Wednesday, August 2, 2017
In an extensive opinion in Reproductive Health Services v. Marshall, United States Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker (ruling as district court by consent), concluded that substantial portions of a 2014 Alabama statute regulating abortion access for minors contravened well-settled precedent.
The doctrine regarding a minor's access to abortion requires that statutes requiring parental permission also provide the alternative of a "judicial bypass proceeding." As explained in Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622 (1979) (“Bellotti II”) (plurality) and affirmed in Planned Parenthood Ass’n of Kansas City v. Ashcroft, 462 U.S. 476 (1983), at a judicial bypass proceeding, a minor must be allowed to show the court either that she is mature enough and well enough informed to make her abortion decision, in consultation with her physician, independently of her parents’ wishes; or that even if she is not able to make this decision independently, the desired abortion would be in her best interests. The Court has further required that the judicial bypass proceeding “must insure the minor’s anonymity” and that it occur with the expediency necessary “to allow an effective opportunity to obtain the abortion.”
At issue in Reproductive Health Services were provisions of the 2014 Alabama Act that mandated the participation of District Attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for the fetus, and provisions that allowed the participation of the minor's parent or guardian as a party. Additionally, the Act allowed disclosure of the minor's identity to anyone who needs to know and allowed the subpoena of witnesses.
Judge Walker easily decided that these provisions were unconstitutional under Bellotti II. Indeed, in her analysis she declared the wide disclosure was a "far cry" from established doctrine. She also observed that the 2014 Alabama Act was unique: in not one of the other of the 37 states that mandate parental notification and therefore require a judicial bypass proceeding, does a state "mandates or permits participation by a parent or guardian, the DA, a GAL for the fetus, or witnesses (other than
those called by the minor) in bypass proceedings for the purpose of providing the court
with assistance in arriving at informed and proper decisions – or, indeed, for any other
She therefore did not reach Reproductive Health Services' additional claim that these same provisions of the Alabama Act also interfered with "informational privacy," although the opinion spends many pages discussing why this additional claim was no longer justiciable given the conclusion that the Bellotti II claim was successful. The judge also found that the provisions of the 2014 Alabama Act were severable.
As Judge Walker concluded:
[T]he following provisions of the Act are unconstitutional in their entirety: Alabama Code § 26-21-4(i) (the participation of the DA as a party), § 26-21-4(j) (the participation of a GAL for the unborn child as a party), and § 26-21-4(l) (the participation of a parent, parents, or legal guardian of the minor petitioner as a party). The references to the DA, GAL, and other parties will be severed from Alabama Code §§ 26-21-4(c), (e), (f), (k), and (n). The Act’s provisions permitting disclosure of a minor petitioner’s identity to “any witness who has a need to know the minor’s identity or any other person determined by the court who needs to know” are too broad to ensure a petitioner’s anonymity and, consequently, are unconstitutional; thus, that language will be severed from § 26-21-4(c). The provisions of Alabama Code § 26-21-4(f) that permit the bypass court, if it determines that “additional evidence or testimony is necessary,” to delay the bypass proceeding sua sponte to issue “subpoenas … to bring before the court admissible evidence or testimony either in support of or against the petition,” does not reasonably safeguard the petitioner’s anonymity; it opens the door to the unrestricted notification of the minor’s relatives, teachers, friends, acquaintances, and other potential witnesses concerning her bypass proceeding.
The judge did not enter a preliminary injunction, finding that the declaratory judgment sufficient.
[image: Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, circa 1665]
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a group of CareFirst customers, proceeding as a class, had standing to sue the health insurer for its carelessness in protecting customers' personal information after cyber-attackers allegedly stole that information. The ruling is a victory for the plaintiffs, but it doesn't mean that the case will proceed to the merits: the lower court still has to determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction.
The problem was that the plaintiffs alleged imminent harms from the breach, and not actual harms. (As it turns out, some plaintiffs did allege actual harms, but the court didn't rule on those claims, because its ruling on imminent harms was sufficient to support standing.) The court applied the substantial-risk-of-harm test and ruled that the plaintiffs alleged a sufficiently imminent harm. Contrasting Clapper v. Amnesty International, the court said,
Here, by contrast, an unauthorized party has already accessed personally identifying data on CareFirst's servers, and it is much less speculative--at the very least, it is plausible--to infer that this party has both the intent and the ability to use that data for ill. As the Seventh Circuit asked, in another data breach case where the court found standing, "Why else would hackers break into a . . . database and steal consumers' private information? Presumably, the purpose of the hack is, sooner or later, to make fraudulent charges or assume those consumers' identities." . . . No long sequence of uncertain contingencies involving multiple independent actors has to occur before the plaintiffs in this case will suffer any harm; a substantial risk of harm exists already, simply by virtue of the hack and the nature of the data that the plaintiffs allege was taken. That risk is much more substantial than the risk presented to the Clapper Court, and satisfies the requirement of an injury in fact.
As to traceability, the court said that this doesn't require the plaintiffs to sue only "the most immediate cause, or even a proximate cause, of the plaintiffs' injuries [in this case, the robbers]; it requires only that those injuries be 'fairly traceable' to the defendant.'" The plaintiffs satisfied this test.
As to redressability, the court said that the plaintiffs have incurred costs to mitigate any damage, and that these "self-imposed risk-mitigation costs" "can satisfy the redressability requirement, when combined with a risk of future harm that is substantial enough to qualify as an injury in fact." (But the court noted that these kinds of costs are insufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement.)
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday that most of two suits against the State of Michigan, state officers, Flint, and Flint officials for creating the ongoing water crisis can move forward. The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs and all residents of Flint. It reverses a lower court and means that much of the original case can move to discovery.
The two consolidated cases arose when residents of Flint sued the state, the city, and state and city officials for a variety of constitutional claims for creating the water crisis that continues to plaque the city. The district court dismissed the cases on several grounds, but the Sixth Circuit on Friday reversed much of that ruling.
The court ruled first that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act did not displace the plaintiffs' constitutional claims under Section 1983. In particular, the court said that the language and legislative history of the SDWA did not point to displacement, that the SDWA's remedial scheme is not so comprehensive as to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude, and that the "contours of the rights and protections" under 1983 are different than those under the SDWA. The court went on to rule that the SDWA similarly did not displace the plaintiffs' conspiracy claim under Section 1985.
The court also ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred claims against the State of Michigan and, in one of the two cases, against state agencies and Governor Snyder. (It noted that Eleventh Amendment immunity doesn't cover municipalities--Flint and Flint officials.) The court said that the plaintiffs in the other case sought injunctive relief against the agencies and Snyder, and could therefore move forward under Ex Parte Young. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity based on their positions in this litigation.
Finally, the court rejected the defendants' other arguments, including absolute and qualified immunity defenses for agency officials.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
In a well reasoned opinion in Davison v. Loudon County Board of Supervisors, United States District Judge James Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia found that a politician who reacted to a constituent's comment on her "official" Facebook post by deleting his comment and banning him from her Facebook page violated the First Amendment.
Phyllis Randall, Chair of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors, maintained a Facebook page, entitled "Chair Phyllis J. Randall." She generally "uses the Facebook page to share information of interest with the County she serves," and Judge Cacheris provided several examples of the types of postings - - - precisely the type of postings one would expect - - - relating to proclamations such as "Loudon Small Business Week" and photographs of herself at conferences or other events.
As a threshold matter, Judge Cacheris determined that there was state action. This state action, however, could not be attributed to the defendant County Board of Supervisors, but only as to Phyllis Randall. Although the Facebook page was not the "property" of the county and would not revert to it when Randall left office, Randall "used it as a tool of governance." The judge found that Randall used the page to communicate with her constituents and the page reflects her efforts to "swathe" it with "the trappings of her office." Further, there were other government employees who assisted with the page. Moreover, the specific act of banning the constituent Davison arose out of public rather than private circumstances. Davison had apparently complained about the corruption of Randall's colleagues on the Board (the actual post, having been deleted by Randall, was not before the judge).
Judge Cacheris referenced two of the Supreme Court's decisions last Term - - - Packingham v. North Carolina opinion, noting that Facebook had become a vital platform for speech and the exchange of ideas, and Matal v. Tam, noting that if anything is clear, "it is that speech may not be disfavored by the government simply because it offends." The judge held that it was unnecessary to decide what type of "forum" under the First Amendment the Facebook page might be, given that under no forum is viewpoint discrimination permissible. Here, the judge held, Randall clearly banned Davison because of the opinion he expressed. There was no neutral policy (such as a ban on profanity) which was being neutrally applied.
The judge observed that Davison was banned only for a short time - - - Randall retracted her ban the next morning - - - and that during this time, Davison had adequate means to communicate his message through other avenues. Nevertheless, the judge stated that
Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.
The judge issued a declaratory judgment in favor of Davison, who represented himself pro se, on the First Amendment claim, although the judge rejected a procedural due process claim that Davison had also advanced.
This case should serve as a wake-up call for politicians who use their "official" Facebook pages in ways that may violate the First Amendment. The case may also be a harbinger of decisions to come in the ongoing litigation challenging the President's practice of "blocking" people on Twitter.
[image by Matt Shirk via]
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied a motion by the Electronic Privacy Information Center for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to stop the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting voter roll data from the states.
The ruling also says that EPIC lacks organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, and that, while it has standing to seek redress for informational injuries under the E-Government Act, the Act isn't enforceable against the Commission (because it's not an "agency").
But the court went to lengths to say that the Commission limited its request to the states for only publicly available information, that the request is only a request (not a mandate) of the states, and that publicized voter information will be de-identified. If these things change, the court's analysis could well change, too. As a result, while the ruling allows the Commission's requests for voter roll information to go forward, the ruling also reminds us that states may decline to provide the information, and that the Commission will only get already-publicily-available information, and will have to store and use it with certain limitations.
The court said that EPIC lacked organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, because, even if EPIC is considered a membership organization for organizational standing purposes (which the court suggested it's not), "the only practical harms that Plaintiff's advisory board members would suffer, assuming their respective states decide to comply with the Commission's request in the future, is that their already publicly available information would be rendered more easily accessible by virtue of its consolidation on the [Commission's] computer systems . . . ." According to the court, that's not enough for standing.
But the court went on to say that EPIC had informational standing under the E-Government Act. The Act requires government agencies to conduct a privacy impact statement and publicize it. The court said that EPIC (1) had been deprived of this information and (2) therefore suffered the kind of harm that Congress sought to prevent by requiring it. The court also said that EPIC had standing under circuit precedent recognizing standing for an organization that "suffered a concrete and demonstrable injury to its activities . . . ." The court held that EPIC "has a long-standing mission to educate the public regarding privacy rights, and engage in this process by obtaining information from the government," and thus suffered such an injury.
But the court held that the Administrative Procedures Act (the basis of EPIC's suit, because the E-Government Act doesn't create a separate cause of action) doesn't apply to the Commission, because the Commission isn't an "agency" under the APA.
So even though EPIC has standing, it's not likely to succeed on the merits, and the court rejected its motion for a TRO and Preliminary Injunction.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Given recent reporting that raises the specter of a Presidential self-pardon, a few sources are worth considering.
First, there is the Constitutional text itself, which is not surprisingly inconclusive on this issue. Article II §2 begins by declaring that the President "shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" and ends by stating "and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." What's clear is the exclusion of impeachment. What's unclear is whether this power would extend to a self-pardon.
Second, although there has never been a case of Presidential self-pardon in the United States, the possibility was contemplated with regards to President Richard Nixon. An Office of Legal Counsel Opinion, Memorandum Opinion for the Deputy Attorney General, offered a succinct answer to the "question whether the President can pardon himself":
Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative.
The Memo does raise several other possibilities, including one under the 25th Amendment involving the Vice-President, as well as the legislative actions. The Memo, by Mary Lawton, was dated August 5, 1974; Nixon resigned a few days later. A month later, President Gerald Ford issued a Proclamation with a full pardon to Nixon.
Third, a 1996 law review note article by now-Professor Brian Kalt of Michigan State University College of Law, Pardon Me?: The Constitutional Case Against Presidential Self-Pardons, springboards from the possibility that President George Bush, who had pardoned several people implicated in the Iran-Contra controversy would also pardon himself as he left office. Kalt concludes that "the intent of the Framers, the words and themes of the Constitution they created, and the wisdom of the judges that have interpreted it all point to the same conclusion: Presidents cannot pardon themselves."
The bedrock principle that "no one can be a judge in his own case" is the foundation of the Kalt article and its sources as well as the OLC memo, as well as providing a rationale for even the possibility not being excluded in the Constitutional text.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
In a careful and well-reasoned opinion in Animal Defense Fund v. Herbert, United States District Judge for Utah, Judge Robert J. Shelby, has concluded that Utah's so-called "ag-gag" statute, Utah Code §76-6-112, is unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment.
The Utah statute criminalized "agricultural operation interference" if a person:
(a) without consent from the owner of the agricultural operation, or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation by leaving a recording device on the agricultural operation;
(b) obtains access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses;
(c) (i) applies for employment at an agricultural operation with the intent to record an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation;
(ii) knows, at the time that the person accepts employment at the agricultural operation, that the owner of the agricultural operation prohibits the employee from recording an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; and
(iii) while employed at, and while present on, the agricultural operation, records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; or
(d) without consent from the owner of the operation or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, an agricultural operation while the person is committing criminal trespass, as described in Section 76-6-206, on the agricultural operation.
The analysis separated these provisions into the lying provision - - - "false pretenses" under subsection (b) - - - and the recording provisions in the other subsections. As to both types, Utah argued that the First Amendment was not applicable.
Judge Shelby's analysis of First Amendment protection for the "lying provision" included a discussion of United States v. Alvarez (2012), the "stolen valor" case, settling on a reading of Alvarez that lies that cause "legally cognizable harm" could be outside the ambit of the First Amendment. Utah argued that the false pretenses caused two types of legally cognizable harm: danger to animals (and employees) and trespass. Judge Shelby dispatched the danger argument given that there was no connection between the lie and the danger: the "Act as written criminalizes lies that would cause no harm to animals or workers." Judge Shelby's analysis of the trespass rationale is more detailed, considering whether the misrepresentation negates consent so that the liar becomes a trespasser. For Judge Shelby, the answer is "not always." Relying on Fourth and Seventh Circuit pre-Alvarez cases, Judge Shelby essentially concludes that the Utah statute is overbroad:
It is certainly possible that a lie used to gain access to an agricultural facility could cause trespass-type harm; a protestor, for example, might pose as a prospective customer, and then, after being let in the door, begin causing a scene or damaging property. But the Act also sweeps in many more trivial, harmless lies that have no discernable effect on whether a person is granted access, and, consequently, on whether a person causes any trespass-type harm. Indeed, given its broad language (“obtain[ing] access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses”), the Act on its face criminalizes, for example, an applicant’s false statement during a job interview that he is a born-again Christian, that he is married with kids, that he is a fan of the local sports team. It criminalizes putting a local address on a resume when the applicant is actually applying from out of town. In short, the Act criminalizes a broad swath of lies that result in no harm at all, much less interference with ownership or possession of the facility . . . .
Judge Shelby also rejected Utah's argument that "recording" was not protected speech under the First Amendment, citing the Seventh Circuit police recording case recognizing a First Amendment protection (note a similar Third Circuit case in the past week).
Utah also argued that the First Amendment did not apply because the acts involved private property rights, although one of the plaintiffs had been charged while she was on public property filming. More importantly, however, Judge Shelby criticized Utah's argument as confusing a landowner's ability to exclude from her property someone who wishes to speak with the "government's ability to jail the person for that speech."
The applicability of the First Amendment proved to be the thorniest issue, with Judge Shelby then easily proceeding to find these were content-based provisions deserving of strict scrutiny and then easily finding that the Utah statute did not survive. Of special interest is Utah's reliance for its government interests on protecting animals and workers from injury, despite the legislative history that "appears devoid of any reference" to such interests, instead discussing harms caused by "the vegetarian people" and others. Judge Shelby found that the Utah statute was not necessary to serve these interests and was over- and under-inclusive:
Not only is the Act seemingly not necessary to remedy the State’s alleged harms, it is an entirely overinclusive means to address them. It targets, for example, the employee who lies on her job application but otherwise performs her job admirably, and it criminalizes the most diligent well-trained undercover employees. And it is simultaneously underinclusive because it does nothing to address the exact same allegedly harmful conduct when undertaken by anyone other than an undercover investigator.
While recognizing that Utah has an interest in addressing "perceived threats" to the state agricultural industry, Judge Shelby concluded that suppressing "broad swaths of protected speech" is not a constitutionally permissible tool to accomplish this goal. Thus, this opinion joins Idaho district Judge Winmill's 2015 decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter in a defeat for the so-called ag-gag laws.
[image "elk on farm" via]
Friday, July 7, 2017
In its opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit concluded that "Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public." As the panel majority opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro noted, "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public"; the Third Circuit joined "this growing consensus."
The court noted that police recording has become "ubiquitous" and that such documentation has "both exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from errant charges." In considering whether the recording was First Amendment expressive activity, the court noted that the case was "not about people attempting to create art with police as their subjects. It is about recording police officers performing their official duties." Thus, at stake is the First Amendment protection of the "public's right to know": "Access to information regarding public police activity is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse on public issues, “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”
Defendants offer nothing to justify their actions. Fields took a photograph across the street from where the police were breaking up a party. *** If a person’s recording interferes with police activity, that activity might not be protected. For instance, recording a police conversation with a confidential informant may interfere with an investigation and put a life at stake. But here there are no countervailing concerns.
Fields, using his iPhone, was noticed by an officer who then asked him whether he “like[d] taking pictures of grown men” and ordered him to leave. Fields refused, so the officer arrested him, confiscated his phone, and detained him. The officer searched Fields’ phone and opened several videos and other photos. The officer then released Fields and issued him a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” These charges were withdrawn when the officer did not appear at the court hearing.
Fields, along with Amanda Geraci who had been involved in a separate incident involving recording, brought 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights. Thus, the court confronted the question of qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of the incident - - - 2013 for Fields - - - it was not sufficiently "clearly established" so that the law "gave fair warning so that every reasonable officer knew that, absent some sort of expressive intent, recording public police activity was constitutionally protected."
Dissenting in part, Judge Nygaard concluded that the right was clearly established. In addition to the "robust consensus" before the conduct at issue, the Philadelphia Police Department's own "official policies explicitly recognized this First Amendment right well before the incidents under review here took place." For Judge Nygaard, "no reasonable officer could have denied at the time of the incidents underlying these cases that efforts to prevent people from recording their activities infringed rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Certainly, after Fields v. City of Philadelphia, no reasonable officer could now successfully argue that there is not a First Amendment right to record police activity.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
While we usually focus on the ideals articulated in the first portion of the Declaration of Independence - - - "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - - - the bulk of the document is devoted to proving that the "history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." It continues:
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Monday, July 3, 2017
The D.C. Circuit on Friday dismissed a challenge to the government's drone strike program by the family of unintended, innocent victims. The court ruled that the case raised a political question.
The ruling was unsurprising, given the state of the law. But one judge on the panel concurred in order to lodge a harsh criticism.
The case involves the family members of Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, the unintended, innocent victims of a drone strike in Yemen. They sought a declaratory judgment that the strike violated the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.
The D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question. Drawing on circuit precedent, the El-Shifa case, the court wrote:
It would be difficult to imagine precedent more directly adverse to Plaintiff's position. While Plaintiffs clearly assert claims under the TVPA and ATS, the precise grounds they raise in their Complaint call for a court to pass judgment on the wisdom of [the] Executive's decision to commence military action--mistaken or not--against a foreign target. . . .
Plaintiffs will no doubt find this result unjust, but it stems from constitutional and pragmatic constraints on the Judiciary. In matters of political and military strategy, courts lack the competence necessary to determine whether the use of force was justified.
Judge Brown, who also wrote the majority opinion, concurred with a scathing critique of the application of the political question doctrine to cases like this, especially given the lack of oversight in the other two branches:
Of course, this begs the question: if judges will not check this outsized power, then who will? . . . The President is the most equipped to police his own house. But, despite an impressive number of executive oversight bodies, there is pitifully little oversight within the Executive. Presidents are slow to appoint members to these boards; their operations are shrouded in secrecy; and it often seems the board's are more interested in protecting and excusing the actions of agencies than holding them accountable. Congress perhaps? But congressional oversight is a joke--and a bad one at that. . . .
Our democracy is broken. We must, however, hope that it is not incurably so. . . . The Court's opinion . . . is all a Judiciary bound by precedent and constitutional constraints may permissibly claim. It is up to others to take it from here.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored but privately-owned corporation, but now under conservatorship of an independent government agency, cannot be sued for a First Amendment violation. The court said that the corporation, even under conservatorship, isn't a government actor.
The case involves a Fannie Mae contractor, Caroline Herron, who alleged that Fannie Mae officials retaliated against her for raising concerns about mismanagement at the corporation. Herron brought a Bivens claim against Fannie Mae officials for a free-speech violation, among other claims. But the Bivens claim hinges, of course, on Fannie Mae officials being government actors. Herron argued that they were, because Fannie Mae is under conservatorship of an independent federal agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In other words, the conservatorship converted Fannie Mae (an otherwise private actor) into a government actor.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court looked to the three-part test in Lebron v. National R.R. Passenger Corp. for determining whether a "[g]overnment-created and -controlled corporation" is a government actor for constitutional purposes. The court held that (1) the government created Fannie Mae (2) "for the furtherance of governmental objectives." But the court held that (3) under the terms of the conservatorship the government didn't permanently control it. "Although there is no specific termination date, the purpose of the conservatorship is to restore Fannie Mae to a stable condition. 'This is an inherently temporary purpose.'" For the court, it's the purpose of the indefinite conservatorship, not its internal self-destruct clause (which didn't exist), that matters.
The ruling ends Herron's case. (The course dismissed her other claims, too.)
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
With all the activity at the Court yesterday, we might be excused for missing the Court's non-decision in Hernandez v. Mesa. But even as the Court punted, remanding to the lower court, this is a case we should pay attention to.
The case involved a border patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican youth just on the other side of the border. (Our oral argument review is here.) The case teed up an important dispute over whether the Fourth Amendment applies outside the United States, and how the Court should decide that question. (The case also asked whether the agent enjoyed qualified immunity for a related Fifth Amendment claim.)
But then the Court added a third QP--whether the plaintiffs had a Bivens claim, an issue that the lower courts dodged--signalling that the Court thought this was a substantial, even threshold, issue. Then just last week in Abbasi the Court ruled that 9/11 detainees did not have a Bivens claim and in the course substantially narrowed the Bivens doctrine. Yesterday the Court put these two pieces together and took them to their logical conclusion: It remanded Hernandez with instructions to consider, as a threshold matter (that is, before the courts gets to the extraterritoriality question, and possibly even before the court gets to the qualified immunity question), whether the plaintiffs have a Bivens claim in light of Abbasi.
This does not bode well for the plaintiffs. That's because the Court in Abbasi all but limited the Bivens "context" to cases that look exactly like the three cases in which the Court has found a Bivens remedy. Outside of that "context," the Court won't extend Bivens if "special factors" counsel against a Bivens remedy. And the Court defined "special factors" broadly enough that it'll be hard to show that they don't.
In other words, the plaintiffs will only prevail if they can show that special factors don't counsel against extending a Bivens remedy to this case. And given the very broad approach to "special factors" in Abbasi, that could be quite hard to do.
At the same time, the Court ruled that the lower court improperly granted qualified immunity to the agent. The Court said that the agent couldn't have known that Hernandez was Mexican (not American), and the lower court therefore erred in relying on the fact that Hernandez was "an alien who had no significant voluntary connection to . . . the United States."
That may be a hollow victory for the plaintiffs, however, if the courts rule as a threshold matter that they lack a Bivens claim. If they so rule, there'll be no need to even consider qualified immunity, or, for that matter, the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment.
Monday, June 26, 2017
When the Supreme Court granted certiorari and modified the lower courts' injunctions halting President Trump's travel ban today, it also directed the parties to brief this question: "Whether the challenges to Section 2(c) became moot on June 14, 2017."
The question matters, because June 14, 2017, is the date on which the 90-day ban would have expired under the order's stated effective date, March 16, 2017. In other words, the cases should have become moot on June 14, because that's when the ban, by the order's own terms, would end, anyway.
But that same day, President Trump issued an order stating that the new effective date for each enjoined provision of the travel ban would be the date on which the injunctions in those cases "are lifted or stayed with respect to that provision." The government argues that the order solves the mootness problem, because the enjoined provisions, including the 90-day ban wouldn't start until the injunctions go away.
But President Trump's order purporting to extend the effective date doesn't un-moot the case as of June 14, and it won't un-moot it when it goes to the Court in October.
As to June 14: The stated purpose for the 90-day ban was "[t]o temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the [20-day review period of foreign nations' practices], to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals, to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists . . . ." But none of these reasons supports extending the effective date while injunctions remained in place. In other words, the government could move forward with all of those things while the injunctions were in place, thus securing the nation's safety against nationals from the six identified countries (the other reason for the 90-day ban), and obviating the need for 90 days after the injunctions go away.
As to October: Even if the government and Court take the position that the circuits' injunctions applied to "ensur[ing] the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening and vetting of foreign nationals" and "ensur[ing] that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltrating by foreign terrorists"--in other words, that the injunctions halted even the government's own review of its own processes, so that President Trump's subsequent order really did un-moot the case as of June 14--the case would seem to be moot by the time the Court hears it in October. That's because President Trump's subsequent order--the one purporting to extend the effective date--says that the ban again becomes effective when the injunctions "are lifted or stayed . . . ." It seems that the Supreme Court just "lifted or stayed" them, at least insofar as the government can re-start any stalled process to review government vetting standards. (The Court itself seems to have suggested so, when it wrote that "we fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of [the ban].") If so, 90 days will pass before the Court hears the case in October. In other words, it'll be moot in October.
Still, this can't be the result that the Court foresees. If it were, it wouldn't waste everybody's time and energy on briefing the mootness question as of June 14. So: Even if the case was, or becomes, technically moot, look for the Court to get to the merits.
In a per curiam opinion in the so-called "travel ban" or "Muslim ban" cases, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawai'i, the Court has granted the federal government's petitions for certiorari and granted the stay applications in part. The Fourth Circuit en banc and the Ninth Circuit had both found that the challengers to the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), known as EO-2.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit en banc in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project affirmed the injunction against EO-2 based on the Establishment Clause. As the Supreme Court's opinion phrases it, the Fourth Circuit
majority concluded that the primary purpose of §2(c) was religious, in violation of the First Amendment: A reasonable observer familiar with all the circumstances—including the predominantly Muslim character of the designated countries and statements made by President Trump during his Presidential campaign—would conclude that §2(c) was motivated principally by a desire to exclude Muslims from the United States, not by considerations relating to national security. Having reached this conclusion, the court upheld the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of §2(c) [of EO-2] against any foreign national seeking to enter this country.
Recall also that the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel similarly affirmed a district judge's injunction against EO-2, but on the grounds that EO-2 likely exceeded the president's statutory authority, thus only implicitly reaching the constitutional issue.
In today's opinion from the Court, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari in both cases, consolidated the cases, and set them for the October 2017 Term, as well as directing briefing on the issues of mootness.
Importantly, the Court narrowed the injunctive relief imposed by the appellate courts. As to §2(c) of EO-2, which suspended entry in the United States, the Court found the injunction balanced the equities incorrectly as to "foreign nationals abroad who have no connection to the United States at all." Thus, "§2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2."
Similarly, as to §6(b) refugee cap enjoined by the Ninth Circuit, the Court found that refugees who lack connection to the United States should not be covered. However, EO §6 "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship" with the United States.
In discussing §2(c), the Court provided examples of the narrowed injunction:
The facts of these cases illustrate the sort of relationship that qualifies. For individuals, a close familial relation- ship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member, like Doe’s wife or Dr. Elshikh’s mother-in-law, clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO–2. The students from the designated countries who have been admit- ted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. Not so someone who enters into a relationship sim- ply to avoid §2(c): For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.
The Court's decision may give both "sides" a basis for claiming victory, but of course the decision is a temporary one and awaits a full decision on the merits.
June 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)
SCOTUS in Trinity Lutheran Finds Missouri's Denial of Funding to Church Playground Violates First Amendment
In its opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision, a so-called Blaine Amendment, prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations.
Recall that at the oral arguments, most Justices seemed skeptical of Missouri's argument. However, recall that the Eighth Circuit had concluded that Trinity Church sought an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church." The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology." For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.
In the Trinity Lutheran opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court characterized the Missouri policy as one that "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character." Relying on the Free Exercise precedent it had discussed, it concluded that if such cases "make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny." The Court added that "Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government program without disavowing its religious character."
Yet the question of subsidy or funding caused some consternation amongst the Justices who joined the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court. Footnote 3, which provides in full "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination" is joined only by a plurality - - - Justices Thomas and Gorsuch explicitly exempted this footnote. In two brief concurring opinions, one by Thomas joined by Gorsuch and one by Gorsuch joined by Thomas, the continued vitality of Locke v. Davey is questioned.
In the Court's opinion, Locke v. Davey is distinguished because "Davey was not denied a state-funded scholarship of who he was but because of what he proposed to do - to use the funds to prepare for the ministry." (emphasis in original). For Gorsuch, this status-use distinction is not sufficient.
Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and almost twice as long as the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court, is rich with originalist history as well a discussion of Locke v. Davey and a citation to the 38 state constitutional provisions similar to the Missouri one. For Sotomayor,
Missouri has recognized the simple truth that, even absent an Establishment Clause violation, the transfer of public funds to houses of worship raises concerns that sit exactly between the Religion Clauses. To avoid those concerns, and only those concerns, it has prohibited such funding. In doing so, it made the same choice made by the earliest States centuries ago and many other States in the years since. The Constitution permits this choice.
Sotomayor points to the possible ramifications of the opinion, including the troublesome footnote 3:
The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and perhaps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.
It dies seem that Trinity Lutheran opens the floodgates for claims by religious entities that they are being "discriminated" against whenever there are secular provisions for funding.
The United States Supreme Court, after a longer than usual period, granted certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case in which a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, essentially asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses.
Recall the Colorado ALJ firmly rejected the arguments of the cakeshop owners reasoning that to accept its position would be to "allow a business that served all races to nonetheless refuse to serve an interracial couple because of the business owner’s bias against interracial marriage." The ALJ rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test.
A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a 66 page opinion.
Interestingly, the Court in 2014 denied certiorari to a similar case, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer.
The petitioner argues an intersection of doctrines including compelled speech and free exercise, arguing that the Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law offers a "stark choice" to those who "earn a living through artistic means: Either use your talents to create expression that conflicts with your religious beliefs about marriage, or suffer punishment under Colorado’s public accommodation law."
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Fifth Circuit Says "Stigmatic" Harm Isn't Enough for Standing to Challenge State Opposite-Sex "Anti-Discrimination" Measure
The Fifth Circuit ruled last week that a group of plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge Mississippi's law that bans discrimination against those who believe that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. The court said that the plaintiffs pleaded only "stigmatic" harm, not concrete and particularized harm, and that this wasn't enough to get into federal course.
Mississippi's provision bans state "discriminatory action" against those whose "religious beliefs or moral convictions" say that marriage is a union between only one man and one woman. It applies to religious organizations when they make decisions regarding employment, housing, placement of children in foster or adoptive homes, or the "solemnization of a marriage based on a belief listed" in the provision. It also applies to parents if they raise their foster or adoptive children in accordance to the belief covered by the provision. And it applies to doctors, mental health counselors, and businesses that offer wedding-related services. The statute creates a private right of action for individuals for any violations by state officials and allows its use as a defense in private suits over conduct covered by the statute.
The plaintiffs are residents of Mississippi and two organizations (a church and a secular non-profit) that do not share the provision's belief that marriage is only between one man and one woman. They argued that "they are injured by the 'clear message' sent by [the provision] that the 'state government disapproves of and is hostile to same-sex couples, to unmarried people who engage in sexual relations, and to transgender people." They claimed that the provision violated the Establishment Clause and equal protection.
The Fifth Circuit tossed the case for lack of standing. The court said that the plaintiffs asserted only "stigmatic" harm, not concrete and particularized harm, and that the "stigmatic" harm simply wasn't enough to get into federal court. (The court held that the plaintiffs' asserted harm was nothing like the actual and concrete "exposure" harm in the monument, display, and prayer-at-football game cases. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that their case was just like the plaintiffs' case in Romer v. Evans, because the Romer Court didn't address standing, and lower courts therefore can't use it for that purpose.) The court also rejected the plaintiffs' theory of taxpayer standing (based on Flast v. Cohen), because the government hadn't yet spent money in support of the provision.
The ruling ends the case and leaves Mississippi's statute on the books--for now. Under the ruling, a viable challenger will probably have to wait for a concrete and particularized harm (discrimination) at the hands of a person or organization who falls within the protection of the provision, sue that person or organization, and argue that the provision violates the Constitution when the defendant raises it as a defense.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Millennium Pipeline Company lacked standing to sue the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for its foot-dragging on Millennium's application for a water-quality certificate--a prerequisite for building a pipeline under the Clean Water Act.
The ruling means that Millennium's case against the state agency is dismissed. But it also means that Millennium can proceed directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get direct approval for the pipeline, considering the state agency's consideration waived.
The case arose when Millennium petitioned the state agency for a water-quality certificate, required under the Clean Water Act as a first step in gaining FERC approval for the pipeline. The state agency sat on the petition for over a year, however, arguing that it was incomplete. Millennium then sued the state agency, asking for a court order to require the agency to act so that it could take its application on to FERC.
But the D.C. Circuit ruled that Millennium lacked standing. That's because under the Clean Water Act when a state agency delays a decision for a year, the agency is deemed to have waived its consideration, and the applicant can take the application directly to FERC. As a result, the court said that Millennium hadn't suffered any harm from the state agency; after all, the agency's inaction only meant that Millennium could go right to FERC. The court went on to say that Millennium could sue FERC if it rejects the application, but that's down the road.
None of this breaks new law--and Millennium surely would have known this--so why'd Millennium sue? Probably because it anticipated opposition from the state agency down the road, and it wanted to get state-agency approval on the record now in order to preempt later opposition. The court had an answer for that, too: FERC, not the state agency, has final say, and Millennium can later sue FERC for any disapproval or delay.
Friday, June 23, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a class-action against the D.C. school system for failing to identify pre-school children with disabilities in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was not moot just because the children were no longer toddlers with a personal stake in the requested relief. The court went on to affirm the district court's class certification and its comprehensive injunction designed to bring the District into compliance with the IDEA.
The case arose when the parents of six children, then ages three to six, sued D.C., arguing that the District failed to identify children with disabilities in violation of the IDEA. The district court granted class certification to a broad class of "[a]ll children [between three and five] who are or may be eligible for special education and related services" in D.C. and whom the District failed or would fail to "identify, locate, evaluate or offer special education and related services." The D.C. Circuit, however, vacated the class certification in light of Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court case rejecting "one of the most expansive class[es] ever," and which came down during the district court trial. The district court then certified four subclasses, all including three-to-five year-olds alleging different IDEA violations. The court then issued a comprehensive injunction to bring the District in line with the IDEA.
On appeal, the district argued that the case was moot, because all of the plaintiffs had moved beyond preschool.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court held that the relation-back exception to the mootness doctrine in United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty applied, because the district court erroneously granted class certification, causing the litigation delay that resulted in the children aging out of their relief. The court explained: "Like the plaintiffs in Geraghty, the parents had live claims when they sought certification, and but for the district court's error, could have obtained proper class certification before their individual claims became moot."
The court noted that in Geraghty the district court erroneously denied class certification, whereas here the district court erroneously granted it. But the court said it didn't make a difference:
The point in Geraghty was that claims relate back when a trial court's error prevents a class from gaining independent status under Rule 23. Whether that error is the erroneous denial of class certification (as in Geraghty) or the erroneous certification of an excessively broad class (as here) makes no difference. What matters it that the named plaintiffs' claim became moot--and their class therefore never 'acquired . . . independent legal status'--due to the district court's mistake. In other words, but for the district court's error--certifying an overly broad class--the parents' claims would not have become moot. There is no legally relevant difference between this case and Geraghty.
In its en banc opinion in Retail Digital Network v. Prieto, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to a California prohibition of alcohol manufacturers and wholesalers from providing anything of value to retailers in exchange for advertising their alcohol products.
Plaintiff Retail Digital Network, RDN, installed and operated seven foot digital screen displays in liquor stores for the purpose of running advertisements for liquor products such as Moët Hennessy; the retail stores would would receive a portion of RDN's revenue. However, after originally participating in the advertising, Moët Hennessy withdrew, worried that the state would enforce California Business and Professions Code §25503(f)-(h) regarding such advertising arrangements.
The Ninth Circuit had upheld the provision more than thirty years ago in Actmedia, Inc. v. Stroh (1986), applying Central Hudson & Electric Corporation v. Public Service Commission of New York (1980). RDN argued, however, that Actmedia needed to be reconsidered, and contended that IMS v. Sorrell (2011) changed Central Hudson's commercial speech standard from "intermediate scrutiny" to "heightened scrutiny."
The en banc Ninth Circuit, with the exception of Chief Judge Sidney Thomas in a lone dissent, rejected the argument that Sorrell changed the commercial speech standard of Central Hudson. The court's opinion has an excellent rehearsal of the doctrinal relevance of Sorrell after Central Hudson, including arguments derived from Sorrell itself and a discussion of sister-circuit cases. In short, the court finds that Central Hudson "continues to set the standard for assessing restrictions on commercial speech."
Applying Central Hudson, the court does depart in one aspect from its previous application in the thirty-year old precedent of Actmedia. The court found that even assuming "promoting temperance" is a substantial government interest under Central Hudson, the state statute could not be said to "directly and substantially advance that interest" as required by Central Hudson.
However, the court agreed that the statute "directly and materially advances the State's interest in maintaining a triple-tiered market system" for wines and liquor and "because there is a sufficient fit between that interest and the legislative scheme." This "triple-tiered" distribution scheme was adopted by California after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to "prevent the resurgence of tied-houses." Tied-houses were retailers and saloons controlled by larger interests.
ConLawProfs looking for a good case to discuss commercial speech after Sorell might find RDN worth a look. As for whether the United States Supreme Court will take a look at RDN to clarify the commercial speech standard, RDN might also prove interesting.