Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Alaska Same-Sex Marriage: Court Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

On Sunday afternoon before a Monday federal holiday, federal district judge Timothy Burgess of the District of Alaska issued an  opinion in Hamby v. Parnell  and immediately enjoined officials of the state of Alaska from enforcing either the statute or state constitutional provision barring same-sex marriages. 

800px-AlaskaMap1895Judge Burgess' 25 page opinion predictably relied upon the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter concluding that the same-sex marriage bans of Idaho and Nevada violated the Equal Protection Clause and using the Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard for sexual orientation.  Judge Burgess also found that the Alaska laws violated the Due Process Clause because they infringe on the "fundamental right to choose whom to marry." 

In the Due Process discussion,  Judge Burgess has an interesting invocation of originalism:

In Lawrence  [v. Texas],  the critical mistake identified by the Supreme Court in its earlier reasoning [in Bowers v. Hardwick]  is the same error made by Defendants in this case: in the desire to narrowly define the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, they “fail[] to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake.”

Our forefathers wrote the Bill of Rights hundreds of years ago and could not have predicted “the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities” as we see today. As the Supreme Court articulately explained, “those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clause[]...knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once necessary and proper in fact only serve to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” The Plaintiffs in this case do not ask the Court to recognize an entirely new fundamental right to same-sex marriage; rather, Plaintiffs wish to participate in the existing liberty granted to other couples to make a deeply personal choice about a private family matter.

 Alaska has filed an Emergency Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, arguing in part that there is a "reasonable likelihood the Ninth Circuit will rehear Latta en banc and thus vacate the panel's decision."  This is largely based on the Ninth Circuit's application of heightened scrutiny in the panel opinion. 

But recall that this heightened scrutiny is based on SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labsdecided 10 months ago and which was denied a rehearing en banc. 

And recall also that while Justice Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court granted a stay of Latta, he later clarified that the stay was only as to Idaho and not Nevada (although the Ninth Circuit's heightened scrutiny standard was applied to the laws of both states), and the stay vacated on Friday.

Additionally, Alaska argues that "conditions compelling Supreme Court review of this issue could easily develop very soon."  Recall that the Supreme Court denied certiorari of the decisions from three circuits finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.  As Alaska argues:

The Sixth Circuit heard argument in early August regarding cases14 from four states (Michigan, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio) and could issue a decision at any time, and the Fifth Circuit has expedited argument of Louisiana and Texas cases and could issue a decision by end of this year. Accordingly, circumstances are likely to develop in which the Supreme Court is virtually obligated to review the issue.

Yet given the lack of endurance of previous stays, there is little reason to believe Alaska would be considered a different case.

 

October 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

District Court Rules Texas Voter ID Unconstitutional

Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos (S.D. Tex.)  ruled today that Texas's new voter ID law violated the Constitution and entered "a permanent and final injunction against enforcement of the voter identification provisions . . . of SB 14." Judge Ramos concluded that "SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." Judge Ramos also held that "SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax."

Judge Ramos ordered Texas to "return to enforcing the voter identification requirements for in-person voting in effect immediately prior to the enactment and implementation of SB 14."

We posted on Texas's move to implement its new voter ID law immediately in the wake of Shelby County.

The ruling comes the same day as the Supreme Court vacated an earlier Seventh Circuit stay of a district court injunction against Wisconsin's voter ID law.

October 9, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court Puts the Brakes on Wisconsin Voter ID

The Supreme Court this evening vacated the Seventh Circuit stay of an earlier district court injunction halting Wisconsin's voter ID law. (The Seventh Circuit upheld the state's voter ID law earlier this week.) This latest chapter in this dizzying case means that Wisconsin will almost surely not have voter ID in the upcoming elections. It also means that the Court may once again take up voter ID.

The Supreme Court order was brief, just one page, and said only that "the Seventh Circuit's stay of the district court's permanent injunction injunction is vacated pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari . . . ." The stay will terminate if the Court denies cert.

Justice Alito dissented, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. Justice Alito wrote that the Seventh Circuit's ruling wasn't unreasonable, or "demonstrably" erroneous. Justice Alito alluded to the problem of absentee ballots going out without a notice of the voter ID requirement, suggesting that these problems may have driven the Court to intervene.

October 9, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Rejects Challenge to Disclosure Requirement

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) this week rejected a non-profit's challenge to the disclosure provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The ruling was unsurprising, even if the case may be noteworthy, as it represents a next wave of challenges to campaign finance regulation.

The Independence Institute, a Colorado non-profit, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against FEC enforcement of BCRA's disclosure requirement as applied to a specific radio ad that the Institute planned to run before the fall elections. The Institute argued that the requirement was overbroad as applied, because the planned ad was genuine issue advocacy, and not express advocacy.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly was blunt in rejecting this argument:

This dispute can be distilled to the application of the Supreme Court's clear instructions in Citizens United: in no uncertain terms, the Supreme Court rejected the attempt to limit BCRA's disclosure requirements to express advocacy and its functional equivalent. Plaintiff in this case seeks the same relief that has already been foreclosed by Citizens United

Judge Kollar-Kotelly then rejected the Institute's attempts to distinguish Citizens United, ruled in favor of the FEC, and upheld the disclosure requirement.

This ruling was hardly surprising: if a court is going to overturn disclosure requirements, it'll have to be the Supreme Court. Still, the case should get our attention as a next-wave challenge to campaign speech regulation--the challenge to disclosure requirements.

October 9, 2014 in Association, Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

First Circuit Finds Adult-Entertainment Zoning Regulations Unconstitutional

In its opinion in Showtime Entertainment v. Town of Mendon, the First Circuit reversed a grant a summary judgment for the Massachusetts town and found that the zoning bylaws infringed on Showtime Entertainment's "right to engage in a protected expressive activited" violated the First Amendment.

Judge Juan Torruella's opinion for the unanimous panel first confronted the issue of whether the challenge to the zoning bylaws should be viewed as a facial challenge or as an as-applied challenge.  Here, there was "little practical distinction": there were only four plots of land within the "Adult Entertainment Overlay District" to which the bylaws applied.  But because the relief sought was an invalidation of the zoning bylaws, the court treated the challenge as a facial one. 

Additionally, the court discussed whether the town's actions should be judged as content-based, thus meriting strict scrutiny, or should be judged as content-nuetral, meriting intermediate scrutiny.  The court withheld its conclusion, finding that the zoning bylaws failed even the more deferential intermediate scrutiny standard.

The problem for the Town was that its stated governmental interests - - - its proferred secondary effects - - - did not further a substantial governmental interest unrelated to the speech.  These interests were two: the town's "rural aethetics" and traffic.  The problem for the Town was that it sought to advance these interests only as to the Showtime Entertainment lot of the four lots and not as to the other lots occupied by a 6,900-square-foot self-storage facility, a drive-in movie theater with an estimated capacity of 700 vehicles, Header_logo
and a 10,152-square-foot nightclub.   While the court clarified that its inquiry was not strictly a "underinclusive" one: "Nonetheless, we rightly pay attention to underinclusiveness where it reveals significant doubts that the government indeed has a substantial interest that is furthered by its proffered purpose."

Thus, as to the "rural aesthetics," the court noted that there was no cognizable difference between a large building hosting adult-entertainment or another large building.  The court also noted that counsel for the Town conceded at oral argument that "what's in the building" also mattered, thus seemingly acknowledging that this was a content-based regulation.  The traffic concerns suffered a similar fate, with the court finding no distinct traffic concerns for this type of business than for others along this heavily traveled route. 

 In some secondary effects cases, courts merely defer to studies, but here the court discussed them specifically (noting it conducted an "independent review of the studies") and found them lacking.  The studies had a common theme regarding the effect of adult-entertainment businesses on neighborhoods: the effect has a "limited radius."  This undermined the Town's fallback argument that Showtime Entertainment effected the rural aesthetic of the town as a whole, rather than the non-existing rural aesthetic along the busy highway.  Additionally, the court detailed the traffic studies, finding that they did not actually mention traffic, or were "largely anecdotal, rely nearly exclusively on personal perceptions rather than verifiable data, and include significant hedging language, such as indicating that increased traffic is merely a hypothesis."  The court also stated that in "several cases, they also make apparent that the true, primary concern is not traffic, but the type of patrons thought to visit adult-entertainment businesses," thus becoming content-based.

Mendon2

The secondary effects doctrine has proven a controversial one, with some of the Justices who first proffered the notion later disavowing it.  The First Circuit refreshingly gives the doctrine a rigorous application.

[images: the drive-in movie in Mendon via; the image of Mendon portrayed on its website via]

October 9, 2014 in Film, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

High Court Stays Injunction in North Carolina Voting Rights Case

The Supreme Court today stayed the preliminary injunction ordered by the Fourth Circuit against North Carolina's elimination of same-day voter registration and the state's elimination of voting in an incorrect precinct. The ruling means that North Carolina will not have same-day voter registration or allow voting in an incorrect precinct in the fall elections. Still, the underlying merits case will move forward at the district court.

We posted on the Fourth Circuit ruling, with additional background and links, here.

The case is notable, because North Carolina enacted its restrictions on voting immediately after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County. The move suggested that the state itself thought that its law wouldn't achieve preclearance. It illustrates the sweep and practical effects of the Shelby County ruling.

Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented from the stay, arguing that the Fourth Circuit was right to enjoin the provisions, and that North Carolina's evidence comparing African-American turnout in the 2010 primary election (relatively low) with African-American turnout in the 2014 primary (relatively high, and under the changes at issue in the case) was flawed, because primary voting patterns are not representative of general election voting patterns.

October 8, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Strikes Virginia Congressional District as Racial Gerrymander

A divided three-judge district court in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the district lines for Virginia's Third Congressional District violated equal protection. The court left the district in place for the fall elections, but ordered the state legislature to redraw the boundaries in the next legislative session.

The ruling tests whether and when a state's use of race to increase the percentage of racial minority voters in a district above the pre-existing percentage--for the stated reason to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (pre-Shelby County)--violates equal protection.

In other words: When can a state pack racial minority voters into a district in a way that dillutes their influence elsewhere, in the name of compliance with Section 5 of the VRA?

A similar issue is now before the Supreme Court in the Alabama cases, set for oral argument on November 12. We'll have an argument preview and review.

The legislature drew Virginia's Third in 2012 with an eye toward satisfying the non-retrogression standard in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. (At the time, before Shelby County struck the coverage formula for Section 5, Virginia was a covered jurisdiction.) In particular, the legislature used a 55 percent floor for the percentage of persons of voting age who identified as African America (the "BVAP"), so that the district wouldn't fall below a 55 percent BVAP. The legislature then increased the BVAP from 53.1 percent (the BVAP in the old district, the benchmark, under the 2000 census) to 56.3 percent (the BVAP in the redrawn district, based on the 2010 census). DOJ precleared the plan under Section 5 (again, before Shelby County).

Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the plan was a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The court ruled that legislative history and circumstantial evidence showed that the predominant purpose of the plan was race, and that the plan was subject to strict scrutiny. The court assumed, without deciding, that compliance with Section 5 was a compelling state interest before the Court struck Section 4 in Shelby County, but ruled that the redrawn district wasn't narrowly tailored to meet that interest. In particular, the court, citing Bush, said that the BVAP increase wasn't narrowly tailored "when the district had been a safe majority-minority district for two decades." The court wrote that "[w]hile the BVAP increase here is small than in Bush [where a plurality of the Supreme Court held that a BVAP increase from 35.1 percent to 50.9 percent wasn't narrowly tailored to achieve non-retrogression], the principle is the same." The court also said that the legislature's use of a 55 percent BVAP threshold (as a baseline below which the district could not fall), as opposed to some other analysis of racial voting patterns, wasn't narrowly tailored.

Judge Payne dissented.

Unless and until there's an appeal, Virginia's Third will stay the shape of the 2012 plan for the 2014 elections. But the legislature will have to redraw it next year.

October 8, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin Voter ID

In the latest, and almost certainly last, chapter of the case challenging Wisconsin's voter ID law, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit upheld the law and reversed a district court permanent injunction against it. Once again, the upshot is that Wisconsin will have voter ID for the fall elections.

We posted most recently on the case here.

The ruling was hardly a surprise, given the Seventh Circuit's history with this case. Recall that the same three-judge panel earlier stayed the district court ruling and injunction, and the full court declined to rehear that decision. This most recent ruling resolves the merits and almost certainly closes the case.

The court ruled that the challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law was virtually indistinguishable from the challenge to Indiana's voter ID in Crawford v. Marion County. Recall that the Supreme Court in that case upheld Indiana's voter ID law, because the plaintiffs didn't show that it would significantly impede citizens' ability to vote, and because the government had rational reasons for it. The Seventh Circuit said for the very same reasons that Wisconsin's voter ID law did not violate the constitutional right to vote. Indeed, the court noted that this was probably an easier case than Crawford.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court said that any racial disparity in possessing a voter ID was not due to discriminatory intent or to any factors (like ability to obtain voter ID, or a person's ability to pay for it) that the state had control over. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' disparate impact claim, concluding that the numerical disparity alone (between voter ID for voters of different races) wasn't sufficient to show a violation.

Finally, the court said that the distrinct court injunction--"perpetual and unconditional"--swept far too broadly. But in the end, that didn't matter, because the court upheld voter ID on the merits.

October 7, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit Declares Idaho and Nevada Same-Sex Marriage Bans Unconstitutional

The Ninth Circuit has issued its opinion in Latta v. Otter (and Sevick v. Sandoval) holding that the same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada respectively are unconstitutional.

This is not surprising given yesterday's denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court to the petitions in the Fourth, Seventh, and Tenth Circuit cases with similar holdings.

9thCircuitThe unanimous opinion authored by Judge Reinhardt held that the Idaho and Nevada laws regarding same-sex marriage "violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because they deny lesbians and gays who wish to marry persons of the same sex a right they afford to individuals who wish to marry persons of the opposite sex, and do not satisfy the heightened scrutiny standard" of  SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs.

The court rejected the argument that the same-sex banning marriage laws survive heightened scrutiny because they promote child welfare by encouraging optimal parenting.  In part, the court found that the means chosen to accomplish this goal was underinclusive:

If defendants really wished to ensure that as many children as possible had married parents, they would do well to rescind the right to no-fault divorce, or to divorce altogether. Neither has done so. Such reforms might face constitutional difficulties of their own, but they would at least further the states’ asserted interest in solidifying marriage. Likewise, if Idaho and Nevada want to increase the percentage of children being raised by their two biological parents, they might do better to ban assisted reproduction using donor sperm or eggs, gestational surrogacy, and adoption, by both opposite-sex and same-sex couples, as well as by single people. Neither state does.

 The court found that the other interests were likewise inadequate to support the ban on same-sex marriage.  In approximately 30 pages, the court affirmed the district court in Latta and reversed the district court in Sevcik.

Interestingly, there are two separate concurring opinions.  Judge Reinhardt wrote a separate concurring opinion (to his own opinion), adding a fundamental rights analysis: "laws abridging fundamental rights are subject to strict scrutiny, and are invalid unless there is a “compelling state interest” which they are “narrowly tailored” to serve.  Unsurprisingly, he found the same-sex statutes did not survive under this more rigorous standard. 

Judge Berzon's separate concurring opinion added yet another justification for the ruling:  the same-sex marriage bans are classifications on the basis of gender that do not survive the level of scrutiny applicable to such classifications.

Thus, the Ninth Circuit joins the other three post-Windsor circuits, and essentially reaffirms its pre-Windsor holding in Perry v. Brown that same-sex marriage bans violate equal protection.

October 7, 2014 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Federal Judge Enjoins Police Move-Along Rule in Ferguson

Judge Catherine D. Perry (E.D. Mo.) temporarily enjoined an ad hoc rule that allowed police officers to order peaceful protesters in Ferguson to move along rather than standing still (and threatening them with arrest if they don't). The ruling means that the law enforcement cannot enforce the move-along rule pending the outcome of the case on the merits. But Judge Perry was quick to write that nothing in her ruling stopped the police from enforcing the Missouri refusal-to-disperse statute, lawfully controlling crowds, or otherwise lawfully doing their jobs.

The case, Abdullah v. County of St. Louis, Missouri, challenged the ad hoc rule developed by law enforcement authorities that allowed police officers to order peaceful protesters to move along, instead of standing still, even when they aren't violated any law. The rule is just that, a rule (and not a statutory law), developed by law enforcement in the context of the Ferguson protests.

Judge Perry concluded that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits that the move-along rule was void for vagueness and violated free speech.

October 7, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fifth Circuit Stays Injunction Against Texas' Restrictive Abortion Law HB2

In Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey, the Fifth Circuit today issued a stay of the majority of the district judge's injunction against portions of Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis.  A panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional. 

This newest round of opinions consider the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement. 

In the stay opinion, authored by Judge Jennifer Elrod (pictured below) the majority states that there is some confusion concerning whether the district judge's opinion is actually limited to the as-applied challenge or whether it goes further.

Elrod

The majority interjects some confusion of its own with its statement that the district judge was wrong to conclude that "the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them" because

In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes.

The Fifth Circuit's majority opinion states that

the district court’s approach ratchets up rational basis review into a pseudo-strict-scrutiny approach by examining whether the law advances the State’s asserted purpose.  Under our precedent, we have no authority by which to turn rational basis into strict scrutiny under the guise of the undue burden inquiry.

It is this point on which Judge Stephen Higginson, concurring in part and dissenting in part, disagrees.  He states that he does not read the earlier HB 2 case, Abbott, "to preclude consideration of the relationship between the severity of the obstacle imposed and the weight of the State’s interest in determining if the burden is 'undue.'" And that consistent with the correct analysis, "the district court considered the weight of the State’s interest in its undue-burden review."

With one small exception - - -the district court’s injunction of the physical plant requirements of the ambulatory surgical provision remaining in force for El Paso - - - the Fifth Circuit stayed the district judge's injunction.  While the court states that the merits panel is not bound by its determination, it will certainly be persuasive when the Fifth Circuit considers the next round in the saga of the constitutionality of HB2.

October 2, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Judicial Campaign Contribution Case

In an Order today, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in the closely-watched case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar involving a First Amendment challenge to a state rule prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign contributions in a judicial election.

The Florida Supreme Court's per curiam opinion rejected the First Amendment challenge to Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7C(1), which as the court notes, is substantially similar to Canons 4.1(A)(8) and 4.4 of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct.  The Florida Canon provides:

A candidate, including an incumbent judge, for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds, or solicit attorneys for publicly stated support, but may establish committees of responsible persons to secure and manage the expenditure of funds for the candidate's campaign and to obtain public statements of support for his or her candidacy. Such committees are not prohibited from soliciting campaign contributions and public support from any person or corporation authorized by law. A candidate shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of the candidate or members of the candidate's family.

John_Mellor_Vanity_Fair_24_May_1873The Florida Supreme Court held that the Canon satisfied strict scrutiny, finding that there were two compelling governmental interests (preserving the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public's confidence in an impartial judiciary) and that the provision was narrowly tailored to serve these interests (the prohibition of direct fundraising nevertheless allows for the establishment of "campaign committees" to raise funds). 

The Florida Supreme Court noted that "every state supreme court that has examined the constitutionality of comparable state judicial ethics canons" has upheld their constitutionality, citing opinions from the state supreme courts of Arkansas, Maine, and Oregon, opinions that the court discusses throughout its analysis.  The Florida Supreme Court footnotes this statement in an interesting manner:

As to the federal courts that have considered this issue—whose judges have lifetime appointments and thus do not have to engage in fundraising—the federal courts are split. Several federal courts have held that laws similar to Canon 7C(1) are constitutional. See Wersal v. Sexton, 674 F.3d 1010 (8th Cir. 2012); Bauer v. Shepard, 620 F.3d 704 (7th Cir. 2010); Siefert v. Alexander, 608 F.3d 974 (7th Cir. 2010); Stretton v. Disciplinary Bd. of S. Ct. of Pa., 944 F.2d 137 (3d Cir. 1991). Conversely, other federal courts have held that laws similar to Canon 7C(1) are unconstitutional. See Carey v. Wolnitzek, 614 F.3d 189 (6th Cir. 2010); Weaver v. Bonner, 309 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2002).

[emphasis added].  Thus, the Florida Supreme Court declined to follow the Eleventh Circuit's finding that a similar judicial canon from Georgia, one of Florida's fellow-Eleventh Circuit states, was persuasive, observing that federal judges are not elected and seemingly implying that this may influence their reasoning.

Now that the United States Supreme Court has taken certiorari, however, it seems that the First Amendment issue will be resolved by Justices who are not elected.  Interestingly, since retiring from the Court, former Justice O'Connor has criticized judicial elections as dangerous to a fair and impartial judiciary, but of course she will not be amongst those making the ultimate decision.  Perhaps she will file an amicus brief?

[image via]

October 2, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court to Hear First Amendment Challenge to Sign Ordinance

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, regarding a First Amendment challenge to the town's regulation of outdoor signs.

The town requires a permit to erect a sign, with nineteen different exemptions including “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to Qualifying Event.”  The exemption for these temporary directional signs further specifies that such signs "shall be no greater than 6 feet in height and 6 square feet in area,”and “shall only be displayed up to 12 hours before, during and 1 hour after the qualifying event ends.” 

There were other exemptions for ideological signs and for political (campaign) signs with different requirements.

Reed and Good News Community Church challenged the town's temporary directional sign regulation as violating the First Amendment.  

800px-Direction_sign_for_Free_Culture_Research_Conference_2010The Ninth Circuit upheld the regulatory scheme in a divided opinion, the second time the court had heard the controversy.  The majority reiterated its earlier conclusion that the regulation was content-neutral: it "does not single out certain content for differential treatment, and in enforcing the provision an officer must merely note the content-neutral elements of who is speaking through the sign and whether and when an event is occurring." 

It held that "Supreme Court Precedent" affirmed its "definition of content-neutral" and in so doing the Ninth Circuit's February 2013 opinion relied in large part on Hill v. Colorado (2000).  The Ninth Circuit also relied on Hill's holding that the buffer zone at issue was constitutional and that "not all types of noncommercial speech need be treated the same;" this reliance may be less sturdy after the Court's decision last term in McCullen v. Coakley, in which the Court held a buffer zone unconstitutional.  

In considering whether the differing restrictions between types of noncommercial speech in the various exemptions were “adequately justified without reference to the content of the regulated speech," the court concluded they were.  Moreover, the court found that the town was entitled to deference in its choices as to size and duration of the signs.

Dissenting, Judge Paul Watford argues that the town's scheme is content-based and unconstitutional.  Here's the gist of his reasoning:

The content-based distinctions [the town of ] Gilbert has drawn are impermissible unless it can identify some non-communicative aspect of the signs at issue to justify this differential treatment.  Gilbert has merely offered, as support for the sign ordinance as a whole, its interest in enhancing traffic safety and aesthetics. Traffic safety and aesthetics are certainly important interests. But to sustain the distinctions it has drawn, Gilbert must explain why (for example) a 20-square-foot sign displayed indefinitely at a particular location poses an acceptable threat to traffic safety and aesthetics if it bears an ideological message, but would pose an unacceptable threat if the sign’s message instead invited people to attend Sunday church services.

Gilbert has not offered any such explanation, and I doubt it could come up with one if it tried. What we are left with, then, is Gilbert’s apparent determination that “ideological” and “political” speech is categorically more valuable, and therefore entitled to greater protection from regulation, than speech promoting events sponsored by non-profit organizations. That is precisely the value judgment that the First and Fourteenth Amendments forbid Gilbert to make.

[citations omitted].

 Oral argument promises to be a lively one full of hypotheticals; it has not yet been scheduled. 

October 2, 2014 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Fourth Circuit Blocks Portions of North Carolina's Voting Law

A divided panel of the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court ruling that declined to enjoin North Carolina's voting law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. We posted on the district court case, with more background and links, here. (Recall that North Carolina moved swiftly to put this law into place after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County. The move suggested that North Carolina itself thought that the law, or portions of it, wouldn't pass muster under Section 5, but that it would pass a Section 2 challenge.)

The ruling means that the state's elimination of same day registration and prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots are preliminarily enjoined during the pendancy of the case, but that the other portions of the law are not. Thus, the following provisions will go into effect pending the outcome of the merits case: (1) the state's reduction of early voting days; (2) expansion of allowable voter challengers; (3) elimination of discretion of county boards of election to keep polls open an additional hour on election day; (4) the elimination of pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds; (5) and the "soft" roll-out of voter identification requirements.

Unless the full Fourth Circuit or the Supreme Court steps in (and quick), that'll be the situation for the fall election. (The North Carolina AG reportedly said he'd appeal.)

The majority was quick to remind us that this is is not a final ruling on the merits, and does not speak to the underlying merits challenge. That case is still plugging forward in the district court.

The majority pulled no punches when it wrote that "the district court got the law plainly wrong in several crucial respects." It went on to identify, point by point, eight seperate ways the lower court misinterpreted and misapplied Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Perhaps most importantly, the court said that the district court misinterpreted the Section 2 standard in relation to Section 5:

First, the district court bluntly held that "Section 2 does not incorporate a 'retrogression' standard" and that the court therefore was "not concerned with whether the elimination of [same-day registration and other features] will worsen the position of minority voters in comparison to the preexisting voting standard, practice or procedure--a Section 5 inquiry."

Contrary to the district court's statement, Section 2, on its face, requires a broad "totality of the circumstances" review. Clearly, an eye toward past practices is part and parcel of the totality of the circumstances

Further, as the Supreme Court noted, "some parts of the [Section] 2 analysis may overlap with the [Section] 5 inquiry. . . .

The issue goes to the relevant baseline: Should the court measure a voting change with reference to the state's immediately preceding practice, or with reference to some other, lower baseline? (The issue came up recently in the Ohio early voting case, too.) The Fourth Circuit said that Section 2's totality-of-the-circumstances analysis requires a court to judge a voting change with reference to the state's prior practice. That, along with the rest of the totality of the circumstances, meant that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their challenges to the two portions of the North Carolina law that the court enjoined.

The Supreme Court will consider its first Section 2 case after Shelby County this Term--the Alabama redistricting cases. We'll likely get a better sense from that case how the current Court will analyze a Section 2 challenge--and how (and whether) it overlaps with the Section 5 standard.

Judge Motz dissented, emphasizing the high standard for a preliminary injunction, the timing of the case (right before the election), and the problems with implementation and potential confusion.

October 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ninth Circuit Upholds Local Drug Disposal Requirement

The Ninth Circuit ruled in PRMA v. County of Alameda that the County's drug disposal ordinance--which requires any prescription drug producer who sells, offers for sale, or distributes drugs in Alameda County to collect and dispose of the County's unwanted drugs--did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. The ruling ends the plaintiffs' challenge to the ordinance, with little chance of a rehearing en banc or Supreme Court review.

The case involves Alameda County's Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance, which requires any prescription drug producer who sells, offers for sale, or distributes drugs in the County to operate and finance a Product Stewardship Program. That means that the producer has to provide for the collection, transportation, and disposal of any unwanted prescription drug in the County, no matter which manufacturer made the drug. The plaintiffs, industry organizations, including a non-profit trade organization representing manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceutical products, challenged the Ordinance under the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the County. The court said that the Ordinance did not discriminate on its face or in application against out-of-state manufacturers--that it applied equally to all manufacturers, both in and out of the County. The court noted that three of PRMA's members had their headquarters or principal place of business, and two others had facilities, in Alameda County and so were effected equally by the Ordinance. This means that all the costs of the Ordinance weren't shifted outside the County (as the plaintiffs argued) and that at least some of those affected had a political remedy (and thus were not "restrained politically," as in United Haulers.)

The court then applied the balancing test in Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., and concluded that the Ordinance's benefits (environmental, health, and safety benefits that were not contested on the cross-motions for summary judgment) outweighed any burden on interstate commerce (the plaintiffs provided no evidence of a burden on the interstate flow of goods).

This is almost certainly the end of the plaintiffs' challenge: the ruling is unlikely to get the attention of the en banc Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court, if the plaintiffs seek rehearing or cert.

October 1, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Judge Strikes Subsidies for Health Insurance Purchasers on Federal Exchanges

Judge Ronald A. White (E.D. Okla.) ruled today in Oklahoma v. Burwell that the IRS rule providing subsidies for individual purchasers of health insurance on an exchange established by the federal government (and not a state government) ran afoul of the plain language of the Affordable Care Act. Judge White stayed his ruling pending appeal, however, so it has no immediate impact on subsidies in Oklahoma.

Judge White's ruling aligns with the D.C. Circuit panel decision in Halbig and stands opposite the Fourth Circuit ruling in King. (Recall that the full D.C. Circuit vacated the panel ruling and agreed to rehear the case en banc. That argument is set for December.) All this means that there is currently no circuit split on the issue; instead, the Fourth Circuit upheld the tax subsidies, the full D.C. Circuit will reconsider them in December, and the Tenth Circuit will consider them soon (on the inevitable appeal from Judge White's ruling).

Judge White wrote that the plain language of the ACA resolved the case. That language allows a tax subsidy for a purchaser of health insurance who is "covered by a qualified health plan . . . enrolled in through an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the [ACA]." 26 U.S.C. Sec. 36B(c)(2)(A)(i) (emphasis added). Like the panel in Halbig, Judge White said that the language was clear, and that the IRS rule extending credits to purchasers of health insurance on exchanges established by the federal government (and not a state) violated it.

Judge White downplayed the effect of striking the IRS rule, saying that "apocalyptic" claims about the challenges tot he IRS rule are overstated. In any event, he wrote, Congress could re-write the law to specifically authorize the subsidies.

Judge White also ruled that Oklahoma had standing to challenge the IRS rule, because the state, as a large employer, would have been subject to federal penalties for some of its employees who might purchase health insurance on the federal exchange and qualify for a subsidy under the IRS rule.

Judge White's ruling probably doesn't make this case any more (or less) likely to go to the Supreme Court soon. With just two circuits weighing in so far--and one of them vacating the panel ruling and rehearing the case en banc--the Court will likely wait to see what the full D.C. Circuit, and now the Tenth Circuit, do with it. Still, the challengers in the Fourth Circuit case have asked the Supreme Court to review it.

September 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Seventh Circuit Keeps Wisconsin Voter ID in Place

An equally divided en banc Seventh Circuit on Friday  denied review of a three-judge panel decision that stayed an earlier district court ruling and injunction against Wisconsin's voter ID law. The upshot is that Wisconsin's voter ID law will be in effect this election.

We posted on the three-judge panel's ruling here.

The court's decision was brief, but said that "[i]n coming days, members of the court may file opinions explaining their votes."

Chief Judge Wood and Judges Posner, Rovner, Williams, and Hamilton voted to hear the matter en banc. Judges Flaum, Easterbrook, Kanne, Sykes, and Tinder voted against.

The court hasn't yet issued a ruling on the merits.

September 29, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Second Circuit: Volunteer Ambulance Corps Not State Actor

In its opinion in Grogan v. Blooming Grove Volunteer Ambulance Corps, a panel of the Second Circuit affirmed the summary judgment of the district judge finding that the ambulance corps was not a state actor, leaving unsatisfied  the "essential prerequisite" to the plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim for her termination from the ambulance corps (the BGVAC).

The opinion noted that to demonstrate state action, a plaintiff must establish both that her “‘alleged constitutional deprivation [was] caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible, and that the party charged with the deprivation [is] a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor.’”  The court focused on the fairly be said to be a state actor prong, rejecting the plaintiff's argument that emergency medical care and general ambulance services  are “traditionally exclusive public functions,” similar to cases which have held fire protection and animal control within this category.   The court stated that "ambulance services in this country historically were provided by an array of non- state actors, including hospitals, private ambulance services, and, in what seems to be somewhat of a conflict of interest, funeral homes."

Bg-logo-5

 

Moreover, the court rejected the "entwinement" argument, noting that she was required to show that the State was so entwined with the BGVAC management that its personnel decisions are fairly attributable to the State.  The court noted that it could

safely presume that BGVAC derives the vast majority of its funding from public sources given its $362,000 yearly contract with the Town and the contractual provision permitting the Town to audit BGVAC’s finances, Grogan has introduced no evidence suggesting that the Town appoints any portion of BGVAC’s Board or has any say in BGVAC’s management or personnel decisions. Nor has she presented any evidence to suggest that the Town played any role in the disciplinary process that resulted in her suspension. BGVAC’s contract with the Town, moreover, identifies it as an “independent contractor” and expressly disclaims any employment or agency relationship between BGVAC and the Town.

The plaintiff was pro se, so perhaps counsel could have developed additional facts that would weigh in favor of state action.  Nevertheless, the court did not seem inclined to find governmental responsibility for actions of the "volunteer ambulance" corps.

September 29, 2014 in Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sixth Circuit Rules Ohio's New Voting Scheme Likely to Violate Equal Protection

With quick dispatch, the Sixth Circuit has issued its unanimous  opinion in Ohio State Conference of the NAACP v. Husted, affirming District Judge Peter Economus's decision earlier this month issuing a preliminary injunction enjoining the Ohio legislature's amendments to the election code that limited early in-person voting.

The Sixth Circuit rejected Ohio Secretary of State Husted's claim that the district judge's extensive findings of fact were clearly erroneous.  Likewise, the Sixth Circuit rejected the argument that the district judge should have applied rational basis scrutiny in the equal protection claim, holding that the district judge was correct in applying the "flexible Anderson-Burdick" test, articulated as

A court considering a challenge to a state election law 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 plaintiffs’ rights.”

Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 434 (1992).  The Sixth Circuit moreover found that the district judge applied the test correctly. The opinion specifically discussed Ohio's asserted  justifications - - - preventing voter fraud, containing costs, and uniformity - - - and found that Ohio did not demonstrate that these interests outweighed the burdens on voters.

In the last third of the opinion, the court analyzed the Section 2, Voting Rights claim  (Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973), again agreeing with the district judge.

This means that the Sixth Circuit validated the district judge's order requiring early voting provisions that become effective in just a few days, on September 30.

Ohio has already filed an application to the United States Supreme Court for a stay.  As Sixth Circuit Justice, Justice Kagan may rule on the application or refer it to the full Court.

  Voter-registration

 

September 26, 2014 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seventh Circuit Reverses Injunction Against Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

The Seventh Circuit this week reversed an earlier district court injunction halting a criminal investigation into coordination between Governor Scott Walker's campaign committee and "independent" groups on issue advocacy. We posted on the injunction here.

Recall that the Milwaukee County District Attorney asked a state court to initiate a "John Doe" criminal investigation into alleged coordination between Walker's campaign committee and "independent" groups on issue advocacy. As part of the investigation, the court issued subpoenas, including one to Eric O'Keefe, who manages the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Inc., one of these "independent" groups. The state court granted O'Keefe's motion to quash. The prosecutor took the issue to the state's higher courts, but, before those courts could rule, O'Keefe filed in federal court, seeking an injunction and monetary damages against the prosecutors. The district court granted the injunction (thus halting the investigation), ruled that the defendants did not enjoy qualified immunity, and ordered the defendants to return or destroy all documents obtained in the investigation.

The Seventh Circuit reversed the injunction and dismissed the case. It held that the Anti-Injunction Act and principles of equity, comity, and federalism prohibit it. The court said that the plaintiffs couldn't show irreparable injury, that they had adequate remedies under state law, and that federal relief was not appropriate. Because the state court judge "concluded that the investigation should end as a matter of state law, because [the prosecutor] lacks evidence that state law has been violated . . . [t]he result is an injunction unnecessary at best, advisory at worst."

The court also took the district judge to task for effectively anticipating a Supreme Court ruling that would allow the kind of coordination alleged here under the First Amendment. That hasn't happened (yet), said the court, and the district judge was wrong to base the injunction on it.

The court said that the district judge was also wrong to deny qualified immunity.

Plaintiffs' claim to the constitutional protection for raising funds to engage in issue advocacy coordinated with a politician's campaign committee has not been established 'beyond debate.' To the contrary, there is a lively debate among judges and academic analysts. . . . No opinion of the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes ('clearly' or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups--let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic.

Thus, the defendants enjoy qualified immunity.

Finally, the court held that "Wisconsin, not the federal judiciary, should determine whether, and to what extent, documents gathered in a John Doe proceeding are disclosed to the public." The court said that the federal district court "should ensure that sealed documents in the federal record stay sealed, as long as documents containing the same information remain sealed in the state-court record."

This ruling almost surely marks the end of the federal case. Because of the Anti-Injunction Act and the state of First Amendment law on campaign finance, this is not a good candidate for en banc or Supreme Court review.

September 25, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Federalism, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Music, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)