Center for Inquiry v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk, a panel of the Seventh Circuit has held Indiana  Code §31-­11-­6-­1 violates the First Amendment.  The provision specifies who can solemnize a marriage and includes "religious officials designated by religious groups but omits equivalent officials of secular groups such as humanist societies."   The plaintiffs, a humanist group and a leader of the group deemed a "secular celebrant," were not allowed to solemnize a marriage unless they obtained clergy credentials or "called themselves a religion."

Judge Easterbrook, writing for the unanimous panel, stated that it is unconstitutional to make distinctions between "religious and secular beliefs that hold the same place in adherents’ lives," citing the well known conscientous objector cases of Welsh and Seeger, as well as Torasco v. Watkins, and the Seventh Circuit precedent regarding accommodations for atheists in prison.  There is not, Easterbrook wrote, an "ability to favor religions over non-­‐‑theistic groups that have moral stances that are equivalent to theistic ones except for non-­‐‑belief in God or unwillingness to call themselves religions."

The_solemnisation_of_the_marriage_of_Prince_James_Francis_Edward_Stuart_and_Princess_Maria_Clementina_Sobieska_(Montefiascone_1_September_1719)_by_Agostino_Masucci
The solemnisation of the marriage of Prince James Francis Edward Stuart and Princess Maria Clementina Sobieska (Montefiascone 1 September 1719) by Agostino Masucci via
 

As for Indiana's argument that the humanists were not actually being excluded from solemnizing marriages under the statute, the court had this to say:

Adherents to faiths with clergy can be married in two steps: first they obtain a license, Ind. Code §31-­11-­4-­1, and then they have the marriage solemnized by a priest or equivalent person in the list in §31-­11-­6-­1. (Plaintiffs do not challenge the licensure statute, because religion is irrelevant to that procedure.) Humanists could achieve the same result in three steps: first get a license, then have a humanist celebrant perform a public ceremony appropriate to their beliefs, and finally have a clerk of court or similar functionary solemnize the marriage. That’s true enough—but it just restates the discrimination of which plaintiffs complain. Lutherans can solemnize their marriage in public ceremonies conducted by people who share their fundamental beliefs; humanists can’t. Humanists’ ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in a back office, does not address the injury of which plaintiffs complain.

 Interestingly, the opinion also had something to say about the equal protection problems of the statutory scheme, noting that the distinctions between religions that have clergy and those that do not as well as "the state’s willingness to recognize marriages performed by hypocrites," violate the Equal Protection Clause:

It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a “religion.” It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-­declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the “values” of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.

The court found Indiana's reliance on the Supreme Court's most recent Establishment Clause decision, Town of Greece v. Galloway inapposite, easily distinguishing Galloway as not being about the regulation of private conduct as the Indiana solemnization statute was.

The decision could pave the way for other First Amendment challenges to solemnization statutes that provide a special status for religious clergy.

July 14, 2014 in Equal Protection, Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ninth Circuit Finds DACA Plaintiffs Entitled to Preliminary Injunction to Receive Drivers' Licenses in Arizona

The Ninth Circuit's opinion in Arizona Dream Act Coalition v. Brewer reversed the denial of a preliminary injunction finding that the plaintiffs had a substantial likelihood of success on their equal protection claim.

The plaintiffs challenged an Executive Order by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer that prohibits recipients of the federal program called the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) from obtaining driver’s licenses by using Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States.  The Ninth Circuit panel of judges - - - Harry Pregerson, Marsha S. Berzon, and Morgan Christen - - - in an opinion authored by Pregerson held that even under a rational basis standard of equal protection review, there was no  legitimate state interest that was rationally related to defendants’ decision to treat DACA recipients disparately from other noncitizens who were permitted to use their Employment Authorization Documents as proof of their authorized presence in the United States when applying for driver’s licenses. 

3407031_orig
image via DACAinformation.com

 The major rationale proffered by Arizona for its disparate treatment between classes of noncitizens was that "it is rational to accept (c)(9) and (c)(10) Employment Authorization Documents as proof that the holder’s “presence . . . is authorized under federal law,” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 28-3153(D), because persons with (c)(9) and (c)(10) documents “[are] on a path to lawful status,” while DACA recipients are not."  The court was "unconvinced" that Arizona  "defined 'a path to lawful status' in a meaningful wa," reasoning that "noncitizens’ applications for adjustment of status or cancellation of removal are often denied, so the supposed 'path' may lead to a dead end." 

But even so, the court - - - in what could be considered a back door preemption argument - - - noted that states, including Arizona, “enjoy no power with respect to the classification of aliens,” citing Plyler v. Doe, "so their attempt to distinguish between these noncitizens on the basis of an immigration classification that has no basis in federal law is not likely to withstand equal protection scrutiny."

The court likewise rejected the other four rationales raised by Arizona:

  • that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might expose the Arizona Department of Transportation to legal liability “for issuing driver’s licenses to 80,000 unauthorized immigrants;”
  • that issuing driver’s licenses to DACA recipients might allow DACA recipients to access state and federal benefits to which they are not entitled;
  • that the DACA program might be canceled, requiring Arizona to revoke DACA recipients’ driver’s licenses;
  • that DACA recipients may have their authorized presence revoked at any time, and thereafter may be quickly removed from the United States, leaving those they may have injured in automobile accidents with no financial recourse.

The district judge had similarly found these rationales were not persuasive, but had denied the preliminary injunction for failure to show sufficient irreparable harm.  The Ninth Circuit found there was such harm, faulting the district judge for seeking to "evaluate the severity of the harm to Plaintiffs, rather than simply determining whether the harm to Plaintiffs was irreparable."

The panel split on the viability of the plaintiffs' preemption claim, with Judge Christen concurring separately to contended that plaintiffs' also had a viable preemption claim.

This is an important case for state benefits including licenses that are being denied to DACA receipients, including licenses to practice law.

 

 

July 7, 2014 in Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Court Enjoins Religious Exemption for Contraception Mandate

The Supreme Court this week enjoined the exemption for religious non-profits from the requirement that employer group-health insurance plans include contraceptives.  That exemption allowed a religious nonprofit to notify its health insurer or third-party administrator (using "EBSA Form 700") that it had a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage; at that point, the insurer or administrator would have to provide contraceptives directly to the organization's employees, free of charge.  This week's short, unsigned Order halted the use of EBSA Form 700 and said that petitioner Wheaton College, a religious college in Wheaton, Illinois, could instead write a letter to HHS informing the agency that it is a religious organization and that it has a religious objection to providing coverage for contraceptive services.

In short, the ruling replaced HHS's process for religious exemption (EBSA Form 700) with its own (a letter to HHS). 

The ruling strikes a second serious blow to the contraception requirement.  (The first came earlier this week in Hobby Lobby, which allowed closely-held, for-profit corporations to exempt themselves from certain contraceptives under the requirement, but almost certainly opened up a much wider hole in the requirement (and potentially in many other government regulations).)  The Court was careful to write that its ruling was not a conclusion on the merits.  But it's hard to read it any other way, particularly in light of the mertis discussion in the dissent, the fact that the Court drafted its own exemption procedure for religious non-profits (supplanting HHS's procedure), and the Court's suggestion that it'll take up the merits soon enough.

The ruling isn't clear on how religious non-profits' insurers or administrators will have to provide contraceptive coverage.  Here's the problem: The insurers or administrators only have to provide contraceptive coverage directly to employees upon learning that a religious non-profit objects, usually through receipt of the EBSA Form 700; but the Court's Order says that Wheaton College and by extension other religious non-profits don't have to complete that form.  This leaves it to HHS to figure out whether and how to require insurers and administrators to provide contraceptive coverage directly to the organization's employees.

The Order is strange on several levels.  For one, it replaced the HHS exemption (EBSA Form 700) with its own (a letter to HHS).  But it's not at all clear that the Court's exemption is any less intrusive on Wheaton College's freedom of religion (at least as the College has defined it in challenging EBSA Form 700): Why is writing a letter to HHS any less intrusive than filing Form 700 and sending it to the insurers and administrators?  Wheaton College claimed that the mere certification of its religious objection to the contraception requirement violated its religion (because it made Wheaton College complicit in someone else providing contraception), so why is the letter any better than the form? 

For another, it's also not clear why the Court would take such an aggressive action (essentially overruling a valid federal rule and replacing it with its own) at this stage of the litigation (on an application for an injunction), when the circuits are split on the issue (which, as the dissent points out, has been a basis for denying an injunction by some of the very justices who joined the Court in this Order (including Chief Justice Roberts)).  This hardly seems like a Court merely calling balls and strikes.

For yet another, the Order seems inconsistent with the Court's ruling just earlier this week in Hobby Lobby.  In that case, the majority pointed to HHS's exemption for religious non-profits (the exact same exemption at issue here) as evidence that the contraception requirement for closely held for-profits wasn't narrowly tailored--that is, that the exemption was a way that the government could achieve its interest in providing contraception while still giving closely held for-profits an out.  Yet in this later ruling, the Court stepped back from that exemption and replaced it with its own.

Finally, there's the strangeness that a government-created religious exemption could itself violate free religion.  This is the point that Judge Posner made so strongly in his opinion rejecting Notre Dame's challenge to the exemption.

Justice Sotomayor wrote a lengthy and vigorous dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan, covering everything from the extraordinary relief the Court granted under the very high standard of the All Writs Act to the merits.  She also distinguished the Little Sisters case, in which the Court also allowed a letter to replace the EBSA Form 700: Little Sister's third-party administrator was itself a church plan and exempt from the contraception requirement, so nobody's access to contraception was affected.  Here, the Court's injunction risks depriving employees of Wheaton College of contraception, because the insurer or the administrator only have to provide it upon receipt of the EBSA Form 700.  But under the Court's Order, they won't receive the EBSA Form 700.

As with Hobby Lobby, it's clear that this ruling will extend far beyond the facts of this particular case, likely even farther than the Court itself thought.  How far?  As with Hobby Lobby, only time will tell.

July 5, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

New York's Highest Court Finds Cyberbullying Law Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in People v. Marquan M, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court), found that Albany Local Law 11 (2010)  criminalizing cyberbullying was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. 

The local law for Albany County criminalized cyberbullying against any "minor or person" (with "person" interestingly defined as including corporations) with cyberbullying defined as:

any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.

450px-Bully_Free_ZoneThe majority opinion, authored by Judge Victoria Graffeo for four additional judges over a two-judge dissent, found that the law was overbroad under the First Amendment: "the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult." 

The defendant and his actions here - - - a 15 year old who used Facebook to anonymously post "photographs of high-school classmates and other adolescents, with detailed descriptions of their alleged sexual practices and predilections, sexual partners and other types of personal information," with "vulgar and offensive" "descriptive captions" - - -  were within the "cyberbullying" that the Local Law intended to proscribe.  But even Albany County agreed that the local law was overbroad.  However, the County argued that the severability clause of the local law should be employed to excise the word "person" so that the only covered victims were minors.  But the court found that even that would not "cure all of the law's constitutional ills."   The dissenters would have engaged in saving constructions.

In ruling that a local law intended to criminalize as a misdemeanor cyberbullying did not survive the First Amendment because it was overbroad, New York's highest court left open the possibility that a prohibition of cyberbullying could be more narrowly crafted to survive First Amendment review:  "the First Amendment does not give defendant the right to engage in these activities." 

However, the court's opinion offers little guidance about how such a law or policy should be drafted.  New York's Dignity for All Students Act  as amended in 2012 places the responsibility for developing "policies and procedures intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination" on school boards.  While Albany's law was a general criminal statute, school boards will undoubtedly be considering Marquan M. as they review their current "cyberbullying" prohibitions in light of the First Amendment.  They may also be recalling the Third Circuit's unhelpful intervention in a pair of "My Space" cases in which principals were arguably "bullied. 

And undoubtedly, those interested in cyberbullying in and out of schools will be watching the "true threats on Facebook case," Elonis v. United States, to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next Term.

 [image via]

July 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Eighth Circuit Upholds Constitutionality of University Civility Code

In an exceedingly brief per curiam opinion in Keating v. University of South Dakota, an Eighth Circuit panel reversed the conclusion of a district judge that the university's "civility code" was "impermissibly vague, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The university provision at issue provided:

Faculty members are responsible for discharging their instructional, scholarly and service duties civilly, constructively and in an informed manner. They must treat their colleagues, staff, students and visitors with respect, and they must comport themselves at all times, even when expressing disagreement or when engaging in pedagogical exercises, in ways that will preserve and strengthen the willingness to cooperate and to give or to accept instruction, guidance or assistance.

The plaintiff, a tenure-track physics professor, did not have his employment contract renewed because of a strained relationship with his supervisors, including becoming "quite angry" at a meeting, being the subject of a sexual harassment claim, and sending an email accusing his immediate supervisor of being a lying, back-stabbing sneak.

The panel held that although the "policy employs broad language, that alone does not necessarily prevent an ordinary person from recognizing that certain conduct will result in discharge or discipline."  Instead,

the civility clause articulates a more comprehensive set of expectations that, taken together, provides employees meaningful notice of the conduct required by the policy. The outer contours of the civility clause perhaps are imprecise, but many instances of faculty misconduct would fall clearly within the clause’s proscriptions, thus precluding the conclusion that the policy is facially unconstitutional.

Moreover, the panel found as applied to Keating's conduct, the civility clause was not impermissibly vague.

The use of "civilty clauses" continues to be a contested issue on due process grounds as well as First Amendment grounds.  Here, the Eighth Circuit provides a definitive stamp of approval to such a policy.

 

July 3, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

After Hobby Lobby, What Now?

The Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby this week opened up a potential free-for-all for closely held corporations to challenge all types of federal government regulations in the name of the owners' religious beliefs.  (The only requirement: the reg has to pose a substantial burden on the belief.  But we saw in Hobby Lobby itself how easy it is to meet that standard.)  If so, those regs would be subject to RFRA's strict scrutiny test.  That test requires the government to show that its regulation is the least restrictive way that it can achieve its compelling government interest--a tall order, indeed, and one that the government in other contexts can almost never satisfy.

In other words, the ruling seems to invite a religious exception for unknown numbers of federal laws.  The majority dismissed this worry and did its best to cabin the ruling, but in truth only time will tell how far Hobby Lobby reaches.  We can expect to a flurry of cases testing this.

So: What now?

RobsonConLawProfBlog's own Ruthann Robson answers the question in her excellent post over at The London School of Economics Blog.  Robson says that Congress has three ways to undo the Hobby Lobby ruling: (1) redefine "person" in the Dictionary Act to exclude for-profits; (2) change the level of scrutiny in RFRA (to rational basis review, consistent with the First Amendment standard); or (3) repeal RFRA entirely.

You might say that these options are unfriendly to religions.  But Robson tells us why it's really the ruling itself that's religion-unfriendly.  Robson argues that the ruling actually creates a disincentive for Congress to grant exemptions or accommodations to federal laws for religious organizations.  That's becuase HHS's exemption for religious organizations (like Notre Dame, Little Sisters, and the like) was Exhibit A in the Court's conclusion that the so-called contraception mandate was not the least restrictive way for Congress to require insurers to provide contraception for women.  (After all, if Congress could create an exemption for religious organizations, there's no reason why it couldn't similarly create an exemption for closely held corporations with religious owners.  The fact that Congress had this alternative (and used it for religious organizations, but not for closely held corporations), according to the Court, shows why the so-called contraception mandate wasn't the best tailored way for Congress to achieve its goal.)

Robson's right.  And she's right in arguing that Congress was sloppy and short-sighted in enacting RFRA in the first place, and that now, after Hobby Lobby, it may wreak all sorts of as-yet-unknown havoc.  She concludes:

While Congress should take care when seeking to "reverse" a Supreme Court opinion, Congress did not take such care when ti sought to "overrule" Smith by enacting RFRA.  Now Congress should act quickly and firmly to remedy the problem it caused by enacting RFRA.  What Congress giveth, it can taketh away.  And it should.

July 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Federal District Judge Declares Kentucky's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his opinion today in Love v. Beshear, Judge John Heyburn held that the Kentucky provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but stayed the issuance of an injunction pending a resolution by the Sixth Circuit.

Recall that in February, Judge Heyburn ruled in Bourke v. Beshear that Kentucky's statutory and state constitutional provisions defining marriage as limited to one man and one woman violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause when applied to same-sex spouses married in another state.

Today's opinion considers those same constitutional and statutory provisions - - - KY. CONST. § 233A; KY. REV. STAT. ANN. §§ 402.005, .020(1)(d) (West 2014) - - - but in the context of a right to marry under Kentucky law.  And, not surprisingly, today's opinion reaches similar conclusions to the earlier case of Bourke v. Beshear.

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Judge Heyburn quickly concludes that Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), in which the Supreme Court dismissed “for want of a substantial federal question” a challenge to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling concluding that a same-sex couple did not have the right to marry under the federal Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses, is not precedential.  It "is difficult to take seriously the argument that Baker bars Plaintiffs’ challenge," given that the rule for the precedential value of a summary disposition includes the exception "unless doctrinal developments indicate that the Court would rule differently now."  As Judge Heyburn states: "Since 1972, a virtual tidal wave of pertinent doctrinal developments has swept across the constitutional landscape."

In considering these doctrinal developments and the applicable standard of scrutiny under Equal Protection doctrine, Judge Heyburn first considers the right at stake.  He analyzes whether the right to marry is a fundamental right, but concludes that this precise question is one that "neither the Supreme Court nor the Sixth Circuit has answered."  Heyburn declines to engage in "overreaching" on this issue, because the fundamental rights analysis is unnecessary given the analysis regarding sexual orientation classifications.

Judge Heyburn's conclusion on the level of scrutiny to be applied is intermediate scrutiny.  Note that this is a departure from his earlier decision in Bourke to apply rational basis.  Here, his conclusion - - - admittedly not supported by specific Supreme Court or Sixth Circuit precedent - -  is that "homosexual persons constitute a quasi-suspect class based on the weight of the factors and on analogy to the classifications recognized as suspect and quasi- suspect.” He reaches this conclusion by applying four factors:  historical discrimination;  the ability to contribute to society;  immutable defining characteristics; and  political powerlessness.  Thus, the opinion would ordinarily then apply the  intermediate scrutiny standard as articulated by the court: "“substantially related to an important governmental objective."

But Judge Heyburn takes a different path, similar to the one he took in Bourke v. Beshear:

Ultimately, Kentucky’s laws banning same-sex marriage cannot withstand constitutional review regardless of the standard. The Court will demonstrate this by analyzing Plaintiffs’ challenge under rational basis review.

In discussing Kentucky's profferred interests, Judge Heyburn writes that the state's "arguments are not those of serious people."  Moreover, he concludes that the means chosen are not rationally related:

Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.

Judge Heyburn's last section of the opinion addresses Kentuckians, but in a much more restrained manner than his earlier opinion in Bourke.  In Love v. Beshear, Judge Heyburn notes

Since this Court’s Bourke opinion [in February 2014], the legal landscape of same-sex marriage rights across the country has evolved considerably, with eight additional federal district courts and one circuit court invalidating state constitutional provisions and statutes that denied same-sex couples the right to marry.

Heyburn cites the Tenth Circuit's opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert, as well as the district court opinions in Baskin v. Bogan (Indiana); Wolf v. Walker (Wisconsin);   Whitewood v. Wolf (Pennsylvania); Geiger v. Kitzhaber (Oregon); Latta v. Otter  (Idaho); De Leon v. Perry (Texas);  DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan); and  Bostic v. Rainey  (Virgina).

He adds that with "this opinion, this Court joins their company."

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Sixth Circuit will also join this increasingly large assembly.

July 1, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Sharply Divided Court Takes Another Shot at Public Sector Fair Share

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn that a state cannot require nonunionized home-healthcare workers, or personal assistants, in the state's Medicaid program to pay "fair share" union dues.  The majority held that a fair-share-dues requirement for non-union members violates their First Amendment association rights.

The ruling is a victory for non-unionized home-healthcare workers, and for anti-union types generally.  But on the other hand, the ruling did not go as far as it might have in striking public sector fair share requirements.  The majority took another shot at public sector fair share requirements (it earlier took a shot in Knox), prompting the dissent to go to great lengths to defend the constitutionality of those requirements, and setting up those requirements (yet again) for reconsideration.

In other words, the majority strongly criticized Abood, but did not overrule it.  The dissent vigorously defended it.  We can expect more challenges, with the Court moving to overturn it.  (Abood held that a state may require fair share fees for non-union members in a public sector union in the interests of preventing free-riding and labor peace.)

We posted most recently on the case here.

The majority (penned by Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) held that personal assistants were not full state employees--they're supervised principally by the individual clients they serve.  Moreover, state law limits the union's role in representing them.  As a result, the Court said that Abood's rationales don't apply, and declined to "extend" Abood.  The Court applied "exacting scrutiny" and held that the state fair-share requirement failed.

The dissent (penned by Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor) disagreed that personal assistants were different than public employees for Abood purposes.  Dissenters would have applied Abood in a straightforward way and upheld the state fair-share requirement. 

But while the majority and dissent jousted over the status of personal assistants (in relation to public employees in Abood)--and while the majority ultimately hung its hat on its distinction between public employees and personal assistants--it was clear that the real struggle is over Abood itself.  The majority left it hanging (once again) by a thread, while the dissent vigorously defended it. 

As in Knox, the majority opinion here begs for another case, another chance to overturn Abood--a move that would strike a very serious blow to public sector unions.  In the meantime, it continues to chip away at Abood's foundation, planting time bombs in Harris and Knox that it will use whenever it gets the next case that puts Abood squarely within its range. 

Until that time comes, however, Abood stays on the books.  And public sector fair-share requirements survived again, even if bruised and battered.

June 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"

On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act)  to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage?  Here's our primer on the issues for more detail.  Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results. 

The oral arguments  in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision. 

Birth_Control_Review_1919bThe majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim.  The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.

The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.

Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong.  However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.

 Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion.  As we discussed,  Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.

 The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg,  joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons).  The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of  "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."  Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:

And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.”  I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.

Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.”  Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.

[citations and footnotes omitted].

Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."

However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.

[image via]

June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Third Circuit on Statute of Limitations in Establishment Clause Challenges

Here's the problem:

In August 2008, a municipality erected a sign "Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!," with a directional arrow and “1 BLOCK” written on it, and depicting a gold cross and a white Bible, on a right of way bordering a property owner's property.  The property owner engaged in a bit of her own speech, on her own property, posting a sign of her own directly in front of the church sign which read "This Church Sign Violates My Rights As A Taxpayer & Property Owner. Residential Neighborhoods Are Not Zoned For Advertisement Signs!”  The municipality threatened the property owner with sanctions for her sign, which she removed.  The propery owner filed a complaint pursuant to 42 USC §1983 in federal court in November 2012 alleging constitutional violations by the municipality based on the church sign, which remains standing, and her own offending sign, which she had removed.  The state statute of limitations for tort claims is two years.

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Downtown Shickshinny, Pennsylvania via

The Third Circuit's opinion in Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny addressed exactly this problem.  The complaint alleged that the "church sign" violated the Establishment Clause, while the threats to prosecute plaintiff for erecting her own sign violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment.   Generally, because §1983 does not have a statute of limitations,  state law provides the applicable time limitations.  The district judge dismissed the complaint based on the statute of limitations because the actions occurred more than two years prior to the filing of the complaint.  Reversing on the Establishment Clause claim only, the Third Circuit found that the state statute of limitations did not bar the claim.

The plaintiff's attorney argued that the two year statute of limitations for the church sign should be viewed as a "continuing violation."  As the court noted, this is more often part of a statute of limitations inquiry in an employment discrimination case: "where only in retrospect will a plaintiff recognize that seemingly unconnected incidents were, in fact, part and parcel of a larger discriminatory pattern."  But here, the court accepted the municipality's argument that the continuing violation doctrine does not apply because the sign "is merely an effect" of the action  - - - erecting the sign - - -that was within the statute of limitations.

But the Third Circuit found that the state's two year statute of limitations was inapplicable because although §1983 does not have a statute of limitations and state law provides the pertinent time limitations, this is true only "if it is not inconsistent with federal law or policy to do so.” Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261 (1985).  The Court found that Establishment Clause rights are very important and that while other constitutional rights are also important

what further distinguishes Tearpock-Martini’s claim, and Establishment Clause claims in general, is that the traditional rationales justifying a limitations period—“to protect defendants against stale or unduly delayed claims,” “facilitat[e] the administration of claims,” and “promot[e] judicial efficiency,” [citation omitted] —simply have no persuasive force in this context. Tearpock-Martini’s challenge is to a still- existing monument that communicates anew an allegedly unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government each time it is viewed. Strict application of the statutory limitations period both serves no salutary purpose and threatens to immunize indefinitely the presence of an allegedly unconstitutional display.

Moreover, the Third Circuit noted that it could not find any precedent for finding an Establishment Clause challenge time-barred in a passive monument case, and indeed the cases were the opposite, citing, most persuasively, Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005) (display of Ten Commandments challenged 40 years after installation).

 The Third Circuit's conclusion seems exactly right: how can there be a statute of limitations on an Establishment Clause violation of a passive monument?  However, in this case, because this particular plaintiff knew about the sign, and even objected to it, one could have expected her to act more quickly.  Yet the very notion of an Establishment Clause violation caused by a still existing monument or even sign is that it is a continuing one.

June 27, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Court Reads Broad Appointment Authority, but Strikes NLRB Appointees

The Supreme Court today in NLRB v. Noel Canning gave a broad reading to the Recess Appointment Clause, but nevertheless struck President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB, ruling that the Senate was in session.  The ruling means that the NLRB lacked a quorum when it issued an order to Noel Canning, a Pepsi distributor, and that order is invalid.  It's not clear yet how many other offices may be affected by the ruling.  Our oral argument review (with a link to our preview) is here.

The ruling hands a defeat to President Obama in the short run (on the NLRB appointments), and, despite the broad reading of the clause, may hinder presidents in the future.  That's becuase the Court said that the Senate is in session when it says it is, provided that it retains power to act, as it did here.  That means that even when the Senate meets in pro forma sessions, as here, presidential appointments have to follow the usual course and get Senate confirmation (instead of dodging Senate confirmation through the recess appointment mechanism).  As a result, the Senate can frustrate a president's ability to recess-appoint a nominee by going into pro forma sessions (again, with the ability to act), thus forcing a president to gain Senate confirmation (which, as we've seen, may be a difficult or impossible task).

The Court said that any session more than 3 days but shorter than 10 days is presumptively too short to constitute a recess of the Senate and thus to allow a recess appointment.  And again: the Senate gets to say, presumptively, when it's in recess.

As to a recess over 3 days: the Adjournment Clause (Art. I, Sec. 5) allows the House to prevent a recess of the Senate.  This gives even the House the power to block a recess--and recess appointments--for any period over 3 days.  That means that the House could block a recess appointment by denying the Senate consent to recess.

Because the Senate was in session when President Obama made the NLRB appointments--because it said it was, and because it retained power to act, even if it was in pro forma sessions--the Court ruled them invalid.

At the same time, the Court handed the executive branch a victory on its broader reading of the Recess Appointments Clause.  Thus the Court ruled that a "recess" includes both inter-session recesses and intra-session recesses.  It also ruled that "vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate" include vacancies that first come into existence during a recess and vacancies that initially occurred before a recess but continued during the recess.

The judgment striking the NLRB appointees was unanimous.  But Justice Scalia wrote a concurrence, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito.  Justice Scalia wrote that the majority went too far in reading a broader Recess Appointment Clause and relied too heavily on prior presidential practice:

To reach [its] result, the majority casts aside the plain, original meaning of the constitutional text in deference to late-arising historical practices that are ambiguous at best.  The majority's insistence on deferring to the Executive's untenably broad interpretation of the power is in clear conflict with our precedent and forebodes a dimunition of this Court's role in controversies involving the separation of powers and the structure of government.

June 26, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Federal District Judge Invalidates Indiana Laws Banning Same-Sex Marriage

In his decision today in Baskin v. Bogan, United States District Judge Richard Young permanently enjoined Indiana officials from enforcing its requirement that marriage requires a female and a male, and its ban on the recognition of same sex marriages legally valid in other states, Indiana Code Section 31-11-1-1 (subsections a & b).

621px-Flag_map_of_Indiana.svgAfter resolving problems of the proper defendant and quickly disposing of the argument that Baker v. Nelson's summary finding by the Supreme Court in 1972 has meaningful precedential value, Judge Young's opinion proceeds along three separate tracks.

First, Judge Young finds that marriage is a fundamental right and therefore the statutory ban on same-sex marriage should be subject to strict scrutiny.  Judge Young concluded that the scope of the fundamental right is not limited, quoting Judge Black's opinion in Henry v. Himes that the United States Supreme Court has not limited this fundamental right in its pertinent cases; the Court  "consistently describes a general ‘fundamental right to marry’ rather than ‘the right to interracial marriage,’ ‘the right to inmate marriage,’ or ‘the right of people owing child support to marry.’"  Applying strict scrutiny, Judge Young articulates the state's proffered interest "in conferring the special benefit of civil marriage to only one man and one woman is justified by its interest in encouraging the couple to stay together for the sake of any unintended children that their sexual union may create," but declines to asess it and assumes that it is "sufficiently important interest."  However, Judge Young finds that the state has not demonstrated that the statute is “closely tailored” to that interest, but instead is  "both over- and under-inclusive."

Second, Judge Young analyzes the statute on the basis of equal protection, rejecting the argument that the statute makes a gender classification and concluding that it makes a sexual orientation classification.  While Judge Young contends that while it might be time to "reconsider" whether sexual orientation classifications should be analyzed under rational basis scrutiny, the "court will leave that decision to the Seventh Circuit, where this case will surely be headed."  Applying rational basis scrutiny, however, Judge Young concludes that there is no rational relationship to the interests proffered by the state.

Third, Judge Young independently analyzes subsection b of the statute, applying to recognition.  The judge notes that the "parties agree that out-of-state, same-sex marriages are treated differently than out-of-state, opposite-sex marriages," and thus "the question is whether that difference violates the Equal Protection Clause."  Again, applying rational basis scrutiny, Judge Young concludes:

Defendants proffer that the state refuses to recognize same-sex marriages because it conflicts with the State’s philosophy of marriage – that is that marriage is to ameliorate the consequences of unintended children. Recognizing the valid same-sex marriages performed in other states, however, has no link whatsoever to whether opposite-sex couples have children or stay together for those children. Thus, there is no rational basis to refuse recognition and void out-of-state, same-sex marriages.

Judge Young's opinion is economical (at 36 pages), well-structured, and well-supported with relevant citations.  Judge Young did not issue a stay of his opinion.  One assumes that such a decision may be sought from the Seventh Circuit.

UPDATE HERE

June 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tenth Circuit Holds Utah's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional in a Divided Decision

In a divided decision, the Tenth Circuit opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert held that the

Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex, and that [Utah's state constitution's] Amendment 3 and similar statutory enactments do not withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Affirming the district court's decision as well as its analysis, the Tenth Circuit panel majority, authored by Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes, applied strict scrutiny because it found that the "right to marry is a fundamental liberty."

In applying strict scrutiny, the panel majority assumed that three of the four interests advanced by the government - - - (1) “fostering a child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents to subordinate their own interests to the needs of their children”; (2) “children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers—or at least by a married mother and father—in a stable home”; (3) “ensuring adequate reproduction” - - - were compelling.  However, the court found that the means chosen - - - the prohibition of same-sex marriage - - - did not sufficiently serve these interests.  Instead, each of the

justifications rests fundamentally on a sleight of hand in which same-sex marriage is used as a proxy for a different characteristic shared by both same-sex and some opposite-sex couples.

The court noted that Justice Scalia, dissenting in Windsor, and numerous district judges, reached a similiar conclusion.  The majority observed that the lack of narrow tailoring is "often revealed" by underinclusiveness, finding it important that Utah did not ban nonprocreative marriages. 

The court's analysis of each of the three rationales is substantial and erudite, firmly rooted in precedent and well-reasoned.

As to the fourth and final interest asserted by the government - - -“accommodating religious freedom and reducing the potential for civic strife,” - - - the court reasoned that "the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public opposition cannot provide cover for a violation of fundamental rights" and emphasized that its "decision relates solely to civil marriage." 

Dissenting from the more than 60 page majority opinion, Judge Paul Kelly wrote more than 40 pages in disagreement (although he did agree with the majority on the standing issue, making the opinion concurring in part).   Not surprisingly, he disagreed with the level of scrutiny to be applied; he concluded that there was no fundamental right at issue and would have applied rational basis scrutiny.  Also not surprisingly, he would have concluded that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage satisfied this most easily satisfied level of scrutiny given the state's interests in (1) responsible procreation, (2) effective parenting, and (3) the desire to proceed cautiously in this evolving area.

More surprisingly, Judge Kelly found that the Supreme Court's per curiam dismissal in 1972 of Baker v. Nelson, for "want of a substantial federal question" controlling ; it  "should foreclose the Plaintiffs’ claims, at least in this court," notwithstanding the Court's decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act's ban on recognition of same-sex marriage last term in Windsor.

 If - -  and most probably when - - - the United States Supreme Court does consider the issue of state laws banning same-sex marriage, Baker v. Nelson will be irrelevant and the Court will directly grapple with issues if fundamental constitutional rights and levels of scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process and equal protection doctrines. 

Given that the Tenth Circuit stayed its decision pending the disposition of any subsequently filed petition for certiorari it may be that both sides seek review from the United States Supreme Court,

June 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)