Sunday, March 5, 2017
Reversing the district judge, the D.C. Circuit's opinion in United States v. Bronstein upheld the prohibition of certain speech in the United States Supreme Court against a challenge that it was unconstitutionally vague and thus violated the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The statute, 40 U.S.C. § 6134, entitled “Firearms, fireworks, speeches, and objectionable language in the Supreme Court Building and grounds,” provides:
It is unlawful to discharge a firearm, firework or explosive, set fire to a combustible, make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening, or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds.
The district judge had found that “harangues” and “orations” are terms that “cannot be determined without reference to subjective perceptions and individual sensitivities," and thus the statute was not sufficiently precise. The unanimous D.C. Circuit panel found that the statute's
core meaning is delivering speeches of various kinds to persons within the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, in a manner that threatens to disturb the operations and decorum of the Court. In the context of the Supreme Court’s building and grounds, the terms’ core meaning proscribes determinable conduct.
Moreover, the court found that "while “harangue” and “oration” may not roll off the average person’s tongue today," this "does not alter their possession of a settled meaning around public speeches." The general sense is "making a speech to a public assembly," and based on the title of the statute, the sense is clear that this pertains to "noises" intended to "disrupt the court's operations."
In its application, the opinion by Judge Janice Rogers Brown somewhat oddly includes a cinematic reference:
Turning to the facts here, a person of ordinary intelligence could read this law and understand that, as a member of the Supreme Court’s oral argument audience, making disruptive public speeches is clearly proscribed behavior—even in staccato bursts, seriatim. And yet, in a coordinated fashion, each Appellee is alleged to have directed a variation of the same message to the Justices of the Supreme Court and the assembled audience. Their coordinated standing, facing the bench, and messaging indicate the Appellees were addressing the Court and gallery. Cf. MY COUSIN VINNY (20th Century Fox 1992) (Judge Chamberlain Haller: “Don’t talk to me sitting in that chair! . . . When you’re addressing this court, you’ll rise and speak to me in a clear, intelligible voice.”). Viewed objectively, these alleged acts could easily be considered speeches to a public assembly that tended to disrupt the Court’s operations—conduct covered by § 6134’s prohibition of “make a harangue or oration.”
Earlier in the Bronstein opinion, joined by Judge Srinivasan and Senior Judge Williams, Judge Brown does provide more of the substance of the speeches which included objections to Citizens United and the legal construction of money as speech. Judge Brown notes that the protest occurred on "April Fools Day of 2015;" the protest group describes the timing as being on the eve of the one year anniversary of McCutcheon v. FEC. (There were no arguments on April 2, the actual anniversary, or the day after).
While a due process decision, Bronstein is consistent with judicial rejection of First Amendment challenges to statutes prohibiting expression in and around the United States Supreme Court. We've previously discussed the "special status" of the United States Supreme Court building, the Supreme Court's efforts to ensure its regulations were constitutional, as well as the D.C. Circuit's opinion in Hodge v. Talkin (2015) which upheld the constitutionality of statutory prohibitions of assembly and display of flags or signs on the United States Supreme Court plaza, and the arrest of a person for wearing a jacket with the word "Occupy" on it.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
In its opinion in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.
Recall that the challenge was to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Virginia did consider race in the redistricting, but the question was whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court required an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race.
In the opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court clarified the relationship between traditional redistricting principles and unconstitutional racial gerrymandering:
The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit misshapen districts. It prohibits unjustified racial classifications.
More precisely, although there is a racial classification if "redistricting legislation that is so bizarre on its face that it is unexplainable on grounds other than race," as in Shaw v. Reno, (1993), this "inconsistency between the enacted plan and traditional redistricting criteria is not a threshold requirement or a mandatory precondition in order for a challenger to establish a claim of racial gerrymandering." The Court admitted that "to date " it had not affirmed a racial predominance finding, or remanded a case for a determination of predominance, "without evidence that some district lines deviated from traditional principles." Nevertheless, "there may be cases where challengers will be able to establish racial predominance in the absence of an actual conflict by presenting direct evidence of the legislative purpose and intent or other compelling circumstantial evidence."
Given this articulation of the standard, the three-judge court's analysis of whether there was racial gerrymandering applied only to the portions of the districts that deviated from traditional requirements was clearly problematical. Indeed,
the basic unit of analysis for racial gerrymandering claims in general, and for the racial predominance inquiry in particular, is the district.
The ultimate object of the inquiry, however, is the legislature’s predominant motive for the design of the district as a whole. A court faced with a racial gerrymandering claim therefore must consider all of the lines of the district at issue; any explanation for a particular portion of the lines, moreover, must take account of the district wide context. Concentrating on particular portions in isolation may obscure the significance of relevant district wide evidence, such as stark splits in the racial composition of populations moved into and out of disparate parts of the district, or the use of an express racial target. A holistic analysis is necessary to give that kind of evidence its proper weight.
The Court declined the parties' request to apply this standard and remanded the matter of eleven districts.
As to the twelfth district (district 75), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's finding that race predominated but also that the redistricting satisfied strict scrutiny. The Court found that not violating §5 of the Voting Rights Act - - - operative then despite the VRA's subsequent erosion in Shelby County v. Holder - - - was a compelling government interest and that the district was narrowly tailored to serve that interest. In his partial dissent, Justice Thomas insisted that this very analysis "is fundamentally at odds with our “color-blind” Constitution, which “neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,” citing Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting). Justice Thomas then argued that this "contradiction illustrates the perversity of the Court’s jurisprudence in this area as well as the uncomfortable position in which the State might find itself."
Despite the articulation of a somewhat new standard, Bethune-Hill does not seem to be a major opinion and the Court states its "holding in this case is controlled by precedent." Interestingly, the Court did not issue its opinion on the other racial gerrymandering case, McCrory v. Harris, arising in North Carolina and argued on the same day.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
District Judge Finds School District's Exclusionary Bathroom Policy Likely Violates Equal Protection
In his well-reasoned and comprehensive 48 page opinion in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania has issued a preliminary injunction against a school policy that limits students to facilities that "correspond to their biological sex" or to "unisex facilities," finding that the policy likely violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The Pittsburgh-area school district passed Resolution 2 in 2016 by a close vote (5-4), after Resolution 1 which would have preserved the status quo failed to pass in a tied vote (4-4), after meetings and after some sporadic parental complaints. The policy seemed focused on three transgender students, including the named plaintiff Juliet Evancho, the sister of Jackie Evancho who sang at the President's January inauguration. As Judge Hornak relates, before 2016 "there were simply no issues or concerns" about the plaintiffs and everyone in the school district treated the students "consistently with their gender identities." He added that the "most distinctive and illustrative evidence of this is that Juliet Evancho ran for Homecoming Queen in 2016, and she was elected by her peers to the “Homecoming Court” of ﬁnalists for that honor."
After extensively discussing the record, including the school district's privacy concerns, Judge Hornak found there was a indeed a classification being made, the plaintiffs being "distinguished by governmental action from those whose gender identities are congruent with their assigned sex" and the "only students who are not allowed to use the common restrooms consistent with their gender identities.” Later in the opinion, Judge Hornak discussed the unsatisfactory solution of the "safety valve" of unisex facilities:
the law does not impose on the Plaintiffs the obligation to use single-user facilities in order to “solve the problem.” In these circumstances, that would compel them to use only restrooms inconsistent with their gender identities or to use the “special” restrooms. That is a choice directed by official edict, and it is not a choice compelled of other students. It is no answer under the Equal Protection Clause that those impermissibly singled out for differential treatment can, and therefore must, themselves “solve the problem” by further separating themselves from their peers.
As to the Equal Protection standard to be applied, Judge Hornak first discussed rational basis but decided that the intermediate scrutiny standard of United States v. Virginia (VMI) for sex classifications was applicable. The selection of standard rested on the conclusion that "transgender status" is the "epitome of gender noncomformity" and discrimination based on transgender status is "akin to discrimination based on sex." Additionally, the opinion recited factors determining whether a "new" classification deserves heightened scrutiny.
In applying the standard, Judge Hornak found that the record did not establish facts that demonstrated there was an important government interest or exceedingly persuasive justification that was substantially related to those interests:
First, such an application of Resolution 2 would not appear to be necessary to quell any actual or incipient threat, disturbance or other disruption of school activities by the Plaintiffs. There is no record of any such thing. ****
Second, Resolution 2 would appear to do little to address any actual privacy concern of any student that is not already well addressed by the physical layout of the bathrooms. The District has stated that Resolution 2 is necessary to protect the privacy of students (presumably including the Plaintiffs), by which the District has stated it means the sanctity of excretory functions. The record simply does not reveal any actual risk (or even an actual risk of a risk) in such regards. ****
Third, Resolution 2 would not appear to have been necessary in order to fill some gap in the District’s code of student conduct or the positive law of Pennsylvania in order to proscribe unlawful malicious “peeping Torn” activity by anyone pretending to be transgender.” There is no evidence of such a gap. The existing disciplinary rules of the District and the laws of Pennsylvania would address such matters. And as noted above, there is no record evidence of an actual or threatened outbreak of other students falsely or deceptively declaring themselves to be “transgender” for the purpose of engaging in untoward and maliciously improper activities in the High School restrooms.”
Fourth, such application of Resolution 2 also would not appear to be supported by any actual need for students to routinely use the comers of the restrooms for changing into athletic gear from street clothes.
Interestingly, this last consideration seems to have arisen from a "hypothetical matching a personal experience from his own school days" asserted by counsel for the school district. (Evidence and Professional Responsibility Professors might take note of this). Judge Hornak opined that perhaps that "reported anecdotal evidence can be treated" as being a "plausible historical recitation of life events," but there was no "record evidence" that this was the situation in the district.
While Judge Hornak found that the plaintiffs would prevail on the Equal Protection Clause claim, the judge did not find a likelihood of success on the Title IX claim in light of the pending Supreme Court case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., oral argument scheduled later this month. Section IV of the Judge Hornak's opinion, about 10 pages, coupled with the preliminary footnote regarding the recent Department of Education activities, is an excellent overview of the GG litigation including the pertinent issues.
Judge Hornak's opinion is also an excellent reminder that whatever might happen in GG at the Supreme Court, there are remaining equal protection issues. Recall that although the Fourth Circuit in GG centered on Title IX and the administrative law issues, Count I of the original complaint in GG is an equal protection claim.
video: from Lambda Legal representing Evancho
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
In a brief Order in IMBD v. Becerra, federal district judge Vince Chhabria enjoined California AB 1687, added as §1798.83.5, stating that "it's difficult to imagine how AB 1687 could not violate the First Amendment."
The statute provides that a commercial online entertainment employment service provider, such as IMBD,
that enters into a contractual agreement to provide employment services to an individual for a subscription payment shall not, upon request by the subscriber, do either of the following:(1) Publish or make public the subscriber’s date of birth or age information in an online profile of the subscriber.(2) Share the subscriber’s date of birth or age information with any Internet Web sites for the purpose of publication.
To be sure, the government has identified a compelling goal – preventing age discrimination in Hollywood. But the government has not shown how AB 1687 is "necessary" to advance that goal. In fact, it's not clear how preventing one mere website from publishing age information could meaningfully combat discrimination at all. And even if restricting publication on this one website could confer some marginal antidiscrimination benefit, there are likely more direct, more effective, and less speech-restrictive ways of achieving the same end. For example, although the government asserts generically that age discrimination continues in Hollywood despite the long-time presence of antidiscrimination laws, the government fails to explain why more vigorous enforcement of those laws would not be at least as effective at combatting age discrimination as removing birthdates from a single website. Because the government has presented nothing to suggest that AB 1687 would actually combat age discrimination (much less that it's necessary to combat age discrimination), there is an exceedingly strong likelihood that IMDb will prevail in this lawsuit.
The en banc Fourth Circuit yesterday upheld Maryland's ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines against a Second Amendment challenge. The ruling reverses an earlier panel decision and puts the circuit in line with other circuits that have ruled on the issue. (We posted on the earlier panel ruling here.)
The court said first that assault weapons aren't even protected by the Second Amendment. Quoting Heller, the majority wrote, "Because the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are 'like' 'M-16 rifles'--'weapons that are most useful in military service'--they are among those arms that the Second Amendment does not shield."
The court said next that even if the Second Amendment applied, the ban satisfied intermediate scrutiny. (The court applied intermediate scrutiny, not strict, because Maryland's ban "does not severely burden the core protection of the Second Amendment, i.e., the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms for self-defense in the home.") The court wrote that the ban is "reasonably adapted" to the state's "substantial" (indeed, compelling) interest in public safety, because assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are especially dangerous and are disproportionately used in crime and to kill law enforcement officers. The court also noted that the ban did not regulate the more typical weapon used in the home for self-defense (the core of the Second Amendment right, under Heller)--the handgun.
The court also ruled that the ban didn't violate equal protection by allowing retired police officers to possess assault weapons, because police officers are highly trained, and thus not situated similarly to civilians. Finally, the court held that the ban on "copies" of assault weapons wasn't unconstitutionally vague, because the term ("copy") is sufficiently clear under well established Maryland law.
The ruling drew a sharp dissent and several other opinions.
Monday, February 20, 2017
In its divided opinion in Bormuth v. County of Jackson (Michigan), a panel of the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the prayer practices of a county commission violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
The constitutionality of legislative prayer has most recently been before the United States Supreme Court in the sharply divided opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the practice of the town beginning its meetings with invited religious leaders providing prayers. The Court essentially extended Marsh v. Chambers (1983), regarding legislative prayer in the Nebraska legislature, to town meetings despite their quasi-legislative and quasi-adjudicative function.
The Sixth Circuit first held that the County of Jackson's Board of Commissioners’ practice strays from the traditional purpose and effect of legislative prayer:
A confluence of factors distinguishes the Jackson County practice from the practices upheld in Marsh and Town of Greece. These factors include the deliverance of the invocations by the Commissioners themselves in a local setting with constituent petitioners in the audience, as well as the Board’s intentional decision to exclude other prayer givers in order to control the content of the prayers.
Additionally, the Sixth Circuit in Bormuth was troubled by the issue of coercion raised by the plaintiff. The facts were not only that the Chair of the Jackson County Commission generally "directs those in attendance to “rise” and “assume a reverent position" before a County Commissioner delivers a Christian prayer, but that a Commissioner "made faces" and "turned his chair around" when Bormuth expressed concern about the prayers. One Commissioner later stated that Bormuth was attacking "my Lord and savior Jesus Christ," and another Commissioner remarked, “All this political correctness, after a while I get sick of it.” As Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for the panel majority:
Admittedly, the precise role of coercion in an Establishment Clause inquiry is unclear, especially within the context of legislative prayer. In that sense, both Justice Kennedy’s and Justice Thomas’s opinions involve at least some departure from the state of the law as it existed before Town of Greece. However, given that there is controlling precedent supporting Justice Kennedy’s opinion and no controlling precedent supporting Justice Thomas’s concurrence, Justice Thomas’s concurrence is neither the “the least doctrinally far-reaching-common ground among the Justices in the majority,” nor the “opinion that offers the least change to the law.” [citation omitted]. What is more, when viewed within the context of the majority’s holding, Justice Kennedy’s opinion clearly represents the narrowest grounds. The majority’s holding was that there was no coercion. According to Justice Kennedy, this was because there was no coercion in the record. According to Justice Thomas, this was because there could never be coercion absent formal legal compulsion. Within the context of a ruling against the respondents, therefore, the narrower opinion is Justice Kennedy’s, not Justice Thomas’s. Accordingly, Justice Kennedy’s conception of coercion is the holding of the Court under binding Sixth Circuit precedent.
In finding coercion in Bormuth, Judge Moore noted that Town of Greece ruled that “[t]he analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity.” Judge Moore then detailed the presence of all three of these criteria in Bormuth.
Judge Moore discussed Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina, in which a divided Fourth Circuit held that the identity of the person leading a prayer opening the county Board of Commissioners meeting was irrelevant and upheld a prayer led by a Board member. Dissenting Sixth Circuit Judge Griffin wrote at length and relied heavily on Lund. For her part, Judge Moore specifically stated that Judge Wilkinson’s panel dissent in Lund is much more convincing than the majority opinion, and noted that because Lund has been granted a rehearing en banc, this view is one that "a significant number of Fourth Circuit judges presumably share." Additionally, however, Judge Moore found that there are "significant factual differences" between the practice at issue in the Fourth Circuit and the one before the court in the Sixth Circuit.
The issue of legislative prayer in the context of local government continues to vex the courts; there is almost sure to be a petition for rehearing en banc in the Sixth Circuit mirroring the successful one in the Fourth.
image: Bernardo Strozzi, St Francis in Prayer, circa 1620, via National Gallery of Art
Friday, February 17, 2017
The Eleventh Circuit ruled yesterday that Florida's law banning doctors from asking patients about gun ownership violated the First Amendment. The en banc court struck three key provisions of Florida's law, but upheld a fourth, banning discrimination against gun owners.
Florida's Firearms Owners' Privacy Act bans doctors from asking about guns in patients' homes, from keeping records on patient gun ownership, from "unnecessarily" harassing patients about gun ownership, and from discriminating against patients based on gun ownership. The legislature enacted the provisions after hearing about six instances involving doctors asking patients about gun ownership or discriminating against patients because of gun ownership.
Doctors sued, arguing that the provisions violated free speech. The court agreed (again, except for the anti-discrimination provision).
The court held that FOPA was a content-based restriction on speech, subject to the heightened-review standard in Sorrell v. IMS, and that FOPA failed to stand up. (Because FOPA failed under heightened review, the majority said that it didn't need to consider whether strict scrutiny applied. Judges Wilson and Martin would have applied strict scrutiny, however, arguing that FOPA is both content- and viewpoint-based. Judge Tjoflat dissented, taking issue with the majority's failure "to elucidate and apply a particularized standard of review," especially in wake of the "uncertainty" created by Reed v. Town of Gilbert.) In a separate majority opinion, the court said that the anti-unnecessary harassment provision was unconstitutionally vague.
Florida proffered four interests: protecting Second Amendment rights; protecting patient privacy; ensuring equal access to health care; and regulating the medical profession to protect the public. The court said that FOPA's wasn't necessary to achieve any of these.
As to the Second Amendment, the court said that doctors can't violate it, because they're not state actors, and because the Second Amendment doesn't protect against questions on gun ownership:
The first problem is that there was no evidence whatsoever before the Florida Legislature that any doctors or medical professionals have taken away patients' firearms or otherwise infringed on patients' Second Amendment rights. This evidentiary void is not surprising because doctors and medical professionals, as private actors, do not have any authority (legal or otherwise) to restrict the ownership or possession of firearms by patients (or by anyone else for that matter). The Second Amendment right to own and possess firearms does not preclude questions about, commentary on, or criticism for the exercise of that right.
As to the state's interest in protecting patient privacy, the court noted that the FOPA itself, in a provision not contested in this case, protects a patient's right not to answer questions about gun ownership. "So any patients who have privacy concerns about information concerning their firearm ownership can simply refuse to answer questions on this topic." Moreover, "Florida law already places significant limits on the disclosure of a patient's confidential medical records, and there is no evidence that doctors or medical professionals have been improperly disclosing patients' information about firearm ownership."
As to ensuring equal access to health care, the court noted that it upheld FOPA's anti-discrimination provision, and that the other challenged provisions in FOPA simply weren't narrowly tailored to promote that interest.
Finally, as to the state's interest in regulating the medical profession "in order to protect the public," the court said that this just "is not enough here." "There is no claim, much less any evidence, that routine questions to patients about the ownership of firearms are medically inappropriate, ethically problematic, or practically ineffective. Nor is there any contention (or, again, any evidence) that blanket questioning on the topic of firearm ownership is leading to bad, unsound, or dangerous medical advice."
Judge Marcus, in a separate majority opinion, added that the anti-unnecessary-harassment provision was unconstitutionally vague.
The court upheld the anti-discrimination provision, because it raised no First Amendment concerns as applied to non-expressive conduct such as "failing to return messages, charging more for the same services, declining reasonable appointment times, not providing test results on a timely basis, or delaying treatment because a patient (or a parent of a patient) owns firearms."
The court severed the record-keeping, inquiry, and anti-harassment provisions, so that other provisions of the FOPA stay on the books. These include a provision relating to firearm inquiries by emergency medical professionals, a provision allowing patients to decline to answer questions about firearm ownership, the anti-discrimination provision, a provision prohibiting insurers from discriminating against gun owners, and a provision stating that a violation of any of these constitutes grounds for disciplinary action.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
In its unanimous opinion in State v. Arlene's Flowers, the Supreme Court of Washington upheld the Washington Law Against Discrimination including sexual orientation as applied to a business that refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding.
The owner of Arlene's Flowers argued that the anti-discrimination statute was not applicable to her and if it did, it violated her constitutional rights of free speech, free exercise, and free association under the First Amendment as well as under the Washington state constitution.
On the First Amendment claims, the court found that Arlene's Flowers argument regarding compelled speech failed because the owner's flower arranging did not meet the threshold of expression. The court relied on Rumsfeld v. FAIR to hold that the owner's
decision to either provide or refuse to provide flowers for a wedding does not inherently express a message about that wedding. As [she] acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism. [She] also testified that she has previously declined wedding business on "[m]ajor holidays, when we don't have the staff or if they want particular flowers that we can't get in the time frame they need." Accordingly, an outside observer may be left to wonder whether a wedding was declined for one of at least three reasons: a religious objection, insufficient staff, or insufficient stock.
The court rejected the applicability of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston (1985), as well as a litany of other United States Supreme Court cases regarding this threshold of expression. In essence, the court emphasized that it was the sale of all flowers from her shop rather than any particular floral arrangement that was at issue in the case.
On the Free Exercise claim, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument that the Washington ant-discrimination law was not a neutral one of general applicability and should therefore warrant strict scrutiny. Instead, the court applied the rational basis standard of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, which the Washington anti-discrimination easily passed.
However, the analysis of free exercise under the Washington state constitution, article I §11 was not so simple because Washington has not always adopted the Smith standard when reviewing claims under its state constitution. Nevertheless, the court found that even subjecting the Washington anti-discrimination law to strict scrutiny, the statute survives. The court "emphatically" rejected the claim that there was no compelling interest of the state in flowers for weddings: the "case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches."
Finally, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument regarding free association, noting that all of the cases upon which she relied were not businesses. As to the business itself, the court also upheld a finding of personal liability of the owner, the person who had refused service.
The United States Supreme Court has denied petitions for writ of certiorari in similar cases, but it is highly likely that a petition for certiorari will follow, especially given the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Court.
February 16, 2017 in Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)
The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a lower court should go ahead and rule on a First Amendment challenge to Tennessee's Campaign Finance Disclosure Act, and not wait for the outcome of a state administrative proceeding in a different case. The court also hinted toward a likely outcome: the Act violates the First Amendment.
The decision overturns the lower court's invocation of Pullman abstention and orders the lower court to move ahead to the merits. But the Sixth Circuit still gave the lower court a chance to certify interpretation of the state law to the Tennessee Supreme Court (but suggested that this wouldn't really help).
The case arose when two parents of school-aged children formed an unincorporated group to advocate in an upcoming school board election. The group planned to spend less than $250 on independent expenditures, and not make any direct campaign contributions to candidates.
But group members learned that Tennessee law might regulate their activities. The Tennessee Campaign Financial Disclosure Act defines a "political campaign committee" as "a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political part governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure." The Act goes on to require committees to pay an annual registration fee, appoint a treasurer, maintain a separate bank account, file financial disclosure statements, and keep financial records--all things that the two members weren't prepared to do.
So they sued in federal court, arguing that the Act violated the First Amendment. But the district court punted, invoking Pullman abstention, and citing a pending state administrative proceeding involving the application of the Act to a different group.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court said that Pullman abstention wasn't appropriate here, because the state administrative proceeding dealt with different issues (and not the ones that the plaintiffs raised here), because the Act wasn't "so ambiguous as to necessitate abstention," and because the Act wasn't really susceptible to a limiting construction that would save it from a First Amendment challenge.
The court left open an option for the district court to certify a question on the construction of the Act to the Tennessee Supreme Court. But it also suggested that certification wouldn't do any good, because the Act says what it says.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Eighth Circuit Says Restrictions on University Trademark for Student NORML Group Violate Free Speech
The Eighth Circuit ruled yesterday that Iowa State University's restrictions on NORML's use of the school's trademark violates the First Amendment. The court said that the restrictions amounted to viewpoint-based discrimination in a limited public forum and enjoined the school from applying its trademark-use policy in a viewpoint-discriminatory way.
The case arose when the ISU student NORML group sought university permission to use the school's trademark on NORML t-shirts. (The school's trademark-use policy allows any student group, including NORML, to use the trademark upon request and permission.) The shirt design featured the words "NORML ISU" on the front with the "O" represented by Cy the Cardinal, the school's mascot. The back read, "Freedom is NORML at ISU" with a small cannabis leaf above "NORML."
The school initially approved the group's use of the school's trademark for the t-shirt. But then the Des Moines Register ran a story on marijuana legalization, with a picture of the shirt and a quote from NORML ISU's president saying that ISU has supported the group. The school received blowback, including calls from the state legislature and governor's office asking whether the school really approved the use of its trademark, and university officials backtracked. Officials denied the use of the trademark for a second run of the shirt; they required NORML (and NORML alone) to get additional administrative approval for any future trademark requests; and they changed their trademark policy to prohibit the use of the trademark in "designs that suggest promotion of . . . dangerous, illegal or unhealthy products, actions or behaviors . . . [or] drugs and drug paraphernalia that are illegal or unhealthful." Under the new policy, the school denied NORML's request to use the trademark for any design that included a cannabis leaf, but it approved use of the trademark for a design that simply stated the group's name (with no leaf).
Group members sued and won a permanent injunction in the district court, prohibiting the school from enforcing is trademark-use policy in a viewpoint-discriminatory way. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.
The court held that the university created a limited public forum in its trademark-use policy, and that the additional barriers to that policy that it erected for NORML constituted viewpoint-based discrimination of speech. The court also rejected the school's argument that NORML's use of the trademark constituted government speech under the three-part test for government speech in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Monday, February 13, 2017
The federal district judge in Aziz v. Trump, having previously granted the Motion of the State of Virginia to intervene, has granted a Preliminary Injunction against section 3(c) of the President's Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." The judge's order is supported by a 22 page Memorandum Opinion. Recall that the Ninth Circuit has also recently ruled on the matter (refusing to stay a district judge's injunction); our general explainer of the issues is here.
Judge Leonie Brinkema rested her opinion on the Establishment Clause, finding a likelihood of success on the merits on that claim, and thus not reaching the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause or statutory claims.
Judge Brinkema found that the case was justiciable and that Virginia as a state has standing to raise claims based on the injuries to its universities. The judge rejected the contention that the President has unbridled power to issue the EO, stating that
Maximum power does not mean absolute power. Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress’ delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. It is a bedrock principle of this nation’s legal system that “the Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution.” The Federalist No. 81, at 481 (Alexander Hamilton) (Clinton Rossiter ed., 1999). Defendants have cited no authority for the proposition that Congress can delegate to the president the power to violate the Constitution and its amendments and the Supreme Court has made it clear that even in the context of immigration law, congressional and executive power “is subject to important constitutional limitations.” Zadﬂdas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 695 (2001).
As to whether or not the EO is a "Muslim ban," the judge relied on public statements by the President and his senior advisors, noting that although the Government disputes the relevancy of the statements, the government does not contest their accuracy. Among the statements the Judge found relevant are candidate Trump's campaign statements and Rudolph Guiliani's January 29, 2017 interview on Fox News.
Judge Brinkema's analysis of the Establishment Clause issue relies heavily on McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky in which the Court found unconstitutional the display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse based in large part of the motive of the state actors. The judge also rejected the argument that the EO could not be a "Muslim ban" because it did not ban all Muslims:
The argument has also been made that the Court cannot infer an anti-Muslim animus because the E0 does not affect all, or even most, Muslims. The major premise of that argument—that one can only demonstrate animus toward a group of people by targeting all of them at once—is ﬂawed. For example, it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court considered the displays of the Ten Commandments erected by the Kentucky counties in McCreary, which had a localized impact, to be targeted at all persons outside the Judeo-Christian traditions. Moreover, the Supreme Court has never reduced its Establishment Clause jurisprudence to a mathematical exercise. It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefﬁcient the execution. [citations omitted]
Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction of 3(c) of the EO against Virginia residents or those affiliated with Virginia's education institutions.
Saturday, February 4, 2017
In a Temporary Restraining Order, United States District Judge James Robart enjoined the federal government from enforcing sections 3(c), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), and 5(e) of the Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban."
Judge Hobart's Order is brief and concludes that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, although it does not specify which of the claims is likely to succeed. Washington State's complaint contains 7 counts claiming violations of constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, and Procedural Due Process, as well as statutory violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (2 counts), Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act, the Administrative Procedure Act (2 counts), and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).
The Judge's finding that Washington faces the "immediate and irreparable injury" requirement for preliminary relief might also be a comment on the merits of Washington's standing (which we first discussed here) to bring the suit, and would be pertinent to the standing of the state of Hawai'i, which has also sued. Judge Robart found:
The Executive Order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States by virtue of their roles as parens patriae of the residents living within their borders. In addition, the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inﬂicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the States" operations, tax bases, and public funds.
Additionally, in the Order's one paragraph Conclusion, Judge Robart implicitly invokes the Marbury v. Madison aspects of the controversy. Here is the entire last paragraph:
Fundamental to the work of this court is a vigilant recognition that it is but one of three equal branches of our federal government. The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution. The narrow question the court is asked to consider today is whether it is appropriate to enter a TRO against certain actions taken by the Executive in the context of this speciﬁc lawsuit. Although the question is narrow, the court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents. The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulﬁll its constitutional role in our tripart government. Accordingly, the court concludes that entry of the above-described TRO is necessary, and the States’ motion (Dkt. ## 2, 19) is therefore GRANTED.
The morning after the Judge's Order, the President from his vacation home "tweeted" his disapproval, maligning the judge but seemingly committed to pursue further judicial process.
February 4, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Race, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (2)
Thursday, January 19, 2017
The Seventh Circuit ruled yesterday that Chicago's restrictions on firing ranges violate the Second Amendment. The ruling means that the City can no longer enforce two of its zoning restrictions and an age regulation for firing ranges, and that Chicago will have to go back to the drawing board if it wants to zone or regulate.
The case has some history. Chicago previously banned all firing ranges from the City. But the Seventh Circuit struck that ban, ruling that it intruded on "the core individual right of armed defense[,] includ[ing] a corresponding right to acquire and maintain proficiency in firearm use through target practice at a range."
The City came back with a bevy of regulations, including three at issue here: (1) a zoning restriction that limits firing ranges only as special uses in manufacturing districts; (2) a zoning restriction that prohibits ranges within 100 feet of another range or within 500 feet of a residential district, school, place of worship, and multiple other uses; and (3) a provision barring anyone under age 18 from entering a shooting range.
The court applied the familiar two-part framework to Second Amendment challenges. It first asked whether the regulated activity fell within the scope of the Second Amendment. It next asked, if so, do the regulations meet the sliding scale of heightened scrutiny, where a regulation must more closely fit the government's objectives the most closely the regulations touch on the core of the Second Amendment?
Drawing on its earlier case and the "Second Amendment right to maintain proficiency in firearm use via target practice at a range," the court said that the three regulations all fell within the scope of the Second Amendment. The court then held that the City failed to provide any evidentiary support for its claimed concerns to justify the regulations--firing range attract gun thieves, they cause airborne lead contamination, and they carry a risk of fire--and therefore they must fail.
Importantly, the court held that the two zoning restrictions had to be considered as a package, not separately. The court then noted that between the two, only about 2.2 percent of City area was available to firing ranges. Moreover, since the court's earlier ruling, no firing range had opened in the City.
Judge Rovner wrote a lengthy opinion dissenting on the distance-zoning regulation, but concurring on the other points. Judge Rovner argued that the court should have analyzed the two zoning regulations separately, and, if it had, it should have ruled that the City had sufficient interests in regulating the distance between a firing range and certain other sites. Judge Rovner also wrote that the City should have greater leeway in regulating "the limited rights of minors under the Second Amendment," citing a host of stories about injuries and deaths of youths at firing ranges. But ultimately she agreed with the majority that "the outright ban on all children under the age of eighteen entering a firing range is impermissible . . . ."
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
The D.C. Circuit rejected a claim today that the Park Service's set-aside of Freedom Plaza for the Inauguration Committee violated the free speech rights of a group that sought to protest in that space during President-Elect Trump's inauguration.
The ruling ends this challenge, and means that the group will have to find some other place to protest.
The case involves a 2008 Park Service regulation that authorizes a priority permit setting aside a portion of space along the Inaugural Parade route to the Presidential Inaugural Committee for ticketed spectator bleachers. (The set-aside amounts to about 13 percent of the space along the route. In total, about 30 percent of the space along the route is not open to the public; the other 70 percent is available on a first-come, first-served basis.) That area includes Freedom Plaza, a park along Pennsylvania Avenue.
The set-aside priority permit does not displace the regular permit process for protestor along the parade route. But it means that protestors can't use the area set aside for the Inaugural Committee.
That's where ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) comes in. ANSWER sought to protest on Freedom Plaza, but couldn't, because the space was reserved for the Inaugural Committee. ANSWER sued, arguing that the set-aside violated its free speech rights.
The D.C. Circuit rejected this claim. The court ruled that the Park Service set-aside was a content-neutral, time, place, manner regulation of speech in a public forum, that was narrowly tailored to achieve a significant government interest (celebrating the inauguration), and left open ample alternatives for speech.
The court rejected ANSWER's argument that the regulation was viewpoint based, because the group sought to protest against President-Elect Trump: "ANSWER's admittedly viewpoint-based reason for seeking access to the Plaza does not, however, make any rule that stands in its way content based."
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
A divided panel of the Tenth Circuit ruled yesterday that SEC Administrative Law Judges violate the Appointments Clause.
The important, pathbreaking ruling creates a circuit split--the D.C. Circuit went the other way earlier this fall--and tees the issue up for Supreme Court review.
The majority was careful to remind that its ruling extended only to SEC ALJs, not all ALJs, so it's not clear exactly how far the logic goes. It probably doesn't matter much, though, at least for now, because the case will almost surely go to the Supreme Court.
The case arose when David Bandimere challenged an SEC ruling against him, in part because the ALJ that issued the initial decision was appointed in violation of the Appointments Clause. The SEC rejected the argument, but the Tenth Circuit agreed with Bandimere. (The SEC ruled that the ALJ was an "employee," not subject to the Appointments Clause.)
The court ruled that SEC ALJs look just like the Tax Court Special Trial Judges at issue in Freytag v. Commissioner. In Freytag, the Supreme Court used a functional analysis to conclude that the STJs were inferior officers, to be appointed by "the President alone, in the Court of Law, or in the Heads of Department." The court said that SEC ALJs, like the STJs, (1) were "established by Law," (2) had "duties, salary, and means of appointment . . . specified by statute," and (3) "exercise significant discretion" in "carrying out . . . important functions." As inferior officers, the court said that they had to be appointed by the President, the courts, or a head of a department, and, because they weren't (this point wasn't contested), they violate the Appointments Clause.
The court parted ways with the D.C. Circuit on the same question, because, it said, the D.C. Circuit put too much emphasis on the third part of the Freytag analysis--in particular, that the ALJs didn't exercise final decisionmaking power: "We disagree with the SEC's reading of Freytag and its argument that final decision-making power is dispositive to the question at hand."
Judge McKay dissented, focusing on the differences between SEC ALJs and the STJs in Freytag ("Most importantly, the special trial judges at issue in Freytag had the sovereign power to bind the Government and third parties," while "the Commission is not bound--in any way--by an ALJ's recommendations") and the potentially sweeping implications of the ruling ("all federal ALJs are at risk of being declared inferior officers," and therefore in violation of the Appointments Clause).
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a civil case involving the recovery of some unknown number of apparently not-yet-released Hillary Clinton e-mails is not moot. But the ruling carefully says nothing about the merits and other barriers to moving forward, so it's not yet clear that the ruling will result in any further investigation. It just means that the district court can move to the next steps.
The case arose when Judicial Watch sought a court order compelling Secretary of State Kerry to refer the effort to recover certain e-mails to the Attorney General. Judicial Watch relied on the Administrative Procedure Act and a portion of the Federal Records Act. That Act requires the relevant agency head (in mandatory, non-discretionary language), when he or she becomes aware of "any actual, impending, or threatened unlawful removal . . . or  destruction of [agency] records," to "notify the Archivist . . . and with the assistance of the Archivist [to] initiate action through the Attorney General."
The district court tossed the case on mootness grounds, ruling that Secretary Kerry and the Archivist had made a "sustained effort" to recover the e-mails, yielding "a very substantial harvest," even if they failed to refer the effort to the AG.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court ruled that there may still be some un-recovered e-mails out there that the Secretary's and Archivist's efforts haven't revealed--and that therefore require referral to the AG, under the Records Act. In particular, the court said that Clinton used yet different e-mail accounts (other than her private server account) during part of her tenure as Secretary, and that e-mails on these accounts haven't been recovered.
If appellants had only sought emails from the server account, a mootness argument based on the recovery of hte server might well succeed. But the server and the emails it housed do not tell the full story; Secretary Clinton used two nongovernmental email accounts during her tenure at the State Department. . . .
The complaints here sought to ensure recovery [of] all of the former Secretary's work emails, including [on these other accounts]. Because the complaints sought recovery of emails from all of the former Secretary's accounts, the FBI's recover of a server that hosted only one account does not moot the suits.
The ruling sends the case back to the district court. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the court will, or can, order Secretary Kerry to refer the matter to the AG, or that the AG must do anything. As the court wrote,
[W]e express no opinion on whether the Attorney General's action or inaction in response to a referral would be reviewable. Nor do we address possible constitutional defenses that the Secretary or Archivist might raise to the statutory command's constraint on their discretion; they have raised no such argument.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
In its unanimous opinion in Liverman v. City of Petersburg (Virginia), the Fourth Circuit has held that a police department's social media policy and its subsequent enforcement violated the First Amendment.
The opinion, authored by Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson, concerned the police department's "negative comments" policy which provided,
Negative comments on the internal operations of the Bureau, or specific conduct of supervisors or peers that impacts the public’s perception of the department is not protected by the First Amendment free speech clause, in accordance with established case law.
The court further considered a related provision, the so-called "public concern provision, which provided:
Officers may comment on issues of general or public concern (as opposed to personal grievances) so long as the comments do not disrupt the workforce, interfere with important working relationships or efficient work flow, or undermine public confidence in the officer. The instances must be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Liverman, while off-duty, posted a comment to his Facebook page complaining about "rookie cops" becoming "instructors," writing in part, "Give me a freaking break, over 15 years of data collected by the FBI in reference to assaults on officers and officer deaths shows that on average it takes at least 5 years for an officer to acquire the necessary skill set to know the job and perhaps even longer to acquire the knowledge to teach other officers." Another off-duty officer, Richards, wrote to "agree 110%" and furnish additional comments. The officers each received an oral reprimand and probation for 6 months, with a new policy added that excluded officers on probation from being considered for promotion.
The Fourth Circuit engaged in the familiar Pickering-Connick balancing test, first asking whether the speech related to a "matter of public concern," and then if so, balancing “the interests of the employee, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees.”
The court easily found that the "negative comments" ban related to matters of public concern, concluding that "the restraint is a virtual blanket prohibition on all speech critical of the government employer." As for the interest of the police department, the court was not only critical of the ban's breadth, but also contended it actually disserved the government interests:
We do not, of course, discount the capacity of social media to amplify expressions of rancor and vitriol, with all its potential disruption of workplace relationships that Connick condemned. But social networking sites like Facebook have also emerged as a hub for sharing information and opinions with one’s larger community. And the speech prohibited by the policy might affect the public interest in any number of ways, including whether the Department is enforcing the law in an effective and diligent manner, or whether it is doing so in a way that is just and evenhanded to all concerned. The Department’s law enforcement policies could well become a matter of constructive public debate and dialogue between law enforcement officers and those whose safety they are sworn to protect.
Moreover, the department could not show any actual disruption to its mission.
The court did note that the department could craft a "narrower social media policy" that did not have "chilling effects," but as the negative comments policy was written, it did indeed violate the First Amendment.
The Seventh Circuit ruled this week in Brunson v. Murray that an official is not entitled to absolute immunity for a liquor-license renewal decision, even though absolute immunity extends to suspension and revocation decisions.
The ruling reverses circuit precedent on the issue. The court said that changes in state law and federal law (Cleavinger, discussed below) compelled the change.
The difference between a renewal decision, on the one hand, and a suspension or revocation decision, on the other, is that the latter is judicial-like (which triggers absolute immunity), where the former is not. The court determined this based on how each decision operates under state law (a functional analysis) and the six factors "characteristic of the judicial process" in Cleavinger v. Saxner. In short: "Under state law, a local liquor commissioner's action on a license renewal lacks the procedural formalities and protections that apply to the same official's decision to suspend or revoke a license. The differences are great enough to produce different results for the availability of absolute immunity."
The court remanded the plaintiff's claim for the renewal decision, remanded some other claims, and dismissed yet others in this strange and sordid case involving conflicts of interests and apparent vendettas by local public officials against a liquor store owner.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
The Ninth Circuit this week upheld California's ten-day waiting period for gun purchasers against a Second Amendment challenge, even as to those purchasers who already had a concealed carry permit and to those who had cleared a background check in less than ten days.
The ruling is a significant defeat for gun-rights advocates. It means that California's ten-day waiting period stays in place for all gun purchasers as a "reasonable safety precaution" against impulsive gun buys.
The Ninth Circuit applied the familiar two-part test for Second Amendment challenges now used by most of the federal circuits: (1) does the law burden conduct protected by the Second Amendment; and, if so, (2) does the law satisfy the appropriate level of scrutiny? As to the first step, the Ninth Circuit applies an "historical understanding" test--"[l]aws restricting conduct that can be traced to the founding era and are historically understood to fall outside of the Second Amendment's scope may be upheld without further analysis." As to the second step, the Ninth Circuit applies a sliding scale based on how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment and how much it burdens Second Amendment rights.
The court said that it didn't need to address step 1 (the historical understanding), because the ten-day waiting period satisfied the appropriate level of review, intermediate scrutiny. (The court used its sliding scale test to arrive at intermediate scrutiny, because "[t]he actual effect of the [waiting period] on Plaintiffs is very small.") The court held that the law providing a cooling off period to promote safety and to reduce gun violence, even for purchasers who already had a gun (because the purchasers may seek "to purchase a larger capacity weapon that will do more damage when fired into a crowd.") "A 10-day cooling-off period would serve to discourage such conduct and would impose no serious burden on the core Second Amendment right of defense of the home . . . ."
Judge Thomas concurred: "I agree entirely with, and concur in, the majority opinion. I write separately, however, because the challenge to California's ten-day waiting period can be resolved at step one of our Second Amendment jurisprudence. As a longstanding qualification on the commercial sale of arms under [Heller], a ten-day waiting period is presumptively lawful."
Friday, December 9, 2016
In a closely divided (4-3) opinion in Smith v. Pavan, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that the state statutes governing the issuance of birth certificates to children could deny same-sex parents to be listed as parents.
Essentially, the majority opinion, authored by Associate Justice Josephine Hart found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite:
Obergefell did not address Arkansas’s statutory framework regarding birth certificates, either expressly or impliedly. Rather, the United States Supreme Court stated in Obergefell that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.
Justice Hart noted that the Court in Obergefell did mention birth certificates "only once" and quoted the passage, construing it being related "only" to the Court's observation that states conferred benefits on married couples, which in part demonstrated that “ the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.”
Not surprisingly, dissenting justices construed this same passage as providing support for the opposite conclusion. In a well-wrought dissent by Justice Paul Danielson, he argues:
[T]he United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell that states are not free to deny same-sex couples “the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.” Importantly, the Court listed “birth and death certificates” specifically as one of those benefits attached to marital status. Thus, the majority is clearly wrong in holding that Obergefell has no application here. Indeed, one of the cases on review in Obergefell, Tanco v. Haslam, 7 F. Supp. 3d 759 (M.D. Tenn. 2014), rev’d sub nom. DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014), involved a same-sex married couple who challenged the Tennessee law providing that their child’s nonbiological parent would not be recognized as the child’s parent, which affected various legal rights that included the child’s right to Social Security survivor benefits, the nonbiological parent’s right to hospital visitation, and the nonbiological parent’s right to make medical decisions for the child.
Furthermore, one of the four principles discussed by the Court in Obergefell, for purposes of demonstrating that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples, is that the right to marry “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” The opinion makes clear that the protection of children and the stability of the family unit was a foundation for the Court’s decision.
[citations to Obergefell omitted].
For the majority, biology was the paramount "truth" that vital records should reflect. Moreover, this "truth" is evinced in dictionary definitions of words such as "husband" and "father," a strategy in cases that Obergefell rejected.
However, the relevance of Smith v. Pavan even in Arkansas is unclear. As Justice Rhonda Wood argued, the case may not have warranted a decision by the court:
Two key circumstances have developed since this litigation started. First, plaintiffs received relief in that the State has issued the appropriate birth certificates to them. Second, the State concedes that the relevant statutes involving determination of parentage must comply with Obergefell, including the statute governing the status of people born via artificial insemination. These developments render the majority’s decision provisional.
Moreover, there were (new) facts in dispute, despite the procedural posture of summary judgment:
First, according to the affidavit of the State Registrar of Vital Records, the Department of Health will issue birth certificates listing both same-sex parents if the hospital submits documentation reflecting that fact. However, the parties disputed at oral argument how the department’s decision is actually being applied. There are no facts in the record to resolve this dispute. Moreover, the State has now conceded that children born of artificial insemination should have both parents deemed the natural parents, whether same-sex or opposite sex, under Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201 (Repl. 2015) and asserts that it will place both same-sex parents on the birth certificate under the State’s new interpretation of this statute. This statute provides that “[a]ny child born to a married women by means of artificial insemination shall be deemed the legitimate natural child of the women and the women’s husband [read spouse] if the [spouse] consents in writing to the artificial insemination.” Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201(a). It is likely, therefore, that a same-sex couple will now have both spouses’ names listed on the original birth certificate without a court order, so long as the child was conceived via artificial insemination, the same-sex marriage occurred prior to the insemination, and the non-biological parent consented to the insemination. Appellants and appellees both conceded at oral argument this would resolve the challenge by two of the three same-sex marriage couples.
It is possible that Arkansas would revoke its concessions given the state supreme court's ruling, but if the state does, then this seems a clear case for a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
[image: Arkansas Supreme Court building]
December 9, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)