Sunday, September 29, 2013
The Fourth Circuit ruled last week in Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech v. Insley that a Virginia state ban on alcohol advertising in college newspapers violated the First Amendment as applied to student papers at Virginia Tech and U.Va.
The ruling means that the law can't ban these papers from running alcohol ads. But it also means that the law stay on the books and ineffect as to other student newspapers, unless and until they successfully challenge it, too.
Virginia law says,
Advertisements of alcoholic beverages are not allowed in college student publications unless in reference to a dining establishment . . . .
Student newspapers at Virginia Tech and U.Va. sued, arguing that the ban violated free speech. In a first round of litigation, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the ban didn't violate the First Amendment on its face. But the court remanded the case to determine whether the ban violated the First Amendment as applied to these two papers.
The court ruled last week that it did. In particular, the court held that the ban isn't appropriately tailored to the state's aim--that is, that the ban isn't more extensive than necessary to serve the government's interest--and thus violated the fourth prong of the Central Hudson test for regulations of commercial speech.
The problem was that the ban was designed to reduce under-age drinking, but the majority of the newspapers' readers were over 21. "Thus, the College newspapers have a protected interest in printing non-misleading alcohol advertisements, just as a majority of the College Newspapers' readers have a protected interest in receiving that information." Op. at 21.
As to the state's interest in preventing alcohol abuse by those over 21, the court said that the ban did exact what the Supreme Court prohibited in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc.: it sought to "keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good." Op. at 22 (quoting Sorrell).
Friday, September 27, 2013
The Eighth Circuit this week in Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Inc. v. Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control upheld Missouri's requirement that liquor wholesalers reside in Missouri against a dormant Commerce Clause challenge. The ruling means that Missouri's law stays on the books, at least for now.
The case pitted the equal treatment requirement of the dormant Commerce Clause against the state's authority to regulate alcohol under the Twenty-first Amendment. In the Supreme Court's last foray into that area, in Granholm v. Heald, the Court struck a state law allowing in-state wineries to ship their products directly to in-state consumers, but requiring out-of-state wineries to sell through wholesalers. The law meant that in-state wineries could sell their wine at lower costs. The Court said that "the Twenty-first Amendment does not supersede other provisions of the Constitution and, in particular, does not displace the [dormant Commerce Clause] rule that States may not give a discriminatory preference to their own producers."
But the Supreme Court also noted that its holding didn't call into question the constitutionality of the three-tier distribution system set by the state--producers, wholesalers, and retailers. In particular, it wrote (in dicta) that the three-tier distribution system is "unquestionably legitimate" and that the system includes the "licensed in-state wholesaler." It also wrote that state policies that define the structure of the liquor distribution system--and that give equal treatment to in-state and out-of-state liquor products and producers--are "protected under the Twenty-first Amendment."
Missouri's law requires wholesalers to be "resident corporation[s]." That means that the corporation has to be incorporated under Missouri law, all of its officers and directors must be residents of Missouri for at least three years, and resident stockholders must own at least 60 percent. The law has a grandfather clause, exempting licensed wholesalers as of January 1, 1947. (There is currently just one such wholesaler.)
The Eighth Circuit upheld the law against the dormant Commerce Clause challenge. In particular, the court held that there was no evidence of protectionist intent. And it said that under Granholm the law didn't discriminate against out-of-state products or producers, and that under Granholm states could require wholesalers to be "in-state."
The court held that Missouri's law easily passed the "deferential scrutiny" that Granholm says applies to state policies defining the distribution system. It said that the legislature could have believed that a wholesaler governed by Missouri residents might be more socially responsible and promote temperance, and that Missouri residents might be more likely to respond to concerns of the community. The court also said that the legislature could have concluded that in-state residency promotes law enforcement.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
The en banc Sixth Circuit divided sharply today over whether Michigan workers could sue their employer, claims manager, and employer's doctor under federal civil RICO for engaging in a fraudulent scheme involving the mail to deny the workers state workers' compensation benefits.
The case, Jackson v. Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc., arose when employees of Coca-Cola applied for, and were denied, workers' compensation benefits under Michigan law. The employees sued Coca-Cola, Coke's claims management service, and a cooperating doctor under federal civil RICO for colluding to deny them their benefits. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim wasn't cognizable.
The en banc Sixth Circuit agreed. The court held that the plaintiffs failed to allege that they were "injured in [their] business or property" as required by RICO for civil damages.
But then the court went on to say that this conclusion "is confirmed by" the clear-statement principle in Gregory v. Ashcroft. The majority said that under the clear-statement principle Congress must make clear when it intends federal law to displace state law in an area traditionally regulated by the states. Here, the majority held that RICO doesn't have a sufficiently clear statement of intent to displace state workers' compensation law, and so the clear-statement principle confirms the court's conclusion that the plaintiffs can't use federal civil RICO to attack the state workers' compensation scheme.
Judge Moore dissented, joined by four other judges. Judge Moore argued that "the majority makes the erroneous assumption that the clear-statement rule would even apply in this context." She argued that the majority's approach is inconsistent with the Supreme Court's clear instruction to read RICO broadly.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Third Circuit panel this week in NCAA v. Governor of New Jersey upheld the federal law prohibiting states from licensing sports gambling against a challenge that it exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, impermissibly commandeered the states, and violated the principle of equal sovereignty among the states.
The case was a significant test of congressional authority after NFIB v. Sebelius (upholding the ACA's individual mandate under congressional taxing authority, but ruling that it exceeded congressional Commerce Clause authority) and a significant test of the principle of equal sovereignty among the states after Shelby County v. Holder (ruling that the preclearance formula in the Voting Rights Act violated the principle of equal sovereignty among the states and exceeded congressional authority under the Fifteenth Amendment).
The Third Circuit panel rejected both arguments--and the commandeering argument, too--and upheld the federal prohibition. (The court also ruled that the plaintiffs, sports leagues, had standing to challenge the New Jersey law--in part because the law was directed at them (even if indirectly) and because they would have suffered a reputational injury by association with gambling.)
sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote . . . a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.
The Fourth Circuit's opinion in Bland v. Roberts addresses whether Sheriff Roberts violated the First Amendment rights of the six plaintiffs by terminating their employment in retailiation for their support of his opponent in an election, and whether Roberts has immunity. The court reverses in part the grant of summary judgment to the sheriff by the district judge.
As the panel notes, the applicable doctrine is a merging of public employee speech doctrine, especially their rights to speak as private citizens which was clearly the case here, and "the established jurisprudence governing the discharge of public employees, because of their political beliefs and affiliation," as in Elrod v. Burns (1976) and Branti v. Finkel (1980).
An important question for some of the plaintiffs was whether some of their actions "on Facebook" met the First Amendment threshold of "speech." The district court had concluded that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page was insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” but the Fourth Circuit panel disagreed. Its discussion of Fabeook's "like" - - - citing the amicus brief of Facebook, Inc. and posts on the Facebook site such as "What is a Facebook Page?" - - - led to its conclusion that once one understands the nature of what one of the plaintiffs
did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech. On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.
Moreover, the importance of Facebook was clear, given that Sheriff Roberts "specifically warned his employees not to support [his rival] Adams through Facebook." Roberts also seemingly specifically "threatened that Adams supporters would not be reappointed."
Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit panel found that three of the six plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to create a jury question. Additionally, the panel found that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity given the state of the law and Eleventh Amendment immunity as to money damanges, but not on the issue of reinstatement.
Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, a Maryland District Judge sitting by designation, wrote separately to dsisagree on the issue of qualified immunity on the state of the law.
The majority concludes that, at the relevant time, “a reasonable sheriff could have believed he had the right to choose not to reappoint his sworn deputies for political reasons,” and, on this basis, it determines that Sheriff Roberts is protected by qualified immunity with respect to his discharge of [the three plaintiffs]. In my view, when these deputies were discharged in December 2009, the law was clearly established that a sheriff’s deputy with the job duties of a jailer could not be fired on the basis of political affiliation.
This case will most likely be cited and known for its finding of "like" on Facebook as speech. But in addition, with its interweaving First Amendment issues and its questions of qualified immunity, Eleventh Amendment and otherwise, this case could be the basis of an interesting in-class exercise - - - or even exam question - - - for ConLawProfs.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The Sixth Circuit's succinct and unanimous opinion in Autocam Corporation v. Sebelius sided with the Third Circuit's July opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties and against the en banc Tenth Circuit's June majority opinion in Hobby Lobby on the issue of whether a for-profit secular business has a free exercise of religion right (as a person) under RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. There is some intertwining of the First Amendment free exercise of religion claim, but the Autocam decision rests on RFRA.
Autocam, like Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby, and its owners, argue that the regulations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“ACA”) requiring employers cover contraceptive methods for their employees - - - often called the contraceptive mandate - - - infringes on their religious rights. Autocam, like the others, is a large corporation. And a quick look at Autocam's "mission" on its website indicates no expression of a religious purpose, but only providing superior products.
The Sixth Circuit interestingly found that while Autocam as a corporation had standing to assert its claims, the Kennedy family as members (owners?) of a "closely held corporation" did not have shareholder standing: "Generally, shareholders of a corporation cannot bring claims intended to redress injuries to a corporation, even when the corporation is closely held." The Kennedys argued that this rule should not apply in RFRA claims, but the court found nothing in RFRA to support their view. Further, the court rejected their claims they were individually harmed or that a "pass through" theory could be applied.
As to the merits of the corporation's assertion of personhood under RFRA, the court found that RFRA did not support such an interpretation, and moreover, "Reading the term “person” in the manner suggested by Autocam would lead to a significant expansion of the scope of the rights the Free Exercise Clause" protected prior to Employment Division v. Smith and the enactment of RFRA.
By affirming the denial of the preliminary injunction by the district judge, the Sixth Circuit panel has entered the fray of a circuit split on the issue. With its unamious opinion, it does tilt the "count" toward a nonrecognition of religious rights of secular for proft corporations (recall that the en banc Tenth Circuit opinion was closely divided and the Third Circuit panel opinion was also split; additionally earlier this month a senior district judge in the Tenth Circuit applied applied Hobby Lobby to a for-profit nursing home chain.) However, the Sixth Circuit opinion adds little new to the analysis of this issue increasingly ripe for Supreme Court review.
September 18, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, September 12, 2013
The Illinois Supreme Court ruled today in Illinois v. Aguilar that a state law banning the aggravated unlawful use of weapons, or AUUW, violated the Second Amendment. At the same time, the court upheld state law banning possession of a firearm, or UPF, by a person under 18 years of age.
The ruling overturns the conviction of the criminal defendant in the case under the AUUW, but upholds the conviction under the UPF.
But the ruling is limited to the state's old (and defunct) AUUW and doesn't affect current law. That's because Aguilar was convicted under the state's old AUUW. The Seventh Circuit already struck that law as violating the Second Amendment (and later denied en banc review) in Moore v. Madigan. The state has since amended the law to allow for concealed carry of firearms with a permit and with certain restrictions. Thus today's ruling only affects Aguilar; it doesn't say anything about the state's current law.
Illinois's old AUUW--the one Aguilar was convicted under--says:
(a) A person commits the offense of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon when he or she knowingly:
(1) Carries on or about his or her person or in any vehicle or concealed on or about his or her person except when on his or her land or in his or her abode or fixed place of business any pistol, revolver, stun gun or taser or other firearm; [and]
(3) One of the following factors is present:
(A) the firearm possessed was uncased, loaded and immediately accessible at the time of the offense . . . .
The court, following the Seventh Circuit in Moore, held that the Second Amendment includes a right to keep and bear arms outside the home for individual self-defense, and that the "comprehensive," "categorical" ban in the old AUUW law "amounts to a wholesale statutory ban on the exercise of a personal right that is specifically named in and guaranteed by the United States Constitution, as construed by the United States Supreme Court." The court said, "In no other context would we permit this, and we will not permit it here either.
At the same time, the court upheld the state's UPF law. (That law was not changed in the wake of Moore.) It says:
A person commits the offense of unlawful possession of firearms or firearm ammunition when:
(a) He is under 18 years of age and has in his possession any firearm of a size which may be concealed upon the person . . . .
The court said that the Second Amendment doesn't protect a juvenile's right to possess a firearm--that the UPF restriction falls into the category of allowable "longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms" that the Supreme Court carved out in Heller. The court said that laws banning possession of firearms by minors have been around for a long time (even if many colonies permitted or even required minors to own and possess firearms for purposes of militia service, as Aguilar argued).
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson (D.D.C.) today denied the American Meat Institute's motion for a preliminary injunction against new meat labeling rules of the Agriculatural Marketing Service. The AMI argued in American Meat Institute v. USDA that the new country-of-origin, or COOL, rules violated the First Amendment, the Agriculture Marketing Act, and the Administrative Procedures Act. When the AMI sought a preliminary injunction, Judge Jackson ruled that it failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on any of the claims.
The AMS's COOL rule, final and published in May 2013, requires meat labels that designate the country where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered, in three categories: Category A, "Born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States"; Category B, "Born in Country X, raised and slaughtered in the United States"; Category C, "Born and raised in Country X, slaughtered in the United States"; and Category D, "Product of Country X." In so designating, the 2013 rule does not allow "commingling of muscle cut covered commodities of different origins"--that is, it doesn't allow meat from different countries to be commingled in the same labeled package. (The 2009 rule did allow commingling, but the AMS changed it in 2013 in order to comply with a WTO ruling and to "let consumers benefit from mor especific labels.")
The AMI alleged that the 2013 COOL rule violated free speech, but Judge Jackson disagreed. The court wrote that Zauderer rationality rule applied (and not the Central Hudson intemediate scrutiny test), because the COOL rule is a disclosure requirement that deals with only "purely factual and uncontroversial" disclosures about where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered, and because the 2013 rule targeted "deceptive speech" insofar as the earlier rule would have caused confusion about the origin of commingled meat.
The court held that Zauderer's rationality was easily met here: "there is clearly a reasonable relationship between the government's interest in preventing consumer confusion about the origins of muscle cut meat, on the one hand, and the required disclosure of specific production step information, on the other."
The ruling comes on the heels of two cases from the D.C. Circuit addressing when Zauderer or Central Hudson applies. In one, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. FDA, the D.C. Circuit held that Central Hudson applied to FDA regs requiring certain textual warnings and graphic pictures on cigarette packages, because the pictures weren't designed to correct consumer confusion or otherwise correct deceptive speech. But in the other, Spirit Airlines v. USDOT, the D.C. Circuit held that Zauderer applied to a DOT rule requiring that the total cost of airfare, inclusive of tax, be the most prominent price displayed on airline advertisements and travel websites. The court said that DOT's regs required factual information and was directed at possibly misleading commercial speech.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Sexual solicitation statutes suffer from challenges based upon overbreadth and vagueness. In its opinion in Bushco, Inc. v. Shurtleff, a panel of the Tenth Circuit upheld amendments to Utah's statute, reversing the district judge on the unconstitutionality of one of the provisions.
1. A person is guilty of sexual solicitation when the person: ... .
c. with intent to engage in sexual activity for a fee or to pay another person to commit any sexual activity for a fee engages in, offers or agrees to engage in, or requests or directs another to engage in any of the following acts:
i. exposure of a person’s genitals, the buttocks, the anus, the pubic area, or the female breast below the top of the areola;
iii. touching of a person’s genitals, the buttocks, the anus, the pubic area, or the female breast; or
iv. any act of lewdness.
2. An intent to engage in sexual activity for a fee may be inferred from a person’s engaging in, offering or agreeing to engage in, or requesting or directing another to engage in any of the acts described in Subsection (1)(c) under the totality of the existing circumstances.
The Tenth Circuit, like the trial judge, rejected the First Amendment challenges, applied the test for expressive conduct from the 1968 case of United States v. O'Brien, and found that all the O'Brien prongs were satisfied. It did note, however, an as-applied challenge to overbreadth was possible.
On the vagueness claim, the panel found that § 1313(1)(c) was not unconstitutionally vague, again affirming the district judge. However, the Tenth Circuit panel disagreed with the trial judge's conclusion that the subsequent provision - - - § 1313(2) - - - was unconstitutionally vague. Instead, the Tenth Circuit panel found that the language "under the totality of the existing circumstances" would constrain a police officer's discretion rather than encouraging arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement as the district judge had reasoned.
The Tenth Circuit's opinion demonstrates how difficult it is to prevail on a challenge to a sex solicitation challenge. Interestingly, it was Bushco, Inc, an escort service company, that appealed from its partial victory in the district court, with the State Attorney filing a cross-appeal.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
In its opinion in Demers v. Austin, a panel of the Ninth Circuit this week explicitly ruled that First Amendment claims concerning "teaching and writing on academic matters by teachers employed by the state" are not governed by the Court's decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. Decided in 2006, Garcetti denied First Amendment protections to a prosecutor who testified for the defense regarding his misgivings about the veracity of an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant and then suffered adverse employment actions. Garcetti has made First Amendment claims arising from a course of employment exceedingly difficult to sustain, a situation the Court seems disinclined to revisit.
The Ninth Circuit held that rather than being subject to an analysis under Garcetti, "teaching and writing by publicly employed teachers is governed by Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968)."
Under Pickering, the employee's speech must be a matter of "public concern." Professor Demers' speech, for which he alleged he was retaliated against, consisted (at least in part) of a two page pamphlet, "The 7-Step Plan for Making the Edward R. Murrow School of Communication Financially Independent."
Named for the famous journalist (pictured above), the school as part of the Washington State University system, was in flux; Demers distributed the plan while he was a on the Murrow School’s “Structure Committee,” which was actively debating the issues. The Ninth Circuit stated:
protected academic writing is not confined to scholarship. Much academic writing is, of course, scholarship. But academics, in the course of their academic duties, also write memoranda, reports, and other documents addressed to such things as a budget, curriculum, departmental structure, and faculty hiring. Depending on its scope and character, such writing may well address matters of public concern under Pickering.
Because Demers' pamphlet "made broad proposals to change the direction and focus of the School," rather than voicing "personal complaints," and because Demers' widely disseminated the document (including sending it to newspapers [as in Pickering] and posting it on his website), the panel found it was a matter of public concern.
Nevertheless, Demers was entitled to scant relief because the Ninth Circuit panel also held that the Defendants were entitled to qualified immunity: the Defendants certainly reasonably could have believed that their conduct was lawful “in light of clearly established law and the information [that they] possessed.” Indeed, because the panel acknowledged it was breaking new ground, it could not have held otherwise. But the panel did note that qualified immunity did not preclude injunctive relief.
This is an important opinion recognizing academic freedom under the First Amendment. At a relatively brief 26 pages, it is nevertheless closely reasoned both doctrinally and in its application.
And its sure to be at issue should the disciplining of the professor for a political "rant" we discussed earlier this week be litigated.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Texas Penal Code 21.15 seeks to do just that, providing:
A person commits an offense if the person: (1) photographs or by videotape or other electronic means records, broadcasts, or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room: (A) without the other person’s consent; and (B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.
While Texas courts had previously upheld the statute, the Texas Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting in San Antonio, ruled on a pretrial writ of habeas corpus that the statute was unconstitutional in its opinion in Ex Parte Thompson.
In its relatively brief discussion, the unanimous three judge panel held that "the statute not only restricts an individual’s right to photograph, a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, but the statute also restricts a person’s thoughts, which the U.S. Supreme Court has held is 'wholly inconsistent with the philosophy of the First Amendment.'" [citations omitted].
The court, however, rejected the argument that the statute was a content restriction, instead finding that it was "imposing time, place, and manner restrictions that are unrelated to content," and thus merited "intermediate scrutiny" under United States v. O’Brien. While O'Brien - - - the draft card burning case - - - is generally thought to be applicable to expressive conduct, the panel here uses O'Brien's factors to ultimately conclude that the statute is facially overbroad "reaching a substantial amount of constitutionally protected conduct," and relying in part on the Supreme Court's 2010 opinion in United States v. Stevens, declaring the federal "crush porn" statute unconstitutional.The opinion's analysis and use of precedent might trouble some First Amendment scholars and it will be interesting to watch whether the case reaches the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals [thanks to commentator for clarifying Texas court system].
In the closely watched case of M.C. v. Aaronson, a minor claims a violation of both substantive and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by South Carolina doctors who performed genital surgery on a child in state custody (foster care). We discussed the case when the complaint was filed in May.
In a 15 page order United States District Judge David Norton denied the motions to dismiss by the various defendants. With regard to the substantive due process right, the judge found that "M.C. has articulated that defendants violated his clearly established constitutional right to procreation.," and as a "result, defendants’ assertion of qualified immunity must fail at this stage in the litigation." Given this conclusion, the judge stated he "need not consider M.C.’s arguments that defendants also violated his rights to privacy and bodily integrity."
As for the procedural due process rights, the judge again found that M.C. stated a claim, and that further analysis of the Matthews v. Eldridge factors was not appropriate at this stage.
But as the judge's opinion made clear, the hurdle of summary judgment looms:
Underlying this case’s complex legal questions is a series of medical and administrative decisions that had an enormous impact on one child’s life. Details of how those decisions were made, when they were made, and by whom are as yet unknown to the court. Whether M.C.’s claims can withstand summary judgment challenges, or even the assertion of qualified immunity at the summary judgment stage, is not for the court to hazard a guess at this time. It is plain that M.C. has sufficiently alleged that defendants violated at least one clearly established constitutional right – the right to procreate – when they recommended, authorized, and/or performed the sex assignment surgery in April 2006.
Indeed, this same order included a grant of M.C.'s request for expedited discovery.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Ninth Circuit Upholds California Ban on Reparative (Sexual Orientatation Conversion)Therapy Against First Amendment Challenge
A panel of the Ninth Circuit today upheld the validity of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18.
In its 36 page opinion in the consolidated cases of Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown, the court reversed the senior district judge's opinion in Welch v. Brown enjoining the statute, and affirmed the opinion of a different district judge in Pickup v. Brown that had found the statute constitutional, and dissolved its own injunction pending appeal issued last December.
Judge Susan Graber, writing for the unanimous panel also consisting of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Morgan Christen, Judge Graber summarized the holding thusly:
SB 1172, as a regulation of professional conduct, does not violate the free speech rights of SOCE practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents’ fundamental rights.
(1) doctor-patient communications about medical treatment receive substantial First Amendment protection, but the government has more leeway to regulate the conduct necessary to administering treatment itself;
(2) psychotherapists are not entitled to special First Amendment protection merely because the mechanism used to deliver mental health treatment is the spoken word; and
(3) nevertheless, communication that occurs during psychotherapy does receive some constitutional protection, but it is not immune from regulation.
(emphasis in original). The panel concluded that there is a continuum between speech and conduct, and that SB 1172 landed toward conduct, "where the state's power is great, even though such regulation may have an incidental effect on speech." Applying a rational basis standard, the court rejected the claim that California legislature acted irrationally.
The court quickly dispatched the remaining arguments including that SB 1172 violated the right of "expressive association" as between counselors and clients, that SB 1172 was void for vagueness, that SB 1172 was overbroad, and that SB1172 violated the parents' fundamental due process rights over their children.
This is an important and well-reasoned decision likely to be persuasive to other courts, including the federal district judge deciding the constitutional challenge to New Jersey's similar statute.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Judge Thomas Durkin (N.D. Ill.) ruled last week in Federal Housing Finance Agency v. City of Chicago that a Chicago ordinance that requires mortgagees of vacant buildings in the city to register with the city, pay a registration fee, and maintain the building under certain standards cannot apply to the FHFA or to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The court held that the Chicago ordinance was preempted by federal law and constituted an impermissible tax against the federal government.
The ruling means that Chicago cannot apply its vacant-building requirements to the FHFA or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but the city can still apply the ordinance to private mortgagees of vacant (that is, abandoned or foreclosed) properties.
The ruling is significant, because Fannie and Freddie together hold about 258,000 loans secured by properties in the city. The ruling means that the city cannot compel the FHFA to include Fannie- and Freddie-backed properties in its vacant-property registry, cannot collect a registration fee from the FHFA (or its servicers), and cannot fine the FHFA (or its servicers) for violation of the city's maintenance standards. On the other hand, Fannie and Freddie have their own standards for continuing maintenance of vacant properties. So for Fannie- and Freddie-backed properties, federal standards, not the city's, apply.
The ruling is also significant, because it telegraphs a federalism concern to the thousand or so local governments around the country that have adopted similar vacant-property ordinances. While the ruling doesn't directly touch ordinances outside the City of Chicago, other local governments will do well to revisit their ordinances in light of the ruling.
The FHFA challenged the city's ordinance as running up against the federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, or HERA. HERA gives the FHFA authority to place Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship "for the purpose of reorganizing, rehabilitating, or winding up [their] affairs." It also empowers the FHFA to "preserve and conserve the assets and properties of [Fannie and Freddie]."
The FHFA directed Fannie and Freddie to implement consistent mortgage loan servicing and delinquency management requirements and authorized them to contract with servicers who perform activities related to loan defaults, consistent with those requirements. HERA includes a preemption clause that says that the FHFA "shall not be subject to the direction or supervision of any other agency of the United States or any State in the exercise of the rights, powers, and privileges of [the FHFA]."
The FHFA sued the city, arguing that HERA preempted the city's vacant-property ordinance and seeking a declaration and injunction prohibiting the city from enforcing the ordinance against it, or Fannie or Freddie. The court agreed with the FHFA that HERA preempted the city's ordinance and awarded the requested relief.
The court held that Chicago's Ordinance was field- and conflict- preempted by federal law. As to field preemption, Judge Durkin ruled that HERA's charge to the director of the FHFA to take care of Fannie's and Freddie's assets occupies the field, even if HERA's express preemption provision doesn't mention municipal ordinances:
Here, in contrast, it is evident that the Ordinance encroaches on an area of regulation that Congress reserved exclusively for FHFA. As applied to FHFA as conservator and mortgagee, the Ordinance regulates how FHFA manages its collateral, including specifically how this collateral--which FHFA does not actually own--should be preserved. For instance, when FHFA issues guidelines and instructions to servicers regarding the nature and frequency of inspections of vacant and abandoned properties, it is taking those steps it believes necessary to preserve and conserve Fannie and Freddie's assets and property.
HERA expressly prohibits other federal agencies and states from interfering with actions taken by FHFA as conservator. Although HERA's preemption provision . . . does not expressly include laws enacted by municipalities . . . Congress enacted an extensive federal statutory scheme which specifically requires the Director of FHFA to "establish risk-based capital requirements for [Fannie and Freddie] to ensure that [they] operate in a safe and sound manner, maintaining sufficient capital and reserves to support the risks that arise in the operations and management of [Fannie and Freddie]." HERA sets forth various grounds for the Director of FHFA to exercise his discretion to appoint FHFA as conservator of Fannie and Freddie. Once placed in conservatorship, Congress intended for FHFA to be the sole entity responsible for operating Fannie and Freddie's nationwide business of purchasing and securitizing mortgages.
Op. at 24-25.
As to conflict preemption, Judge Durkin held that Chicago's Ordinance "obstructs Congress's intent to have one conservator take control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and take action as may be 'appropriate to carry on [their business] and preserve and conserve [their] assets and property' without being 'subject to the direction or supervision of any other agency of the United States or any States . . . ." Op. at 29.
Finally, Judge Durkin ruled that Chicago's registration fee was an impermissible tax on the federal government, in violation of McCulloch v. Maryland.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange (W.D.Okl.) today permanently enjoined the Oklahoma state constitutional amendment that would forbid Oklahoma courts from considering Sharia law, international law, or "the legal precepts of other nations or cultures." The court ruled that the amendment violated the Establishment Clause. The ACLU posted its press release here.
The permanent injunction comes in round two of the litigation. In the earlier first round, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's temporary injunction against the amendment.
Judge Miles-LaGrange adopted the Tenth Circuit's reasoning in concluding that the amendment violates the Establishment Clause. In particular, Judge Miles-LaGrange held that strict scrutiny applied under Larson v. Valente (1982) because the amendment discriminates among religions, and that Oklahoma couldn't provide a compelling government interest in enacting the provision. Quoting the Tenth Circuit:
[Defendants] do not identify any actual problem the challenged amendment seeks to solve. Indeed, they admitted at the preliminary injunction hearing that they did not know of even a single instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures, let alone that such applications or uses had resulted in concrete problems in Oklahoma.
Op. at 7.
Judge Miles-LaGrange also held that the anti-Sharia portion of the amendment couldn't be severed, because, she said, the whole purpose in adopting the provision was to forbid the use of Sharia law, and the amendment wouldn't have passed without the anti-Sharia provision.
This ruling is surely not the end of the case. But given the Tenth Circuit's earlier ruling, the result will almost surely be the same on appeal.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
In its opinion today in Speet v. Schuette, the Sixth Circuit, affirming the district court, held that Michigan's so-called "anti-begging" statute is unconstitutional. The Michigan statute, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.167(1)(h), defines a "disorderly person," as a "person found begging in a public place."
The court notes that "Attorney General Schuette argues that the anti-begging statute does not reach any conduct or speech that the First Amendment protects." The court rejected this contention and stated that "begging, by its very definition, encapsulates the solicitation for alms." And while the court agreed that the United States Supreme has never squarely ruled that an individual soliciting for alms is engaged in expression,in an interesting twist of the usual analogizing, the Sixth Circuit noted that the Court "has held—repeatedly—that the First Amendment protects charitable solicitation performed by organizations." The court engages in extensive discussion of precedent as well as cases in other circuits including the Fourth Circuit in Clatterback which we discussed here. The Sixth Circuit found that there was indeed protected expression in "begging" sufficient to invoke the First Amendment.
It then turned to the question of whether the statute was "overbroad." Although it recognized that "overbreadth" was "strong medicine," it determined it was warranted:
Instead of a few instances of alleged unconstitutional applications, we have hundreds. The Grand Rapids Police Department produced four hundred nine incident reports related to its enforcement of the anti-begging statute. Thirty-eight percent of the people that the police stopped were holding signs requesting help, containing messages like “Homeless and Hungry: Need Work,” “Homeless Please Help God Bless,” “Lost My Job Need Help,” and “Homeless and Hungry Vet.” The other sixty-two percent of the stops (two hundred fifty-five instances) involved people verbally soliciting charity. In forty- three percent of the cases, the police immediately arrested the people who were begging. In two hundred eleven cases, people convicted of begging were sentenced directly to jail time. The record in this case bolsters our “judicial prediction” that “the statute’s very existence may cause others not before the court to refrain from constitutionally protected speech or expression.”
It further determined that it could not "read the statute to limit its constitutional effect," : instead, the "statute simply bans an entire category of activity that the First Amendment protects." While Michigan could regulate "begging," it may not simply prohibit it by its criminal laws.
Although relatively brief at 17 pages, this is a well-reasoned opinion in conformance with the weight of authority and First Amendment doctrine.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Federal District Judge Shira Scheindlin Finds NYCPD's Stop and Frisk Policies Violate Equal Protection
In a 198 page opinion today, accompanied by a 39 page order and opinion as to remedies, United States District Judge Shira Scheindlin has found the New York City Police Department's stop and frisk policies unconstitutional. (Recall Judge Scheindlin enjoined the NYPD's stop and frisk practices in the Bronx earlier this year).
In the closely watched case of Floyd v. City of New York, Judge Scheidlin's opinion is an exhaustively thorough discussion of the trial and at times reads more like a persuasive article than an opinion: it begins with epigraphs, has a table of contents, and has 783 footnotes. It also - - - helpfully - - - has an "Executive Summary" of about 10 pages. Here is an excerpt:
Plaintiffs assert that the City, and its agent the NYPD, violated both the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. In order to hold a municipality liable for the violation of a constitutional right, plaintiffs “must prove that ‘action pursuant to official municipal policy’ caused the alleged constitutional injury.” “Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government’s lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.”
The Fourth Amendment protects all individuals against unreasonable searches or seizures. . . .
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees to every person the equal protection of the laws. It prohibits intentional discrimination based on race. Intentional discrimination can be proved in several ways, two of which are relevant here. A plaintiff can show: (1) that a facially neutral law or policy has been applied in an intentionally discriminatory manner; or (2) that a law or policy expressly classifies persons on the basis of race, and that the classification does not survive strict scrutiny. Because there is rarely direct proof of discriminatory intent, circumstantial evidence of such intent is permitted. “The impact of the official action — whether it bears more heavily on one race than another — may provide an important starting point.”
The following facts, discussed in greater detail below, are uncontested:
Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted over 4.4 million Terry stops.
The number of stops per year rose sharply from 314,000 in 2004 to a high of 686,000 in 2011.
52% of all stops were followed by a protective frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5% of these frisks. In other words, in 98.5% of the 2.3 million frisks, no weapon was found.
8% of all stops led to a search into the stopped person’s clothing, ostensibly based on the officer feeling an object during the frisk that he suspected to be a weapon, or immediately perceived to be contraband other than a weapon. In 9% of these searches, the felt object was in fact a weapon. 91% of the time, it was not. In 14% of these searches, the felt object was in fact contraband. 86% of the time it was not.
6% of all stops resulted in an arrest, and 6% resulted in a summons. The remaining 88% of the 4.4 million stops resulted in no further law enforcement action.
In 52% of the 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31% the person was Hispanic, and in 10% the person was white.
In 2010, New York City’s resident population was roughly 23% black, 29% Hispanic, and 33% white.
In 23% of the stops of blacks, and 24% of the stops of Hispanics, the officer recorded using force. The number for whites was 17%.
Near the end of the opinion, Judge Scheindlin astutely expresses the problem that has complicated relations between Fourth Amendment and Equal Protection arguments, as we recently discussed about racial profiling in Arizona. She solves the problem firmly on the side of Equal Protection:
The City and the NYPD’s highest officials also continue to endorse the unsupportable position that racial profiling cannot exist provided that a stop is based on reasonable suspicion. This position is fundamentally inconsistent with the law of equal protection and represents a particularly disconcerting manifestation of indifference. As I have emphasized throughout this section, the Constitution “prohibits selective enforcement of the law based on considerations such as race.” Thus, plaintiffs’ racial discrimination claim does not depend on proof that stops of blacks and Hispanics are suspicionless. A police department that has a practice of targeting blacks and Hispanics for pedestrian stops cannot defend itself by showing that all the stopped pedestrians were displaying suspicious behavior. Indeed, the targeting of certain races within the universe of suspicious individuals is especially insidious, because it will increase the likelihood of further enforcement actions against members of those races as compared to other races, which will then increase their representation in crime statistics. Given the NYPD’s policy of basing stops on crime data, these races may then be subjected to even more stops and enforcement, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle.
The Equal Protection Clause’s prohibition on selective enforcement means that suspicious blacks and Hispanics may not be treated differently by the police than equally suspicious whites. Individuals of all races engage in suspicious behavior and break the law. Equal protection guarantees that similarly situated individuals of these races will be held to account equally.
This important, scholarly, and thorough opinion is sure to set a standard of judicial craft. It is also sure to be appealed by the City of New York.
August 12, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, August 11, 2013
The Sixth Circuit on Friday ruled in City of Pontiac Retired Employees Association v. Schimmel that the Michigan state legislature may have violated the state constitution in approving the state's emergency manager law for immediate effect. The court remanded the case to the district court for consideration of that claim. If the district court holds that the law violates the state constitution, and if that ruling is upheld on appeal, the actions of the emergency manager for the City of Pontiac will be void.
The 2-1 ruling is notable insofar as a federal appeals court took it upon itself to rule on a state constitutional claim not raised by the parties, relating to state legislative procedure--all to avoid the plaintiffs' federal constitutional claims. The next steps in the case, the remand to the district court and the appeal that will surely follow, will be important because those rulings could put in jeopardy any action by any state emergency manager under a state law giving emergency managers broad powers.
The case arose after the Michigan state legislature approved Public Act 4, authorizing an emergency manager to temporarily reject, modify, or terminate existing collective bargaining agreements. Pursuant to this power, the City of Pontiac's emergency manager, Louis Schimmel, modified the collective bargaining agreements and severance benefits, including pension benefits, of Pontiac's retired employees. The employees sued, arguing Schimmel and Pontiac violated their federal constitutional rights, including rights under the Contracts Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Bankruptcy Clause. They did not raise state law claims.
Still, there may have been state law problems with Schimmel's actions. First, the legislature approved Public Act 4 for immediate effect with less than a 2/3 vote, despite a state constitutional provision that requires a 2/3 vote for immediate effect. (Without a 2/3 vote, a legislative act takes effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session in which it was passed.) If the legislature enacted Public Act 4 in violation of the state constitution, Schimmel's actions pursuant to it are void.
Next, even if the state legislature complied with the state constitution, Public Act 4 may still be invalid. That's because Michigan voters rejected Public Act 4 in a citizen-initiated referendum in 2012. The legislature later enacted a law substantially similar to Public Act 4, but insulated from a voter referendum under the state constitution because it contains an appropriation provision. All this means that the emergency manager authority under Public Act 4 and its successor is questionable.
But the parties didn't raise or argue these state law issues. Instead, the Sixth Circuit did.
The Sixth Circuit dodged the plaintiffs' federal constitutional arguments (in the name of constitutional avoidance) and ruled that the lower court should consider the state law claims. In particular, the Sixth Circuit said that the state legislature's practice, across political parties, of approving laws for immediate effect even when they don't get the constitutionally required 2/3 vote may raise constitutional problems:
Apparently, a two-thirds vote occurs whenever the presiding officer says it occurs--irrespective of the actual vote. This authority is unchecked and often results in passing motions for immediate effect that could not receive the constitutionally required two-thirds vote. Apparently, the Michigan Legislature believes the Michigan Constitution can be ignored.
There's a state intermediate appellate court ruling that seems to say that this kind of action doesn't violate the state constitution. But there's no determinate state supreme court ruling on the issue.
For now, the case goes back to the district court for consideration of the state law issues raised by the Sixth Circuit.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
The Sixth Circuit ruled last week in McGlone v. Cheek that the University of Tennessee's speech policy was unconstitutionally vague and violated the First Amendment.
The case arose when the University denied permission to McGlone, a self-described "committed Christian," to share his religious beliefs with students in an open-air amphitheater on campus. Campus authorities told him that he needed a University sponsor. In particular, they told him that University policy required speakers not affiliated with the University receive sponsorship from "students, faculty, or staff." But they also told him that he needed to be "sponsored by a registered student organization, staff, or faculty." McGlone couldn't get a sponsor, so he didn't speak. But he sued.
The Sixth Circuit seized on the different articulations of the policy--one requiring sponsorship from "students, faculty, or staff," and the other requiring sponsorship from "a registered student organization, staff, or faculty"--to rule that the policy was unconstitutionally vague. The court said that a person of ordinary intelligence wouldn't know the University policy's meaning, that University officials had applied it differently, and that it left open the possibility of arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
The court remanded the case to the district court with instructions to grant a preliminary injunction against the University.
In its opinion in D.B. v. Kopp, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of an equal protection "class of one" claim against Grant County (Wisconsin) and certain officials because they "overzealously
The mother of the five year old twins was the adult who discovered the interaction and who "reported the incident to her sister-in-law, who happened to be the regional supervisor in charge of the state agency that administers family and children’s services." The father of the twins was a public official in the town. D.B. alleges that he was singled out, "charged" with sexual assault although the twins admitted their actions were the same, and that D.B. was "subjected to an overbearing investigation and unjustified court proceedings based on improper political favoritism."
In rejecting the claim, the Seventh Circuit found that the fact that the twins' mother witnessed D.B.'s actions was sufficient to support the state's actions. It reasoned that while
political connections may also plausibly explain why D.B. was targeted for investigation and the twins were not. But the test for rationality does not ask whether the benign justification was the actual justification. All it takes to defeat the plaintiffs’ claim is a conceivable rational basis for the difference in treatment.
(emphasis in original). The opinion added that:
We are not suggesting that this was a well-administered investigation, or a wise exercise of prosecutorial discretion, for that matter. Our decision today should not be understood as an endorsement of this use of state power, which strikes us (assuming the allegations are true) as a troubling overreaction to a situation that could and should have been handled informally. It’s easy to understand why the twins’ mother would be alarmed and upset, but it’s also reasonable to expect that the response by Grant County officials would be measured and proportionate. As the district court aptly put it, accusing a six-year-old boy of first-degree sexual assault shows “poor judgment at best.” But poor judgment does not violate the Constitution.
Surely, there might be cases in which "poor judgment" would "violate the Constitution," but the court finds this is not one of those cases.
[corrected: Seventh Circuit]