April 17, 2013
Argument Review: Does a Port's Enforcement Have the Force and Effect of Law?
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, the case asking whether federal law preempts the Port of Los Angeles's "concession agreement" that it requires of all drayage truck operators. Our argument preview is here.
Two points got the Court's attention. First, the justices tested whether the Port was acting in a proprietary way in enforcing the concession agreement, thus triggering the market participant exception. This question turns on whether the Port's enforcement of the agreement had "the force and effect of law"--language from the preemption clauses in the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act that means that enforcement by a state as state is preempted, but enforcement by a state as market actor is not. Here, the Port's concession agreements are contracts with drayage truck operators (making the Port look like a market actors), but they are ultimately backed by criminal penalties, even if not for breach of the contract, and the whole operation relates to regulation of public land (making the Port look like the state). Take a look at this exchange with the attorney for the Port:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: You are saying that you can do by contract what you cannot do by regulation. And I don't understand that argument when there are criminal penalties that attach to the breach of the contract.
MR. ROSENTHAL: But, Justice Kennedy, let me say again, there are no criminal penalties that attach to the breach of the contract. It is purely a contract. The remedies are purely civil. Even our other side in their argument has conceded there are no criminal penalties to the breach of the concession agreement.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I'm not sure that's crucial. You think a state can say nobody's going to come on our highways until it signs a contract? Okay? These highways belong to us, they are State land, and anybody who wants to ride on the highways, you have to enter a contract with the State. And that's going to get around this Federal statute?
Others, too, asked about the criminal penalties and the scope of the Port's regulatory authority--all to the end of determining whether the Port looks more like the state, or more like a market actor, when it enforces its concession agreement.
Next, the Court pressed on the scope of Castle, the case overturning Illinois's punishment of a carrier's repeated violations of the state's freight-weight restriction by completely suspending the carrier's right to use Illinois state highways for certain periods. Here, the arguments turned on whether the Port's enforcement mechanism was a punishment for prior violations (as in Castle), or whether it simply operated to ensure that only currently compliant trucks had access to the Port. There's also an issue about the continued vitality of Castle, given that the federal regulatory scheme that governed at the time has since been superceded.
The Port seemed to have the tougher time at arguments, but that's no (necessary) bellweather. There were plenty of open questions to suggest that there are no easy answers here. As a practical matter, if the Court rules against the Port, it would undo years of litigation and negotiation between the Port and the surrounding community related to environmental and health concerns and send those paties back to the drawing table. That, in turn, could impact both community health and the environment, and the Port's plans for even more expansion.
April 09, 2013
School May Ban Rubber Fetus Dolls
A three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled yesterday in Taylor v. Roswell Independent School District that a school can ban students' distribution of rubber fetus dolls without violating free speech, free exercise, or equal protection.
The case arose when members of a student group, Relentless, distributed rubber fetus dolls to fellow students at two schools, without required administration permission. The dolls were said to have the weight and size of a 12-week-old fetus. Relentless members apparently distributed them to educate fellow students and to protest abortion. But that message only backfired:
Both schools experienced doll-related disruptions that day. Many students pulled the dolls apart, tearing the heads off and using them as rubber balls or sticking them on pencil tops. Others threw dolls and doll parts at the "popcorn" ceilings so they became stuck. Dolls were used to plug toilets.
Op. at 7-8. And on and on.
The administration stepped in and stopped the distribution, even though it allowed students to distribute other non-school-related items (like Valentine's Day items), and even though it previously permitted Relentless to distribute other things like McDonald's sandwiches to teachers. (Maybe not surprisingly, those things didn't cause the same kinds of disruptions.)
So Relentless members sued, arguing that the administration violated free speech, the Free Exercise Clause, and equal protection.
The Tenth Circuit rejected each of these claims. As to free speech, it said that the case did not involve content-based discrimination, and that nobody contested the administration's ability to confiscate dolls that were used to harm school property or for lewd or obscene expressions of their own. Instead, the case involved private, non-school-related speech, and "[a]pplying Tinker, we hold that the District did not violate Plaintiffs' free speech rights because it reasonably forecasted that distribution of the rubber dolls would lead to a substantial disruption." Op. at 16. The court also held that the pre-approval policy looked like a licensing scheme, but with plenty of procedural safeguards (inluding two appeals) and substantive constraints on official discretion--and in the special environment of a school, where the First Amendment doesn't give students the same free speech rights that they may have, say, in the public square. Finally, the court held that the pre-approval policy wasn't unconstitutionally vague, because a student of ordinary intelligence would know when he or she needs to get a license, and how. The court said that the plaintiffs failed to show any arbitrary enforcement.
As to the Free Exercise Clause, the court held that there was no evidence of discriminatory purpose on the part of the administrators--that the ban on fetal doll distribution was neutral--that therefore rational basis review applied, and that the administrators had a rational reason for banning the doll distribution--that is, stopping the "doll-related disruptions." As to equal protection, the court said that the plaintiffs couldn't show that they were treated differently than anyone else seeking to distribute items at school and so couldn't show a violation of equal protection.
April 05, 2013
No Right to Possess Gun for Drug Trafficking
A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit ruled this week in United States v. Bryant that the Second Amendment does not protect a right to possess a gun for drug trafficking. With the ruling, the Second Circuit joins the Seventh and Ninth Circuits in rejecting Second Amendment challenges to 18 U.S.C. Sec. 924(c), providing criminal sanctions for using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
The Second Circuit seized on language in D.C. v. Heller that says that the Second Amendment protects "the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home," and that "the Second Amendment protects a personal right to keep and bear arms for lawful purposes, most notably for self-defense within the home." (Emphasis added, both times.) The court ruled that possession of a gun for a drug trafficking crime is (obviously) not possession for a lawful purpose, and therefore federal law can punish such possession without running afoul of the Second Amendment. The court explained:
Here, Bryant may have purchased and possessed the Remington shotgun for the "core lawful purpose" of self-defense but his right to continue in that possession is not absolute. The jury determined there was sufficient evidence to convict Bryant of drug trafficking and also to convict him of possessing a firearm in connection with that drug trafficking. . . . Thus, once Bryant engaged in "an illegal home business," he was no longer a law-abiding citizen using the firearm for a lawful purpose, and his conviction for possession of a firearm under these circumstances does not burden his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
April 01, 2013
Indiana Can't Have its Own Immigration Policy, Either
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week ruled in Buquer v. City of Indianapolis that two provisions of Indiana's immigration law, SEA 590, were preempted by federal law. The ruling on one of the provisions, Section 20, followed the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. United States. (H/t Indianalawblog.com)
The ruling permanently enjoins Sections 18 and 20 of SEA 590.
Section 20 says that an Indiana officer "may arrest a person when the officer has . . . a removal order issued for the person by an immigration court; a detainer or notice of action for the person issued by the United States Department of Homeland Security; or probable cause to believe that the person has been indicted for or convicted of one (1) or more aggravated felonies (as defined in 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1101(a)(43)). The court ruled that Section 20 was preempted for the same reason that a similar provision in SB 1070 was preempted in Arizona v. United States:
Similarly, in the case before us there is no indication that state or local law enforcement officers would be required to consult federal immigration officers before effecting an arrest . . . . [W]here the federal government has exercised it discretion to release an individual who has had a removal order issued, the subsequent arrest of that person by Indiana law enforcement officers would directly conflict with the federal decision, obviously and seriously interfering with the federal government's authority in the field of immigration enforcement.
Op. at 19-20. The court said that "it is even more apparent with [the section's] authorization of the arrest of individuals who have been issued a notice of action." That's because such notices are inherently non-criminal. The court also ruled that Section 20 violates the Fourth Amendment, because it allows a warrantless arrest for a non-criminal action.
Section 18 outlaws the use of a consular identification document, or CID--an identification issued by the government of a foreign state for the purpose of providing consular services in the United States to a national of the foreign state. The court said that Section 18 "directly interferes wtih the rights bestowed on foreign nations by treaty by virtually nullifying the issuance of one of the tools used by foreign nations to exercise those rights." Op. at 29. "It is also clear that such a sweeping prohibition has the potential to directly interfere with executive discretion in the field of foreign affairs." Id.
The same court earlier rejected three state senators' effort to intervene in the case. The senators argued that because they voted for SEA 590, they had a sufficient interest in the case. But the court held that they did not satisfy standing requirements under Coleman v. Miller, because the law actually passed. "We find that the three legislators here have not alleged a vote nullifcation injury sufficient to bestow standing in this case." Op. at 7.
Federal Judge Rejects Challenge to WTC Cross in September 11 Memorial and Museum
In her opinion in American Atheists v. Port of Authority of NY and NJ Judge Deborah Batts of the Southern District of New York rejected a challenge to the plan to include a seventeen foot cross (pictured) in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Judge Batts, however, did hold that the actions of the Memorial and Museum were subject to constitutional constraints. The defendants had argued that the "National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation" was not a state actor and thus the complaint against it, and the Port Authority, should be dismissed. Batts dispatched this argument with a rehearsal of the causal connections:
But for the Port Authority’s donation of the cross, but for the Port Authority granting the Foundation a property interest at the WTC Site, but for the Port Authority’s aid in constructing the Museum, and but for their continuing financial and operating relationship, the Foundation would not be able to include the artifact in the Museum.
She also found that the Foundation could be deemed a state actor because of its "pervasive entwinement" with the government.
The American Atheists were far less successful on their federal and state constitutionallaw arguments based on the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection.
In the more serious Establishment Clause challenge, Judge Batts concluded that the planned use of the cross passed the test of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). The placement of the cross in the museum's Historical Exhibition in the section, “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,” part of the September 11 historical narrative, was not an endorsement of religion. Judge Batts found it important that
there will be numerous secular artifacts around the cross, as well symbol steel with depictions of a Star of David, a Maltese cross, the Twin Towers, and the Manhattan skyline, which will reinforce to the reasonable observer that they are perceiving a historical depiction of some people’s reaction to finding the cross at Ground Zero.
She disagreed that the size of the cross was determinative. First, the plaintiffs were mistaken that it was the largest object in the museum at seventeen feet; the "Last Column," also to be included, is thirty-seven feet tall. Second, she observed that the artifact’s size was a function of its size when it was found; "Defendants did not create the cross to be such an imposing figure."
As for the Equal Protection challenge, Judge Batts found that there was not even an allegation of intentional discrimination or animus, and that the Foundation's act would easily survive rational basis review. The Museum is merely telling the history surrounding September 11 and the cross, and its meaning for some, is part of that history. The museum has the choice whether or not to include atheistic symbols.
Because the cross is situated among other artifacts and it is in a museum, any appeal from Judge Batts' grant of summary judgment for the defendants would most likely be unsuccessful. It looks as if the September 11 Museum will include the seventeen foot cross.
March 28, 2013
How to Tax an Internet Retailer Even Without Physical Presence, New York Style
The New York Court of Appeals today upheld a state statutory presumption that internet retailer "associates" operating within the state provide a sufficient nexus for the state to collect sales tax on the retailer's state sales. The ruling approves New York's end-run around the dormant Commerce Clause rule that a state can impose a sales tax on an out-of-state retailer only if the retailer has a physical presence--including economic activities by the retailer's employees, but not mere advertising.
With the rapid growth of internet sales across state lines, and with the last Supreme Court ruling on anything like this coming as far back as 1992 (on mail-order sales, of all things), this case may be a good candidate for high court review.
But on the other hand, the precise ruling in the case is rather limited. That's because the plaintiffs in the case pressed only their facial challenge at the Court of Appeals, not an as applied challenge. The problem here is that the statutory presumption can be rebutted, and an out-of-state retailer that can rebut it will also be exempt from it. This gives the presumption some wiggle room in certain cases and may be enough to protect out-of-state retailers against state sales taxes when they don't have sufficient business activity to constitute presence. The Court's ruling only says that the statutory presumption is not unconstitutional on its face. That's a far cry from saying that it's constitutional in every application.
The case, Overstock.com v. New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, tests New York's statutory presumption that an out-of-state internet retailer's in-state "associate" is soliciting business for the retailer:
a person making sales of tangible personal property or services taxable under this article ("seller") shall be presumed to be soliciting business through an independent contractor or other representative if the seller enters into an agreement with a resident of this state under which the resident, for a commission or other consideration, directly or indirectly refers potential customers, whether by a link on an internet website or otherwise, to the seller . . . .
New York Tax Law Sec. 1101(b)(8)(vi). The provision exactly describes Amazon's and Overstock.com's "associates"--local web-sites that include links to Amazon.com or Overstock.com and that receive a commission on each purchase through that link.
But neither Amazon nor Overstock.com has a physical presence in New York. And according to the Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), an out-of-state retailer like Amazon or Overstock.com has to have a physical presence in order for New York to impose a tax. (Quill Corp. involved an out-of-state mail order retailer. If you don't know what that is (!), click here.) Physical presence includes engaging in economic activities (like selling goods), but not advertising alone.
Enter the statutory presumption. The presumption says that Amazon's and Overstock.com's "associates"--those New York-based web-sites that contain a link to Amazon or Overstock.com, and receive a commission on each sale--establish a sufficient nexus between the out-of-state retailers and the state so that New York can impose its tax.
And the New York Court of Appeals OK'd it. The Court said that the retailers' associates were engaged in sufficient economic activity on behalf of the out-of-state retailers--business solicitation, and not mere advertising--to allow the state to tax.
Judge Smith dissented. He thought that the associates' links looked more like mere advertising, not business solicitation, and therefore weren't enough to establish a nexus between the retailers and the state.
The Court also rejected the retailers' due process claims, because the presumption is rational. The Court explained:
It is plainly rational to presume that, given the direct correlation between referrals and compensation, it is likely that residents will seek to increase their referrals by soliciting customers. More specifically, it is not unreasonable to presume that affiliated website owners residing in New York State will reach out to their New York friends, relatives, and other local individuals in order to accomplish this purpose.
March 26, 2013
Hollingsworth v. Perry, California's Prop 8 Case Oral Arguments in the United States Supreme Court
The first of the two closely-watched same sex marriage cases to be argued before the United States this morning prompted much tweeting and predictions, as well as the promised early release of the audio by the Supreme Court itself.
As the oral arguments today made clear, at issue before the Court today in Hollingsworth v. Perry is the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, held unconstitutional by a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit in Perry v. Brown.
The Standing Issue:
The first question during oral argument was from Chief Justice Roberts and directed the attention of Hollingsworth's counsel, Charles Cooper, to the "jurisdictional" issue - - - the question of whether Hollingsworth has standing. Recall that the original challenge to Proposition 8 named Governor Schwarzenegger, and later substituted Governor Brown, as defendants, but both governors and the State of California refused to defend the constitutionality of the voter initiative. Recall also that the California Supreme Court had answered a certified query about the interests of proponents of a Proposition under California law, but today's the questions from the bench stressed Article III of the United States Constitution.
Roberts' query was repeated to Theodore Olsen, arguing for the challengers to Proposition 8, and to Solicitor General Verrilli, who noted that the United States, as amicus, did not have a "formal position" on standing, but essentially echoed Justice Ginsburg's first question to Cooper, regarding whether the proponents of Proposition 8 had any "propriety interest" in the law distinct from other California citizens once the law had been passed.
On the Merits:
A central query on the merits is the level of scrutiny under equal protection doctrine that should be applied. Justice Kennedy asked Cooper whether it could be treated as a gender classification and stated "It's a difficult question that I've been trying to wrestle with it." Yet Cooper's argument in many ways deflects the level of scrutiny inquiry and Justice Kagan expressed it thusly:
Mr. Cooper, could I just understand your argument. In reading the briefs, it seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex and opposite -- opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State's principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?
Mr. Cooper agreed, and continued his argument, although Justice Scalia later tried to assist him:
JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Cooper, let me -- let me give you one -- one concrete thing. I don't know why you don't mention some concrete things. If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must -- you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there's - there's considerable disagreement among -- among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a -- in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not -- do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: California -- no, California does.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think we know the answer to that. Do you know the answer to that, whether it -- whether it harms or helps the child?
But given that Justice Kennedy is widely viewed as the "swing vote," his comments deserve special attention. During Cooper's argument, Kennedy focused on the children of same-sex couples in California:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I -- I think there's - there's substantial -- that there's substance to the point that sociological information is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more. On the other hand, there is an immediate legal injury or legal -- what could be a legal injury, and that's the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California, according to the Red Brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?
But at other times, Kennedy expressed other concerns. During Theordore Olsen's argument, Kennedy stated
JUSTICE KENNEDY: The problem -- the problem with the case is that you're really asking, particularly because of the sociological evidence you cite, for us to go into uncharted waters, and you can play with that metaphor, there's a wonderful destination, it is a cliff. Whatever that was.
And soon thereafter, in perhaps what could be a possible avoidance of all the issues,
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But you're -- you're doing so in a -- in a case where the opinion is very narrow. Basically that once the State goes halfway, it has to go all the way or 70 percent of the way, and you're doing so in a case where there's a substantial question on - on standing. I just wonder if -- if the case was properly granted.
MR. OLSON: Oh, the case was certainly properly granted, Your Honor. I mean, there was a full trial of all of these issues. There was a 12-day trial, the judge insisted on evidence on all of these questions. This -- this is a -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But that's not the issue the Ninth Circuit decided.
Could the Supreme Court merely declare that its grant of certiorari was "improvidently granted." It certainly wouldn't be the first time (or second) in very recent history. But in such a high profile case, it might further erode respect for the Court.
March 26, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 20, 2013
State Can't Automatically Collect Portion of Malpractice Settlement of Medicaid Recipient
The Supreme Court ruled today that a state can't automatically take a set portion of a Medicaid recipient's medical malpractice damage award in order to recoup medical expenses that it already paid. The ruling still allows states to recoup medical expenses from Medicaid recipients' malpractice damage awards, but they can't do it by setting an arbitrary fixed portion of a damage award; instead, they have to do it case-by-case, with more precision.
The ruling is a victory for Medicaid recipients who recieve malpractice awards. It means that states can't try to take more than their fair share of an award in an effort to achieve administrative efficiency (in determining the amount of actual medical expenses paid).
The case, Wos v. EMA, arose after the parents of minor EMA sued doctors and others for medical expenses, other expenses, and pain and suffering resulting from serious and permanent injuries that EMA suffered at birth. The parties settled for $2.8 million, but did not designate a portion of the settlement as reimbursement for medical expenses.
Because EMA received a portion of her medical care through North Carolina's Medicaid program, the state sought to recoup medical expenses it paid through Medicaid. North Carolina's statute says that up to one-third of any damages recovered by a beneficiary for a tortious injury be paid to the state to reimburse it for payments it made for medical treatment on account of the injury. The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the one-third portion was "a reasonable method for determining the State's medical reimbursements." This interpretation could allow the state to collect less than its past medical expenditures, if those expenditures exceeded one-third of the total recovery. But it also could allow the state to collect more than its past medical expenses, if, as here, those expenditures were less than one-third of the recovery.
The federal Medicaid Act allows, indeed requires, a state to recoup medical expenses from a Medicaid recipient's damage award. But the Act's anti-lien provision preempts a state's effort to take any portion of an award not "designated as payment for medical care."
The problem of determining reimbursable expenses is most acute when, as here, a settlement doesn't designate the portion attributable to medical expenses. In that case, as in this case, the state uses the one-third portion as a default--and recoups (at least potentially) more than its actual medical expenses. (Here the state court that approved the settlement set aside one-third of the settlement in escrow for payment to the state "until such time as the actual amount of the lien owed by [EMA] to [the state] is conclusively judicially determined." EMA's parents then sued in federal court. While the suit was pending, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the one-third portion was "a reasonable method for determining the State's medical reimbursements.")
The Court ruled that the federal anti-lien provision preempted North Carolina's statute. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. He said that North Carolina's one-third figure conflicted with the anti-lien provision, because it allowed the state to recoup more than its actual medical expenses, even when those expenses were designated as part of the award:
North Carolina's statute, however, operates to allow the State to take one-third of the total recovery, even if a proper stipulation or judgment attributes a smaller percentage to medical expenses.
Op. at 9-10.
Justice Kennedy said that North Carolina gave no limiting principle, and by its reckoning it could have set a much higher portion as its default--thus recouping much more than actual medical expenses paid.
Justice Breyer concurred, emphasizing that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid reached the same conclusion as the Court--and that the Court owed some deference to the Centers' judgment. Justice Breyer also said that the Centers could change their position, and that the Court's "decision does not freeze the Court's present interpretation of the statute permanently into law."
Chief Justice Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. Chief Justice Roberts said that the federal Medicaid Act doesn't specify how states must determine actual medical expenses, even though it requires them to recoup those expenses. In particular, he said that the Act doesn't specify a case-by-case, after-the-fact determination, as the majority does here; instead, it's flexible enough to allow states to adopt different approaches (like North Carolina's). Chief Justice Roberts would leave it up to the Centers and the states to experiment with different ways of determining actual medical expenses.
March 14, 2013
Ninth Circuit Reverses Death Sentence Because of Unconstitutional Actions of Police Officer and Prosecution
The Ninth Circuit has granted a writ of habeas corpus to Debra Jean Milke, a woman on Arizona's death row for the 1990 death of her four year old child, in its opinion today in Milke v. Ryan.
The opinion is noteworthy not only for the grant of the writ in a death penalty case, but for its portrayal of police and prosecutorial practices and for the work it took to uncover the problems. At the heart of the case is what the panel describes as essentially a "swearing contest" between the then 25 year old Debra Jean Milke (pictured right) and Phoenix Police Detective Armando Saldate, Jr. The Detective testified that Milke was given MIranda warnings and confessed to the murder of her son. Ms. Milke contended that she requested a lawyer, never confessed, and was innocent. There was no signed Miranda waiver, no tape of the interrogation or confession, and no evidence other than the Detective's oral statements linking Ms. Milke to the crime. Milke has maintained her innocence. At trial, Milke's attorneys requested the personnel files of Detective Saldate, but the state judge quashed the subpoena. The prosecution never disclosed the evidence despite Brady v. Maryland, 373 U. S. 83 (1963) which requires the prosecution to disclose evidence favorable to the accused and material to his guilt or punishment.
Detective Saldate's file would have included not only numerous disciplinary actions against him for untruthfulness, but also the major cases he had worked on, including those that had appellate opinions reversing convictions based upon Saldate's violations of constitutional rights or dishonesty. The appendix to the panel opinion lays out eight cases and one internal affairs investigation with specific findings regarding Saldate's "lying under oath" or Fourth or Fifth Amendment violations.
Also of note is the manner in which Saldate's transgressions were ultimately discovered:
Milke was able to discover the court documents detailing Saldate’s misconduct only after a team of approximately ten researchers in post-conviction proceedings spent nearly 7000 hours sifting through court records. Milke’s post-conviction attorney sent this team to the clerk of court’s offices to search for Saldate’s name in every criminal case file from 1982 to 1990. The team worked eight hours a day for three and a half months, turning up 100 cases involving Saldate. Another researcher then spent a month reading motions and transcripts from those cases to find examples of Saldate’s misconduct.
No civilized system of justice should have to depend on such flimsy evidence, quite possibly tainted by dishonesty or overzealousness, to decide whether to take someone’s life or liberty. The Phoenix Police Department and Saldate’s supervisors there should be ashamed of having given free rein to a lawless cop to misbehave again and again, undermining the integrity of the system of justice they were sworn to uphold. As should the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which continued to prosecute Saldate’s cases without bothering to disclose his pattern of misconduct.
Indeed, given Saldate’s long history of trampling the rights of suspects, one wonders how Saldate came to interrogate a suspect in a high-profile murder case by himself, without a tape recorder or a witness. And how could an interrogation be concluded, and a confession extracted, without a signed Miranda waiver? In a quarter century on the Ninth Circuit, I can’t remember another case where the confession and Miranda waiver were proven by nothing but the say-so of a single officer. Is this par for the Phoenix Police Department or was Saldate called in on his day off because his supervisors knew he could be counted on to bend the rules, even lie convincingly, if that’s what it took to nail down a conviction in a high-profile case?
It’s not just fairness to the defendant that calls for an objectively verifiable process for securing confessions and other evidence in criminal cases. We all have a stake in ensuring that our criminal justice system reliably separates the guilty from the innocent. Letting police get away with manufacturing confessions or planting evidence not only risks convicting the innocent but helps the guilty avoid detection and strike again.
From the rendition of the facts in both the panel and concurring opinions, Ms. Milke was the victim of a grave injustice. But recall the Supreme Court's 5-4 opinion in Connick v. Thompson regarding the standard by which Brady violations should be evaluated: the "state district attorney's office cannot be held liable for a failure to train the assistant district attorneys regarding compliance with Brady unless there was evidence that there was a need for "more or different Brady training.""
March 13, 2013
Divided Fourth Circuit Panel Declares Virginia's Sodomy Law Unconstitutional: A Decade After Lawrence v. Texas
William Scott MacDonald was arrested more than a year after Lawrence v. Texas (2003), for solicitation to violate Virginia's (anti-)sodomy law, Va. Stat §18.2-361(A): "If any person . . . carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth, or voluntarily submits to such carnal knowledge, he or she shall be guilty of a [felony.]" He was eventually sentenced to ten years, with nine years suspended, and thereafter compelled to register as a sex offender. His life, as Adam Liptak reported in 2011, has not been easy.
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.
In MacDonald's situation, the solicitation - - - all parties agree no sex actually occurred - - - was found to be of a 17 year old woman. (Interestingly, the 47 year old MacDonald had originally contacted law enforcement alleging that the young woman had sexually assaulted him; he was also convicted of the misdemeanor of making a false report.) The prosecution thus successfully argued that Lawrence v. Texas was inapposite since the Virginia statute - - - as applied - - - was constitutional. This argument succeeded even though the the age limit in the solicitation statute was 15, not 18.
The Commonwealth of Virginia was similarly successful in its arguments in state courts on direct appeal and postconviction relief. MacDonald thereafter sought federal habeas relief, with the district judge rejecting the constitutional arguments.
The Fourth Circuit's opinion yesterday in MacDonald v. Moose belatedly provides relief for MacDonald. The panel majority wrote that "we are constrained" to find an entitlement to habeas corpus relief on the ground that the Virginia anti-sodomy provision "facially violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." The Fourth Circuit's opinion seems at times quite deferential to Virginia, but at two points the opinion sharpens its rhetoric.
First, the panel points to an inconsistency in Virginia's treatment of MacDonald:
The Commonwealth’s efforts to diminish the pertinence of Lawrence in connection with MacDonald’s challenge to the anti-sodomy provision — an enactment in no way dissimilar to the Texas and Georgia statutes deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — runs counter to Martin v. Ziherl, 607 S.E.2d 367 (Va. 2005). In that case, the Supreme Court of Virginia evaluated the constitutionality of a state statute having nothing to do with sodomy, but instead outlawing ordinary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. The state supreme court nonetheless acknowledged that Lawrence was sufficiently applicable to require the statute’s invalidation.
Second, in a footnote the panel majority expressed its disagreement with the dissent in terms that questioned Virginia's prosecutorial choices:
The dissent’s finely honed distinction that, unlike Lawrence and Bow- ers, this "case" involves minors, is made possible solely by the Commonwealth’s decision to institute prosecution of a man who loathsomely solicited an underage female to commit an act that is not, at the moment, a crime in Virginia. The Commonwealth may as well have charged Mac- Donald for telephoning Ms. Johnson on the night in question, or for persuading her to meet him at the Home Depot parking lot. The legal arm of the Commonwealth cannot simply wave a magic wand and decree by fiat conduct as criminal, in usurpation of the powers properly reserved to the elected representatives of the people.
March 11, 2013
NYC Soda Regulation Enjoined by State Judge
The constitutional issues in the challenge to NYC Health Code §81.53 - - - the New York City Department of Health regulation prohibiting sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters and arenas to exceed 16 ounces - - - largely involve the power of a city agency to promulgate such a rule. Today, a state trial judge, Milton Tingling, issued an decision in New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene enjoining §81.53 for violating the state separation of powers doctrine.
After a lengthy discussion of New York City Charters - - - beginning with the first charter in 1686 - - - Judge Tingling wrote:
To accept the respondents' interpretation of the authoriy granted to the Board [of Health] by the New York City Charter would leave its authority to define, create, mandate and enforce limited only by its own imagination. . . . The Portion Cap Rule, if upheld, would create an administrative Levianthan and violate the separation of powers doctrine. The Rule would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it. Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling that sugar sweetened beverages.
The judge's conclusion that the regulation was therefor "arbitrary and capricious" followed from the lack of agency power.
The ruling is sure to be appealed from the supreme court - - - which in New York is the lowest and trial court - - - to an appellate court.
Federal District Judge Upholds Most of Arizona's Anti-Ethnic Studies Law, HB 2281
Arizona's HB 2281, which we noted when it was passed in 2010, has been primarily upheld by federal district judge Wallace Tashima in his opinion late last Friday in Acosta v. Huppenthal. Recall that HB 2281, codified as Arizona Revised Statute §15-112 provides:
A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Savings clauses in subsections E and F state that the statute should not be construed to restrict or prohibit instruction in various matters, including "the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race, or class."
It was the savings clauses and Judge Tashima's narrow interpretation of the statute that supported his conclusion that most of the statute survived the First Amendment challenge. Judge Tashima also ruled that the statute survived the Equal Protection and Due Process challenges.
As to the First Amendment, Judge Tashima explained:
Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims are premised on two bases: the right to speak freely in the classroom, and the right to receive information and ideas. The first basis cannot sustain their claims because the statute does not limit what students can say in the classroom. But the statute does implicate the second basis because Plaintiffs have an established right to receive information and ideas in the classroom. Limitations on this right, however, are subject only to limited scrutiny, i.e., whether the provisions are reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical concern.
In construing the first and second provisions - - - banning courses that "promote the overthrow" or "promote resentment" - - - he stressed a narrow reading of the word "promote." He also ruled that the exception for "historical oppression" (in the savings clause section F) keeps "the proscription from crossing the constitutional line."
However, he held that the third subsection - - - "Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group" - - - could not be similarly saved. He noted that this provision does not promote any legitimate interest that is not already covered by the second provision, and could "chill the teaching of legitimate ethnic studies courses."
He returned to his narrow reading to uphold the fourth provision - - - "advocate ethnic solidarity:"
Thus, if the statute simply proscribed courses that taught ethnic solidarity, without any reference to the treatment of students as individuals, it likely would not survive even the most deferential scrutiny. The provision, however, is more narrowly tailored than an outright ban on the teaching of ethnic solidarity. Instead, the statute prohibits the “advocacy” of ethnic solidarity “instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” By phrasing this provision in the alternative, and by restricting only the direct “advocacy” of ethnic solidarity, the provision is at least reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.
Judge Tashima disposed of the Equal Protection and Due Process challenges with much more expediency. Regarding Equal Protection, he found that the statute did not make an express racial classification, and although there were "red flags" and "some aspects of the record may be viewed to spark suspicion that the Latino population has been improperly targeted" that "on the whole, the evidence indicates" that it was the program and not "Latino students, teachers, or community members who supported or participated in the program" that was the issue. Regarding Due Process, Judge Tashima concluded in a paragraph that there was no prima facie showing.
It seems likely that an appeal to the Ninth Circuit will be forthcoming.
[image: 1860 map of Tucson area via]
March 07, 2013
Idaho District Judge Holds Portions of State's Abortion Law Unconstitutional
In the latest chapter of McCormack v. Hiedeman, District Judge Lynn Winmill issued a 42 page opinion (Memorandum Decision and Order) yesterday holding various provisions in Idaho's abortion law unconstitutional, including the 20 week pregnancy ban unconstitutional.
Recall that the Ninth Circuit last year found that Idaho's prosecution of McCormack for "self-abortion" constituted an undue burden and was unconstitutional. McCormack, who purchased abortion "medications" over the internet, was the subject of an excellent indepth article which we discussed here. At that time, it seemed as if the case was concluded.
However, Judge Winmill rejected the prosecutor's argument that the case was moot, noting that a party "cannot conjure up mootness by ceasing the challenged conduct only for practical or strategic reasons - - - such as avoiding litigation." The judge further held that the prosecutor's promise not to prosecute would not bind his successors and that his subsequent offer of transactional immunity to McCormack was not timely or binding. Further, the judge noted that pregnancy is "capable of repetition yet evading review."
Judge Winmill also held that the physician in the case had standing, including to assert his patients' constitutional claims.
On the merits, Judge Winmill held that the self-abortion provision is a substantial obstacle and therefore unconstitutional, adopting the Ninth Circuit's reasoning.
Judge Winmill also held unconstitutional the provisions imposing criminal liability on abortion providers who perform first trimester abortions outside a hospital or a properly staffed and equipped office or a clinic and requires that “physicians have made satisfactory arrangements” for emergency hospital care. The judge accepted the physician's argument that the terms “properly” and “satisfactory” are unconstitutionally vague therefore placing an undue burden on women seeking first trimester abortions. There is some confusion in the judge's reliance on Gonzales v. Carhart in this passage, but the judge finds that the Idaho statute is not sufficiently specific.
Additionally, the judge found unconstitutional the Idaho provisions banning abortions at twenty weeks in PUCPA, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He reasoned that PUCPA does not contain mention the health or safety of the pregnant woman, that its only purpose was to limit the available options for the woman, and that the legislature cannot place viability at a set point.
Given this opinion, it is likely that McCormack v. Heidman will be returning to the Ninth Circuit.
March 06, 2013
Ninth Circuit Grants Standing to Challenge California's Requirement for Resident Signature Gatherers for Ballot Qualification
California's Election Code, sections 8066 and 8451 require the persons who gather the signatures necessary to place a name on the ballot in an election to be residents of the political subdivision or district in which the voting is to occur. California uses the term "circulators" for the person who gathers the signatures and the term "nomination paper" for the document with the signatures, but the general scheme is a familiar one.
Indeed, recall the controversy in January 2012 over a First Amendment challenge by Republican candidates for President to the Virginia election provision that mandated that the petition be circulated by a registered (or eligible) voter in Virginia and the circulator must sign the petition in the presence of a notary. The Fourth Circuit rejected the challengers arguments on the basis of laches. Part of the candidates' argument for waiting was that they did not have standing until later in the process.
And the standing concern is a serious one.
But the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County v. Bowen today - - - reversing the district judge - - - held that a "concrete plan" to use circulators who do not live in the voting district, coupled with the clear intent of enforcement by California Secretary of State Bowen, is sufficient to confer standing.
In a footnote to this relatively brief opinion, the panel distinguished the Supreme Court’s February 26 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA : "Unlike in Clapper, Plaintiffs’ fear of enforcement here is actual and well-founded and does not involve a 'highly attenuated chain of possibilities.' "
Thus, the question of whether states can impose residency requirements for those who gather signatures without violating the First Amendment is a live case or controversy in a California district court.
March 04, 2013
Ninth Circuit: Day Labor Provisions of SB 1070 Unconstitutional
Affirming the grant of a preliminary injunction a year ago, a panel of the Ninth Circuit has unanimously upheld Judge Susan Bolton's conclusion that the plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their First Amendment challenge to SB1070's day labor provisions in its opinion in the case now styled as as Valle Del Sol v. Whiting.
The day labor provisions of SB1070, codified at Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-2928, provide:
A. It is unlawful for an occupant of a motor vehicle that is stopped on a street, roadway or highway to attempt to hire or hire and pick up passengers for work at a different location if the motor vehicle blocks or impedes the normal movement of traffic.
B. It is unlawful for a person to enter a motor vehicle that is stopped on a street, roadway or highway in order to be hired by an occupant of the motor vehicle and to be transported to work at a different location if the motor vehicle blocks or impedes the normal movement of traffic.
The panel agreed with Judge Bolton that the day labor provisions regulate commercial speech and thus should be subject to the Central Hudson test, Cent. Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1980).
The panel also agreed that the day labor provisions were content-based:
On their face, the day labor provisions target one type of speech – day labor solicitation that impedes traffic – but say nothing about other types of roadside solicitation and nonsolicitation speech. They are therefore classic examples of content-based restrictions. Our conclusion is confirmed by the stated purpose of the provisions, their legislative history and the disproportionate sanctions they impose for traffic problems arising from day labor solicitation.
Such a conclusion brings the analysis under the Supreme Court's decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc., especially as to the fourth prong of Central Hudson. However, the Ninth Circuit disclaimed reliance upon Sorrell, concluding "that the day labor provisions are deficient under even the pre-Sorrell, arguably more government-friendly, precedent urged by Arizona." The panel decided to "defer extended discussion of Sorrell for a more appropriate case with a more fully developed factual record," and simply applied Central Hudson.
The panel's analysis is direct and classic, easily finding that the day labor provisions fail each of Central Hudson's prongs, including the fourth even without the addition of Sorrell's arguably heightened standard for a content-based restriction.
In affirming the grant of the preliminary injunction, the panel highlighted the First Amendment interests at stake and agreed with the district judge that there would be irreparable harm and that the equities tipped in favor of granting the injunction.
Seemingly, if Arizona wants to regulate traffic safety, it is going to have to do so without targeting First Amendment interests.
March 01, 2013
Sixth Circuit Says Holiday Display Doesn't Establish Religion or Violate Free Speech
The Sixth Circuit ruled earlier this week in Freedom from Religion Foundation, Inc. v. City of Warren that a city's holiday display didn't violate the Establishment Clause and that its refusal to include the petitioner's message in the display didn't violate free speech.
The City of Warren puts up a holiday display every year between Thanksgiving and New Years in the atrium of its civic center. The display includes a range of secular and religious symbols, including a lighted tree, reindeer, snowmen, a "Winter Welcome" sign, and a nativity scene. The Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote a series of letters to the Mayor asking him to remove the nativity scene, but the Mayor refused. So the Foundation asked the Mayor to include its sign in the display; the sign read:
At this season of THE WINTER SOLSTICE may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, No heaven or hell. There is only our natural world, religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.
The Mayor declined. He wrote back explaining, in his view, why the sign would "provoke controversy and hostility," why it violates this country's basic religious beliefs ("our country was founded upon basic religious beliefs"), and even why the Foundation's "non-religion is not a recognized religion" under the First Amendment. The Foundation sued, arguing that the display violated the Establishment Clause and that the Mayor's rejection of its sign violated free speech. The Sixth Circuit rejected the claims.
The Sixth Circuit ruled that the display didn't violate the Establishment Clause, becuase, under Lynch v. Donnelly (1984) and County of Allegheny v. ACLU (1989), it contained sufficiently diverse religious symbols and sufficient secular items so that it didn't unconstitutionally promote a religion or religion generally. (The court recognized that the Mayor's letter took some liberties with constitutional law: "the Mayor, apparently untrained as a lawyer, may not have missed his calling." Still, it read the letter to mean that the Mayor was principally concerned about the controversy and hostility that the sign might provoke, and not preferencing religion.)
The court ruled that the Mayor's rejection of the sign didn't violate free speech, because, under Pleasant Grove v. Summum (2009), the display was government speech, and the government doesn't have to be viewpoint neutral in its own speech. The court emphasized that the display was approved and controlled by the government, even if it included some privately-donated items.
February 27, 2013
Fourth Circuit Rejects First Amendment Claims from "Fortune Teller"
In its opinion in Moore-King v. County of Chesterfield, a panel of the Fourth Circuit has upheld the constitutionality of ordinances specifically directed at those defined as "fortune tellers." The fortune tellers must have a business license, like all other businesses, but must also:
- have a special permit from the Chief of Police, the application for which must include biographical information, fingerprints, criminal history, and an authorization for a background check;
- pay a license tax of $300;
- be located within particular business districts, excluding certain other business districts.
As to the free speech claim, the Fourth Circuit disagreed with the district judge's finding that the Moore-King's practice was inherently deceptive and thus categorically excluded from First Amendment protection. In support, the panel interestingly replied upon United States v. Alvarez (the "Stolen Valor case). Yet the panel then struggled with the appropriate First Amendment doctrine that should be applied - - - a not unusual situation in First Amendment litigation - - - rejecting the commercial speech doctrine and time, place or manner analysis and settling upon what it named the "professional speech doctrine."
As the government complies with the professional speech doctrine by enacting and implementing a generally applicable regulatory regime, the fact that such a scheme may vary from profession to profession recedes in constitutional significance. Just as the internal requirements of a profession may differ, so may the government’s regulatory response based on the nature of the activity and the need to protect the public. [citation omitted] With respect to an occupation such as fortune telling where no accrediting institution like a board of law examiners or medical practitioners exists, a legislature may reasonably determine that additional regulatory requirements are necessary.
The panel then engaged in little analysis, except to say that this did not mean that the government had "carte blanche" but that it held that the government "regulation of Moore-King's activity falls squarely within the scope of that doctrine."
As to Free Exercise, the panel rejected Moore-King's qualifications to assert the claim:
Moore-King’s beliefs more closely resemble personal and philosophical choices consistent with a way of life, not deep religious convictions shared by an organized group deserving of constitutional solicitude.
In addition to the First Amendment claims, Moore-King had also challenged the regulatory scheme on the basis of Equal Protection, although this argument was largely predicated upon her First Amendment interests as the fundamental rights that would trigger strict scrutiny. Again, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district judge's grant of summary judgment in favor of the government.
This is a case ripe for critique and would make a terrific subject for student scholarship.
February 27, 2013 in Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Speech, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 26, 2013
Eleventh Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Against Florida's Mandatory Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients
In its unanimous panel opinion today in Lebron v. Sec't Florida Dep't of Children & Families, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district judge's grant of a preliminary injunction against Florida Statute §414.0652 requiring drug testing of all persons who receive public benefits.
Recall that 16 months ago, Federal District Judge Mary Scriven issued a preliminary injunction against the controversial law championed by equally controversial governor Rick Scott requiring drug testing for each individual who applies for benefits under the federally funded TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program to take a drug test, which must occur at an "approved laboratory" and be paid for by the applicant. As the Eleventh Circuit panel made clear, it was not resolving "the merits of the constitutional claim" but only addressing "whether the district court abused its discretion in concluding that Lebron is substantially likely to succeed in establishing that Florida’s drug testing regime for TANF applicants violates his Fourth Amendment rights."
Nevertheless, the Eleventh Circuit's opinion, authored by Judge Rosemary Barkett, left little room to argue that the statute could survive a constitutional challenge. Barkett observed that in the "specific context of government-mandated drug testing programs, the Supreme Court has exempted such programs from the Fourth Amendment’s warrant and probable cause requirement only where such testing 'fit[s] within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches,'" requiring that the "proffered special need for drug testing must be substantial,” citing Chandler v. Miller, 520 U.S. 305 (1997). These special needs include "the specific risk to public safety by employees engaged in inherently dangerous jobs and the protection of children entrusted to the public school system’s care and tutelag." The Eleventh Circuit easily found that welfare recipients did not fall into a special needs category:
The question is not whether drug use is detrimental to the goals of the TANF program, which it might be. Instead, the only pertinent inquiry is whether there is a substantial special need for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of TANF recipients when there is no immediate or direct threat to public safety, when those being searched are not directly involved in the frontlines of drug interdiction, when there is no public school setting where the government has a responsibility for the care and tutelage of its young students, or when there are no dire consequences or grave risk of imminent physical harm as a result of waiting to obtain a warrant if a TANF recipient, or anyone else for that matter, is suspected of violating the law. We conclude that, on this record, the answer to that question of whether there is a substantial special need for mandatory suspicionless drug testing is “no.”
The Eleventh Circuit also rejected Florida's "consent" argument. Because under Florida’s program an applicant is required to sign an acknowledgment that he or she consents to drug testing, the State argued these consented-to searches are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit deemed Florida's reliance on Wyman v. James, 400 U.S. 309 (1971) "misplaced," because there the home visit by the social worker as a condition of receiving welfare benefits was not considered a search, while drug testing does constitute a search.
The Eleventh Circuit briefly discussed "unconstitutional conditions," a theme that Judge Jordan, in a brief concurring opinion, echoed. But Jordan's discussion of unconstitutional conditions provided perhaps the only possibility that Florida might ever prevail, although interestingly relying largely upon First Amendment doctrine.
Judge Jordan's concurring opinion, however, questioned the outcome of any test requiring that the means chosen serve the government interest:
I am skeptical about the state’s insistence at oral argument that the Fourth Amendment permits the warrantless and suspicionless drug testing of all TANF applicants even if the evidence shows, conclusively and beyond any doubt, that there is 0% drug use in the TANF population. The state’s rationale—that such drug testing is permissible because the TANF program seeks to “move people from welfare to work”—proves too much. Every expenditure of state dollars, taxpayers hope, is for the purpose of achieving a desirable social goal. But that does not mean that a state is entitled to require warrantless and suspicionless drug testing of all recipients of state funds (e.g., college students receiving Bright Futures scholarships, see Fla. Stat. § 1009.53) to ensure that those funds are not being misused and that policy goals (e.g., the graduation of such students) are being achieved. Constitutionally speaking, the state’s position is simply a bridge too far.
The consensus of the federal judges who have considered the Florida statute's constitutionality does seem to be that the statute has definitely gone "too far."
No Standing to Challenge FISA Amendments on Domestic Surveillance, Supreme Court Holds
In a 5-4 opinion this morning in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, the Supreme Court rejected the standing of Amnesty International to challenge domestic surveillance under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and its amendments, often called FAA (FISA Authorization Amendments).
The ruling puts an end to this challenge to the government's surveillance authority under FISA and ups the ante for any future challenge. The case says that a plaintiff can't bring a challenge by merely alleging likely surveillance; instead, a person has to show literal "certainly impending" surveillance or actual surveillance. Either way, the case is very tough. The problem is that a targeted individual has a real hard time showing that they will be or were subject to FISA surveillance--because it's secret. That's the whole point. But the Court said that the ruling doesn't completely insulate FISA from challenge: a person could challenge it after information obtained from surveillance leads to judicial or administrative proceedings; and an electronic communications service provider could challenge a government directive to assist in FISA-authorized surveillance. Still, even if today's ruling preserves those potential challenges, it almost certainly forecloses any pre-surveillance challenge by a target.
Recall that the Second Circuit held that Amnesty and the other organizations did have standing under Article III. The unanimous panel rejected the government's contentions that the challengers fears were speculative, writing that "importantly both the Executive and the Legislative branches of government believe that the FAA authorizes new types of surveillance, and have justified that new authorization as necessary to protecting the nation against attack, makes it extremely likely that such surveillance will occur."
The Supreme Court reversed. In an opinion by Justice Alito (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas), the Court wrote that the plaintiffs' claimed injuries were simply too speculative--at each link in the chain:
- First, it's too speculative whether the government will imminently target communications to which the plaintiffs are parties (especially because the plaintiffs have no actual knowledge of the government's targeting practices under the FISA);
- But even if, it's too speculative whether the government would use its FISA authority (as opposed to some other surveillance authority) to listen in on the plaintiffs' communications;
- But even if, it's too speculative whether the FISA court would authorize surveillance on the plaintiffs; and
- Finally even if, it's too speculative whether the government would succeed in surveillance under this authority.
The Court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim that they suffered harm because they already took measures to protect themselves against surveillance. The Court said that plaintiffs can't sidestep the "imminent harm" requirement for standing (which they did not meet, as above) by claiming that they took steps to avoid a possible harm.
Justice Breyer dissented, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Breyer wrote that "there is a very high likelihood that Government, acting under the authority of [FISA], will intercept at least some of the [plaintiffs' communications.]" Dissent at 6 (emphasis in original). That's because the plaintiffs engage in communications that the government is authorized to intercept, there are strong motives to intercept, the government has intercepted similar communications in the past, and the government has the capacity to intercept. Justice Breyer wrote that this "very high likelihood" is enough: the Court has never used the requirement for "certainly impending" harm according to its literal definition; instead, the Court's used this language more flexibly.
It's not clear whether the Court's ruling necessarily signals a tightening of standing requirements outside this unique context--a challenge to a government action, when, because of the very nature of the action, the target can't know with certainty that he or she has been subject to the government action. Justice Breyer discusses Court cases (at length), including relatively recent cases, that employ a more flexible imminence requirement. The Court did nothing to question the continued vitality of those cases. Indeed, in footnote 5, page 16, Justice Alito wrote that to the extent that a "substantial risk" standard is different than a "clearly impending" standing for the imminence requirement, the plaintiffs here didn't meet either.
RR and SDS
February 25, 2013
Is Anti-Solicitation Ordinance Content-Based?
The Fourth Circuit ruled last week in Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville that a lower court erred in dismissing a free speech challenge to Charlottesville's anti-solicitation ordinance. The court remanded the case for further proceedings.
The ruling means that the case will go back to the district court to determine whether the City had an intent to censor speech in adopting the ordinance. If so, the ordinance will be subject to strict scrutiny analysis (and almost certainly be struck); if not, it'll get the test for time-place-manner regulations in a public forum (and likely be upheld, at least by the district court, since it already upheld it under this test).
The case tests Charlottesville's ordinance that bans panhandling--solictation for immediate donation of anything of value--in a particular area on the Downtown Mall. The lower court granted the City's motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the ordinance was a content-neutral time-place-manner regulation on speech. The lower court came to this conclusion based in part on testimony at a city council meeting in favor of the ordinance, which it said showed that the City adopted the ordinance for content-neutral reasons (safety, and the like). The testimony was not part of the record on the City's motion to dismiss.
The Fourth Circuit reversed. It said that under its pragmatic approach to content neutrality, it looks both to the face of the ordinance and to the "censorial intent" behind it. A challenger must show both in order to trigger strict scrutiny analysis of the ordinance.
Here, the court ruled that the ordinance is content-based on its face, because it distinguishes between solicitation of immediate donations and solicitation of donations in the future. But it couldn't determine from the record on a motion to dismiss whether there was also "censorial intent." And it ruled that the district court's evidence of censorial intent--the testimony at the city council meeting--shouldn't have been considered on a motion to dismiss (which wasn't converted to a motion for summary judgment).
The court said that there wasn't enough evidence in the record at this early stage for it to determine censorial intent, and it remanded the case for further proceedings.