Wednesday, September 7, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that the courts lacked jurisdiction over an anonymous complaint about the lengths of voting lines in Ohio in the 2016 primary election. The ruling means that this strange case is dismissed, and the district court's preliminary injunction keeping polling places open an extra hour is vacated. (That extra hour turns out not to have mattered in the results, anyway.)
The case arose when the district court clerk's office received a late election-day phone call complaining that a traffic accident in the Cincinnati area was making it tough for voters to get to the polls by the 7:30 closing time. The clerk contacted a district court judge, and the judge ordered certain polling places to stay open an extra hour. (Some did, some didn't, because of communications issues.)
The Ohio Secretary of State and two counties covered in the order appealed.
But there was a problem: The case had no plaintiff. (It also had no complaint, no caption, no case.)
The Sixth Circuit ruled that the courts lacked jurisdiction over this kind of phantom suit, because there was no standing. As the court explained, in language that can now go in every Con Law and Fed Courts textbook, "There is no plaintiff with standing if there is no plaintiff."
The majority went on to say that it was impossible to rule on whether the case was moot (under the capable-of-repetition-but-evading-review exception), because "it is impossible to say that this complaining party would not be subjected to the same action again," because, well, there's no plaintiff. (The dissent took issue with this conclusion.)
The court had a pretty simple solution to the jurisdictional issues: The clerk simply could have asked "Who is it?" But, alas, that didn't happen.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
The D.C. Circuit today dismissed a case challenging Federal Highway Administration guidance allowing digital billboards. The ruling says that Scenic America, a non-profit that "seeks to preserve and improve the visual character of America's communities and countryside," lacked standing to challenge the guidance as violating notice-and-comment rulemaking and that it lost on the merits of its claim that the guidance was promulgated "contrary to law" in violation of the APA.
The ruling means that FHWA guidance that allows digital billboards stays on the books.
Under the federal Highway Beautification Act, the FHWA enters into agreements with states that detail things like size, lighting, and spacing standards for billboards along the interstate highways. Every state has one of these federal-state agreements ("FSA"); most were written in the '60s and '70s. FHWA regs say that states have to implement standards in their FSAs and submit their laws to the FHWA's regional offices for approval.
Nearly all of the FSAs contain a prohibition against "flashing," "intermittent," and "moving" lights.
In 2007, the national FHWA office issued a memo that said that this prohibition did not apply to digital billboards--those billboards lit by LED lights that change pictures every ten seconds or so. The effect of the guidance was to permit digital billboards under the FSAs. (Many states already permitted digital billboards, but at least two (Texas and Kentucky) did not. After the guidance came down, those two states also permitted digital billboards.)
Scenic America sued the FHWA, arguing that the 2007 guidance violated the APA's notice-and-comment requirement and that it violated the HBA.
As to the notice-and-comment claim, the D.C. Circuit ruled that Scenic America lacked standing (both organizational and representational). In particular, the court said that Scenic America's requested relief (vacating the guidance) wouldn't redress its injury (having to work harder to fight digital billboards), because other factors may have driven states to permit digital billboards, and vacating the guidance wouldn't necessarily mean that states would stop permitting digital billboards. In short: "Scenic asserts injuries that stem not directly from the FHWA's issuance of the 2007 Guidance, but from third parties not directly before the court--the Division Offices and the states."
As to the substantive HBA claim, the court ruled that Scenic America had standing, but lost on the merits. The court said that Scenic America had representational standing, because it had a member who was harmed by a digital billboard, and because
[i]f we were to find for Scenic on the merits of its claim, a point we must assume for standing purposes, we could only do so by effectively repudiating the FHWA's interpretation of the FSAs. Repudiation would provide much more robust relief than vacatur [the relief requested in the notice-and-comment claim]. Not only would it prohibit the agency from relying on that interpretation in any future rulemakings, it would also require the agency to subject extant billboards to either removal or an order requiring those billboards to operate in a manner that does not violate the FSAs, for instance by keeping the image displayed by the billboard constant and unchanging. Scenic's injury, clearly caused by the Guidance, is therefore redressable.
The court went on to reject the HBA claim on the merits, however, dealing Scenic America a complete loss in the case.
Saturday, September 3, 2016
In its en banc opinion in Public Integrity Alliance v. City of Tucson, the Ninth Circuit held that Tucson's "hybrid system" for electing members of its city council does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. The staff summary succinctly describes this hybrid system:
Tucson is divided into six wards of approximately equal population, and each ward is allotted one seat on the six- member city council. Council members are elected through a hybrid system involving a ward-level partisan primary election and an at-large partisan general election. The top-vote getter from each party eligible for inclusion on the ward- level primary ballot advances to an at-large general election where she competes against the other candidates nominated from the same ward. In the general election, every Tucson voter may vote for one candidate from each ward that held a primary.
Importantly, once elected, the city council members represent the entire city. The challenge to this system rested upon a denial on the one-person one-vote principle in equal protection doctrine. The challenger Public Integrity argued that either an entirely ward-based system or an entirely at-large system would be constitutional, but the hybrid combination resulted in For the challenger, the hybrid system means that Tucson voters are denied the right to participate in the primary elections for all but one of their representatives.
The court noted that although primary elections are "indisputably" state action subject to the same constitutional constraints as general elections, this dis not mean that "primaries and general elections must be identically structured and administered." The court thus rejected the challenger's contention that Gray v. Sanders (1963) mandated that the primary and general election use the same geographical units. Instead, the court applied the balancing test of Burdick v. Takushi (1992) for less than "severe restrictions." (Recall that in Burdick, the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting). The Ninth Circuit here found Tucson's restrictions minimal and found they were justified by Tucson's "important" interests including to "promote local knowledge and legitimacy, geographic diversity, and city-wide representation on the city council."
Eleven (of the 29) active judges of the Ninth Circuit participated in this en banc opinion, authored by Judge Marsha Berzon, and affirming the district judge. Judge Berzon's relatively brief and straightforward opinion provoked no dissenting or concurring opinions. It does overrule a previous Ninth Circuit case decided in 1994 on the basis that it articulated a different standard than that required by Burdick. Perhaps the clearest message from the court is that it deferred to a "careful longstanding choice" that is a "product of our democratic federalism" allowing experimentation even where "the best solution is far from clear."
Friday, September 2, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled today in C.R. v. Eugene School District 4J that a student's sexually-harassing speech a few hundred feet off school property and as school was letting out was not protected by the First Amendment. The ruling upholds the school district's decision to suspend the student.
The case arose when C.J. and a group of students harassed two disabled students shortly after school let out and just a few hundred feet off school grounds. School administrators concluded that the harassment violated the school's policy on sexual harassment and suspended C.J. C.J. sued, arguing that his speech was protected by the First Amendment.
The Ninth Circuit rejected that claim. The court said that by either the "nexus" test or the "reasonably foreseeable" test used in other circuits, C.J.'s speech fell within the school's authority--and within the free-speech rules for schools. As to "nexus," the court said that the harassment "was closely tied to the school" based on location (close to the school, on a common student route home from school) and timing (just as school let out). As to "reasonably foreseeable," the court said that "[b]ecause the harassment happened in such close proximity to the school, administrators could reasonably expect the harassment's effects to spill over into the school environment."
The court went on to say that the speech was punishable under Tinker, because of its potential disruption to school activities.
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week that the up-and-down case against the Native Hawaiian self-governance movement is now moot. The ruling ends the case, and the dispute--at least against Na'i Aupuni, the group supporting and sponsoring the self-governance effort--but leaves a draft constitution out there for potential future action (and likely accompanying future litigation).
The case started when the State of Hawaii enacted legislation and authorized funds to support a Native Hawaiian constitutional-drafting process. The State awarded a grant to Na'i Aupuni to convene a constitutional convention (including running an election for Native Hawaiian delegates) and running a vote on the draft constitution.
Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the process violated equal protection and the Voting Rights Act, because the delegate election discriminated by race. The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction to stop defendants "from undertaking certain voter registration activities and from calling or holding racially-exclusive elections for Native Hawaiian." The trial court and Ninth Circuit denied an injunction, but the Supreme Court enjoined the counting of the ballots "pending final disposition of the appeal by" the Court.
At the same time, a separate group of Hawaii residents moved to intervene, arguing that the definition of "Native Hawaiian" was too restrictive.
Na'i Aupuni cancelled the delegate election and instead invited all 196 Native Hawaiian candidates to participate in the convention. (The plaintiffs filed a motion for civil contempt with the Supreme Court, but the Court denied it.) They produced a draft constitution for a Native Hawaiian government. But Na'i Aupuni decided not to run a ratification vote; instead, the group returned the unused grant money to the state and dissolved as an organization.
The plaintiffs then appealed the district court's order denying their motion for a preliminary injunction.
The Ninth Circuit this week ruled that the PI case was moot. The court said that Na'i Aupuni dissolved, and that there were currently no plans for any elections. The court said that it's not a case of voluntary cessation, because "the challenged conduct cannot be reasonably expected to start up again." The court also said that it's not capable-of-repetition-but-evading-review, because "[t]here is no reasonable expectation that the plaintiffs will be subject to the same injury again, given Na'i Aupuni's disavowal of any election."
The court did acknowledge that another group might move forward with a vote at some future time. But not Na'i Aupuni, and not now.
The court also denied the motion to intervene, saying that it, too, was moot. In any event, the prospective intervenors' interests weren't at stake in the litigation.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
The First Circuit ruled today in Wal-Mart Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Zaragoza-Gomez that Puerto Rico's amendment to its Alternative Minimum Tax discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause.
The ruling means that Puerto Rico can't apply its amended AMT against Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in Puerto Rico. The ruling also strikes a blow at Puerto Rico's effort to deal with its fiscal crisis and to prevent multi-state corporations doing business in Puerto Rico from shifting profits off-island by purchasing goods and services from related mainland entities at artificially inflated prices.
The amended AMT provided for a graduated corporate tax on goods sold or transferred to the corporate taxpayer by a related party or home office outside of Puerto Rico (for example, Wal-Mart's offices in the mainland US selling to Wall-Mart Puerto Rico). The top rate, 6.5%, applied to corporate taxpayers with $2.75 billion or more in gross sales. Wal-Mart was the only company big enough to be subject to this rate. Moreover, "[f]or a retailer like Wal-Mart PR that engages in a high volume of transactions with low profit margins on each item sold, this feature of the AMT can result in a particularly high tax liability relative to income."
Wal-Mart sued, and the First Circuit struck the tax. The court said that the tax plainly discriminated against interstate commerce, because it taxed only interstate transactions. Moreover, the court said that the amended AMT wasn't the only way (and therefore wasn't necessary) to meet Puerto Rico's interest in stopping profit shifting:
The amended AMT is a blunt and unnecessary overinclusive approach to combating profit-shifting abuse. It essentially establishes an irrebuttable presumption that all intercorporate transfers to a Puerto Rico branch from related mainland activities are fraudulently priced to evade taxes. In fact, the Secretary all but admits that there are narrower alternatives that target profit-shifting. . . . Having identified numerous less restrictive alternatives to advance Puerto Rico's legitimate local purpose, we hold that the AMT is a facially discriminatory law that does not survive heightened scrutiny under the dormant Commerce Clause.
Sixth Circuit Holds Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act is Unconstitutional Ex Post Facto Law
In its opinion in Doe v. Snyder, the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the 2006 and 2011 amendments of Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA), as retroactively applied to plaintiffs violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, United States Constitution, Art. I §10, cl. 1.
The Ex Post Facto Clause only applies to retroactive punishment, and the opinion notes that under the United States Supreme Court's Smith v. Doe (2003), upholding Alaska's SORA, the test is "quite fixed": "an ostensibly civil and regulatory law, such as SORA, does not violate the Ex Post Facto clause unless the plaintiff can show 'by the clearest proof' that 'what has been denominated a civil remedy' is, in fact, 'a criminal penalty.'"
Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the unanimous panel, applied the Smith v. Doe test for determining whether a statute that does not have a punitive intent nevertheless has actual punitive effects, including five factors:
- Does the law inflict what has been regarded in our history and traditions as punishment?
- Does it impose an affirmative disability or restraint?
- Does it promote the traditional aims of punishment?
- Does it have a rational connection to a non-punitive purpose?
- Is it excessive with respect to this purpose?
In considering the history factor, the court relied on an amicus brief from law professors and discussed the relationship of SORA to ancient punishments of banishment. To this end, the court reproduced a map for Grand Rapids Michigan, illustrating (in blue) where persons under SORA were now prohibited from living, working, or traveling.
The map also figured into the court's conclusions regarding the other factors, including the rational relationship. Indeed, the court found that SORA may actually increase recidivism rates and that "Tellingly, nothing the parties have pointed to in the record suggests that the residential restrictions have any beneficial effect on recidivism rates."
There were other constitutional challenges to SORA, but the court seemingly found the Ex Post Facto argument most determinative. The court's originalist theoretical perspective on the Ex Post Facto Clause is striking:
Indeed, the fact that sex offenders are so widely feared and disdained by the general public implicates the core counter- majoritarian principle embodied in the Ex Post Facto clause. As the founders rightly perceived, as dangerous as it may be not to punish someone, it is far more dangerous to permit the government under guise of civil regulation to punish people without prior notice. Such lawmaking has “been, in all ages, [a] favorite and most formidable instrument of tyranny.” The Federalist No. 84, supra at 444 (Alexander Hamilton). It is, as Justice Chase argued, incompatible with both the words of the Constitution and the underlying first principles of “our free republican governments.” Calder, 3 U.S. at 388–89; accord The Federalist No. 44, supra at 232 (James Madison) (“[E]x post facto laws . . . are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation.”).
Thus, while the court acknowledged that the Smith v. Doe test was a difficult one to meet, "difficult is not the same as impossible" and Smith v. Doe should not "be understood to write a blank check to states to do whatever they please in this arena." Most likely, Michigan will disagree and seek United States Supreme Court review to ask the Court to clarify its understanding.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Sixth Circuit's Mixed Ruling on First Amendment Challenges to Kentucky's Ethics Code for Judicial Elections
In its opinion in Winter v. Wolnitzek authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton for the unanimous Sixth Circuit panel, the court considered eight provisions of the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct against facial and as-applied First Amendment challenges after first concluding that there was a sufficient case or controversy under Article III.
The court applies strict scrutiny to the State's efforts to regulate the campaign speech of judicial candidates under the United States Supreme Court's decision last year in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. In Williams-Yulee, the no direct solicitation of contributions prohibition survived and a few of the provisions in Winter likewise survive. The Kentucky Supreme Court, pursuant to a certification proceeding, rendered its interpretation on three of the canons.
In succinct fashion - - - the analysis of the eight provisions is less than ten manuscript pages - - - the court determined the constitutional status of the varying prohibitions as follows:
- The campaigning clause, which prohibits a candidate for judicial office from campaigning as a member of a political organization was ruled unconstitutional as vague and overbroad. Although the Kentucky Supreme Court had clarified this provision to mean that the candidate cannot portray themselves, either directly or by implication, as "the official nominee" of the party. The court held there was too much slippage here, so that the use of a definitive article ("the Republican candidate") was not necessarily an endorsement as official nominee, especially when combined with other terms ("the moderate Republican candidate.")
- The speeches clause, which prohibited judicial candidates from making speeches for or against a political party, was unconstitutional as not narrowly tailored. The court noted that this does not prohibit a tweet for or against a political party, and distinguished a prohibition of judicial candidates from making speeches on behalf of a political organization (as the Ninth Circuit upheld).
- The contributions clause, which prohibits judicial candidates from making financial contributions to a political organization or candidate was upheld. Not withstanding the court's recognition that "money is speech" under Buckley v. Valeo. The court held that this clause "narrowly serves the Commonwealth’s compelling interest in preventing the appearance that judicial candidates are no different from other elected officials when it comes to quid pro quo politics." On this, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district judge.
- The endorsements clause, which prohibits judicial candidates from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for public office was likewise constitutional. Again, the court stressed the quid pro quo nature of endorsements.
- The "acting as a leader" clause, which prohibits a judge from acting as a leader or holding any office in a political organization was constitutional on its face as well as-applied to the request to host a political event that is a fundraiser. The fundraiser, the court reasoned, brings the judge's impartiality into question.
- The false statements clause, prohibiting judicial candidates from making false statements with knowledge or reckless disregard of the truth is perhaps the most interesting result. The court distinguishes another Sixth Circuit case - - - Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus - - - which was not only not limited to material statements (as it was by the Kentucky Supreme Court's certification opinion), but also makes the Williams-Yulee distinction between political and judicial candidates. However, the court found that as-applied to a judicial candidate's statement to be "re-elected" when in fact she occupied the judicial position because of appointment rather than election, the provision was unconstitutional. The ban there "outstrips" the government interest and did not provide sufficient "breathing space."
- The commits clause, prohibiting judicial candidates from making pledges or promises, was remanded. This was not a provision that was certified to the Kentucky state supreme court and the Sixth Circuit panel implied that it should be. The problem is determining whether an "issue-based" commitment is inconsistent with the impartial performance of judicial duties, with the Sixth Circuit panel stating that if "Kentucky interprets “impartiality” to mean solely “impartiality as to parties,” the clause may well advance a compelling interest and do so narrowly."
The court ends its opinion, as it began, by acknowledging the "cross-currents" of First Amendment challenges to judicial, rather than political, campaigns. The court navigated surely and perhaps overly-speedily through the multiple issues landing with mixed results. It does seem that the court will be visiting this terrain again.
Ninth Circuit Upholds Upholds California Ban on Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy Against Religion Clauses Challenge
In a sequel to the Ninth Circuit's 2013 decision in Pickup v. Brown upholding 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, the Ninth Circuit upheld the same law against a facial challenge based upon the First Amendment's Religion Clauses in its relatively brief opinion in Welch v. Brown.
The panel in Welsh - - - the same panel as in Pickup - - - held that the SB 1172 violated neither the Establishment Clause nor the Free Exercise Clause. The panel rejected the challengers' interpretation of the law as applying to members of the clergy because the law specifically exempts religious clergy "as long as they do not hold themselves out as operating pursuant" to any therapist licenses.
The panel also rejected the contention that the law has the primary effect of inhibiting religion. That some minors who seek sexual orientation conversion may have religious motivations does not rise to the level of an inhibition of religion, especially given that the law was not targeted at religious motivated conduct. The panel noted that the law's legislative findings focused on "social stigmatization" and "family rejection" rather than religiosity. The panel likewise rejected the Free Exercise Clause claim that the law was not neutral as to religion based on the same rationales and cited the Third Circuit's similar conclusion regarding New Jersey's prohibition of sexual conversion therapy in King v. Christie.
The court also reiterated its rejection of any "privacy" claim based on its previous analysis in Pickup.
So far, challenges to state prohibitions of sexual conversion therapy for minors have had little success.
August 24, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Disability, Due Process (Substantive), Establishment Clause, Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled in American Hotel and Lodging Association v. City of Los Angeles that federal labor law did not preempt LA's ordinance requiring a minimum wage for certain hotel workers in the city.
The ruling is a win for the city and for covered hotel workers. It denies the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, but in terms that, as a practical matter, put an end to these claims. (The court ruled that federal law did not preempt, not only that that it likely did not preempt (the usual preliminary injunction standard). So the ruling tees up a city motion to dismiss these claims on the merits. And unless the plaintiffs have other claims, this ruling tees up a city motion to dismiss the entire case.)
The case arose when LA enacted an ordinance that required large hotels in the city, and smaller hotels near LAX, to pay workers $15.37 an hour (and provide other minimum benefits), unless they were covered by a collective bargaining agreement (the "collective-bargaining exemption"), and unless this wage would drive an employer into bankruptcy (the "hardship waiver"). American Hotel and Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association sued, arguing that the entire wage ordinance and the collective-bargaining exemption were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, because they interfered with labor-management relations. The plaintiffs pointed to Machinists preemption (named for Int'l Ass'n of Machinists v. Wis. Emp't Relations Comm'n) which says that the NLRA implicitly preempts state restrictions on "self-help," like a strike or lock-out--things that "regulate the mechanics of labor dispute resolution." The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction on this theory.
The Ninth Circuit flatly rejected the claim. The Ninth Circuit said that "[m]inimum labor standards, such as minimum wages, are not subject to Machinists preemption":
Such minimum labor standards affect union and nonunion employees equally, neither encouraging nor discouraging the collective bargaining processes covered by the NLRA. Minimum labor standards do technically interfere with labor-management relations and may impact labor or management unequally, much in the same way that California's at-will employment may favor employers over employees. Nevertheless, these standards are not preempted, because they do not "regulate the mechanics of labor dispute resolution."
The court said that minimum standards are merely background conditions of collective bargaining, not interferences with collective bargaining.
As to the collective-bargaining exemption, the court was even more direct, merely citing Lividas v. Bradshaw and its language that says that "familiar and narrowly drawn opt-out provisions" for collective bargaining agreements are valid, because they do not impact rights to collective bargaining.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
In his opinion and order in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, United States District Judge Sean Cox of the Eastern District of Michigan, the judge held that the funeral home is "entitled to a RFRA exemption from Title VII and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it."
The funeral home, a for-profit closely-held corporation, relied upon the United States Supreme Court's closely-divided and controversial decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) which allowed a religious exemption under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage.
Rather than contraception, the issue in Harris Funeral Homes is the funeral home's sex-specific dress code and its termination of Stephens, an employee transitioning from male to female for failure to wear the mandated male-specific clothing. The primary shareholder of the funeral home, Thomas Rost, stated his beliefs that the Bible teaches "that a person's sex is an immutable God-given gift" and "that is wrong for a biological male to deny his sex by dressing as a woman." More importantly for his RFRA claim, Rost stated that he himself “would be violating God’s commands” if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home’s biologically-male-born funeral directors to wear the skirt-suit uniform for female directors while at work, because Rost “would be directly involved in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.”
Recall that under RFRA, a threshold question is whether the person's religious belief are sincerely held. Hobby Lobby having determined that a company's major shareholder's belief is the relevant one, the EEOC conceded that the "Funeral Home's religious beliefs are sincerely held." The next question is whether the neutral law of general applicability - - - here, Title VII - - - is a substantial burden on the person's religious beliefs. The district judge found that allowing an employee to wear a skirt would impose a substantial burden on the ability of Rost to conduct his business in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs and that the economic consequences of back pay would be "severe." The burden then shifts in RFRA to the government to satisfy strict scrutiny as well as a least restrictive means requirement. Recall that the stated purpose of Congress in passing RFRA was to "restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner" (1964), which Congress believed the Court had departed from in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), although Congress also added the "least restrictive means" language.
And in his Harris Funeral Homes decision, Judge Cox ultimately relied on the least restrictive means requirement. However, first Judge Cox treated the traditional strict scrutiny questions. Judge Cox assumed "without deciding" that the EEOC had a compelling governmental interest, although Judge Cox expressed doubts whether this was true. Indeed, Judge Cox interpreted the passage in Hobby Lobby stating that the decision provided "no such shield" to equal employment laws (and thus refuting a claim made by the dissent) as essentially dicta:
This Court does not read that paragraph as indicating that a RFRA defense can never prevail as a defense to Title VII or that Title VII is exempt from the focused analysis set forth by the majority. If that were the case, the majority would presumably have said so. It did not.
Moreover, Judge Cox relied on Hobby Lobby to contend that a general interest in ending employment discrimination is not sufficient, it must be focused on the particular person burdened: "even if the Government can show that the law is in furtherance of a generalized or broad compelling interest, it must still demonstrate the compelling interest is satisfied through application of the law to the Funeral Home under the facts of this case." (italics in original). Although Judge Cox wrote that he "fails to see how the EEOC has met its requisite 'to the person'-focused showing," he nevertheless stated he would assume it was met.
As to the least restrictive means, Judge Cox's solution is a gender-neutral dress code:
Yet the EEOC has not challenged the Funeral Home’s sex-specific dress code, that requires female employees to wear a skirt-suit and requires male employees to wear a suit with pants and a neck tie, in this action. If the EEOC were truly interested in eliminating gender stereotypes as to clothing in the workplace, it presumably would have attempted to do so.
Rather than challenge the sex-specific dress code, the EEOC takes the position that Stephens has the right, under Title VII, to “dress as a woman” or wear “female clothing” while working at the Funeral Home. That is, the EEOC wants Stephens to be permitted to dress in a stereotypical feminine manner (wearing a skirt-suit), in order to express Stephens’s gender identity.
If the EEOC truly has a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that Stephens is not subject to gender stereotypes in the workplace in terms of required clothing at the Funeral Home, couldn’t the EEOC propose a gender-neutral dress code (dark-colored suit, consisting of a matching business jacket and pants, but without a neck tie) as a reasonable accommodation that would be a less restrictive means of furthering that goal under the facts presented here? Both women and men wear professional-looking pants and pants-suits in the workplace in this country, and do so across virtually all professions.
Of course, the courts have not ruled favorably on challenges to sex-specific dress and grooming codes in the employment context.
Interestingly, Judge Cox also rejected the EEOC's gender discrimination claim based on the funeral home company's clothing allowance policy: there is a monetary clothing allowance to male employees but not female employees. Judge Cox found that this issue was not properly brought by the EEOC.
The EEOC is sure to appeal. If individual employers can claim exemptions to Title VII under RFRA, it could have widespread consequences.
Although it is also possible that a new Congress could amend RFRA.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
The Seventh Circuit ruled this week that language in a state statute criminalizing the possession of cocaine near a "youth program center" was unconstitutionally vague. The ruling sends this case of hyper-aggressive prosecution back for resentencing (though the criminal law has been repealed).
The case arose when police arrested Walker Whatley at his father's home on an unrelated charge. The officer discovered a bag with just over three grams of cocaine in Whatley's pocket. Ordinarily, this would have constituted a Class C felony under state law, with a sentence of two to eight years. But because Whatley's dad lived 795 feet from the Robinson Community Church, Whatley was charged with a Class A felony of possessing more than three grams of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a "youth program center"--a charge that brought 20 to 50 years. Whatley was convicted and got 35 years--more than four times the maximum sentence for a Class C felony.
Whatley appealed through the state courts, and then brought a federal habeas claim. The district court rejected that claim, however, ruling that Whatley defaulted.
The Seventh Circuit reversed. The court ruled that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, because it defined "youth program center" as a facility with "regular" youth programs, and because "regular" didn't put a person of ordinary intelligence on notice of what was illegal. (The church hosted youth programs, but only a few times a week, and only for a few hours at a time.)
The court rejected the state court's reasoning that fair notice wasn't required, because the statute created strict liability; the court said that reasoning was "inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent that requires fair notice for all criminal statutes." "The lack of an intent element in the statute does not cure the vagueness problem; it makes it worse by making unknowing defendants absolutely liable for violating an indeterminate standard," that is, the definition of "youth program center."
The very harsh sentencing also played a factor:
In sum, a triad of factors convince us that the state courts were not simply wrong but unreasonable in applying federal law on vagueness in Whatley's case: (1) the use of the word "regular" in the definition of "youth program center" provides no objective standard, and thereby fails to place persons of ordinary intelligence on notice of the conduct proscribed and allows for arbitrary enforcement; (2) defendants are strictly liable for violating the terms of this nebulous sentencing enhancement, exacerbating the effect of the subjectivity; and (3) the consequences of violating this indeterminate strict liability provision are extreme: an increase in the sentencing range from 2-to-8 years to 20-to-50 years' imprisonment.
Monday, August 15, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled in Democratic Party of Hawaii v. Nago that the plaintiff failed sufficiently to prove that Hawaii's open primary violated its First Amendment right of association. The ruling dismisses the case and keeps the state's open primary system in place.
The Democratic Party of Hawaii challenged Hawaii's open primary system as a facial violation of its associational rights. But the Party declined to submit evidence in support (showing, for example, that cross-over primary voters would influence the positions of candidates and result in candidates not supported by the Democrats), and maintained its position that the courts could decide the claim as a pure matter of law.
The courts disagreed. The Ninth Circuit said that the plaintiff had to submit proof to show that an open primary system infringed on associational rights--that the claim turns on a question of fact. And because the Democrats failed to provide any proof, their facial challenge had to fail.
Friday, August 12, 2016
The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in State of Tennessee v. FCC that the Federal Communications Commission lacked statutory authority to preempt states' laws that restricted municipalities from providing broadband Internet service outside their boundaries.
The ruling means that the FCC can't require states to permit municipalities to provide service outside their boundaries, at least in the Sixth Circuit, and at least unless and until Congress specifically authorizes the FCC to preempt in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Because areas outside the boundaries of these particular municipalities are unserved or under-served areas, the ruling also means that certain regions outside the municipalities' boundaries will continue to go with inadequate Internet service.
The case arose when Tennessee and North Carolina implemented restrictions on municipalities' ability to provide Internet service outside their territorial boundaries. Two municipalities in those states complained to the FCC, because they saw benefits to providing service, and thus wanted to provide service, outside their boundaries. The municipalities appealed to the FCC to preempt state laws restricting broader service.
The FCC responded by finding that broader service would serve the interests of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (expanded broadband access, and all the benefits that this brings to communities), and by issuing an order preempting the portions of the state laws that prohibited municipalities from providing access beyond their boarders.
The states sued, arguing that the FCC lacked authority to preempt under the Act's preemption provision, Section 706. The court agreed.
The court said that the FCC's order ran headlong into the "Clear Statement Rule" and Nixon. Under the Clear Statement Rule, the FCC can't preempt a state action that allocates state decision-making; under Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, that rule applies when a federal government preemption action "interpos[es] federal authority between a State and its municipal subdivisions," which, the Court said, "are created as convenient agencies for exercising such of the governmental powers of the State as may be entrusted to them in its absolute discretion." As the Sixth Circuit said,
Any attempt by the federal government to interpose itself into this state-subdivision relationship therefore must come about by a clear directive from Congress, and the FCC can only pick the decision maker here if there exists a clear statement to do so in Section 706.
According to the court, Section 706 contains no such clear statement.
So despite the Act's ambitious goals and broad delegation to the FCC to achieve those goals, the court said that the Act stops short of authorizing the FCC to preempt state laws restricting Internet access beyond a municipality's boarders.
Nothing in the ruling requires a state to adopt this kind of restriction, however, or forbids a state from specifically authorizing a municipality to expand access. But when it does--as Tennessee and North Carolina have done--the FCC cannot preempt it, at least in the Sixth Circuit, and at least unless and until Congress gives the FCC specific authorization to do so.
(The North Carolina case was in the Fourth Circuit when that court transferred it to the Sixth Circuit for consolidation with the Tennessee case.)
Thursday, August 11, 2016
The Seventh Circuit ruled today in Kristofek v. Village of Orland Hills that a police officer's allegation of official misconduct in the higher ranks was protected speech under the First Amendment.
The ruling reverses the district court on the point and on its companion ruling that the police chief enjoyed qualified immunity. But the court rejected the officer's municipal liability claim.
The case arose when a part-time police officer, Kristofek, complained to colleagues and then to the FBI that a driver that he cited and detained may have been released, and charges dropped, because of official misconduct. (The driver's mother, a former township trustee, successfully intervened with local politicians and the police on behalf of her son. Kristofek thought that this might constitute official misconduct, based on a misconduct training that he attended.) Police Chief Scully then fired Kristofek.
Kristofek sued, arguing that his termination in retaliation for protected speech violated the First Amendment, and that the township was liable under Monell. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.
The Seventh Circuit reversed on the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that Kristofek spoke as a private citizen on a matter of public concern when he complained to his colleagues and to the FBI, and that the Pickering balance favored his speech. The court also denied qualified immunity to Scully.
But the court rejected Kristofek's Monell claim, because Scully didn't have authority to unilaterally fire Kristofek or to set department firing policy.
The ruling sends the case back for proceedings consistent with the opinion. But it also assigns the case to a new judge.
Monday, August 8, 2016
Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed a case by the Libertarian and Greens against the Commission on Presidential Debates and others challenging their exclusion from the 2012 presidential debates and seeking to participate in the 2016 debates.
The ruling is hardly a surprise, despite the plaintiffs' mighty efforts to navigate well settled precedent.
The Libertarians and Greens argued that their exclusion under the Commission's 15% rule (a candidate needs 15% support in the polls to participate) violated antitrust laws and the First Amendment. But Judge Collyer held that they lacked standing, and that they failed to state a claim.
Judge Collyer said that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because their injury (lack of electoral support) was too speculative and was not traceable to Commission action (on the First Amendment claim) and because their injury wasn't a harm to the market (on the antitrust claim).
Judge Collyer went on to say that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim, because the Commission isn't a government actor subject to the First Amendment (on the free speech claim) and because they failed to allege an injury to competition in a commercial market (on the antitrust claim).
Given the plaintiffs' attempts to navigate well settled First Amendment law, Judge Collyer's ruling sometimes reads like a law exam answer--covering everything from the public function exception to the state actor doctrine, to right-to-access laws, to forum analysis, to the Jaybird primaries.
Despite the plaintiffs' efforts, however, they still lost. The ruling means that the Libertarians and Greens won't be at the 2016 presidential debates, at least not by court order.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The en banc Fifth Circuit yesterday ruled that Texas's voter-ID law, widely described as the most restrictive voter-ID law in the country, had a discriminatory effect in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The ruling is a decisive victory for voting-rights advocates and opponents of Texas's voter-ID law. If the state appeals, it'll face an 8-member Supreme Court (assuming the Court would take the case). If the Supreme Court were to divide 4-4, the Fifth Circuit's ruling stays in place. (The Texas AG hasn't said yet what he plans to do, if anything.)
The sharply divided ruling sends the case back to the district court to fashion a remedy for the November elections.
Recall that Texas's voter-ID law was denied preclearance under the VRA, but Texas implemented the requirements as soon as the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County.
This suit challenged the law under Section 2. The district court ruled that the law had a discriminatory purpose and a discriminatory effect in violation of Section 2.
The Fifth Circuit yesterday walked that ruling back, but just slightly. The court said that the district court erred in its analysis of discriminatory purpose, and sent the case back for further proceedings on that ground (because there may be sufficient evidence of discriminatory purpose, but the district court analyzed it the wrong way). But the court went on to agree with the district court that the law had a discriminatory effect.
Given the timing of the ruling (so soon before the fall elections), the Fifth Circuit instructed the district court to fashion a remedy for the law's discriminatory effect as to "those voters who do not have SB 14 ID or are unable to reasonable obtain such identification," with an eye toward one of the legislature's purposes, reducing voter fraud. That remedy could include something like voter registration cards, or an indigency exception to the ID requirement. The Fifth Circuit also instructed the lower court to "consider the necessity of educational and training efforts to ensure that both voters and workers at polling places are capable of making use of whatever remedy the district court selects."
The Fifth Circuit did not rule on the constitutional claims.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) ruled last week in State national Bank of Big Spring v. Lew rejected a Recess Appointments Clause challenge to Consumer Protection Financial Bureau Director Richard Cordray. At the same time, the court declined to rule on the plaintiffs' separation-of-powers challenge to the Bureau itself.
The ruling is a decisive win for Director Cordray and actions he took during his period of recess appointment (before he was confirmed by the Senate). But it leaves open the question whether the CFPB itself it unconstitutional--a question that the D.C. Circuit could answer any day now.
This is just the latest case in a spate of challenges to Cordray's appointment and the CFPB. We posted on this case when the D.C. Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs had standing.
The plaintiffs argued that Director Cordray's recess appointment in January 2012 violated the Recess Appointments Clause. And they had good reason to think they were right: the Supreme Court ruled in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the President's recess appointments to the NLRB on the same day he appointed Cordray violated the Clause.
But Judge Huvelle didn't actually rule on that argument. That's because President Obama re-nominated Cordray in 2013, and the Senate confirmed him; he then (as validly appointed head of the CFPB) issued a notice in the Federal Register ratifying all the actions he took during his recess-appointment period. Judge Huvelle said that under circuit law the ratification cured any actions during this period that would have been invalid because of his invalid recess appointment.
But at the same time, the court punted on the plaintiffs' separation-of-powers challenge to the CFPB itself. That argument--which says that the CFPB invalidly combines legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the hands of a single individual--is currently pending at the D.C. Circuit in another case, PPH Corp. v. CFPB, and the court could rule any day now.
Judge Huvelle's ruling is a clear win for the CFPB and Cordray. But the real heart of opponents' claims against the Bureau are the ones now at the D.C. Circuit--that the CFPB violates the separation of powers.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
The D.C. Circuit yesterday upheld a lower court's dismissal of David Patchak's long-running attempt to stop the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band's casino in Wayland Township, Michigan, based on a federal law that stripped the courts of jurisdiction over the case.
The ruling ends this dispute in favor of the Band and its casino, with little or no chance of further appeals.
The case started when David Patchak sued the Interior Department for putting certain land in Wayland Township in trust for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians to build a casino. Patchak, a neighboring property owner, argued that Interior lacked authority under the Indian Reorganization Act and sought damages for economic, environmental, and aesthetic harms.
The case went to the Supreme Court on justiciability grounds, and the Court ruled in 2012 that Patchak had prudential standing.
After that ruling came down, Congress enacted a stand-alone law that affirmed that Interior had authority to put the land in trust and divested the courts of jurisdiction over Patchak's case. The act, in relevant part, read:
NO CLAIMS -- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action (including an action pending in a Federal court as of the date of enactment of this Act) relating to the land described in subsection (a) shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.
The district court then dismissed Patchak's case, and yesterday the D.C. Circuit affirmed.
The court first rejected Patchak's claim that the jurisdiction-stripping provision violated the separation of powers. The court looked to the familiar distinction (recently sharpened by the Court's ruling in Bank Markazi) between a congressional act that applies a new legal standard in pending civil cases (which is OK) and an act that "prescribes a rule of decision" in those cases (which is not). The court said that this act falls squarely in the former class, even though Congress set the legal standard in a separate, stand-alone statute (and not the statute at issue in the case, the IRA).
The court next rejected Patchak's various individual-rights claims. The court said that the Act did not violate Patchak's First Amendment right to access the courts, because that right isn't absolute, and it yields to Congress's power to set the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts. The court said that the Act also did not violate Patchak's due process rights (because the legislative process provided Patchak any process that he might have been due) and the Bill of Attainder Clause (because the Act wasn't punishment).
Given the Supreme Court's powerful reaffirmation of congressional authority of federal court jurisdiction in Bank Markazi, the D.C. Circuit's ruling almost certainly ends Patchak's challenge.
Monday, July 11, 2016
In its opinion in Lone Star Security and Video v. City of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit upheld L.A.'s mobile billboard ordinances against a First Amendment challenge distinguishing the United States Supreme Court's 2015 Reed v. Town of Gilbert.
Recall that in Reed, Justice Kagan separately concurred in the unanimous decision to warn that strict scrutiny was not always appropriate and that "we may do well to relax our guard so that 'entirely reasonable' laws imperiled by strict scrutiny can survive." Here, it seems that the Ninth Circuit panel has taken that advice, applying the relaxed standard of time, place, and manner doctrine rather than content-discrimination meriting strict scrutiny.
The L.A. ordinances are directed at "advertising signs" on vehicles or attached to vehicles. Signs on vehicles - - - painted or permanently affixed - - - are allowed as long as they do not extend beyond the vehicle or make the vehicle unsafe. Signs that attached to non-motorized vehicles, such as those on standalone trailers, are prohibited from parking on city streets.
Judge Mary Murguia, writing for the unanimous panel, concluded that the ordinances applicability to "advertising" did not render the ordinances content-based. The opinion relied on a state case that construed advertising as displaying any message to the public rather than the content of that message and upheld an ordinance as applied to a nonprofit organization protesting animal cruelty. Moreover,
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Reed does not alter our conclusion. Unlike Reed, the mobile billboard ordinances do not single out a specific subject matter for differential treatment, nor is any kind of mobile billboard exempted from regulation based on its content. There has been no suggestion that the ordinances apply differently to Lone Star Security’s political endorsements than to its commercial promotional campaigns, for example. Rather, an officer seeking to enforce the non-motorized billboard ordinances must decide only whether an offending vehicle constitutes a prohibited “advertising display” because its primary purpose is to display messages, as opposed to transporting passengers or carrying cargo. . . . In the case of the motorized billboard ordinance, an enforcing officer would simply need to distinguish between signs that are permanent or non-permanent, and larger or smaller than the vehicles to which the signs are affixed to determine whether the vehicle violates the ordinance.
[ellipses added; citations omitted]. Once having determined the correct standard was not strict scrutiny, the panel easily found that the ordinances survived review.
The parties do not dispute that the cities’ stated interests in traffic control, public safety, and aesthetics are sufficiently weighty to justify content-neutral, time, place, or manner restrictions on speech, nor could they.
As for the "narrow tailoring" required, the panel found that none of the ordinances were broader than necessary. Additionally, the panel found that there were ample alternative channels for communication, including advertising.
Appellants are free to disseminate their messages through myriad other channels, such as stationary billboards, bus benches, flyers, newspapers, or handbills. Appellants may also paint signs on vehicles and attach decals or bumper stickers. Although mobile billboards are a unique mode of communication, nothing in the record suggests that Appellants’ overall “ability to communicate effectively is threatened.”
The last quotation is from the United States Supreme Court's City of Los Angeles v. Taxpayers for Vincent (1984), on which Judge Murguia heavily relied. However, for Judge John Owens, Taxpayers for Vincent has its own flaws. In a brief concurrence, Judge Owens suggested that the United States Supreme Court should take a "second look" at Taxpayers for Vincent.
This case is about ugly signs on vehicles, and no doubt I would not want these vehicles and their signs parked in front of my house. But under the ordinances at issue, a car with equally ugly decals—including a decal of a vehicle with an ugly sign—would not “go to jail,” but instead treat my curb like the upper left corner of a Monopoly board.
If “aesthetics” are to play a part in speech restriction, then such aesthetics should apply equally, decal or sign. Yet under Taxpayers for Vincent, the Court rejected the very point that I now make. See 466 U.S. 810–12 (rejecting the Ninth Circuit’s holding that “a prohibition against the use of unattractive signs cannot be justified on esthetic grounds if it fails to apply to all equally unattractive signs wherever they might be located”). I think our court was right then, and the Supreme Court should reconsider this portion of Taxpayers for Vincent. As it currently stands, politicians can use Taxpayers for Vincent and its beholderish “aesthetics” to covertly ensure homogeneous thinking and political discourse. That is a dimension we should avoid. See The Twilight Zone: Eye of the Beholder (CBS television broadcast Nov. 11, 1960).
Judge Owens was not part of the Ninth Circuit panel that the Court reversed, although the third member of this Ninth Circuit panel - - - Judge Stephen Reinhardt - - - was. Judge Reinhardt, born in 1931, may also have seen the original episode of The Twilight Zone to which Judge Owens, born more than a decade after its original airing, refers.