Monday, June 30, 2014

Sharply Divided Court Takes Another Shot at Public Sector Fair Share

A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled today in Harris v. Quinn that a state cannot require nonunionized home-healthcare workers, or personal assistants, in the state's Medicaid program to pay "fair share" union dues.  The majority held that a fair-share-dues requirement for non-union members violates their First Amendment association rights.

The ruling is a victory for non-unionized home-healthcare workers, and for anti-union types generally.  But on the other hand, the ruling did not go as far as it might have in striking public sector fair share requirements.  The majority took another shot at public sector fair share requirements (it earlier took a shot in Knox), prompting the dissent to go to great lengths to defend the constitutionality of those requirements, and setting up those requirements (yet again) for reconsideration.

In other words, the majority strongly criticized Abood, but did not overrule it.  The dissent vigorously defended it.  We can expect more challenges, with the Court moving to overturn it.  (Abood held that a state may require fair share fees for non-union members in a public sector union in the interests of preventing free-riding and labor peace.)

We posted most recently on the case here.

The majority (penned by Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) held that personal assistants were not full state employees--they're supervised principally by the individual clients they serve.  Moreover, state law limits the union's role in representing them.  As a result, the Court said that Abood's rationales don't apply, and declined to "extend" Abood.  The Court applied "exacting scrutiny" and held that the state fair-share requirement failed.

The dissent (penned by Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor) disagreed that personal assistants were different than public employees for Abood purposes.  Dissenters would have applied Abood in a straightforward way and upheld the state fair-share requirement. 

But while the majority and dissent jousted over the status of personal assistants (in relation to public employees in Abood)--and while the majority ultimately hung its hat on its distinction between public employees and personal assistants--it was clear that the real struggle is over Abood itself.  The majority left it hanging (once again) by a thread, while the dissent vigorously defended it. 

As in Knox, the majority opinion here begs for another case, another chance to overturn Abood--a move that would strike a very serious blow to public sector unions.  In the meantime, it continues to chip away at Abood's foundation, planting time bombs in Harris and Knox that it will use whenever it gets the next case that puts Abood squarely within its range. 

Until that time comes, however, Abood stays on the books.  And public sector fair-share requirements survived again, even if bruised and battered.

June 30, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"

On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act)  to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage?  Here's our primer on the issues for more detail.  Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results. 

The oral arguments  in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision. 

Birth_Control_Review_1919bThe majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim.  The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.

The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.

Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong.  However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.

 Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion.  As we discussed,  Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.

 The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg,  joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons).  The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of  "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."  Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:

And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.”  I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.

Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.”  Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.

[citations and footnotes omitted].

Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."

However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.

[image via]

June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Third Circuit on Statute of Limitations in Establishment Clause Challenges

Here's the problem:

In August 2008, a municipality erected a sign "Bible Baptist Church Welcomes You!," with a directional arrow and “1 BLOCK” written on it, and depicting a gold cross and a white Bible, on a right of way bordering a property owner's property.  The property owner engaged in a bit of her own speech, on her own property, posting a sign of her own directly in front of the church sign which read "This Church Sign Violates My Rights As A Taxpayer & Property Owner. Residential Neighborhoods Are Not Zoned For Advertisement Signs!”  The municipality threatened the property owner with sanctions for her sign, which she removed.  The propery owner filed a complaint pursuant to 42 USC §1983 in federal court in November 2012 alleging constitutional violations by the municipality based on the church sign, which remains standing, and her own offending sign, which she had removed.  The state statute of limitations for tort claims is two years.

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Downtown Shickshinny, Pennsylvania via

The Third Circuit's opinion in Tearpock-Martini v. Borough of Shickshinny addressed exactly this problem.  The complaint alleged that the "church sign" violated the Establishment Clause, while the threats to prosecute plaintiff for erecting her own sign violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment.   Generally, because §1983 does not have a statute of limitations,  state law provides the applicable time limitations.  The district judge dismissed the complaint based on the statute of limitations because the actions occurred more than two years prior to the filing of the complaint.  Reversing on the Establishment Clause claim only, the Third Circuit found that the state statute of limitations did not bar the claim.

The plaintiff's attorney argued that the two year statute of limitations for the church sign should be viewed as a "continuing violation."  As the court noted, this is more often part of a statute of limitations inquiry in an employment discrimination case: "where only in retrospect will a plaintiff recognize that seemingly unconnected incidents were, in fact, part and parcel of a larger discriminatory pattern."  But here, the court accepted the municipality's argument that the continuing violation doctrine does not apply because the sign "is merely an effect" of the action  - - - erecting the sign - - -that was within the statute of limitations.

But the Third Circuit found that the state's two year statute of limitations was inapplicable because although §1983 does not have a statute of limitations and state law provides the pertinent time limitations, this is true only "if it is not inconsistent with federal law or policy to do so.” Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261 (1985).  The Court found that Establishment Clause rights are very important and that while other constitutional rights are also important

what further distinguishes Tearpock-Martini’s claim, and Establishment Clause claims in general, is that the traditional rationales justifying a limitations period—“to protect defendants against stale or unduly delayed claims,” “facilitat[e] the administration of claims,” and “promot[e] judicial efficiency,” [citation omitted] —simply have no persuasive force in this context. Tearpock-Martini’s challenge is to a still- existing monument that communicates anew an allegedly unconstitutional endorsement of religion by the government each time it is viewed. Strict application of the statutory limitations period both serves no salutary purpose and threatens to immunize indefinitely the presence of an allegedly unconstitutional display.

Moreover, the Third Circuit noted that it could not find any precedent for finding an Establishment Clause challenge time-barred in a passive monument case, and indeed the cases were the opposite, citing, most persuasively, Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005) (display of Ten Commandments challenged 40 years after installation).

 The Third Circuit's conclusion seems exactly right: how can there be a statute of limitations on an Establishment Clause violation of a passive monument?  However, in this case, because this particular plaintiff knew about the sign, and even objected to it, one could have expected her to act more quickly.  Yet the very notion of an Establishment Clause violation caused by a still existing monument or even sign is that it is a continuing one.

June 27, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Court Reads Broad Appointment Authority, but Strikes NLRB Appointees

The Supreme Court today in NLRB v. Noel Canning gave a broad reading to the Recess Appointment Clause, but nevertheless struck President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB, ruling that the Senate was in session.  The ruling means that the NLRB lacked a quorum when it issued an order to Noel Canning, a Pepsi distributor, and that order is invalid.  It's not clear yet how many other offices may be affected by the ruling.  Our oral argument review (with a link to our preview) is here.

The ruling hands a defeat to President Obama in the short run (on the NLRB appointments), and, despite the broad reading of the clause, may hinder presidents in the future.  That's becuase the Court said that the Senate is in session when it says it is, provided that it retains power to act, as it did here.  That means that even when the Senate meets in pro forma sessions, as here, presidential appointments have to follow the usual course and get Senate confirmation (instead of dodging Senate confirmation through the recess appointment mechanism).  As a result, the Senate can frustrate a president's ability to recess-appoint a nominee by going into pro forma sessions (again, with the ability to act), thus forcing a president to gain Senate confirmation (which, as we've seen, may be a difficult or impossible task).

The Court said that any session more than 3 days but shorter than 10 days is presumptively too short to constitute a recess of the Senate and thus to allow a recess appointment.  And again: the Senate gets to say, presumptively, when it's in recess.

As to a recess over 3 days: the Adjournment Clause (Art. I, Sec. 5) allows the House to prevent a recess of the Senate.  This gives even the House the power to block a recess--and recess appointments--for any period over 3 days.  That means that the House could block a recess appointment by denying the Senate consent to recess.

Because the Senate was in session when President Obama made the NLRB appointments--because it said it was, and because it retained power to act, even if it was in pro forma sessions--the Court ruled them invalid.

At the same time, the Court handed the executive branch a victory on its broader reading of the Recess Appointments Clause.  Thus the Court ruled that a "recess" includes both inter-session recesses and intra-session recesses.  It also ruled that "vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate" include vacancies that first come into existence during a recess and vacancies that initially occurred before a recess but continued during the recess.

The judgment striking the NLRB appointees was unanimous.  But Justice Scalia wrote a concurrence, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito.  Justice Scalia wrote that the majority went too far in reading a broader Recess Appointment Clause and relied too heavily on prior presidential practice:

To reach [its] result, the majority casts aside the plain, original meaning of the constitutional text in deference to late-arising historical practices that are ambiguous at best.  The majority's insistence on deferring to the Executive's untenably broad interpretation of the power is in clear conflict with our precedent and forebodes a dimunition of this Court's role in controversies involving the separation of powers and the structure of government.

June 26, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Federal District Judge Invalidates Indiana Laws Banning Same-Sex Marriage

In his decision today in Baskin v. Bogan, United States District Judge Richard Young permanently enjoined Indiana officials from enforcing its requirement that marriage requires a female and a male, and its ban on the recognition of same sex marriages legally valid in other states, Indiana Code Section 31-11-1-1 (subsections a & b).

621px-Flag_map_of_Indiana.svgAfter resolving problems of the proper defendant and quickly disposing of the argument that Baker v. Nelson's summary finding by the Supreme Court in 1972 has meaningful precedential value, Judge Young's opinion proceeds along three separate tracks.

First, Judge Young finds that marriage is a fundamental right and therefore the statutory ban on same-sex marriage should be subject to strict scrutiny.  Judge Young concluded that the scope of the fundamental right is not limited, quoting Judge Black's opinion in Henry v. Himes that the United States Supreme Court has not limited this fundamental right in its pertinent cases; the Court  "consistently describes a general ‘fundamental right to marry’ rather than ‘the right to interracial marriage,’ ‘the right to inmate marriage,’ or ‘the right of people owing child support to marry.’"  Applying strict scrutiny, Judge Young articulates the state's proffered interest "in conferring the special benefit of civil marriage to only one man and one woman is justified by its interest in encouraging the couple to stay together for the sake of any unintended children that their sexual union may create," but declines to asess it and assumes that it is "sufficiently important interest."  However, Judge Young finds that the state has not demonstrated that the statute is “closely tailored” to that interest, but instead is  "both over- and under-inclusive."

Second, Judge Young analyzes the statute on the basis of equal protection, rejecting the argument that the statute makes a gender classification and concluding that it makes a sexual orientation classification.  While Judge Young contends that while it might be time to "reconsider" whether sexual orientation classifications should be analyzed under rational basis scrutiny, the "court will leave that decision to the Seventh Circuit, where this case will surely be headed."  Applying rational basis scrutiny, however, Judge Young concludes that there is no rational relationship to the interests proffered by the state.

Third, Judge Young independently analyzes subsection b of the statute, applying to recognition.  The judge notes that the "parties agree that out-of-state, same-sex marriages are treated differently than out-of-state, opposite-sex marriages," and thus "the question is whether that difference violates the Equal Protection Clause."  Again, applying rational basis scrutiny, Judge Young concludes:

Defendants proffer that the state refuses to recognize same-sex marriages because it conflicts with the State’s philosophy of marriage – that is that marriage is to ameliorate the consequences of unintended children. Recognizing the valid same-sex marriages performed in other states, however, has no link whatsoever to whether opposite-sex couples have children or stay together for those children. Thus, there is no rational basis to refuse recognition and void out-of-state, same-sex marriages.

Judge Young's opinion is economical (at 36 pages), well-structured, and well-supported with relevant citations.  Judge Young did not issue a stay of his opinion.  One assumes that such a decision may be sought from the Seventh Circuit.

UPDATE HERE

June 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tenth Circuit Holds Utah's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional in a Divided Decision

In a divided decision, the Tenth Circuit opinion in Kitchen v. Herbert held that the

Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex, and that [Utah's state constitution's] Amendment 3 and similar statutory enactments do not withstand constitutional scrutiny.

Affirming the district court's decision as well as its analysis, the Tenth Circuit panel majority, authored by Judge Carlos Lucero, and joined by Judge Jerome Holmes, applied strict scrutiny because it found that the "right to marry is a fundamental liberty."

In applying strict scrutiny, the panel majority assumed that three of the four interests advanced by the government - - - (1) “fostering a child-centric marriage culture that encourages parents to subordinate their own interests to the needs of their children”; (2) “children being raised by their biological mothers and fathers—or at least by a married mother and father—in a stable home”; (3) “ensuring adequate reproduction” - - - were compelling.  However, the court found that the means chosen - - - the prohibition of same-sex marriage - - - did not sufficiently serve these interests.  Instead, each of the

justifications rests fundamentally on a sleight of hand in which same-sex marriage is used as a proxy for a different characteristic shared by both same-sex and some opposite-sex couples.

The court noted that Justice Scalia, dissenting in Windsor, and numerous district judges, reached a similiar conclusion.  The majority observed that the lack of narrow tailoring is "often revealed" by underinclusiveness, finding it important that Utah did not ban nonprocreative marriages. 

The court's analysis of each of the three rationales is substantial and erudite, firmly rooted in precedent and well-reasoned.

As to the fourth and final interest asserted by the government - - -“accommodating religious freedom and reducing the potential for civic strife,” - - - the court reasoned that "the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that public opposition cannot provide cover for a violation of fundamental rights" and emphasized that its "decision relates solely to civil marriage." 

Dissenting from the more than 60 page majority opinion, Judge Paul Kelly wrote more than 40 pages in disagreement (although he did agree with the majority on the standing issue, making the opinion concurring in part).   Not surprisingly, he disagreed with the level of scrutiny to be applied; he concluded that there was no fundamental right at issue and would have applied rational basis scrutiny.  Also not surprisingly, he would have concluded that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage satisfied this most easily satisfied level of scrutiny given the state's interests in (1) responsible procreation, (2) effective parenting, and (3) the desire to proceed cautiously in this evolving area.

More surprisingly, Judge Kelly found that the Supreme Court's per curiam dismissal in 1972 of Baker v. Nelson, for "want of a substantial federal question" controlling ; it  "should foreclose the Plaintiffs’ claims, at least in this court," notwithstanding the Court's decision invalidating the federal Defense of Marriage Act's ban on recognition of same-sex marriage last term in Windsor.

 If - -  and most probably when - - - the United States Supreme Court does consider the issue of state laws banning same-sex marriage, Baker v. Nelson will be irrelevant and the Court will directly grapple with issues if fundamental constitutional rights and levels of scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process and equal protection doctrines. 

Given that the Tenth Circuit stayed its decision pending the disposition of any subsequently filed petition for certiorari it may be that both sides seek review from the United States Supreme Court,

June 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Unanimous Supreme Court Requires Warrant for Cell Phone Search Incident to Arrest

A unanimous Supreme Court today ruled in Riley v. California that officers must obtain a warrant before searching an arrrestee's cell phone incident to arrest.  The ruling deals a blow to law enforcement, to be sure.  But it only means that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before searching a cell phone, or satisfy some other exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement (like exigent circumstances), before conducting a search of the phone.  In general, this should not be overly difficult, assuming that an officer can meet the requirements for a warrant: an arresting officer need only drop a seized cell phone into a Faraday bag and obtain a warrant for a later search.  Again: the ruling still preserves other exceptions to the warrant requirement, so that officers can search a phone without a warrant if there are exigent circumstances, for example.

The ruling breaks little new ground on Fourth Amendment analysis.  Instead, it applies a familiar framework to a relatively new technology, cell phones.  (The ruling applies to both smart phones and flip phones.)

The Court applied the familiar balancing test, "assessing, on the one hand, the degree to which [the search] intrudes upon an individual's privacy and, on the other, the degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests."  Wyoming v. Houghton.  As to government interests, the Court looked to the two recognized interests in a search incident to arrest in Chimel: to remove weapons that threaten officer safety or could be used for escape, and to prevent the destruction of evidence.

The Court said that the government lacked an interest in protecting officer safety or preventing escape, because "a cell phone cannot itself be used as a weapon to harm an arresting officer or to effectuate the arrestee's escape."  It said that the government lacked an interest in protecting evidence, because officers can easily protect evidence on a seized cell phone (by turning it off, or putting it in a Faraday bag, to prevent remote wiping, for example).  (The Court said that there was little evidence that destruction of evidence was even a problem.)

On the other side of the balance, the Court recognized the massive storage capacity and vast personal information contained in cell phones, and contained remotely but accessible by cell phones, and said that the search was a significant invasion of privacy, even if diminished in the context of an arrest.

In sum:

On the government interest side, Robinson concluded that the two risks identified in Chimel--harm to officers and destruction of evidence--are present in all custodial arrests.  There are no comparable risks when the search is of digital data.  In addition, Robinson regarded any privacy interests retained by an individual after arrest as significantly diminished by the fact of the arrest itself.  Cell phones, however, place vast quantities of personal information literally in the hands of individuals.  As search of the information on a cell phone bears little resemblance to the type of brief physical search considered in Robinson.

Justice Alito wrote a concurrence (for himself alone), arguing that the search-incident-to-arrest rule should be based on the government's interest in "the need to obtain probative evidence," and not the two Chimel interests.  He also called on Congress and state legislatures "to assess and respond to to [technological advances] that have already occurred and those that almost certainly will take place in the future." 

June 25, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Federal Judge Declares No-Fly List Process Unconstitutional

In her  opinion in Latif v. Holder, Judge Anna Brown of the District of Oregon concluded that the "no-fly list" violates the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process.

Judge Brown's well-crafted 65 page opinion applies the well-established "balancing test" for  procedural due process first articulated by the United States Supreme Court in 1976 in Mathews v. Eldridge.  Under this test, a court weighs several factors to determine "how much process is due":

  • the interests of the individual and the injury threatened by the official action;
  • the risk of error through the procedures used and probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards;
  • the costs and administrative burden of the additional process, and the interests of the government in efficient adjudication
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image via


After analyzing the factors and weighing the government's interest in preventing terrorism heavily, Judge Brown considered similar "terrorism" cases and noted that the

Plaintiffs in this case were not given any notice of the reasons for their placement on the No—Fly List nor any evidence to support their inclusion on the No—Fly List. Indeed, the procedural protections provided to Plaintiffs through the DHS TRIP process fall substantially short of even the notice that the courts found insufficient [in another case].

Moreover, the government's failure to provide any notice of the reasons for Plaintiffs’ placement on the No—Fly List

is especially important in light of the low evidentiary standard required to place an individual in the TSDB in the first place. When only an ex parte showing of  reasonable suspicion supported by "articulable facts . . . taken together with  rational inferences” is necessary to place an individual in the TSDB, it is certainly possible, and probably likely, that “simple factual errors” with “potentially easy, ready, and persuasive explanations” could go uncorrected.

[ellipses in original].  Thus, she concludes that "without proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, an individual could be doomed to indefinite placement on the no-fly list."

In granting partial summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs, Judge Brown directed the government defendants to "fashion new procedures" that provide the Plaintiffs with the requisite due process "without jeopardizing national security."

Certainly this litigation, which already has an extensive history, is far from over, but Judge Brown's finding of a lack of procedural due process in the government's no-fly lists is exceedingly important.

 

June 25, 2014 in Fifth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, State Secrets, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ninth Circuit Declares LA's Prohibition of Vehicle as "Living Quarters" Unconstitutional

In its opinion in Desertain v. City of Los Angeles, the Ninth Circuit held that a provision of the Los Angeles municipal code prohibiting using automobiles as living quarters was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Section 85.02 of the municipal code, entitled "Use of streets and public parking lots for habitation" provides:

No person shall use a vehicle parked or standing upon any City street, or upon any parking lot owned by the City of Los Angeles and under the control of the City of Los Angeles or under control of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.

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image via

In finding the provision unconstitutionally vague, the court's opinion authored by Judge Harry Pregerson considered whether it gave adequate notice of the acts prohibited as required by City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999), and focused on the four plaintiffs and their arrests:

Plaintiffs are left guessing as to what behavior would subject them to citation and arrest by an officer. Is it impermissible to eat food in a vehicle? Is it illegal to keep a sleeping bag? Canned food? Books? What about speaking on a cell phone? Or staying in the car to get out of the rain? These are all actions Plaintiffs were taking when arrested for violation of the ordinance, all of which are otherwise perfectly legal. And despite Plaintiffs’ repeated attempts to comply with Section 85.02, there appears to be nothing they can do to avoid violating the statute short of discarding all of their possessions or their vehicles, or leaving Los Angeles entirely. All in all, this broad and cryptic statute criminalizes innocent behavior, making it impossible for citizens to know how to keep their conduct within the pale.

As the court noted, the ordinance was "amorphous" enough to include "any vacationer who drives through Los Angeles in an RV."

However, the seeming reality that vacationers in RVs were not arrested led the court to its second reason for concluding the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague.  The court found that the ordinance "promotes arbitrary enforcement that targets the homeless," as is inconsistent with Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972).  The ordinance is "broad enough to cover any driver in Los Angeles who eats food or transports personal belongings in his or her vehicle," yet "it appears to be applied only to the homeless."  While the city might certainly have relied upon a limiting construction, its memo attempting to do so was "disfavored" by the law enforcement head of the homelessness task force and police officers did not follow it. 

In the first pages of the opinion, the court discussed four of the individual plaintiffs in detail.  In its final paragraph, the court summarized their plight and its rationale:

For many homeless persons, their automobile may be their last major possession — the means by which they can look for work and seek social services. The City of Los Angeles has many options at its disposal to alleviate the plight and suffering of its homeless citizens. Selectively preventing the homeless and the poor from using their vehicles for activities many other citizens also conduct in their cars should not be one of those options.

June 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Unanimous Supreme Court in Lane v. Franks: First Amendment Protects Public Employee's Subpoenaed Testimony

 

In an unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with an exceedingly brief concurring opinion by Justice Thomas, joined by Scalia and Alito, the Court held in Lane v. Franks that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena, outside the course of his ordinary job responsibilities."  However the Court held that the defendant sued in his personal capacity had qualified immunity because such a holding was not "beyond debate."

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Forain, Scène de tribunal, circa 1910 via


Recall from our previous discussions of the case including the certiorari grant, the law professors amicus brief, and  oral argument that the underlying facts are extremely sympathetic to Edward Lane, the public employee who uncovered gross corruption of an elected state legislator and was later subpoenaed to testify in the federal criminal prosecution.  Indeed, even the Attorney General for the state contended at oral argument that the Eleventh Circuit was incorrect to conclude that the employee's speech was not within the strictures of the Court's most recent public employee First Amendment case, Garcetti v. Ceballos

On the issue of qualified immunity, however, the Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit, finding that although the Eleventh Circuit was clearly wrong on the merits, the First Amendment right was not sufficiently "clearly established" at the time Lane was terminated by the college president.

My longer analysis of today's opinion is at SCOTUSBlog here.

June 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board Cancels Trademark Registration of Football Team as Disparaging


In an extensive opinion today in Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., Cancellation No. 92046185, a divided Trademark Trial and Appeal Board canceled the trademark of the term "redskins" as violative of  section 2(a), 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), prohibiting registration of marks that may disparage persons or bring them into contempt or disrepute. 

The majority opinion relied upon dictionary definitions, expert opinions, and surveys to conclude that the term is disparaging - - - and was so at the time the trademark was approved.  The majority rejected the laches defense in part because "there is an overriding public interest in removing from the register marks that are disparaging to a segment of the population beyond the individual petitioners."

 

Judge Bergsman's dissenting opinion disagreed with the

majority’s decision to grant the petition on the claim of disparagement because the dictionary evidence relied upon by the majority is inconclusive and there is no reliable evidence to corroborate the membership of National Council of American Indians.

To be clear, this case is not about the controversy, currently playing out in the media, over whether the term “redskins,” as the name of Washington’s professional football team, is disparaging to Native Americans today. The provisions of the statute under which the Board must decide this case – §§ 2(a) and 14(3) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1052(a) and 1064(3) – require us to answer a much narrower, legal question: whether the evidence made of record in this case establishes that the term “redskins” was disparaging to a substantial composite of Native Americans at the time each of the challenged registrations issued.

Neither the majority or dissenting opinion - - - both of which are lengthy - - - engage with the possible First Amendment free speech issues or with the possible Equal Protection issues; this is decidely a case interpreting a statutory provision regarding trademark. 

Yet the constitutional contours of speech and equality are evident in both opinions, just as constitutionalism has been implicated in the controversies surrounding the use of the term.  Thus, while a "trademark case," Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc. is worth consideration by constitutional students and scholars.   And its comparison to the "dykes on bikes" trademark case, which I've discussed here, is also worth consideration by those interested in constitutionalism, democracy, and language.

 

June 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 16, 2014

No Damage Claim for U.S. Citizen Tortured in Africa

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed a case brought by a U.S. citizen against FBI agents for torturing and mistreating him as a terrorist suspect in Africa in violation of his constitutional rights

The plaintiff, Amir Meshal, was visiting Somalia in November 2006.  When fighting erupted there, Meshal fled to Kenya.  Upon arrival, he was captured by Kenyan soldiers, detained, and later interrogated repeatedly by FBI agents, who used threats, accusations that Meshal was a terrorist, and physical force to intimidate him.  Later, Meshal was transferred to Somalia, then Ethiopia, where interrogations by FBI agents continued.  Throughout, Meshal was denied outside communication (until U.S. consular officials later gained access to him), access to an attorney, and access to foreign courts.  In all, Meshal was detained abroad for four months.  He was never charged with a crime.

Meshal filed a Bivens suit for damages against the agents, but Judge Sullivan dismissed the case.  Judge Sullivan was highly critical of the U.S. government's treatment of Meshal and of the federal courts' refusal to hear Bivens claims by other U.S. citizens mistreated by government agents.  But he nevertheless concluded that the D.C. Circuit's ruling in Doe, the Fourth Circuit's ruling in Lebron, and the Seventh Circuit's ruling in Vance compelled him to dismiss Meshal's case.  DoeLebron, and Vance all also involved U.S. citizens suing government officers for violations of constitutional right in similar circumstances.  The circuit courts all ruled that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, however, because they all arose in the context of the military and national security.

Given the state of the law, there is no chance of a successful appeal.  But that didn't stop Judge Sullivan from delivering a full-throated condemnation of the agents' actions, the courts' rulings, and Congress's failure to create a remedy for U.S. citizens who are mistreated in these situations:

The facts alleged in this case and the legal questions presented are deeply troubling.  Although Congress has legislated with respect to detainee rights, it has provided no civil remedies for U.S. citizens subject to the appalling mistreatment Mr. Meshal has alleged against officials of his own government.  To deny him a judicial remedy under Bivens raises serious concerns about the separation of powers, the role of the judiciary, and whether our courts have the power to protect our own citizens from constitutional violations by our government when those violations occur abroad.

 

June 16, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fifth Circuit Upholds Federal Crush Porn Statute Against First Amendment Challenge

Reversing the federal district court, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Richards upholding the Animal Crush Video Protection Act of 2010 against a First Amendment challenge.  At 14 pages, the opinion authored by Judge Stephen Higginson is workmanlike but ultimately fails to satisfy the concerns raised by the statute.

Recall that the 2010 Act, 18 U.S.C. § 48 (2010), is the Congressional revision of the crush porn statute the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional in United States v. Stevens.  In Stevens, the eight Justice majority found that the statute criminalizing portrayals of animal cruelty was of "alarming breadth" and could operate to criminalize popular hunting television programs.  When Congress passed an amended statute, it included a provision that the portrayal "is obscene" and specific exclusions for hunting and slaughter.

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image via

Unlike the criminal defendant in Stevens (who was prosecuted for dog-fight videos), the defendants in Richards were charged with producing "crush porn" in which there is the depiction of cruelty to a small animal in an arguably sexual manner. 

The First Amendment challenge to the statute contended that the "obscene" prong of the statute did not incorporate the necessary Miller v. California test for obscenity.  Under Miller, this requires "sexual conduct," but Congressional history seemed debatable on this requirement.  Disagreeing with the district judge, however, the Fifth Circuit panel concluded it should not look to "variable and debatable legislative history to render unconstitutional a statute that incorporates a legal term of art with distinct constitutional meaning."  Thus, it held that "§48 incorporates Miller obscenity and thus by its terms proscribes only unprotected speech."

The Fifth Circuit rejected the argument that §48 proscribes only a certain type of obscenity in contravention of what some would call the "categorical approach" employed by the Court in the hate speech case of R.A.V. v. City of St. PaulAfter describing this argument, the Fifth Circuit veered into the much-disparaged "secondary effects" doctrine to conclude that

even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the creators and distributors of animal crush videos, like Richards and Justice, intend to advance a distinct message, perhaps about barbarism, § 48 is justified with reference not to the content of such a message but rather to its secondary effects—wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.

The panel thus concludes that "Section 48 thus is narrow and tailored to target unprotected speech that requires the wanton torture and killing of animals."  In doing so, the opinion noted that "a long history and substantial consensus, as seen in state and federal legislation, are indicative" of a compelling or substantial interest - - - and cited for this proposition New York v. FerberFerber, upholding the constitutionality of criminalizing child pornography, is of course the very case Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in United States v. Stevens distinguished; the Court rejected the analogy between child porn and (animal)crush porn. 

The Fifth Circuit en banc should take another look at United States v. Richards and the First Amendment contours of the "crush porn" statute without reference to "secondary effects."  

June 13, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

D.C. Circuit Rejects Guantanamo Detainees' Mistreatment Claims

The D.C. Circuit this week rejected a variety of claims by Guantanamo detainees for mistreatment by government officials and guards even after they had been cleared for release by the Combat Status Review Tribunal.  The court also rejected the plaintiffs' request to remand the case to amend their complaint.

The case, Allaithi v. Rumsfeld, involved detainee claims of "forced grooming, solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, forced medication, transport in 'shackles and chains, blackened goggles, and ear coverings,' and the disruption of . . . religious practices," even after some of the plaintiffs were cleared for release by the CSRT.  The plaintiffs brought claims against government officials and Guantanamo guards under the Alien Tort Statute, the Geneva Convention, the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As to the ATS, the court held that the defendants were acting within the scope of their employment, which, under the Westfall Act, transforms their ATS claim into a Federal Tort Claims Act claim against the government.  But the plaintiffs didn't pursue administrative remedies under the FTCA, so their case was dismissed.

As to the Vienna Convention, the court said that the Convention confers a private right of action.

As to the other, Bivens claims, the court held, citing its second Rasul ruling, that the defendants enjoyed qualified immunity, or, alternatively, that the case raised special factors counseling against a Bivens remedy.

June 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

California State Trial Judge Declares Teacher Tenure Provisions Unconstitutional

In a 16 page "tentative decision" in Vergara v. California, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu has declared that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education.

The so-called "tenure statutes" challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including

The California constitutional provisions at issue include the state's equal protection clause in Article I §7, and the Article IX provisions relating to Education, including the "general diffusion of knowledge" section, §1 and the requirement that the legislature "shall provide for a system of common schools by which a free school shall be kept up and supported,"§5.

Students matter
image via "Students Matter" the organization funding Vergara

Judge Treu based his decision largely on equality grounds, but noted that the California Supreme Court had previously held education to be a fundamental right.  Importantly, the judge found that the trial showed that "there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms."  Judge Treu also found, although did not elaborate, that there was a "disproportionate impact on poor and minority students."  The judge applied strict scrutiny to the challenged statutes.

As to the permanent employment statute,  Judge Treu found that it disadvantaged both students and teachers, noting that California's short time frame for tenure - - - less than two years - - - was an outlier: the vast majority of states (32) have a three year time frame. 

Regarding the dismissal statutes, Judge Treu noted that dismissal of a teacher could take two to ten years and "cost $50,000 to $450,000," and that while due process for teachers was an "entirely legitimate issue" these statutes provided "uber due process."  The judge found that the provisions were "so complex, time consuming and expensive" that the statutes violated the state constitutional equal protection rights of the student plaintiffs.

Likewise, Judge Treu found that the LIFO statute violated the state constitutional equal protection rights of the student plaintiffs.  Judge Treu again noted that California was in a distinct minority of 10 states in which this seniority system was absolute and allowed no consideration of teacher effectiveness, with 20 states providing that seniority was a factor, and 19 states leaving the decision to the discretion of government. 

Judge Treu's relatively brief decision followed a rather high profile trial financed by a tech entrepreneur.  The opinion does not have a full discussion of the facts, especially those supporting the impact on poor and racial minority students. 

Vergara is heir to cases such as San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez (1973),  in which the United States Supreme Court rejected a challenge to school financing as disadvantaging students of color, and Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby, in which the Texas Supreme Court found the school financing scheme unconstitutional under the state constitution, including a "general diffusion of knowledge" provision.   Yet Vergara turns the focus from state resources to "bad teachers" and can tap into anti-teacher and anti-union and anti-government worker sentiments.

Judge Treu concludes his decision with an invocation of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper 78 on separation of powers, noting that it is not the task of the judiciary to advise the legislature on a solution.  But as the history of  Texas' Edgewood Independent School District v. Kirby demonstrates, legislative solutions in school equality can have an extended career in the courts.

Most likely, Judge Treu's Vergara decision will itself be subject to further judicial interpretations in the appellate process.

June 11, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Wisconsin Federal Judge Declares Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining the federal judges who have declared unconstitutional their respective state laws banning same-sex marriage, Judge Barbara Crabb issued an 88 page opinion and order in Wolf v. Walker ruling that Art. XIII, § 13 of the Wisconsin Constitution prohibiting same-sex marriage "violates plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry and their right to equal protection of laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution" and that "any Wisconsin statutory provisions, including those in Wisconsin Statutes chapter 765, that limit marriages to a 'husband' and a 'wife,' are unconstitutional as applied to same-sex couples."

640px-EB9_WisconsinWhile Judge Crabb does not issue a stay, the opinion is not effective immediately.  Instead, the plaintiffs have until June 16 to submit a proposed injunction, the defendants have a week to respond, and the Judge will consider the stay at that time - - - adding a specific allowance of the parties to address the application for a stay in light of the United States Supreme Court's refusal to grant a stay - - - just two days ago - - - in Geiger v. Kitzhaber.

Crabb's opinion is a scholarly treatment that seriously engages with seemingly all of the arguments raised by the state, the plaintiffs, and various amici.  It echoes other judges who have reached similar results in relying upon Justice Scalia's dissenting opinions to support its conclusions.  Judge Crabb also interestingly uses work by Maggie Gallagher, one of the founders of the anti-same-sex marriage group National Organizer for Marriage as a supporting citation for the importance of marriage as "essential to the pursuit of happiness."  The range of her citations is impressive and although the opinion certainly has rhetorical flourishes, it is measured and substantive.

Her statement that marriage is a "fundamental right" is more nuanced in the conclusion to the due process analysis in opinion, which concludes:

that Wisconsin’s marriage amendment and the Wisconsin statutes defining marriage as requiring a “husband” and a “wife” significantly interfere with plaintiffs’ right to marry, so the laws must be supported by “sufficiently important state interests” that are “closely tailored to effectuate only those interests,” Zablocki [v. Redhail]  434 U.S. at 388, in order to survive constitutional scrutiny.

Regarding the level of scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause, Judge Crabb finds that Supreme Court precedent - - - including Windsor - - - is not determinative and that Seventh Circuit precedent is similarly not determinative.  The opinion therefore engages in an analysis of the classification under four factors: history of discrimination; ability to contribute to society the same as others; immutability; and political powerlessness.  (Interestingly, Judge Crabb does not cite to Carolene Products).  She ultimately concludes that heightened scrutiny (intermediate scrutiny) is appropriate, although she does "hedge her bets" a bit, writing that

regardless whether I apply strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny or some “more searching” form of rational basis review under the equal protection clause, I conclude that the marriage amendment and related statutes cannot survive constitutional review.

The opinion then seriously considers the by-now familiar asserted interests: tradition, procreation, optimal child-rearing, protecting the institution of marriage, proceeding with caution, and the less-oft explicit interest of "slippery slope."  Not surprisingly, she finds none of them support the same-sex marriage ban.

Judge Crabb's opinion acknowledges the opinion's place in the current terrain of post-Windsor decisions.  Not only does she address the recent cases, she also considers the social climate, with reference to one of the circuit judges who might well hear the case on appeal:

In light of Windsor and the many decisions that have invalidated restrictions on same-sex marriage since Windsor, it appears that courts are moving toward a consensus that it is time to embrace full legal equality for gay and lesbian citizens. Perhaps it is no coincidence that these decisions are coming at a time when public opinion is moving quickly in the direction of support for same-sex marriage. Compare Richard A. Posner, Should There Be Homosexual Marriage? And If So, Who Should Decide? 95 Mich. L. Rev. 1578, 1585 (1997) (“Public opinion may change . . . but at present it is too firmly against same-sex marriage for the courts to act.”), with Richard A. Posner, “Homosexual Marriage—Posner,” The Becker-Posner Blog (May 13, 2012) (“[T]he only remaining basis for opposition to homosexual marriage . . . is religious. . . . But whatever the [religious objections are], the United States is not a theocracy and should hesitate to enact laws that serve religious rather than pragmatic secular aims.”).

This case is most likely going to the Seventh Circuit - - - and it or one of its sister-opinions - - - is most likely headed to the Supreme Court.

June 6, 2014 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Carol Anne Bond Prevails in United States Supreme Court: Court Avoids Treaty Power Ruling

On her second trip to the United States Supreme Court, Carol Anne Bond prevailed again.

Recall that Carol Anne Bond was convicted of a crime in violation of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), passed to implement a treaty , the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the fact that she is not a "terrorist," but rather a "vengeful" participant in a "love triangle" has caused much consternation.  While the international arms-control agreement prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons, Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband.   Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court.

Recall that in 2011, the Court unanimously held that Bond could raise a Tenth Amendment claim in her prosecution, reversing the Third Circuit. On remand, the Third Circuit rejected Bond's argument to  "set aside as inapplicable the landmark decision Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920), which is sometimes cited for the proposition that the Tenth Amendment has no bearing on Congress's ability to legislate in furtherance of the Treaty Power in Article II, § 2 of the Constitution."

Today's opinion in Bond v. United States again reverses the Third Circuit.  The focus in oral argument  was on the Treaty power and whether a treaty can alter constitutional structures, namely federalism.  And while today's decision is unanimous, there are multiple concurring opinions.

The opinion for the Court, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a relatively brief 21 pages and notes that the Bond's case is "unusual" and thus the "analysis is appropriately limited."  For the Court,

the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon. There is no reason to suppose that Congress—in implementing the Convention on Chemical Weapons—thought otherwise.

Essentially, the Court practices constitutional avoidance by construing the statute narrowly; there is no need to confront Holland v. Missouri's holding regarding the constitutional parameters of Congress's treaty power. 

Indeed, the Court only mentions Holland in its discussion of the Third Circuit's holding and Bond's arguments; it notes that notwithstanding that "debate" there is a "well-established principle" of constitutional avoidance and includes a citation to Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). Because "Bond argues that section 229 does not cover her conduct" it considers "that argument first," and finds it decides the issue. 

In a nutshell, the Court concludes that the federal prosecutors exceeded the power the statute gave them - - - and thus there is no need to decide whether Congress exceeded the power the Constitution's treaty and necessary and proper powers gave it.

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Nations in green are signatories to
Chemical Weapons Convention via

Justice Scalia, concurring and joined by Thomas, would conclude that the statute clearly covers Bond's Act and therefore is unconstitutional.  Justice Thomas writes a separate concurrence, joined by Scalia and in part by Alito, writes separately to "suggest that the Treaty Power is itself a limited federal power."  And in a very brief opinion, Alito argues that the "insofar as the Convention may be read to obligate the United States to enact domestic legislation criminalizing conduct of the sort at issue in this case, which typically is the sort of conduct regulated by the States, the Convention exceeds the scope of the treaty power" and thus the statute "lies outside Congress’ reach unless supported by some other power enumerated in the Constitution."

So, while the opinion is "unanimous," the three Justices considered to be the most conservative and perhaps most hostile to international law, would have limited Congress' power to implement treaties made pursuant to Article II §2 allowing the executive to "make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."

And for ConLawProfs, it demonstrates the relevance of the "Ashwander doctrine" as a part of constitutional law courses.

June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Executive Authority, Federalism, International, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Unanimous Supreme Court in Wood v. Moss: Secret Service Agents Have Qualified Immunity in First Amendment Challenge

In a relatively brief  opinion in Wood v. Moss, Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous Court, reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that Secret Service officers had qualified immunity in a First Amendment challenge based on viewpoint discrimination against anti-Bush demonstrators.

Recall that the challenge in Wood v. Moss involved an allegation that the Secret Service removed anti-Bush protestors to a location farther from the then-President while he ate dinner while allowing pro-Bush demonstrators to remain in their location. 

MAPThe Court decided that any viewpoint discrimination was not the "sole" reason for the change in location and thus the agents had qualified immunity.  The Court agreed with the agents that the map provided by the protesters, and included in the Court's opinion [image at right]

undermines the protesters’ allegations of viewpoint discrimination as the sole reason for the agents’ directions. The map corroborates that, because of their location, the protesters posed a potential security risk to the President, while the supporters, because of their location, did not.

 The Court rejected the protestors arguments, including the White House Manual that stated that protestors should be designated to zones "preferably not in view of the event site" and that Secret Service agents have engaged in viewpoint discrimination in the past.  Here, however, the Court stressed that "this case is scarcely one in which the agents acted 'without a valid security reason.'"  Emphasis in original, quoting from Brief. 

While reaffirming that a Bivens action "extends to First Amendment claims" - - - a question at oral argument - - - the Court nevertheless noted that individual government officials cannot be held liable in a Bivens suit unless they themselves acted unconstitutionally:

We therefore decline to infer from alleged instances of misconduct on the part of particular agents an unwritten policy of the Secret Service to suppress disfavored expression, and then to attribute that supposed policy to all field- level operatives.

Under the Court's rationale, future Bivens claimants of First Amendment viewpoint discrimination must demonstrate that the viewpoint discrimination is the sole reason for the action by these particular (and presumably "bad apple") Secret Service agents.

While not one of the Court's more prominent First Amendment cases this Term, Wood v. Moss is important.  It further narrows the space for claiming First Amendment violations by Secret Service officers - - - especially combined with the 2012 decision in  Reichle v. Howards  (holding that Secret Service agents had qualified immunity and rejecting the claim of retaliatory arrest for a man exercising First Amendment rights at a Dick Cheney shopping mall appearance).  However, it does preserve some room for claimants to proceed (and perhaps even prevail) on a First Amendment Bivens action against individual Secret Service officers engaged in viewpoint discrimination. 

May 27, 2014 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Pennsylvania District Judge Declares State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his opinion in Whitewood v. Wolf, Judge John E. Jones, III, announced that Pennsylvania would "join the twelve federal district courts across the country" that had declared their respective same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.

The judge considered both a Due Process and Equal Protection challenge to Pennsylvania's statutory ban on same-sex marriage and found both had merit.

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1827 Finley map of Pennsylvania

Regarding due process, he concluded that

 the fundamental right to marry as protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution encompasses the right to marry a person of one’s own sex. . . . that this fundamental right is infringed upon by 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and thus precludes same-sex marriage. Accordingly, 23 Pa. C.S. § 1102 is unconstitutional.

Judge Jones' equal protection analysis first considered the proper level of scrutiny for sexual orientation and after extensive discussion of the factors (a modified Carolene Products analysis), he concluded that sexual orientation classifications are quasi-suspect and deserve heightened scrutiny. The application of this standard is relatively brief:

Significantly, Defendants claim only that the objectives are “legitimate,” advancing no argument that the interests are “important” state interests as required to withstand heightened scrutiny. Also, Defendants do not explain the relationship between the classification and the governmental objectives served; much less do they provide an exceedingly persuasive justification. In essence, Defendants argue within the framework of deferential review and go no further.  Indeed, it is unsurprising that Defendants muster no argument engaging the strictures of heightened scrutiny, as we, too, are unable to fathom an ingenuous defense saving the Marriage Laws from being invalidated under this more-searching standard.

Resembling many of the other opinions, including yesterday's opinion from an Oregon federal judge, Judge Jones' 39 page opinion acknowledges its part in a growing trend, cites all the other federal cases, includes a reference to Scalia's dissenting opinion in Windsor to support its rationale, and includes an acknowledgement of the divisiveness of the issue but invokes a historical perspective (represented by Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education) in its relatively brief conclusion. 

It differs from other similar opinions in explicitly resting its Equal Protection analysis in intermediate scrutiny befitting a quasi-suspect class.

But the doctrinal differences are less noteworthy than the tide of federal judges (and some state judges) striking down their state laws banning same-sex marriage.

May 20, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Oregon District Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining a decided trend which we last discussed here and here, today Oregon District Judge Michael McShane declared unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition in Article 15 of the state constitution. Judge McShane’s 26 page  opinion in Geiger v. Kitzhaber concludes that because “Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

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voting in 2004 ballot measure defining marriage as man/woman only: red is no; green is yes; dark green is yes by 2/3 or more; via

Judge McShane noted that the state defendants “concede that Oregon's marriage laws banning same-gender marriage are unconstitutional and legally indefensible, but state they are legally obligated to enforce the laws until this court declares the laws unconstitutional,” and thus, the case “presents itself to this court as something akin to a friendly tennis match rather than a contested and robust proceeding between adversaries.”  However, McShane did not find (or analyze) any Article III “case or controversies” issues, or address standing (including defendant standing).

Judge McShane notes that last term’s decision in Windsor v. United States  finding DOMA unconstitutional

may be distinguished from the present case in several respects. Yet, recounting such differences will not detract from the underlying principle shared in common by that case and the one now before me. The principle is one inscribed in the Constitution, and it requires that the state's marriage laws not "degrade or demean" the plaintiffs in violation of their rights to equal protection.

Unlike Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Windsor, however, Judge McShane’s opinion in Geiger is quite specific regarding the level of scrutiny being applied: rational basis.  McShane rejected two arguments for intermediate scrutiny.  First, he rejected the argument based upon a gender classification, concluding that the “targeted group here is neither males nor females, but homosexual males and homosexual females” and thus the state's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, not gender.  Second, he rejected the applicability of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, reasoning that the panel's decision in SmithKline is not yet a truly final and binding decision given that the mandate has not issued pending en banc review. (Recall that last week, a federal district judge in Idaho found "SmithKline’s examination of Windsor is authoritative and binding").

Judge McShane then engaged in the by now familiar analysis of government interests - - - including protecting traditional marriage and promoting responsible procreation - - - and their relationship to the same-sex marriage prohibition.  Like his fellow judges in recent cases, Judge McShane found rational basis is not satisfied.

And like some of his fellow judges, McShane shared his personal perspective.  McShane's provided his in an extended conclusion:

I am aware that a large number of Oregonians, perhaps even a majority, have religious or moral objections to expanding the definition of civil marriage (and thereby expanding the benefits and rights that accompany marriage) to gay and lesbian families. It was these same objections that led to the passage of Measure 36 in 2004 [the ballot measure defining marriage as only between a man and a woman]. Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion,
a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called "smear the queer" and it was played with great zeal and without a moment's thought to today' s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but 1~86 when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a"millennia of moral teaching," the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. Bowers, 478 U.S. at 197 (Burger, C.J., concurring), overruled by Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 578. Even today I am reminded ofthe legacy that we have bequeathed today's generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says "dad ... that is so gay."

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading "God Hates Fags" make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise.

 Judge McShane's opinion ends with a exhortation perhaps more befitting religious rhetoric than legal analysis.

 

May 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)