Monday, November 14, 2016

District Judge Halts Phoenix Fire at Washington Monument

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) denied the group Catharsis on the Mall a preliminary injunction against the National Park Service from enforcing its regulation against certain bonfires on Park Service land in D.C.

The ruling, though preliminary, means that Catharsis on the Mall didn't get to burn its wooden Phoenix this weekend--symbolic speech in support of veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.

The case arose when Catharsis sought permission to hold its second annual 72-hour vigil near the Washington Monument, which was to culminate in the burning of a 24-foot tall Phoenix. The group sought to show its support for veterans' and PTSD survivors' access to treatment.

The NPS denied permission, however, citing a new regulatory scheme for outdoor events, including a regulation that bans burning structures by size.

But here's the problem: NPS granted a permit to the group to burn a structure during its vigil last year that was even bigger than this year's Phoenix. And the D.C. Fire Department didn't think the Phoenix burning would have been a problem.

Still, the court ruled that Catharsis didn't show a likelihood of success on the merits. In particular, the court wrote that the new bonfire regulation was a content-neutral time, place, manner regulation on speech in a public forum; that it was narrowly tailored to maintain safety; and that Catharsis had other ways to convey its message.

The ruling is only on Catharsis's motion for a preliminary injunction, but given the court's approach to the likelihood-of-success question, the final ruling will almost certainly be the same.

November 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

No Free Speech for Officer Criticizing Operations, Superiors

The D.C. Circuit ruled this week in LeFande v. D.C. that the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department did not violate an officer's First Amendment rights when the MPD fired the officer for internal e-mails critical of MPD operations and officers, and refusing to respond to a superior's request.

The ruling puts an end to this very long-running dispute, and the very long-running, and highly contentious, relationship between the officer, LeFande, and the MPD.

This piece of the case arose when Matthew LeFande, police reserve officer with the MPD (a volunteer position designed to assist full-time officers), wrote a series of internal e-mails highly critical of certain MPD operations and MPD officers, and declining to comply with a superior's request. (The case actually started much earlier, with a suit LeFande filed against the MPD, and the MPD fired him. He raised a First Amendment claim to his termination (based on his free speech in bringing the suit), but the MPD said it actually fired him for the e-mails--thus opening this latest chapter of the case.)

The court ruled that it didn't have to say whether the e-mails constituted citizen speech on matters of public concern (under Pickering), because the MPD's interest  in efficiency outweighed LeFande's interests in free speech, anyway. The court held that LeFande's free-speech interest in sending e-mails criticizing MPD operations and officers "cannot outweigh the fact that their 'disruptive force' . . . threatens workplace efficiency." It further held that LeFande's interest in sending e-mails declining a superior's request were outweighed by the MPD's interest in efficiency, because "[i]f police department leadership faced opposition from employees after every routine request, the machinery of law enforcement would grind to a halt."

The court conceded that some of LeFande's speech (especially those e-mails criticizing MPD operations) implicated matters of public concern--perhaps more than the survey questions in Connick. But it ruled that the MPD's interest outweighed LeFande's, especially "given the 'special degree of trust and discipline required in a police force.'"

November 12, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Supremes Keep Arizona Ban on Ballot Collection in Place

The Supreme Court on Saturday stayed an injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit late last week halting enforcement of Arizona's ballot collection ban. The order means that Arizona can enforce its criminal ban on ballot collection pending appeal to the full Ninth Circuit--well after Election Day.

Recall that a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit denied a preliminary injunction against Arizona's 2016 ballot collection law. That law criminalized the collection and delivery of early ballots by anyone other than the voter. (Arizona had previously allowed certain persons other than the voter to collect and deliver a voter's ballot. This practice was used by minority communities in the state, including Native American, Hispanic, and African American communities that, for different reasons, lacked easy access to the polls.)

The full Ninth Circuit then agreed to hear the case. And the court issued an injunction against enforcement of the law pending appeal. As to any problems from enjoining a law so close to the election (like voter confusion)--the Purcell factors--the court wrote:

First, the injunction does not affect the state's election processes or machinery. . . .

Enjoining enforcement of H.B. 2023 will not have any effect on voters themselves, on the conduct of election officials at the polls, or on the counting of ballots. . . .

Here, the injunction preserves the status quo prior to the recent legislative action in H.B. 2023. Every other election cycle in Arizona has permitted the collection of legitimate ballots by third parties to election officials. . . .

Moreover, the court wrote that Arizona's first attempt at criminalizing ballot collection was stopped by DOJ--denied preclearance before Shelby County effective wiped preclearance off the books. But then Arizona re-enacted it in 2016, after Shelby County said that Arizona no longer had to preclear election-law changes. Thus, according to the Ninth Circuit, an injunction pending appeal didn't run into Purcell problems, because "[i]n the wake of Shelby County, the judiciary provides the only meaningful review of legislation that may violate the Voting Rights Act."

The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in January, but the Supreme Court's order on Saturday ensures that Arizona's ban on ballot collection will stay in place for this election cycle.

The order was unsigned, and there were no concurrences or dissents.

The Ninth Circuit's resource page is here.

 

 

November 6, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Colorado Federal District Judge Enjoins State's Ballot Selfie Ban

In her opinion in Hill v. Williams, United States District Judge Christine Arguello enjoined Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1), which prohibits a voter from “show[ing] his ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” In late October, the Denver District Attorney issued a news release reminding voters that posting an image of a completed ballot - - - a "ballot selfie" - - - was a misdemeanor.  Two separate sets of plaintiffs thereafter sued to enjoin the Colorado statute as a violation of the First Amendment.

 As Judge Argeullo explains,

Colorado uses an all mail-in ballot election. Every registered voter who registered to vote on or before October 31, 2016, has received a mail-in ballot to complete at home. Individuals who did not register by that date are allowed to register at the polling places and vote up to, and including, Election Day. Moreover, voters who have obtained ballots in the mail are still allowed to vote in person on Election Day. . . . The Deputy Secretary of State testified that she anticipates between 100,000 and 750,000 Coloradans will vote in person on November 8, 2016.

The ballot selfie prohibition thus included photographs at polling places as well as photographs of ballots completed for mailing.

The judge first rejected the state's arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing or that the case was already moot.  The judge likewise rejected the argument that an injunction would alter election laws and procedures immediately before an election.  Despite the timing, the judge stated that the plaintiffs' request (and her injunction) was narrowly crafted, and further noted that "if local rules at polling places prohibit the use of cameras due to privacy concerns, nothing in this Court’s Order prohibits the enforcement of those rules."

In the discussion of the First Amendment merits, the judge applied intermediate scrutiny for purposes of the preliminary injunction and concluded that the statute failed.  The judge also accepted that voter fraud was a significant government interest.  However, the judge found the means chosen were not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve that interest: the statute prohibits a wide range of conduct and does not include a mens rea related to voter fraud. Moreover, other extant laws could achieve the purpose of preventing voter fraud.

Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction against the defendant prosecutors

from enforcing Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1) by prosecuting, referring for prosecution, and/or investigating violations thereof, or instructing any person to remove from publication any photograph or image of that person’s voted ballot, unless such violations or publication is in connection with violations of other criminal laws. Nothing in this Order shall alter the ability of Defendants or other officials to enforce any other laws, rules, or regulations related to the administration of the election, including those rules in effect at polling places.

This opinion contrasts with the opinion regarding the New York statute.  Like the New York statute, the Colorado statute is longstanding (section § 1-13-712 was passed in 1891, but was most recently amended in 1980), and both lawsuits were filed close to the pending election.  However, Judge Arguello balanced the First Amendment interests in favor of the individuals and issued a narrow but effective injunction.

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November 4, 2016 in Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Federal Judge Rejects Republican Challenge to "Poll-Watcher" Limits

In his opinion in Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Cortes, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Gerald Pappert has rejected the Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment constitutional challenges to the state election code provision §2687(b) requiring poll watchers to be qualified electors of the county in which they serve.

The challenge argues that the code provision violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment by hampering poll watchers’ fundamental right to vote.  The "crux of this argument," as Judge Pappert states, is "that if a qualified, registered voter casts a valid ballot in one county and a fraudulent ballot is cast for a different candidate in another county, the fraudulent ballot effectively negates the valid ballot, and the qualified, registered elector’s vote is diluted."  But Judge Pappert rejected any applicability of Reynolds v. Sims's vote-dilution, noting that the vote-dilution theory here is "based on speculation that fraudulent voters may be casting ballots elsewhere in the Commonwealth and the unproven assumption that these alleged instances of voter fraud would be prevented by the affected poll watchers were they not precluded from serving at these locations."  Additionally, the challengers argued that the code provision arbitrarily distinguished between voters by county, a classification which the challengers conceded in the hearing would merit only rational basis scrutiny.  Indeed, Judge Pappert found that the entirety of the Fourteenth Amendment challenge to the code provision was subject to rational basis scrutiny given that the fundamental right to vote was not actually being burdened.

Judge Pappert also rejected the claim that Section 2687(b) infringes on the rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment by narrowing the pool of potential watchers at any polling place to the county level.  The judge noted that plaintiffs cited no authority for the proposition that poll-watching is protected by the First Amendment or that it constitutes "core political speech."  Instead, it is a state-created function and is subject to limitations by the state.  It is distinguished from petition-circulators, for example, because "poll watchers do not discuss or advocate for a political candidate or viewpoint, either explicitly or implicitly."  Instead, poll watchers, whatever their private motivations may be, are "performing a public function delegated by the state."

In addition to finding that the constitutional claims failed to satisfy the likelihood of success on the merits necessary to warrant a preliminary injunction, Judge Pappert also found the other factors for preliminary injunction lacking.  Additionally, Judge Pappert noted that the Plaintiffs "waited until eighteen days before the election to bring the case":  "There was no need for this judicial fire drill and Plaintiffs offer no reasonable explanation or justification for the harried process they created."  Moreover, should the code be enjoined, "poll watchers would be allowed to roam the Commonwealth on election day for the first time in the Election Code’s seventy-nine year history—giving the Commonwealth and county election officials all of five days’ notice to prepare for the change."

'The_Peaceable_Kingdom',_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Edward_Hicks,_1826,_Philadelphia_Museum_of_Art

Judge Pappert, a former Attorney General of Pennsylvania, has authored a very well-reasoned 28 page opinion likely to withstand any appeal.  And although the opinion does not mention it, election-watchers are well aware of the context of the Pennsylvania situation: As reported, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has exhorted people in the more rural portions of the state to "Go down to certain areas and watch and study make sure other people don't come in and vote five times."  Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party filed a complaint  against the Pennsylvania Republican Party and the Trump Campaign for voter intimidation violating the Ku Klux Klan Act.

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November 3, 2016 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Divided Eighth Circuit Upholds Nursing Student's Dismissal for Facebook Posts

In its opinion in Keefe v. Adams, a divided panel of the Eighth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a student from the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Minnesota.  Other students had complained about posts on Craig Keefe’s Facebook page and he was eventually removed from the program for :behavior unbecoming of the profession and transgression of professional boundaries."  Keefe challenged the constitutionality of the dismissal based on the First Amendment and procedural due process.  The district judge granted summary judgment for the university officials and the majority opinion, authored by Judge James Loken for the Eighth Circuit panel, affirmed.

The concerning posts involved other students in the class and group projects, including his objection to a fellow student changing the group presentation - "Not enough whiskey to control that anger" and calling another student a "bitch" for presumably reporting his Facebook posts.

Principles_of_modern_biology_(1964)_(20711036786)There was also this:

Doesnt anyone know or have heard of mechanical pencils. Im going to take this electric pencil sharpener in this class and give someone a hemopneumothorax with it before to long. I might need some anger management.

In a footnote, the court helpfully explains:

a hemopneumothorax is a “trauma” where the lung is punctured and air and blood flood the lung cavity; it is not a medical procedure.

College officials discussed the posts and Keefe originally deflected.  He was dismissed from the program under specific provisions in the Nursing Program Student Handbook which also refers to the Nurses Association Code of Ethics, including professional boundaries and "behavior unbecoming."  He appealed within the the college, citing failures of procedural due process, but his appeal was denied.

On the procedural due process issue, the majority concluded:

Viewing the summary judgment record as a whole, we conclude that Keefe was provided sufficient notice of the faculty’s dissatisfaction, an explanation of why his behavior fell short of the professionalism requirements of the Program, an opportunity to respond to the initial decision-maker, and an opportunity to appeal her adverse decision. Nothing in the record suggests that Keefe’s removal from the Nursing Program was not a careful and deliberate, genuinely academic decision.

Dissenting in part, Judge Jane Kelly argued that the dismissal decision was not "academic."  Instead, it was a disciplinary dismissal for which he argued the due process standard should be higher.  Judge Kelly highlighted one of the meetings with Keefe in which he was not given all the posts beforehand with "time to review the posts and formulate a response."  However, Judge Kelly contended that the college administrators were entitled to qualified immunity on the due process claim.

The First Amendment issue is the central one.  As Judge Loken's opinion for the majority notes, Keefe frames the issue categorically: "a college student may not be punished for off-campus speech," unless that speech is "unprotected by the First Amendment."  Judge Loken characterized this as an "extreme position" not adopted by any court.

The Eighth Circuit majority rehearsed some of the cases involving academic requirements for professionalism and fitness, including cases such as Ward and Keeton involving professional students' failure to comply with anti-bias requirements.  These principles, the court held, were equally pertinent to off-campus speech, especially given that the off-campus speech was "directed at classmates, involved their conduct in the Nursing Program, and included a physical threat related to their medical studies."

For the dissenting judge, it was important that Keefe's Facebook posts "were not made as part of fulfilling a program requirement and did not express an intention to break specific curricular rules."  As to the "threat," the dissenting judge argued that the district judge had failed to make findings that Keefe's statement qualified as a true threat.  For the dissenting judge, summary judgment was improper.

The split opinion might indicate that the case is a good candidate for en banc review and there were First Amendment groups as amici on behalf of the dismissed student.  Nevertheless, the Eighth Circuit opinion does comport with the trend of allowing professional educational programs latitude to "professionalize" students and to dismiss those who do not conform.

October 26, 2016 in First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Federal Judge Enjoins Michigan's Ballot-Selfie Ban

In her order in Crookston v. Johnson, Federal District Judge Janet Neff has issued a preliminary injunction regarding Michigan's ban on the so-called ballot-selfie.  Michigan's ban is expressed in two statutes, MICH. COMP. LAWS §§ 168.579, 168.738(2), which require rejection of the ballots for "exposure" and Secretary of State rules prohibiting photographs and use of cell phones by voters in the voting station.

Not surprisingly, Judge Neff relied on the First Circuit's opinion last month in Rideout v. Gardner invalidating New Hampshire's prohibition of the ballot-selfie. Judge Neff assumed that the Michigan scheme was content-based - - - prohibiting only speech about marked ballots - - - and that even if there were compelling government interests such as coercion, the means chosen was not narrowly tailored. However, even if the Michigan scheme was deemed content-neutral, Judge Neff found that it failed intermediate scrutiny.  Again, part of the problem is that there is little if anything to show that the coercion and vote-buying is related to the ballot-selfie, and even if there were a sufficient interest, Michigan's ban is not sufficiently focused.

Camera-Stencil-Graffiti
Image by Andreas Schwarzkopf via

One relatively novel government interest raised by Michigan is protection of  “the rights of other voters in the exercise of their right to vote by causing intimidation, disruption, and long lines at the polls.”  This interest is not extensively discussed Judge Neff, but the specter of long lines caused by "photographers" could be important.  However, in North Carolina where early voting has begun, the lines are reportedly related to the decrease in voting places rather than to voter-conduct.

With the election imminent, Michigan may spend its time seeking review from the Sixth Circuit - - - or it may simply concede that the trend seems to be toward ballot-selfies as protected by the First Amendment.

 

October 25, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 24, 2016

Backpage Lacks Standing to Challenge Ban on Advertising Sex Trafficking

Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled today in Backpage.com v. Lynch that Backpage lacked standing to challenge a federal law criminalizing ads for sex trafficking.

The ruling ends this case, unless and until Backpage successfully appeals.

Backpage, an on-line classified ad service that hosts an "adult services" section, challenged the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act of 2015, which amended the existing sex-trafficking prohibition and created a criminal penalty for advertising sex trafficking, including trafficking of minors. Backpage brought a pre-enforcement challenge to the SAVE Act, arguing that it was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, and that it violated Backpage's free speech. To establish standing, Backpage argued that it intended "to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest."

The court rejected that argument. The court said that Backpage only "intends to continue hosting third party advertisements, including advertisements that are adult-oriented and concern escort services," but not advertisements that (even arguably) violate the SAVE Act (which, according to the court, wouldn't be constitutionally protected, anyway). Because Backpage didn't "allege[] an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest," and that is "proscribed by [the] statute [it] wishes to challenge," it lacked standing for its pre-enforcement challenge.

The court distinguished the several other cases that Backpage won, writing that those cases were different.

October 24, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ninth Circuit Upholds California's Disclosure Statute Regulating Crisis Pregnancy Centers

In its opinion in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Harris, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, the FACT Act. The FACT Act mandates that licensed pregnancy-related clinics, including crisis pregnancy centers that specifically discourage abortion and employ "deceptive advertising and counseling practices" related to the availability of abortion, disseminate a notice stating the availability of publicly-funded family-planning services that include contraception and abortion.  Additionally, the FACT Act requires unlicensed clinics provide notice that they are not licensed.

Bodleian_Libraries,_Ticket_of_Shanes_Castle,_announcing_Shanes_Castle_masqueradeRecall that mandatory disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers has previously been considered in Circuit opinions.  In The Evergreen Association, Inc. d/b/a Expectant Mother Care Pregnancy Centers v. City of New York, a divided panel of the Second Circuit in 2014 ruled that only one of the three major provisions of NYC's Local Law 17 seeking to mandate disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers was constitutional.  The en banc Fourth Circuit has also rules: First, in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, it reversed the granting of a preliminary injunction finding fault with the application of the summary judgment standard by the district judge, and second in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County,  affirmed a finding that one of the mandated disclosures was constitutional and the other was not.

The Ninth Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, rejected the argument that the mandated notice of other services available for pregnancy to be afforded by licensed facilities (the "Licensed Notice")  should be subject to strict scrutiny because "all" content-based regulations should be subject to strict scrutiny, notwithstanding  the United States Supreme Court's decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015).  Judge Nelson's opinion noted that abortion regulation and the practice of medicine have been subject to "reasonable regulation" even when speech is involved. Instead, the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel took as precedent its ruling in Pickup v. Brown regarding prohibition of sexual conversion therapy and the concept of "professional speech":

We now turn to the correct level of scrutiny to apply to the Licensed Notice and conclude that under our precedent in Pickup, intermediate scrutiny applies. Licensed Clinics are not engaging in a public dialogue when treating their clients, and they are not “constitutionally equivalent to soapbox orators and pamphleteers.” Pickup. Thus, it would be inappropriate to apply strict scrutiny. And, unlike in Pickup, the Licensed Notice does not regulate therapy, treatment, medication, or any other type of conduct. Instead, the Licensed Notice regulates the clinics’ speech in the context of medical treatment, counseling, or advertising.

Because the speech here falls at the midpoint of the Pickup continuum, it is not afforded the “greatest” First Amendment protection, nor the least.  It follows, therefore, that speech in the middle of the Pickup continuum should be subject to intermediate scrutiny.

 In applying intermediate scrutiny, Judge Nelson found that

California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally-protected medical services like abortion. The California Legislature determined that a substantial number of California citizens may not be aware of, or have access to, medical services relevant to pregnancy. * * * *

We conclude that the Licensed Notice is narrowly drawn to achieve California’s substantial interests. The Notice informs the reader only of the existence of publicly-funded family-planning services. It does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest, or imply that women should use those state-funded services. The Licensed Notice is closely drawn to achieve California’s interests in safeguarding public health and fully informing Californians of the existence of publicly-funded medical services. And given that many of the choices facing pregnant women are time-sensitive, such as a woman’s right to have an abortion before viability, we find convincing the AG’s argument that because the Licensed Notice is disseminated directly to patients whenever they enter a clinic, it is an effective means of informing women about publicly-funded pregnancy services.

Additionally, the panel found that the Unlicensed Notice - - - the mandated disclosure that a facility is not licensed - - - survives every level of scrutiny, even strict scrutiny.

The Ninth Circuit panel opinion acknowledged that it was in agreement with the Second and Fourth Circuits on the Unlicensed Notice provision, but that the Second and Fourth Circuits had applied a higher level of scrutiny to similar mandated disclosures and found that they were not constitutional.

There is thus an arguable split amongst the circuits on the subject of mandated disclosures by so-called pregnancy crisis centers, with the Ninth Circuit's conceptualization of "professional speech" again ripe for a certiorari petition to the United States Supreme Court.

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October 14, 2016 in Abortion, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

D.C. Circuit Hands Victory to Unitary Executive Theory, Defeat to CFPB

In a sweeping endorsement of the unitary executive theory, the D.C. Circuit ruled today in PHH Corp. v. CFPB that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unconstitutional. But at the same time, the court limited the remedy to reading out the "for-cause" termination provision for the director and turning the Bureau into an ordinary executive agency.

The ruling allows the Bureau to continue to operate, but, unless the ruling is stayed pending the inevitable appeal, removes the for-cause protection enjoyed by the director. Because that for-cause protection is what makes the CFPB "independent," the ruling turns the Bureau into a regular executive agency, with a single head that enjoys no heightened protection from removal.

In an opinion by Judge Kavanaugh, the court ruled that the single head of the Bureau, terminable only for cause, put the Bureau outside the reach of the President, in violation of Article II. The court said that this feature of the Bureau--single head, terminable only for cause--meant that there was no political accountability for the Bureau, and no check on the director's actions. (The court contrasted this single-head structure with a board structure in an independent agency, where, according to the court, the members could check each other.) The court also said that the single-head structure cuts against the historical grain--that we've never done it that way. Here's a summary:

The CFPB's concentration of enormous executive power in a single, unaccountable, unchecked Director not only departs from settled historical practice, but also poses a far greater risk of arbitrary decisionmaking and abuse of power, and a far greater threat to individual liberty, than does a multi-member independent agency. The overarching constitutional concern with independent agencies is that the agencies are unchecked by the President, the official who is accountable to the people and who is responsible under Article II for the exercise of executive power. Recognizing the broad and unaccountable power wielded by independent agencies, Congress and Presidents of both political parties have therefore long endeavored to keep independent agencies in check through other statutory means. In particular, to check independent agencies, Congress has traditionally required multi-member bodies at the helm of every independent agency. In lieu of Presidential control, the multi-member structure of independent agencies acts as a critical substitute check on the excesses of any individual independent agency head--a check that helps to prevent arbitrary decisionmaking and thereby to protect individual liberty.

Emphasizing a unitary executive, the court wrote at length, and disapprovingly, about how the director is entirely unaccountable. But this ignores the fact that the for-cause termination provision does not mean "never able to fire." It also ignores other ways that a President can influence the Bureau, outside of just firing the director at will. And it also ignores other checks on the office, like statutory authorities and restrictions, congressional oversight, and (ironically) judicial review of CFPB actions (although these are obviously not presidential checks on the Bureau).

After ruling the CFPB unconstitutional--but saving it by striking only the for-cause termination provision for the director--the court went on to hold that the CFPB misapplied the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.

Judge Randolph joined the majority opinion and added that the ALJ who presided over the hearing (after the CFPB filed its charges) was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause.

Judge Lecraft Henderson concurred in the court's statutory ruling, but argued that the court did not need to touch the constitutional question (because it could grant PHH relief under the statute alone).

This ruling is hardly the end of this case: it'll undoubtedly go to the Supreme Court.

October 11, 2016 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Federal Judge Extends Florida Voter Registration Because of Hurricane

In an Order in Florida Democratic Party v. Scott, United States District Judge Mark Walker extended the voter registration until Wednesday, October 12, at 5:00pm and also scheduled a hearing for that afternoon for further determinations.

As Judge Walker explained the facts:

Florida’s voter registration deadline for the 2016 election cycle is currently set for Tuesday, October 11, 2016. For aspiring eligible voters, failing to register by that date effectively forecloses the right to vote in the 2016 election. Just five days before that deadline, however, Hurricane Matthew bore down and unleashed its wrath on the State of Florida. Life-threatening winds and rain forced many Floridians to evacuate or, at a minimum, hunker down in shelters or their homes. Like Hurricane Matthew, the voter registration deadline also approached and bore down on the State of Florida. Citing the impending Hurricane, many urged the Governor of Florida, Defendant Rick Scott, to extend the deadline. But Defendant Scott demurred, asserting instead that Floridian’s had other avenues to ensure that their right to vote was protected.

Judge Walker first considered whether the Florida Democratic Party had standing to assert the rights of voters, quickly concluding it had.  Judge Walker next decided that while the second named defendant, Ken Dentzer, as Secretary of State was a proper defendant, Governor Scott was not.  Judge Walker concluded that while Governor Scott had statutory general emergency management powers, this did not include extending voter registration.  Thus, the judge held that Governor Scott has no power in this regard and is not a proper defendant.
 
Hurricane_Matthew_en_route_to_Florida

Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida 7 October 2016 NASA via
 
On the merits in the context of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), Judge Walker applied the well-established test of Burdick v. Takushi (1992) regarding challenges to state election laws: courts considering a challenge to state election laws “must weigh ‘the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate’ against ‘the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule,’ taking into consideration ‘the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’s rights.’” 
 
Judge Walker concluded there was a severe burden on voting rights.  He noted that Florida's statutory framework includes no provision that extends the voter registration in an emergency.  Given the hurricane, "Florida’s statutory framework completely disenfranchises thousands of voters, and amounts to a severe burden on the right to vote."  A severe burden warrants strict scrutiny.  Judge Walker concluded that even if Florida could articulate a compelling state interest - - - adding in parenthesis ("and this Court doubts that it can") - - - it "is nonsensical to argue that it is narrowly tailored to that interest."  Further, even if more lenient scrutiny was afforded, Florida's statutory scheme would be unconstitutional.

Even assuming that Florida’s statutory framework was subject to a more flexible Anderson–Burdick test, it still would be unconstitutional. In no way could Defendants argue that there is some sort of limitation that requires them to burden the constitutional rights of aspiring eligible voters. Many other states, for example, either extended their voting registration deadlines in the wake of Hurricane Matthew or already allow voter registration on Election Day.  There is no reason Florida could not do the same. In so ruling, this Court is not suggesting that Florida has to allow voter registration up to Election Day. Rather, it simply holds that the burden on the State of Florida in extending voter registration is, at best de minimis. . . .

Finally, Florida’s statutory framework is unconstitutional even if rational basis review applied (which it does not). Quite simply, it is wholly irrational in this instance for Florida to refuse to extend the voter registration deadline when the state already allows the Governor to suspend or move the election date due to an unforeseen emergency.

[citations omitted].

    After finding that the TRO criteria supported the restraining order, Judge Walker added that the order was necessary state-wide because "Hurricane Matthew’s effects are not circumscribed to one region of the state." He reasoned that it "would be grossly inappropriate, for ex- ample, to hold that aspiring eligible voters in Jacksonville could register later than those in Pensacola."  

Therefore, this Order holds that Florida’s current statutory framework is unconstitutional. That unconstitutionality is not limited to those in the areas most affected by Hurricane Matthew. It extends to the entire State of Florida.

Thus, Floridians have at least one additional day to register to vote for the November 9 election.

UPDATE: 

In a brief Order after the hearing on October 12, Judge Walker granted the preliminary injunction "for the same reasons" articulated in the TRO order and extended the deadline to Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

October 10, 2016 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Eleventh Amendment, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Sexual Conversion Ban Case

In the continuing - - - yet seemingly concluding - - - saga of challenges to the constitutionality 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, the Ninth Circuit's opinion today in Welsh v. Brown revisited its August opinion upholding the law.  Today's opinion announces that the Ninth Circuit will not rehear the case en banc - - - "no judge of the court" having requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc - - - and issues an amended opinion.

The change from the August opinion is slight, adding an example in the opinion's description of the challengers' argument in one paragraph:

Plaintiffs first argue that, under the Establishment Clause, SB 1172 excessively entangles the State with religion. Their argument rests on a misconception of the scope of SB 1172. For example, Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Welch may not “offer certain prayers or quote certain Scriptures to young people” even “while working as a minister for Skyline Church” within “the four walls of the church . . ., while engaging in those religious activities.” The premise of this Establishment Clause argument is mistaken, and the argument fails, because SB 1172 regulates conduct only within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.

[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].

With such a small revision, it would seem there was little contention about the case.  Recall that Welsh itself is a sequel to Pickup v. Brown, in which the Ninth Circuit declined en banc review (albeit more divisively), to other First Amendment challenges to the California statute. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit in King v. Christie rejected a challenge to New Jersey's similar SOCE-ban statute.  The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in both Pickup and King, making prospects for a grant of certiorari in Welch v. Brown rather slim, especially for an eight Justice Court.

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 [image via]

 

 

October 4, 2016 in Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seventh Circuit Reality Checks Mike Pence on Syrian Immigrants

Schwinn-stevenThe Seventh Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction against Indiana Governor Mike Pence's program to halt federal resettlement funds to a private organization that resettles Syrian immigrants. The smack-down ruling was hardly a surprise after the brutal oral arguments, just last month.

The ruling means that Indiana cannot stop payment of federal funds for Syrian resettlement, at least for now. But if the courts' actions so far are any indication, this preliminary injunction will quickly turn to a permanent one.

The case arose when Governor Pence announced that he would stop payment under the federal Refugee Act for resettlement of Syrians, and Syrians alone. But there was a problem: The Refugee Act bans discrimination by nationality, among other characteristics. And that's exactly what Pence did in denying payment for Syrian resettlement.

The Seventh Circuit rejected Pence's argument that he wasn't really discriminating by nationality:

But that's the equivalent of his saying (not that he does say) that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they're black but because he's afraid of them, and since race is therefore not his motive he isn't discriminating. But that of course would be racial discrimination, just as his targeting Syrian refugees is discrimination on the basis of nationality.

The court also schooled Pence on some basics of refugee screening (it's thorough, and the federal government does it, without the second-guessing of the likes of Pence), and called him on his empty claims and baseless fears:

The governor of Indiana believes, though without evidence, that some of these persons were sent to Syria by ISIS to engage in terrorism and now wish to infiltrate the United States in order to commit terrorist acts here. No evidence of this believe has been presented, however; it is nightmare speculation.

The ruling only affirms the lower court's grant of a preliminary injunction, so theoretically doesn't end the case. But the handwriting is on the wall: This program violates the terms of the federal Refugee Act.

October 4, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tax Court is, Indeed, a "Court" (Under FOIA)

Judge Rudolph Contreras (D.D.C.) ruled in Byers v. United States Tax Court that the Tax Court is a "court," not an "agency," under FOIA. The ruling means that the Tax Court isn't subject to the plaintiff's FOIA request.

The case arose when Ronald Byers filed a FOIA request against the Tax Court. Byers argued that the Tax Court should be exempt from FOIA (as Article III courts are), because it's located in the Executive Branch.

Judge Contreras disagreed. He wrote that the touchstone for FOIA coverage of the Tax Court isn't where the Tax Court is located, but rather its nature. "[A] number of factors, including congressional intent, Supreme Court interpretation, and the function of the Tax Court, all suggest that the Tax Court is best understood as a court, not an agency, for the purposes of FOIA." And because FOIA exempts "courts of the United States," the Tax Court is exempt.

September 30, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eleventh Circuit Upholds PAC-to-PAC Transfer Ban

The Eleventh Circuit this week rejected a First Amendment challenge to Alabama's ban on PAC-to-PAC political contributions. The ruling upholds Alabama's ban and deepens a split in the circuits.

The Alabama Democratic Conference, an Alabama PAC perhaps best known for its yellow sample ballot that it distributes to voters, brought the case, arguing that Alabama's law that bans political contributions between PACs violates free speech. The ADC gets money from individual contributors, other PACs, and even candidates; it spends money in support of particular candidates and independent advocacy. The ADC uses separate bank accounts for candidate contributions and its own independent expenditures. Still, the state's PAC-to-PAC transfer ban prohibited the ADC from receiving money from other PACs. So it sued.

The Eleventh Circuit upheld the state's transfer ban. The court ruled that the state enacted the ban in response to a concern by state voters that PAC-to-PAC transfers were being used to conceal the true identity of political contributors--and raised the appearance of quid pro quo corruption. Moreover, the court said that the ADC didn't do enough to segregate its two accounts to reduce the appearance that it might use other PACs' contributions for candidate contributions. Because the ban was closely drawn to address the appearance of corruption, the Eleventh Circuit upheld it.

The ruling aligns with the Second and Fifth Circuits, but against the Tenth, on the question whether a PAC-to-PAC transfer ban violates free speech, when a PAC has two separate accounts, one for candidate contributions and the other for independent expenditures.

September 30, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

First Circuit: Statute Prohibiting "Ballot Selfies" Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in Rideout v. Gardner, the First Circuit, affirming the district judge, held that New Hampshire's prohibition of "ballot selfies" violates the First Amendment.

New Hamp. Rev. Statute §659.35, I, was amended in 2014 to provide:

No voter shall allow his or her ballot to be seen by any person with the intention of letting it be known how he or she is about to vote or how he or she has voted except as provided in RSA 659:20. This prohibition shall include taking a digital image or photograph of his or her marked ballot and distributing or sharing the image via social media or by any other means.

(amended language underlined). The rationale for the statute was to prevent situations in which voters could be coerced into providing proof that they voted in a particular way, and thus as a means to prevent vote-coercion or vote-buying. 

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polling place 1900 via

Judge Sandra Lynch's succinct opinion for the First Circuit panel includes a discussion of the nineteenth century practice in which political parties and other organizations had the power to print their own ballots, which they printed in a manner as to make the ballots easily identifiable by size and color.  "This practice allowed the ballot-printing organizations to observe how individuals voted at the polls, which in turn created an obviously coercive environment. "  Thus, "New Hampshire undertook a series of reforms to combat widespread vote buying and voter intimidation" and in 1891 passed legislation requiring the Secretary of State to prepare ballots for state and federal elections, and in 1911 passed the precursor statute forbidding any voter from allowing the "ballot to be seen by any person, with the intention of letting it be known how he is about to vote."

New Hampshire's problem in defending the constitutionality of the 2014 statute is that the problem of vote-buying and coercion has been solved.  As Judge Lynch stated, New Hampshire could not point to any such incidents since the nineteenth century (with the last complaint, seemingly unsubstantiated, being in 1976).  While the state's interests might be compelling in the abstract, they need to be real.  A broad prophylactic prohibition is unwarranted, despite worries about new technologies and media.  Indeed, Judge Lynch wrote:

Digital photography, the internet, and social media are not unknown quantities -- they have been ubiquitous for several election cycles, without being shown to have the effect of furthering vote buying or voter intimidation. As the plaintiffs note, "small cameras" and digital photography "have been in use for at least 15 years," and New Hampshire cannot identify a single complaint of vote buying or intimidation related to a voter's publishing a photograph of a marked ballot during that period.

And even if there were a present problem that needed solving, "the statute still fails for lack of narrow tailoring."  Judge Lynch's opinion for the panel stated that the statute infringed on the rights of all voters and not the smaller (or even nonexistence) pool of those motivated to cast a vote for illegal reasons.  Additionally, there exist other state and federal laws prohibiting vote corruption which are adequate to address the problem, should it arise.  In an interesting footnote, the court lists statutes from other states allowing ballot selfies and notes that these states have not reported "an uptick" in vote buying or voter intimidation.

SnapchatThe First Circuit opinion applied intermediate scrutiny under the First Amendment.  The district judge had concluded the New Hampshire statute was a  content-based regulation and applied strict scrutiny.  However, relying on McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), the First Circuit reasoned that given that the statute fails the lower intermediate standard, the court need not "parse the differences" between the two standards in this case.  Nevertheless, the First Circuit did note that the New Hampshire statute affects voters who are engaged in "core political speech," and in a footnote quoted from the amicus brief for Snapchat that "younger voters" especially use ballot selfies as political expression.

Governments contemplating prohibiting "ballot selfies" would be wise to reconsider after a read of Rideout v. Gardner.

September 29, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Film, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Ninth Circuit: Green Party's First Amendment Challenge to Arizona's 180-day Party Recognition Deadline

In its opinion in Arizona Green Party v. Reagan, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge's grant of summary judgment in favor of Arizona's Secretary of State, Michele Reagan, in a challenge to Arizona Revised Statute §16-803(A).  The statute requires a petition for recognition of a "new" - - - or actually a minor - - - party to be filed "not less than one hundred eighty days before the primary election for which the party seeks recognition.  The challenge involved the 2014 election; the Green Party had lost its official status the prior year because it failed to garner 5% of the vote and was thus treated as a "new" party under the statute.  The Ninth Circuit first held that there was not an issue of mootness because the deadline issue was likely to "surface again," fitting into the exception for mootness of claims that are “capable of repetition, yet evading review.”

The Ninth Circuit considered the merits of the challenge as one of ballot access and articulated the balancing tests of Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983) and Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992).  But the Ninth Circuit essentially found any required balancing was impossible because of the Arizona Green Party's stance that the "deadline was unconstitutional as a matter of law" and submitted no evidence to support its claim that the 180-day deadline burdened its constitutional rights.

Analogy and rhetoric are no substitute for evidence, particularly where there are significant differences between the cases the Green Party relies on and the Arizona election system it challenges. The Supreme Court and our sister circuits have emphasized the need for context-specific analysis in ballot access cases. . . .

That filing deadlines of similar lengths may prove unconstitutionally burdensome in the context of some election schemes does not eliminate the need for evidence that a severe burden was imposed by the filing deadline in this case.

Thus, "absent evidence of the particular burdens imposed in this case," the panel concluded that  "at best, the 180-day petition- filing deadline imposes a de minimis burden on constitutional rights."  And given the de minimus burden, Arizona faced a very low hurdle: that the filing deadline served "important regulatory interests."

Unlike the Green Party, the Secretary [of State of Arizona] presented substantial evidence that details the processes for ballot access and the rationale behind each step in the timeline at each stage of the election process. The nested deadlines leading up to the Arizona primary, as well as the tasks that must be accomplished between the primary and general election, reflect an effort by the state to achieve the important goal of orderly elections. For example, the number of required signatures for independent candidate petitions depends on the number of registered voters who are not affiliated with a recognized party. For this reason, the state must know how many recognized parties will appear on the ballot before setting the candidate signature requirements, at which point candidates have two months to collect signatures. As Arizona’s Assistant State Election Director explained, “[i]f the petition deadline to obtain recognized party status were moved to a later date, new party candidates would have little or no meaningful opportunity to obtain the requisite number of signatures to qualify for the party’s primary ballot.” She also noted that in late May, Arizona counties mail a list of recognized political parties holding primaries in a particular election to the more than 1.9 million early registered voters, and that adding additional parties after the mailing deadline could therefore impose considerable burdens on the counties and lead to voter confusion. Also, in preparation for the primary, ballots must be translated into Spanish and several Native American languages, a process that takes time.

It does seem as if the Green Party of Arizona might have a successful challenge if it could marshal its evidence of the burden it faces under the 180-day deadline.
 
 
 Arizona_Green_Party_LogoArizona_Green_Party_LogoArizona_Green_Party_Logo

September 25, 2016 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Judge Slaps FEC for Erroneous Analysis of Political Committee

Judge Christopher R. Cooper (D.D.C.) ruled earlier this week that the controlling members of the FEC applied the wrong legal analysis in concluding that two groups were not "political committees" under federal campaign finance law. The ruling reverses and remands to the FEC for reconsideration.

The case matters because designation as a "political committee" triggers more stringent reporting requirements under campaign finance law. Judge Cooper's ruling makes it more likely that a group would be considered a "political committee," and thus marks a victory for campaign disclosure advocates.

The case arose when CREW lodged a complaint with the FEC that two groups, American Action Network and Americans for Job Security, were unregistered "political committees." Those groups spent money on TV ads and other electioneering communication in three congressional districts in the 2010 elections. In response to CREW's complaint, three FEC commissioners determined that the groups' "major purpose" wasn't "the nomination or election of a candidate," and therefore that they were not "political committees" under campaign finance law. The commissioners reasoned that the groups' electioneering communications--ads that mentioned a candidate, but that did not advocate for or against a candidate's election--shouldn't be considered in determining the "major purpose," and that groups' purposes over their entire history should be considered in determining their "major purpose."

Judge Cooper disagreed. He ruled first that under Buckley and its progeny, the commissioners should have considered the groups' electioneering communications in determining their "major purpose":

CREW's citations to legislative history, past FEC precedent, and court precedent certainly support the conclusion that many or even most electioneering communications indicate a campaign-related purpose. Indeed, it blinks reality to conclude that many of the ads considered by the Commissioners in this case were not designed to influence the election or defeat of a particular candidate in an ongoing race. . . . Instead, the Court will limit itself to identifying the legal error in the Commissioners' statements--that is, the erroneous understanding that the First Amendment effectively required the agency to exclude from its consideration all non-express advocacy in the context of disclosure.

Judge Cooper ruled next that the commissioners wrongly considered the groups' spending over their entire existence, instead of confining their analysis to spending within the most recent calendar year, in determining the "major purpose." He explained that a group's purpose can change over time:

The Commissioners' refusal to give any weight whatsoever to an organizations' relative spending in the most recent calendar year--particularly in the case of a fifteen-year-old organization like AJS--indicates an arbitrary "fail[ure] to consider an important aspect of the [relevant] problem."

Judge Cooper sent the case back to the FEC and ordered it "to conform with [this] declaration within 30 days." The FEC can, of course, appeal.

September 22, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Tenther States Claim Sovereign Right Not to Pay Employees Overtime

Twenty-one states, led by Texas, sued the federal government this week over the Labor Department's new overtime rule. The complaint, which argues that the rule violates the Tenth Amendment and principles of state sovereignty, puts Garcia, long a thorn in the side of states'-righters, on the chopping block.

The suit challenges DOL regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act that raise the threshold exemption for overtime pay. This means that employers now have to pay overtime to employees who earn up to $47,476, up from $23,660. (The FLSA only exempts "managerial" positions from the overtime requirement. DOL has long used a salary test as a proxy for "managerial" in its regulations, however.) The rule applies to both private-sector employers and states.

The states argue that the new rule will cost them money and require them to reshuffle spending priorities, interfering with their state sovereignty and violating the Tenth Amendment.

The Supreme Court at one time would have agreed. The Court ruled in National League of Cities v. Usery in 1976 that the FLSA minimum-wage requirement violated the Tenth Amendment for exactly these reasons. But less than a decade later, when it became clear that this approach couldn't work across the myriad federal regulations that applied to states in their non-sovereign capacity, the Court walked back. It ruled in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985) that the FLSA did not violate the Tenth Amendment, and that states had plenty of protection against federal overreach through the ordinary political process.

Now the plaintiffs in this latest lawsuit explicitly argue that Garcia should be overruled. They say that subsequent developments in the law have undermined the case, and that it's time to go back to National League of Cities.

The complaint speaks in terms of the additional burden to the states of the new DOL regulation, but its logic extends to any federal standard (like minimum wage, maximum hours, worker safety, etc.) imposed on the states. As a result, the case, if ultimately successful, would work a sea change in federal-state relations as they've existed since 1985, potentially across policy areas. That seems unlikely given the current composition of the Court. But who knows what might happen after the election.

The states also argue that the new regulation exceeds DOL authority under the FLSA, because the FLSA sets the overtime requirement based on job type ("managerial"), but the DOL regs set the requirement based on salary. This claim may have more traction (in the Fifth Circuit, at least, and possibly before the Supreme Court). It's similar to the core claim in the last state effort, also led by Texas, to challenge administrative action as a violation of the Constitution and the Administrative Procedures Act--in that case, the DAPA program. An evenly divided Supreme Court left in place the Fifth Circuit's ruling that DAPA violated the APA.

September 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Immigrant Children Between a Rock and a Hard Place on Right to Counsel Claims

The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that a federal district court lacked jurisdiction to hear a class-action claim by immigrant children that they have a right to counsel in deportation proceedings.

While the judges on the panel wrote separately to acknowledge the challenging barriers for unrepresented child-immigrants in the deportation process, the upshot of the ruling is that immigrant children remain between a rock and a hard place in lodging a right-to-counsel claim, and, thus, in the deportation process itself.

The case arose when immigrant children aged 3 to 17 filed suit in federal district court arguing that they had a constitutional and statutory right to counsel in deportation proceedings. The problem was that the Immigration and Naturalization Act provides for an appeal process in administrative deportation proceedings that permits an immigrant to appeal to a federal circuit court and consolidates "all questions of law and fact . . . arising from any action taken or proceeding brought to remove an alien .  .  only in judicial review of a final order . . . ." This means that an immigrant can raise deportation-related claims only in his or her direct appeal of an administrative deportation order, and not in a collateral process (like a separate case in district court).

The children argued that the INA's jurisdictional provision means that, as a practical matter, they could never raise a right-to-counsel claim on direct appeal of a deportation order. That's because one of two things could happen in deportation proceedings. First, an immigrant could have an attorney, in which case they wouldn't have standing to raise a right-to-counsel claim on direct appeal. Alternatively, an immigrant could not have an attorney. But in that case, given the complexities of the immigration process, a child couldn't adequately develop a record to successfully appeal (if they could even figure out how to appeal). (Immigration judges won't deal with the issue, so the children really would have to raise it on appeal to the federal circuit court.) So, they argued, they should be able to file a collateral class action in federal district court on the right-to-counsel claims.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that the INA's jurisdictional provision directly answered the question: the children could only raise their right-to-counsel claims through the administrative deportation process and on direct appeal to the federal circuit court.

The panel judges wrote separately to acknowledge the unique challenges that immigrant children face in this labyrinthine process, and the practical difficulties in raising a right-to-counsel claim. They also wrote that there's wide agreement that children need an attorney in deportation proceedings. But in the end, according to the court, right to counsel is an issue to raise only on direct appeal.

Or: Congress could simply fix it by providing a statutory right to counsel for children in deportation proceedings.

September 21, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)