Friday, October 23, 2015

President Obama Vetoes Defense Authorization Over Guantanamo Closure Restriction

President Obama this week vetoed H.R. 1735, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, citing a variety of objections, including the NDAA's restriction on the use of funds to close Guantanamo Bay, to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, and to house them here in the United States.

In prior years, President Obama signed the NDAA, but issued a signing statement saying that the Guantanamo-closure provisions were unconstitutional.

But this year, he used those provisions--Sections 1031 through 1041 in the bill--along with other objectionable features of the bill, as a reason to veto. Here's what he said about restrictions on closing Guantanamo:

I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to work with my Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and explained why it is imperative that we do so. As I have noted, the continued operation of this facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relations with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists. Yet in addition to failing to remove unwarranted restrictions on the transfer of detainees, this bill seeks to impose more onerous ones. The executive branch must have the flexibility, with regard to those detainees who remain at Guantanamo, to determine when and where to prosecute them, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests, and when and where to transfer them consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy. Rather than taking steps to bring this chapter of our history to a close, as I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to do, this bill aims to extend it.

At the same time, he said that he supported a provision imposing statutory restrictions on interrogation techniques and limiting techniques to those in the Army Field Manual.

October 23, 2015 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds Bulk of Gun Restrictions Against Second Amendment Challenges

In its extensive opinion in the consolidated cases of  New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass'n v. Cuomo and  The Connecticut Citizens' Defense League v. Malloy, a panel of Second Circuit substantially upheld gun restrictions passed by New York and Connecticut subsequent to the December 2012 "mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut." The court largely affirmed the district judge's opinion finding the bulk of New York's SAFE Act constitutional.

The central challenge was a Second Amendment one and the court applied the two-step inquiry that is becoming accepted throughout the circuits.

The first question is whether the government restriction burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment: the Second Amendment protects only “the sorts of weapons” that are (1) “in common use” and (2) “typically possessed by law‐abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

If so, the court then moves to the second inquiry, determining initially the "level of scrutiny" to be applied by considering two factors: (1) “how close the law comes to the core of the Second Amendment right” and (2) “the severity of the law’s burden on the right.”  After determining the level of scrutiny - - - here, intermediate scrutiny - - - the court then applies the standard asking "whether the statutes at issue are 'substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest.'"
Affirming the respective district judges, the Second Circuit upheld the constitutionality of state prohibitions on semiautomatic assault weapons and large‐capacity magazines.  The Second Circuit held that Connecticut's specific prohibition on the non‐ semiautomatic Remington 7615 and New York's "seven‐round load limit" violated the Second Amendment.
Manet, Mister Pertuiset, The Lion Hunter, 1881 via
The court also considered several due process vagueness challenges to specific provisions in the laws, reversing the conclusion of the New York federal district judge that certain provisions - - - pertaining to “versions” and “muzzle breaks”- - - were unconstitutionally vague.
The Second Circuit's opinion is closely reasoned and well within what is becoming the standard within all the circuits.  Although the opinion several times mentions the absence of clear United States Supreme Court precedent - - - reminding that neither District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) nor McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010) "delineated the precise scope of the Second Amendment or the standards by which lower courts should assess the constitutionality of firearms restrictions" - - - this should not be a case that the Second Circuit would be moved to reconsider or that the Supreme Court would find worthy of review - - - unless a ban on the possession of automatic assault weapons should be subject to strict scrutiny under the Second Amendment.

October 19, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

No Standing in Case for Constitutional Convention

Judge James E. Boasberg (D.D.C.) ruled today that an individual plaintiff lacked standing to sue House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to force them to call a constitutional convention. But the ruling doesn't end the matter: the case now goes back to D.C. Superior Court under the federal statute that allowed the defendants to remove to federal court in the first place.

Repeat plaintiff Montgomery Blair Sibley, described by the court as "a United States citizen with a propensity for filing unmeritorious lawsuits," sued Boehner and McConnell, arguing that thirty-five states have voiced their support for a constitutional convention, "some as far back as 1901 (Minnesota), some as recently as 1979 (Mississippi)." But Sibley argued that the congressional leaders failed to call a convention, as required by Article V. ("The Congress . . . on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments . . . .")

While Sibley filed first in D.C. Superior Court, Boehner and McConnell removed the case to federal court under a federal statutes that allows removal of suits in state court against any officer of either House of Congress. They then moved to dismiss, arguing that Sibley lacked standing, that they're protected by the Speech and Debate Clause, and that the case raises a non-justiciable political question.

Judge Boasberg ruled only on standing, and said that Sibley lacked it. (The ruling was even easier than it looks, as it turned out, because Sibley conceded the point early in the lawsuit.)

But Judge Boasberg also remanded the case to D.C. Superior Court, because the statues that allowed removal also required remand, and because Judge Boasberg held that there was no futility exception.

Still, the D.C. court is almost certain to dismiss the case, if only because D.C. law on standing follows the federal courts.

October 13, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Third Circuit Reinstates Constitutional Claim Against NYC for Muslim Surveillance

The Third Circuit's 60 page opinion today in Hassan v. City of New York reverses and remands the terse dismissal of the complaint in February 2014 by United States District Judge William Martini.  The original complaint alleged that the New York City Police Department’s surveillance program targeted New Jersey Muslims solely on the basis of religion, thereby violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  The district judge found that there was no standing - - - in part because the plaintiffs did not know about their surveillance until it was revealed by the press and thus had no injury - - - and that the complaint did not state a plausible claim - - - in part because the "police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself."

The unanimous opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro, joined by Julio Fuentes, and with a very brief concurrence by Jane Roth regarding the standard of equal protection scrutiny to be applied, comes complete with a Table of Contents.  (Query whether opinions are increasingly availing themselves of a brief-like TOC: compare District Judge Shira Scheindlin's opinion in the NYC stop and frisk lawsuit, although her opinion is more than 3 times as long with many more footnotes.  Or perhaps there is something about NYC police practices that calls for a TOC?).

After a rehearsal of the NYC surveillance program and its disclosure, the court considers the problem of Article III standing.  For the Third Circuit, the "injury in fact" requirement of standing is satisfied by the plaintiffs' allegation of the denial of equal treatment on the basis of their religion under the Equal Protection Clause, as well as the First Amendment.  The court rejected NYC's arguments that there needed to be a tangible benefit denied, that there needed to be an overt condemnation (interestingly contrasting Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education); and that the injuries were not sufficiently particularized.  As to the "fairly traceable" causation requirement, the court soundly rejected the contention that it was the only disclosure of the surveillance by the press rather than the surveillance itself that caused the injury. Finally, in its brief discussion of "redressability," the court, quoting an Eleventh Circuit case, noted that "While we cannot predict 'the exact nature of the possible relief . . . without a full development of the facts, an order enjoining the policy and requiring non-discriminatory investigation and enforcement would redress the injury.'"

On the equal protection issue, the Third Circuit held that the complaint plausibly alleged that the NYC surveillance program made a facial religious classification.  It further held that this religious classification does not require an "invidious motive.": 

While the absence of a legitimate motive may bear on whether the challenged surveillance survives the appropriate level of equal-protection scrutiny, “intentional discrimination” need not be motivated by “ill will, enmity, or hostility” to contravene the Equal Protection Clause.

The court here interestingly cites the district judge's decision in the NYC stop and frisk case. 

The Third Circuit thus finds that the NYC surveillance program was facially religious, but then discussed the tier of scrutiny that religious classifications should merit:

Perhaps surprisingly, neither our Court nor the Supreme Court has considered whether classifications based on religious affiliation trigger heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. . . .

Although the answer to this question is not found in binding precedent, we hardly write on a clean slate. To start, it has long been implicit in the Supreme Court’s decisions that religious classifications are treated like others traditionally subject to heightened scrutiny, such as those based on race.  [Citations omitted]

This line of comment can be traced back to the famous footnote four of the Supreme Court’s 1938 decision in Carolene Products, where the Court suggested that discriminatory legislation should “be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment” if “directed at particular religious, or national, or racial minorities.”

After discussing a number of appellate court decisions, the Third Circuit panel held:

Today we join these courts and hold that intentional discrimination based on religious affiliation must survive heightened equal-protection review. Before turning more fully to our reasoning, however, we pause to reiterate that the term “heightened scrutiny,” as we use it, encompasses both “intermediate scrutiny” and “strict scrutiny.”

The panel stated that it need not - - - and should not - - - "determine in connection with its motion to dismiss which of the two applies, and we leave that question for the District Court in the first instance when and if it becomes necessary to decide it."  However, the court does engage in a Carolene Products-type of analysis to substantiate its conclusion, devoting some discussion to the "immutability" factor (which of course was not in the Carolene Products footnote).  It also noted that the "history of religious discrimination in the United States is intertwined with that based on other protected characteristics, including national origin and race," and that the allegations of the complaint reflected this intertwinement.

It is on this point that Judge Roth differs, arguing in her concurrence that intermediate scrutiny should apply and providing a somewhat personal explanation:

In my opinion, “intermediate scrutiny” is appropriate here. I say this because “intermediate scrutiny” is the level applied in gender discrimination cases. I have the immutable characteristic of being a woman. I am happy with this condition, but during my 80 years on this earth, it has caused me at times to suffer gender discrimination. My remedy now for any future gender discrimination would be reviewed with “intermediate scrutiny.” For that reason, I cannot endorse a level of scrutiny in other types of discrimination cases that would be stricter than the level which would apply to discrimination against me as a woman.

The Third Circuit did acknowledge the national security interest, but added that "it is often where the asserted interest appears most compelling that we must be most vigilant in protecting constitutional rights," explicitly invoking Korematsu and Hirabayashi.

The court's relatively brief First Amendment conclusion similarly rejects NYC's claim that animus must be proven.

The court concludes:

What occurs here in one guise is not new. We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight—that “[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.” [citation omitted].

image via



October 13, 2015 in Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, October 12, 2015

Campaign Finance and Enforcement

The NYT reported yesterday that just 158 elite families and the companies they control have provided nearly half the money in the early part of the 2016 presidential election.

The are overwhelmingly white, rich, older and male, in a nation that is being remade by the young, by women, and by black and brown voters. Across a sprawling country, they reside in an archipelago of wealth, exclusive neighborhoods dotting a handful of cities and towns. And in an economy that has minted billionaires in a dizzying array of industries, most made their fortunes in just two: finance and energy. . . .

Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much money early in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision five years ago.

At the same time, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy writes at the Brennan Center that DOJ is stepping up to enforce campaign finance crimes:

The Federal Election Commission is still living up to its unfortunate nickname as the Little Agency That Wouldn't. This means that in the pricey and already in full swing 2016 presidential election, the FEC is likely to be sitting on its hands instead of enforcing the law. But would be scofflaws do have something to worry about: the Justice Department is on the beat.

October 12, 2015 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Columbus Day - - - Or Indigenous Peoples Day?

The 2015 Presidential Proclamation for Columbus Day includes an acknowledgement that the celebration of Columbus is controversial among many:

Though these early travels expanded the realm of European exploration, to many they also marked a time that forever changed the world for the indigenous peoples of North America. Previously unseen disease, devastation, and violence were introduced to their lives -- and as we pay tribute to the ways in which Columbus pursued ambitious goals -- we also recognize the suffering inflicted upon Native Americans and we recommit to strengthening tribal sovereignty and maintaining our strong ties.

As the Washington Post reports, many cities are replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, including Seattle. The state of South Dakota legislated the day as "Native American Day" in 1990 - - - although no other state seems to have followed suit.  The day remains a federal holiday.

A lively commentary by James Nevius over at The Guardian calls Christopher Columbus a "lost sadist," but also interestingly argues that the holiday's "sentiments are superfluous," given the United States' development.  In a more scholarly vein, Kevin Bruyneel has argued that the holiday serves as a consolidation of white settler identity; his article, The Trouble with Amnesia: Collective Memory and Colonial Injustice in the United States, takes calendar holidays as its theme and is worth a read over at ssrn.

Gräff Matthias, Christoph Kolumbus landet auf San Salvador, via

October 12, 2015 in Current Affairs, History, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How to Write a Constitution to Prevent Violence

Nic Cheeseman and Alexander Noyes give tips in the Washington Post on writing a constitution to prevent violence and promote peace in Africa. (An upcoming Tanzanian vote provides the backdrop.)

Cheeseman (Oxford) is the author of Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures, and the Struggle for Political Reform.

Their lessons, largely drawn from Cheeseman's book:

-Constitutional design is important, but very different kinds of constitutions can work.

-Political inclusion can bring great benefits, to a point.

-Power-sharing carries large risks, if not done right.

-But failing to share power also comes with risks.

-There's no one-size-fits-all model for every country.

October 7, 2015 in Comparative Constitutionalism, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Judge Allows Challenge to D.C. School Funding to Move Forward

Judge Tanya Chutkan (D.D.C.) last week denied the District of Columbia's motion to dismiss key parts of a claim by D.C. charter schools that the D.C. government under-funded them in comparison to District public schools. The lengthy ruling is laden with analysis on the constitutional relationship between Congress and the District, much of it indeterminate, reminding us just how complicated this relationship can be.

The plaintiff charter schools brought the case, arguing that the D.C. government funneled extra money to D.C. public schools, but not charter schools, in violation of the District Clause and Home Rule Act, the Supremacy Clause, and the School Reform Act. In particular, the plaintiffs argued that the D.C. government violated the Home Rule Act by altering a a congressional act (the School Reform Act) without specific congressional authorization. The District countered that it has authority under the Home Rule Act to amend or repeal the School Reform Act, because the School Reform Act applies only to the District.

Judge Chutkan ruled that neither the case law nor the Home Rule Act tells when Congress acts in tandem with the D.C. City Council (so that the Council could alter a congressional act), or when Congress has the final word--at least in the abstract. So she turned to the text and history of the School Reform Act to answer the question here. But Judge Chutkan said that the School Reform Act was similarly indeterminate. She wrote that the Act's apparent mandatory language on equal school funding for charters and public schools wasn't dispositive, because "if the District can (and has) repealed Acts of Congress that used the term 'shall,' then that term alone cannot necessarily delineate Congress' intent with respect to the Council's authority.'" Moreover, Judge Chutkan said that the legislative history of the School Reform Act didn't answer the question. The upshot: "As it stands, the uniform funding formula is on the books, and it is not clear whether it has been violated, whether it has been amended or repealed by Council enactments (through Congressional acquiescence or otherwise), or whether the challenged actions do not implicate or conflict with the funding formula at all." She thus denied the District's motion to dismiss the District Clause, Home Rule Act, and School Reform Act claims. The ruling means that these claims can move forward.

In contrast, Judge Chutkan did dismiss the plaintiffs' Supremacy Clause claim. That's because the Supremacy Clause doesn't apply to congressional acts over D.C.; the District Clause does. The analysis is the same, Judge Chutkan wrote, but the Supremacy Clause doesn't do the work.

October 6, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Civil Rights Issue of Our Time: The Supreme Court

ConLawProf Rick Hasen (UC Irvine, Election Law Blog) wrote in a wide-ranging piece last week at TPM that the composition of the Supreme Court itself is "the most important civil rights cause of our time."

And according to Hasen, it's one that progressives don't pay enough attention to.

Consider what's at stake in the next presidency:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be nearly 84, Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy will be over 80, and Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78. Although many Justices have served on the Court into their 80s and beyond, the chances for all these Justices remaining through the next 4 or 8 years of the 45th President are slim. Indeed, the next president will likely make multiple appointments to the Court.

And it matters:

Had a President Kerry or President Gore appointed more liberal Justices instead of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, the Supreme Court probably would not have struck down Washington, D.C.'s gun control law in the Heller case; it would not have approved the constitutionality of the federal partial-birth abortion ban in Gonzales v. Carhart; it would not have struck down Seattle school district's affirmative action plan in Parents Involved; and it would not have struck corporate campaign finance limits in Citizens United or a key portion of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County.

October 5, 2015 in News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Daily Read: Chief Justice Roberts at Ten

The inimitable Linda Greenhouse in "A Chief Justice Without A Friend" notes that John Roberts is unpopular as he celebrates his decade on the bench.

I can’t think of a chief justice who has been so uniformly vilified by both left and right.

The attacks from the left are logical enough. It’s the fire from the right that merits closer observation than it has generally received. Sure, it’s titillating in a man-bites-dog sort of way. But it’s also revealing of an ideological transformation now underway in how an increasingly influential segment of the conservative elite views the role of courts.

A good quick read, with a link to The Nation special issue - - - The Case Against the Roberts Court - - - which is likewise worth a read.



October 2, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Court Grants Review of Bias of Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice in Death Penalty Case

The Court has granted certiorari in Williams v. Pennsylvania on issues of due process and the Eighth Amendment revolving around former Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ronald Castille (pictured). 


Castille, who retired from the court when he reached the state mandatory retirement age, was elected in 1993, and retained in elections in 2003 and 2013.  Importantly, before his election to the bench, Castille worked in the district attorney's office for over 20 years, including being twice elected to the District Attorney position; he reportedly claimed to have "sent 45 people to death row."

One of those people on death row is Terrence Williams, the petitioner in Williams v. Pennyslvania.  Williams claims that it was a violation of due process and the Eighth Amendment for Justice Castille to deny the motion to recuse himself from consideration of Williams' petition for post conviction relief.  Williams contends that Castille, as a prosecutor, was personally involved in the case and the decision to seek the death penalty.  Williams' claim, moreover, is based on prosecutorial misconduct. 

Williams relies on Caperton v. Massey (2009) regarding judicial bias. Unlike the situation of Justice Benjamin in Caperton, Castille did not cast a "deciding vote" on the court.  [Nevertheless, Castille's concurring opinion is worth reading for its defensiveness].  Recognizing this distinction, Williams also relies on Atena Life Insurance v. Lavoie (1986), and notes there is a circuit split regarding bias when the biased decided is only one member of a multi-member tribunal.

October 1, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Grants Certiorari in First Amendment Political Activity by Public Employee Case

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Heffernan v. Paterson in which the Third Circuit's opinion affirmed summary judgment for the City of Paterson against a First Amendment claim for retaliatory action against police officer Jeffrey Heffernan. 

At issue is whether the mistaken belief of a supervisor that an employee was engaging in political activity.  The police officer was seen picking up a mayoral campaign sign at the request of his "bedridden mother" to "replace a smaller one that had been stolen from her lawn."  Heffernan insisted that he was not involved in the campaign and actually did not support the same candidate as his mother.

The petition for certiorari argues that there is a split in the circuits on this issue.



There seems to be a lack of clarity in the circuits on this issue. 



October 1, 2015 in First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

California Court Upholds Anti-Paparazzi Law Against First Amendment Challenge

California's so-called anti-paparazzi law has been upheld against a facial First Amendment challenge by a state appellate court in its opinion in Raef v. Superior Court of Los AngelesRecall that Paul Raef was charged under California Vehicle Code, section 40008, subdivision (a) which increases the punishment for reckless driving and other traffic offenses committed with the intent to capture an image, sound recording, or other physical impression of another person for a commercial purpose for his  "alleged high-speed pursuit of pop star Justin Bieber and failure to stop when police attempted to pull him over."  The court concluded that the Vehicle Code provision is a law of general application that does not single out the press for special treatment, does not target speech, and is neither vague nor overbroad.

Banksy, "Photo Rat" via

The court reasoned that Vehicle Code section 40008 is not limited to paparazzi chasing celebrities or reporters gathering news. Instead, the statute targets “any person” who commits an enumerated traffic offense with the intent to capture the image, sound, or physical impression of “another person” for a commercial purpose.  The court distinguished both Minneapolis Star & Tribune Co. v. Minnesota Comm’r of Revenue (1983), finding a paper and ink tax unconstitutional,  and Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Board (1991), holding NY's "Son of Sam" law unconstitutional. 

In considering the expressive activity of taking photographs, the court considered ACLU v. Alvarez in which the Seventh Circuit held unconstitutional a broad anti-eavesdropping statute prohibiting video recording of police officers.  But  the court reasoned that even assuming "that the intent to take a photograph or make a recording of another person generally is entitled to First Amendment protection as a speech-producing activity, we are not persuaded that section 40008 punishes that intent per se or that the commercial purpose requirement imposes a content-based restriction on speech."

Instead, the court relied on Wisconsin v. Mitchell (1993) - - - even as it recognized the differences in the enhanced penalties for a bias crime - - - to conclude that it is the conduct not the intent that is being punished:

the conduct which section 40008 targets is not garden-variety tailgating, reckless driving, or interference with the driver’s control of a vehicle. It involves “relentless” pursuits of targeted individuals on public streets, as well as corralling and deliberately colliding with their vehicles. Such goal-oriented conduct hounds the targeted individuals, causing them to react defensively and escalating the danger to the violators, the targeted individuals, and the public. Because the predicate statutes do not require that the traffic offenses be committed with a specific intent and for a particular purpose, it cannot be said that the conduct they punish is indistinguishable from that subject to section 40008.

The court also rejected the argument that the statute made a content-based distinction of "commercial purpose", based in last Term's opinion in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. Relatedly, the court found that Reed's language did not support any finding that the California statute was targeted at First Amendment activity.  "Since the legal sanction is triggered by the noncommunicative aspects of the violator’s conduct, any incidental effect on speech does not necessarily raise First Amendment concerns."  And finally, the court found that any incidental burden on speech survives intermediate scrutiny.

As to overbreadth and vagueness, the court reiterated the standard for a facial challenge and noted that

   To the extent that Raef and amici are concerned about “the possibility of overzealousness on the part of the arresting officer and not vagueness in the criminal statute,” their concerns “can be adequately dealt with in the course of prosecution of individual cases on their individual facts.” . . . . Hypothetical concerns over potential misuse of the statute to unfairly target the press do not justify invalidating it on its face.

Thus it seems Paul Raef may be raising the as-applied challenges to his prosecution under the statute.

September 30, 2015 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seventh Circuit Upholds Chicago's Weed and Fence Ordinances

In its opinion in Discount Inn v. City of Chicago, the Seventh Circuit has rejected constitutional challenges to the city's fence and weed ordinances, affirming the district judge's dismissal of the complaint.  The plaintiff, a corporation that Judge Posner's opinion for the unanimous panel notes is inadequately identified in the record, sought "recovery of the fines that it has paid for violating" the ordinances —"it claims to have been fined more than twenty times." 

Discount Inn alleged that the challenged ordinances violate the prohibition in the Eighth Amendment of “excessive fines.”  Basically, Judge Posner rejects this claim with a simple statement: "A fine topped off at $600 can hardly be deemed an excessive penalty for violating the ordinance."

Discount Inn also alleged that the challenged "weed ordinance is vague and forbids expressive activity protected by the First Amendment."  Posner does recognize that it is possible that plants could have an expressive dimension:

The gardens of Sissinghurst Castle and of Giverny might well be recognized as works of art were they in the United States. There may be gardens in Chicago, whether consisting of native or other plants, that are or should be recognized as works of art.

However, he ultimately dispatches the First Amendment claim thusly:

the plaintiff’s claim that the free‐speech clause insulates all weeds from public control is ridiculous. It’s not as if the plaintiff invented, planted, nurtured, dyed, clipped, or has otherwise beautified its weeds, or that it exhibits or in‐ tends or aspires to exhibit them in museums or flower shows. Its weeds have no expressive dimension. The plaintiff just doesn’t want to be bothered with having to have them clipped.

Thus, this should be a rather routine affirmance of a dismissal. 

However, Judge Posner has taken the opportunity to provide some discourse - - - and some illustrations - - - of "weeds."  Posner writes:

there is an ambiguity in the concept of a “weed,” an ambiguity brought out by comparing “weed” to ”native plant.” A native plant, like a weed (or perhaps it could be thought of as an elite type of weed), is “born” and matures normally without human intervention although it may also have been deliberately planted. It need not be destructive. In contrast, an “invasive plant species” enters either naturally or by human transport into an area in which native or other valued plants are growing, and squeezes out or otherwise injures or destroys those plants. Cf. 40 C.F.R. § 166.3, defining “invasive species” for purposes of federal pesticide regulations as “any species that is not native to [a particular] eco‐system, and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

Here is one of the five photographs included in the 16 page opinion:


This image, like the other images in the opinion, and some of the discussion, is not in the record.

This opinion seems more confirmation of ConLawProf Josh Blackman's labeling of Judge Posner as the "most flagrant, and brazen offender" of the appellate rule against fact-finding. 

Nevertheless, coupled with the Second Circuit's decision on "credit card surcharges," this case could be a great introduction in First Amendment: Neither prices nor weeds are speech.

September 30, 2015 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Daily Video: Chemerinsky & Volokh Discuss the First Amendment and the Roberts Court

Worth a watch:

A dialogue between ConLawProfs Erwin Chemerinsky & Eugene Volokh on the topic of  "THE FIRST AMENDMENT & THE ROBERTS COURT," moderated by Kelli Sager, and sponsored by The First Amendment Salon, spearheaded by ConLawProf Ron Collins and in association with the Floyd Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression at Yale Law School.

Chemerinsky and Volokh agree with each other more than might be anticipated.


The First Amendment and the Roberts Court


September 29, 2015 in First Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Circuit Upholds New York's Credit Card Surcharge Prohibition

Reversing United States District Judge Jed Rakoff who had declared unconstitutional New York General Business Law § 518 prohibiting sellers from imposing a surcharge on customers who use credit cards, the Second Circuit's opinion in Expressions Hair Design v. Schneiderman held that the law does not violate either the First Amendment or the Due Process Clause.

The expressive element in the challenge to pricing regulation is not immediately obvious.  But as Judge Debra Ann Livingston's opinion for the unanimous panel explains:

Section 518 does not prohibit all differentials  between the price ultimately charged to cash customers and the price ultimately charged to credit‐card customers; it forbids charging credit‐card customers an additional amount above the regular price that is not also charged to cash customers, but it permits offering cash customers a discount below the regular price that is not also offered to credit‐card customers. (That is, it allows what we have termed “cash discounts.”) To illustrate, if a seller’s regular price is $100, it may not charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100, but if the seller’s regular price is $103, it may charge credit‐card customers $103 and cash customers $100.

Plaintiffs’ submissions reveal that they are claiming First Amendment protection for two distinct kinds of pricing schemes. First, Plaintiffs aver that they would like to post only a single price for their goods and services and charge more than that price to credit‐card customers, but are prohibited from doing so by Section 518.  (Five Points Academy: “It is not our intention to display two separate prices for each good and service that we offer, but rather to display—with roughly equal prominence—a single set of prices and the credit card surcharge amount.”); (Expressions Hair Design: “We would like to . . . characterize the price difference as  a 3% credit‐card surcharge on top of the listed cash price.”). In other words, Plaintiffs are seeking First Amendment protection for the kind of straightforward single‐sticker‐price scheme that Section 518 clearly prohibits. Second, Expressions Hair Design (the only Plaintiff to do so) currently posts two different prices for its services—one for credit‐card customers and one for cash customers—and fears being prosecuted for characterizing this price differential as a “surcharge,” or for telling its customers that credit costs “more.”

The court is clear that prices are not expressive.  It also rejects the argument that the statute actually bans an expressive label it disfavors ("credit-card discount") while permitting one a label it approves ("cash discount").  As the court explains,

Plaintiffs’ chief error—or, perhaps more accurately, the central flaw in their argument—is their bewildering persistence in equating the actual imposition of a credit‐card surcharge (i.e., a seller’s choice to charge an additional amount above the sticker price to its credit‐card customers) with the words that speakers of English have chosen to describe that pricing scheme (i.e., the term “credit‐card surcharge”).

Yet this was also the error of the district judge who applied the test from Central Hudson and concluded the NY law failed it.

The court also rejected the arguments that the NY statute is unconstitutional as applied to Expressions Hair Design's "dual price" scheme and an overbreadth challenge to other "hypothetical" pricing schemes.  The court found that the New York courts had not ruled on such questions and that Section 518 was "readily susceptible" to a narrowing construction that would eliminate the constitutional issues.  The court declined to certify the question to the New York Court of Appeals.

Finally, the court very succinctly resolved the due process vagueness challenge by finding that the statute had a "core meaning that can reasonably be understood."

Thus, sellers doing business in New York are again constitutionally prohibited from imposing credit card surcharges.  Cash discounts, however, remain permissible.


September 29, 2015 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

SEC Target Can't Jump the Gun (to Federal Court)

The D.C. Circuit ruled in Jarkesy v. SEC that the target of an SEC administrative proceeding has to run the administrative course before he can challenge the proceeding in federal court for violating his constitutional rights.

The ruling aligns with a recent Seventh Circuit decision, but is at odds with some of the district courts that have ruled on the question.

The SEC brought an administrative proceeding against George Jarkesy, charging him with securities fraud. Before the SEC ruled on the case, but after Jarkesy's co-respondents settled (in a way that didn't look good for Jarkesy), Jarkesy sued in federal court to stop the proceeding, arguing that it violated various constitutional rights.

The district court dismissed Jarkesy's case, and the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

The court applied the two-part framework in Thunder Basin Coal Co. v. Reich and held (1) that congressional intent to require a litigant to proceed exclusively through the SEC's statutory scheme of administrative and judicial review was "fairly discernible in the statutory scheme" itself and (2) that Jarkesy's claims were "of the type Congress intended to be reviewed within [the SEC's] statutory structure."

The court rejected an argument that Jarkesy's case was like the plaintiffs' challenge in Free Enterprise Fund v. PCAOB. In that case, the Supreme Court sustained district-court jurisdiction over the plaintiffs' facial constitutional challenge to Sarbanes-Oxley. The court also rejected an approach that would distinguish between different types of constitutional challenges (allowing some on collateral attack, but not allowing others). The court explained:

We do not read the Free Enterprise Court's characterization of the plaintiffs' claims in that case, however, to define a new category of collateral claims that fall outside an otherwise exclusive administrative scheme. In its subsequent decision in Elgin [v. Department of the Treasury], the Court considered and rejected the idea that one could divine an exception to an otherwise exclusive administrative scheme based on the distinction between various types of constitutional challenges. "[A] jurisdictional rule based on the nature of an employee's constitutional claim would deprive the aggrieved employee, the MSPB, and the district court of clear guidance about the proper forum for the employee's claims at the outset of the case," the Court wrote, dismissing the plaintiffs' proposed line between constitutional challenges to statutes and other types of constitutional arguments to be "hazy at best and incoherent at worst." The Elgin Court also rejected the dissent's proffered rule making an exception to the CSRA scheme specifically for facial attacks on statutes. The Court explained that "the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges is not so well defined that it has some automatic effect or that it must always control the pleadings and disposition in every case involving a constitutional challenge."

September 29, 2015 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

D.C. Circuit to Rehear Judgment Vacating Military Commission Conviction

The D.C. Circuit announced that it would rehear en banc a panel's earlier judgment vacating the military commission conviction of Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul, an alien enemy combatant who one time bragged about his role in the 9/11 attacked.

A panel this past June vacated al Bahlul's conviction for inchoate conspiracy. The panel said that the conviction violated Article III because it was based on "the purely domestic crime" of inchoate conspiracy, which is not an offense under the international law of war.

The panel's summer ruling was a victory for al Bahlul and a blow to the government in conducting military commission trials. But the court's latest ruling gives it a second bite at this apple. The ruling vacates the panel's summer judgment and sets oral argument before the entire court for December 1, 2015.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Con Law Scholars Forum at Barry

The Barry University Law School Student Chapter of the American Constitution Society is hosting its Second Annual Constitutional Law Scholars Forum, Friday, April 1, 2016, in Orlando.

The Constitutional Law Scholars Forum invites scholarly proposals on constitutional law at any stage of pre-publication development, from the germination of an idea of the editing stage. The Forum provides an opportunity for scholars and educators to vet their work-in-progress in a welcoming, supportive environment. (The Forum is not accepting proposals from students at this time.)

The deadline to submit proposals is December 1, 2015.

E-mail proposals to Ms. Fran Ruhl, Faculty Assistant, at, and to Professor Eang Ngov at, with "Constitutional Law Scholars Forum" in the subject line. Submissions should include a short abstract (300 words max) and biography (150 words max).

There are no conference fees, but participants have to pay their own travel expenses.

The Conference organizer is Professor Eang Ngov,, tel. (312) 206-5677.

September 28, 2015 in News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Rejects Franchisers' Constitutional Challenges to Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

Affirming the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in International Franchise Ass'n v. City of Seattle rejected all of the constitutional challenges to a Seattle provision that deemed franchises included in the definition of "large employers" and thus subject to the new $15 minimum wage.  Recall that the complaint challenged  the provision under the (dormant) commerce clause, equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, preemption under the Lanham Act (trademarks), and state constitutional provisions.

Photo by Steve Rhodes via

The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel's opinion found that there was not a likelihood of success on any of the constitutional claims, devoting most of its analysis to dormant commerce clause doctrine.  The panel first rejected the argument that the franchise regulation expressly discriminated against franchises as interstate commerce and was thus not "facially neutral." The panel also rejected the argument that the Seattle provision had a discriminatory purpose, noting that while there was some evidence that some persons involved in considering the issue were critical of franchise employment practices, even the strongest evidence of this (in an email), did not show that even this person "intended to burden out-of-state firms or interfere with the wheels of interstate commerce," and "[m]ore importantly, they also do not show that City officials wished to discriminate against out-of- state entities, bolster in-state firms, or burden interstate commerce."  Lastly, the panel rejected the argument that the Seattle provision discriminatory effects, agreeing with the district judge that the United States Supreme Court's decisions on dormant commerce clause can be "difficult to reconcile" and noting:

 We lack Supreme Court authority assessing whether a regulation affecting franchises ipso facto has the effect of discriminating against interstate commerce. Nor has the Supreme Court addressed whether franchises are instrumentalities of interstate commerce that cannot be subjected to disparate regulatory burdens. While regulations that expressly classify based on business structure or impose disparate burdens on franchises present interesting questions, our review is limited to considering whether the district court applied improper legal principles or clearly erred in reviewing the record.

 The footnote to this paragraph includes an extensive citation to lower courts that have considered the issue of whether measures that affect national chains violate the dormant Commerce Clause.  The Ninth Circuit panel concluded:

[T]he evidence that the ordinance will burden interstate commerce is not substantial. It does not show that interstate firms will be excluded from the market, earn less revenue or profit, lose customers, or close or reduce stores. Nor does it show that new franchisees will not enter the market or that franchisors will suffer adverse effects.

The Ninth Circuit panel dispatched the Equal Protection Clause claim much more expeditiously.  The Ninth Circuit applied the lowest form of rational basis scrutiny  - - - citing F.C.C. v. Beach Commc’ns, Inc. (1993) sometimes called "anything goes" rational basis - - - and finding there was a legitimate purpose (without animus) and the law was reasonably related to that purpose.

The court's discussion of the First Amendment claim was similarly brief, not surprising given that the court found the Speech Clause's threshold requirement of "speech"  was absent: "Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is plainly an economic regulation that does not target speech or expressive conduct."

Additionally, the court agreed with the district judge that there was no preemption under the Lanham Act and no violation of the Washington State Constitution.

The Ninth Circuit panel did disagree with the district judge regarding some minor aspects of the non-likelihood to prevail on the merits preliminary injunction factors.  But on the whole, the opinion is a strong rebuke to the constitutional challenges to the Seattle laws.

Given the stakes (and the attorneys for the franchisers) a petition for certiorari is a distinct possibility.  Meanwhile, as we suggested when the case was filed, for ConLawProfs looking for a good exam review or exam problem, International Franchise Ass'n v. Seattle has much potential.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)