Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Eleventh Circuit Finalizes Rejection of Constitutionality of Florida Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients

In its 54 page opinion today in Lebron v. Sec't Florida Dep't of Children & Families,  a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit held that Florida Statute §414.0652 requiring drug testing of all persons who receive public benefits is unconstitutional.

Recall that a previous panel (of three different judges) had affirmed a district judge's grant of a preliminary injunction against the statute.  The district judge then entered a permanent injunction and this appeal followed.

F8637-01sToday's opinion holds that the statute violates the Fourth Amendment because Florida "failed to meet its burden of establishing a substantial special need to drug test all TANF applicants without any suspicion."  Importantly, the court also held that

the State cannot circumvent constitutional concerns by requiring that applicants consent to a drug test to receive TANF payments. When a government benefit is conditioned on suspicionless drug testing, the voluntariness of the program is properly viewed as a factor baked into the special needs reasonableness analysis, not as an exception to it.

The court rejected Florida's reliance "on unconstitutional conditions cases that arose in different contexts," such as Rust v. Sullivan, stating that  "the consent inquiry is included within the special needs analysis" in the Fourth Amendment context.

The court concludes:

the State cannot use consent of the kind exacted here -- where it is made a condition of receiving government benefits -- to wholly replace the special needs balancing analysis. We respect the State’s overarching and laudable desire to promote work, protect families, and conserve resources. But, above all else, we must enforce the Constitution and the limits it places on government. If we are to give meaning to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on blanket government searches, we must -- and we do -- hold that § 414.0652 crosses the constitutional line.

While Florida and its governor have been adamant in defending the constitutionality of mandatory drug-testing, the federal courts have been just as adamant that such drug-testing is unconstitutional.  But perhaps Florida will seek certiorari and a chance to validate this policy.

 

December 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Fourth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Eleventh Circuit Denies Stay of Same-Sex Marriage Ban Injunction in Florida

In August Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida found in Brenner v. Scott that Florida's same-sex marriage bans in the constitution as Article I §27 and Florida Statutes §741.04(1) violated the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Today, an Eleventh Circuit panel consisting of Judges Frank Hull, Charles Wilson, and Aldaberto Jordon in a brief Order in Brenner v. Armstrong granted expedited treatment of a motion to extend the stay of the preliminary injunction, but denied the motion. 

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Elbert P. Tuttle Courthouse in Atlanta


The Order concluded:

The stay of preliminary injunctions entered by the District Court expires at the end of the day on January 5, 2015.

Thus, unless there is en banc review or a United States Supreme Court stay, same-sex marriages will begin in Florida in first days of the new year.

December 3, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 1, 2014

Supreme Court Hears Arguments on "Facebook Threats" Case: Elonis v. US

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in the "facebook threats" case, Elonis v. United States.  As we previously discussed when the Court granted certiorari, the Third Circuit panel opinion unanimously upheld the conviction of Anthony Elonis under 18 U. S. C. §875(c), rejecting his contention that the statute requires subjective proof of his intent to threaten, rather than objective proof.  There is a split in circuits on whether subjective intent is required to make the statute constitutional after the Court's decision in Virginia v. Black in which the Court declared a Virginia statute provided that cross-burning was "prima facie evidence" of a intent to intimidate.   The doctrine of "true threats" has long been a fraught one.  As in other oft-called categorical exclusions from the First Amendment, the operative legal query is definitional: if the speech is a "true threat," the speech is not protected; if it is not a "true threat," then it is protected speech.  Equally fraught, as we previously discussed, can be repeating the content of the speech that may or may nor be a true threat given that the "adult content" may run afoul of the policies of internet providers or advertisers.

Facebook-friends-ftrToday's argument steered clear of specific language of the threats and focused on how a true threat must be proven, or more specifically, how the jury instructions should cabin the definitions.  For the petitioner, John Elwood, argued that there needed to be specific intent and that negligence or a reasonable person standard was insufficient.  But there were further discussions about whether there must be knowledge and/or purpose.  During the argument of Michael Dreeben, Deputy Solicitor General, Justice Alito phrased it this way:

My understanding of the Model Penal Code levels of mens rea is that there is a distinction, but a razor-­thin distinction, between purpose and knowledge. So the idea that backing off from purpose to knowledge is going to make very much practical difference, I think is fanciful. There is a considerable difference between ­­ distance between knowledge and recklessness.

Although much of the argument delved into common law and Model Penal Code doctrine, the arguments made clear that the First Amendment is intertwined any distinctions.  The question of "valuable speech" was raised by Justice Scali, but it was the discussions of rap lyrics that focussed the First Amendment questions most sharply.  The Deputy Solicitor General had a difficult time arguing "context": knowing when rap lyrics are entertainment rather than serious threats. Chief Justice Roberts quoted lyrics from the Petitioner's brief - - - lyrics from rap star Emimen - - - and wondered whether these could be prosecuted.  On rebuttal, Mr. Elwood noted that Elonis posted "long and painful to read" rap even before the protection order on behalf of Elonis' wife was entered.  However, Justice Alito did not seem convinced:

Well, this sounds like a roadmap for threatening a spouse and getting away with it. So you ­­ you put it in rhyme and you put some stuff about the Internet on it and you say, I'm an aspiring rap artist.  And so then you are free from prosecution.

The issue here is actual criminalization of the speech, but the use of rap lyrics to prove "intent" in a criminal trial as in the New Jersey Supreme Court case earlier this year might not have been too far from the Court's mind.

At least a few Justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, seemed troubled by the line between true threats and artistic speech.

 

December 1, 2014 in First Amendment, Music, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Barry University Con Law Forum

The student chapter of the American Constitution Society at Barry University School of Law (Orlando) will host its First Annual Constitutional Law Scholars Forum on Friday, March 20, 2015. Here's the formal announcement..

The hosts invite scholarly proposals on constitutional law at any stage of pre-publication development, from an early idea to editing. Hosts also invite proposals on innovative approaches to teaching con law.

Proposals are due by January 15, 2015, to Ms. Fran Ruhl, Program Administrator, at fruhl@barry.edu, with "Constitutional Law Scholars Forum" in the subject line.

December 1, 2014 in Conferences, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Is This Really The Best Case Against Executive Action on Immigration?

Texas Governor-Elect Greg Abbott put the finest point yet on Republicans' legal case against President Obama over his announcement last week to defer immigration enforcement action against certain unauthorized aliens. Abbott said in a statement yesterday that President Obama's move violated the Take Care Clause, Congress's immigration authority under Article II, Section 8, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

These claims are head-and-shoulders above the kind of general blustering we've heard from others in the debate. But they're still far from specific. Indeed, they're answered by the OLC's own legal analysis: the OLC relies on congressionally-designed flexibility in the text of the INA, among other legal authorities, to conclude that President Obama's action is consistent with, and supported by, the INA. In other words, Congress wrote the INA (using its authority under Article II, Section 8) to give the President just this kind of flexibility in enforcement. If that's true--and we haven't heard many (if any) specifics challenging this interpretation from opponents of President Obama's actions--then it seems odd to argue that President Obama isn't properly executing the law, or that he isn't respecting a uniquely congressional authority, or that he's violating the APA. Indeed, it seems that's exactly what he's doing.

Moreover, Abbott's statement is silent on prior executive practice, an important tool in sorting out this kind of separation-of-powers problem.

Abbott swears that "[t]his is a legal issue, not a political issue." But before we can take that claim seriously, it'd help if Abbott, Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt, Kansas AG Kris Kobach, and others threatening suit sharpen their case with a little statutory interpretation and history of executive practice (to say nothing of Supreme Court precedent). We'll keep you posted.

November 25, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Georgia High Court Upholds Use of Private Probation Companies

The Georgia Supreme Court yesterday rejected claims by a group of plaintiffs that the state courts' use of private probation companies violated due process. At the same time, however, the court ruled that Georgia law and contract principles could limit the way those companies operate.

The plaintiffs in the case, a group of probationers, argued that the use of private probation companies violated due process, and that the company imposed excessive fees on them for unauthorized monitoring, testing, and tolling of their probation. The case illustrates the dangers and abuses that can come with hiring out a private company to conduct functions like probation.

The plaintiffs alleged first that Georgia's statute authorizing state courts to use private probation companies was facially invalid, because it them of liberty without due process of law. That's because the statute did not restrict the courts from arranging payment based on the length of a misdemeanant's probation and other probation-related services that the company provided (like monitoring and testing), creating a conflict of interest for the company. Moreover, plaintiffs claimed that courts relied on recommendations by private probation officers who had a pecuniary interest in the outcome.

The court rejected these claims:

While the supervision of probation is a function historically performed by state probation officers, the mere act of privatizing these services does not violate due process. Nothing on the face of the statute allows Sentinel or any other private probation company to deprivate an individual of his or her property or liberty without due process of law nor is there anything which authorizes the creation of a private probation system that is so fundamentally unfair that it fails to comport with our notions of due process. . . . As found by the trial court, most of the injuries alleged by the plaintiffs in these cases occurred not because of Sentinel's compliance with the restrictions placed upon it by the private probation statutory framework, but becasue of Sentinel's failure or the failure of its employees to abide by the limited statutory authority granted.

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the statute allowed their imprisonment for debt, in violation of the Georgia Constitution, and that a court couldn't order, and a private company couldn't use, electronic monitoring devices.

But the court ruled as a matter of statutory interpretation that Georgia law did not allow for the tolling of misdemeanor probationers' sentences. That's because misdemeanor sentences are set by statute at one year, at which point jurisdiction over the defendant ceases, and there's no statutory authority to deviate from that rule.

Finally, the court ruled, based on Sentinel's contracts, that some of the plaintiffs could recover fees paid to Sentinel for probation services during their original probation, and that others could recover fees paid after the expiration of the term of their original sentences or for electronic monitoring.

November 25, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 21, 2014

House Republicans Sue Administration for ACA Actions

House Republicans filed their expected lawsuit against the Obama administration, arguing that the administration spend money on the Affordable Care Act's insurer offset program without an appropriation and extended the ACA's deadline for the employer mandate without congressional authorization. The complaint is here; Jonathan Turley's post on his blog onthe case is here; we previously posted on the issue here. It's also all over the news.

The case is only the latest move by opponents of the ACA to chip away and ultimately kill the Act by a thousand cuts. It's also only the latest move by opponents of President Obama in their effort to cast him as lawless.

House Republicans' first claim involves the administration's expenditures of funds that haven't been appropriated by Congress. The ACA contains two expenditure programs. The first, the Section 1401 Refundable Tax Credit Program, provides refundable tax credits for individual purchasers of health insurance on an ACA health insurance marketplace exchange. The second, the Section 1402 Offset Program, provides direct payments to ACA insurers to offset costs that they incur in providing cost-sharing reductions to beneficiaries that are required under the Act.

House Republicans claim that Congress funded the Section 1401 program, but did not fund the Section 1402 program. Yet they say that the Obama administration is using Section 1401 appropriated funds to make payments under Section 1402. In other words, House Republicans claim that the administration is spending money that wasn't appropriated by Congress, and shifting money from one line to another, in violation of Congress's exclusive power of the purse.

House Republicans also claim that the administration unilaterally extended the deadline for the ACA's employer mandate. The ACA says that large employers will be subject to tax penalties (or shared-responsibility payments), and that those penalties "shall apply to months beginning after December 31, 2013." But House Republicans claim that the administration unilaterally altered that date, without congressional action or congressional delegation, by extending the date by which penalties will be assessed by a year.

November 21, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Legal Authority for President Obama's Immigration Action

The Office of Legal Counsel yesterday released an opinion on the President's legal authority for his immigration plan, which he'll announce shortly. Here's the summary, in three points:

The Department of Homeland Security's proposed policy to prioritize the removal of certain aliens unlawfully present in the United States would be a permissible exercise of the DHS's discretion to enforce the immigration laws.

The Department of Homeland Security's proposed deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents would also be a permissible exercise of DHS's discretion to enforce the immigration laws.

The Department of Homeland Security's proposed deferred action program for parents of recipients of deferred action under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would not be a permissible exercise of DHS's enforcement discretion.

In short, the first two are OK, because the executive has authority to prioritize enforcement based on available limited resources, the actions are consistent with (and not inconsistent with) federal law and congressional priorities, and there is precedent (i.e., similar prior executive actions) for them. The third is not, because it's not consistent with priorities in federal law, and because there's no precedent.

As to the first, OCL said that "DHS's organic statute itself recognizes [that DHS must make enforcement choices], instructing the Secretary to establish 'national immigration enforcement policies and priorities.'" It also said that the proposal is consistent with the removal priorities established by Congress, that it doesn't amount to a legislative rule that overrides the requirements of the substantive statute, and that it doesn't "identify any category of removable aliens whose removal may not be pursued under any circumstances."

As to the second, OCL said that deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents is a lawful exercise of executive power, because it's based on an allocation of scarce resources (deferring action against this class in order to shift very limited resources elsewhere), and because deferred action for this class is consistent with the INA's concerns with keeping families together when possible. OCL also noted that "the proposed deferred action program would resemble in material respects the kinds of deferred action programs Congress has implicitly approved in the past . . . ."

Finally, as to the third, OLC said that the President lacks authority to implement deferred action for DACA parents. OLC said that the considerations here are similar to considerations for deferred action for parents of U.S. citizens, but are different in two key respects. First, while immigration law expresses concern about keeping families together, it expresses this concern in the context of citizens and lawful residents, not DACA'd individuals (who "unquestionably lack lawful status in the United States"). Next, deferred action for DACA parents "would represent a significant departure from deferred action programs that Congress has implicitly approved in the past."

Here are some other resources on the issue:

  • We posted on executive authority for DACA here.
  • The CRS has a report on Prosecutorial Discretion in Immigration Enforcement here, and a Memo on DACA authority here.
  • The Immigration Policy Center has a legal resources page on executive enforcement of immigration laws here.

November 20, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Daily Read: Weatherby on First Amendment Rights of Trans* Youth

November 20, as President Obama acknowledged again this year,  is "Transgender Day of Remembrance."   While the commemoration often focuses on violence against trans* people, it also provokes consideration of legal remedies to end discrimination. 

In her article posted on ssrn, From Jack to Jill: Gender Expression as Protected Speech in the Modern Schoolhouse, Professor Danielle Weatherby (pictured) takes up the issue of differential treatment in schools.  Weatherby argues that the First Amendment has an important role to play in protecting gender expression:

DweathWith the majority of states and municipalities having enacted strong anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws, and the judiciary on the cusp of deciding “the great bathroom debate,” the impetus toward carving out new protections for transgender students is finally underway. Nonetheless, litigants on both sides of the debate are left confused, with little practical guidance directing their conduct.

Some litigants have advanced the innovative “gender expression as protected speech” argument in limited circumstances, such as challenges to a school’s decree that a transgender girl student could not wear female apparel and accessories; an employer’s refusal to allow a female employee, who was required to wear a pants uniform at work, wear a skirt; and even an employer’s policy requiring a transgender woman to use the men’s restroom until she proved through documentation that she had undergone sexual reassignment surgery. Yet, no transgender student has advanced the argument that her use of the girls’ restroom, like her feminine dress, feminine preferences, and feminine mannerisms, constitutes symbolic expression deserving of protection under the First Amendment.

[manuscript at 50; footnotes omitted]. 

She argues:

An individual’s conduct in using a restroom designated as either “male” or “female” or “man” or “women” expresses that individual’s belief that she belongs in that designated category of persons. By choosing to enter a facility labeled for a specific gender group, that individual is effectively stating her association with that gender. Although no words may ever be uttered, there is a strong mental association between the designation affixed to a restroom door and the fact that only those individuals identifying with that designation would enter and use that facility. Therefore, since a transgender student’s selection of a particular restroom is “sufficiently imbued with elements of communication,” the conduct is expressive and sends a particularized message about the student’s gender identity.

[manuscript at 55].

Weatherby cautions that schools should not yield to the "heckler's veto" and should protect the First Amendment rights of trans* students to expression.  Ultimately, her argument is that such protection will eradicate the resort to violence.

Tdor

 

November 20, 2014 in First Amendment, Gender, Scholarship, Sexuality, Speech, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Montana District Judge Follows Ninth Circuit: Declares State's Same Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In his 18 page Order in Rolando v. Fox, US District Judge Brian Morris enjoined Montana's laws banning same-sex marriage (Article XIII, section 7 of the Montana Constitution, and Montana Code Annotated section 40-1-103 and section 40-1-401) as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The judge essentially found that the Ninth Circuit's decision in Latta v. Otter regarding same-sex marriage - - - inclusive of its decision to adhere to heightened scrutiny in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott - - - was binding.  The court rejected the argument that the recent Sixth Circuit opinion in DeBoer v. Snyder changed Ninth Circuit precedent.

1024px-Collier's_1921_Montana

The judge, however, did discuss the state's asserted justifications, finding them with without merit and focusing on children.  The judge ended by recognizing "that not everyone will celebrate this outcome," but nevertheless that the "time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit":  "Today Montana becomes the thirty-fourth state to permit same-sex marriage."

The judge did not stay the injunction.

November 20, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 14, 2014

D.C. Circuit Upholds Contraception Opt-Out for Religious Nonprofits

The D.C. Circuit today upheld HHS accommodations to religious nonprofits that object to complying with contraception requirements under agency regs and the ACA. The ruling aligns with earlier rulings from the Sixth and Seventh Circuits and means that the accommodations stay on the books. (The case is not governed by Hobby Lobby, because the plaintiffs here challenge the accommodation, not the "contraception mandate" itself. Hobby Lobby had no accommodation option.)

The case represents yet another judicial attack against the ACA and its implementation. And this issue may eventually work its way (back) to the Supreme Court. (Notre Dame filed a cert. petition in October, after losing in the Seventh Circuit.)

The case is the latest challenge to HHS regulations that allow religious nonprofits to opt-out of the "contraception mandate" by filing a form with their insurer or a letter with HHS stating their religious objection to providing contraception. (The letter to HHS is the agency's regulatory answer to the Supreme Court's action this summer that enjoined the form and held that a religious nonprofit could instead file a letter with HHS.) Plaintiffs (religious nonprofits) argue that the accommodation itself violates the RFRA (among other things), because the accommodation "triggers" the provision of contraception by third parties.

The D.C. Circuit flatly--and quite thoroughly--rejected this claim. In sum:

We conclude that the challenged regulations do not impose a substantial burden on Plaintiffs' religious exercise under RFRA. All plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they beleive and seek what they want via a letter or two-page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations' compliance with law in the modern administrative state. Religious nonprofits that opt out are excused from playing any role in the provision of contraceptive services, and they remain free to condemn contraception in the clearest terms. The ACA shifts to health insurers and administrators the obligation to pay for and provide contraceptive coverage for insured persons who would otherwise lose it as a result of the religious accommodation.

The court held that the accommodation was merely a de minimis requirement and not a substantial burden--and therefore not subject to RFRA's strict scrutiny. "In sum, both opt-out mechanisms let eligible organizations extricate themselves fully from the burden of providing contraceptive coverage to employees, pay nothing toward such coverage, and have the providers tell the employees that their employers play no role and in no way should be seen to endorse the coverage." The court emphasized that RFRA "does not grant Plaintiffs a religious veto against plan providers' compliance with those regulations, nor the right to enlist the government to effectuate such a religious veto against legally required conduct of third parties."

The court said that even if the accommodation were a substantial burden, the court would uphold it under RFRA's strict scrutiny.  That's because "[a] confluence of compelling interests supports maintaining seamless application of contraceptive coverage to insured individuals even as Plaintiffs are excused from providing it." Examples: the benefits of planning for healthy births and avoiding unwanted pregnancy, and the promotion of equal preventive care for women. "The accommodation requires as little as it can from the objectors while still serving the government's compelling interests."

The court also clarified some important aspects of the way the accommodation works. For one, exercising the accommodation doesn't "trigger" anything; instead, it works to take the religious nonprofit entirely out of the contraception-provision business. For another, religious nonprofits' contracts with providers don't authorize or facilitate contraceptive coverage; the federal regs do. Finally, exercising the accommodation doesn't turn a religious nonprofit's plan into a "conduit for contraceptive coverage"; instead, it takes the the religious nonprofit out of the contraceptive business entirely.

 

November 14, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fifth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Fisher Remand

The Fifth Circuit has denied en banc review by a vote of 15-5 in its  Order in  Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.  

Recall that in a divided opinion in July, a Fifth Circuit panel held that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

Ribbon_internalRecall also that the United States Supreme Court had reversed the Fifth Circuit's  original finding in favor of the University (affirming the district judge) and  remanded the case for a  "further judicial determination that the admissions process meets strict scrutiny in its implementation."  The  opinion,  authored by Justice Kennedy - - - with only Justice Ginsburg dissenting and Justice Kagan recused - - -specified that the "University must prove that the means chosen by the University to attain diversity are narrowly tailored to that goal"  of diversity and the University should receive no judicial deference on that point.

Judge Emilio Garza, the  Senior Judge who dissented from the panel opinion also wrote a very brief dissenting opinion from en banc review, which was joined by Judges Jones, Smith, Clement, and Owen.  Judge Garza contends that while the "panel majority dutifully bows" to the United States Supreme Court's requirements in Fisher, it "then fails to conduct the strict scrutiny analysis" the opinion requires "thus returning to the deferential models" of Regents of University of California v. Bakke and Grutter v. Bollinger.

A petition for writ of certiorari is certain; the grant of that petition is less certain.

November 13, 2014 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Court Vacates Stay of Kansas Same-Sex Marriage Injunction

The Court has issued an Order vacating the temporary stay issued by Justice Sotomayor on Monday of the preliminary injunction of Judge Daniel Crabtree entered last week in Marie v. Moser regarding Kansas' same-sex marriage ban.

As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues.

The Order from the Court notes that "Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas would grant the application for stay," but there is no accompanying opinion.

November 13, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

South Carolina Federal Judge Declares State's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

In a 26 page opinion today in Condon v. Haley, Judge Richard Mark Gergel held that South Carolina's same-sex marriage bans (by statute and state constitutional amendment) is unconstitutional.

Here is the gravamen of Judge Gergel's opinion:

This Court has carefully reviewed the language of South Carolina's constitutional and statutory ban on same sex marriage and now finds that there is no meaningful distinction between the existing South Carolina provisions and those of Virginia declared unconstitutional in Bostic.

753px-Flag-map_of_South_Carolina.svgRecall that the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Schaefer held that Virginia's same-sex marriage laws should be evaluated by strict scrutiny because marriage is a fundamental right; not surprisingly, the bans did not survive the standard.  Recall also that the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. 

Moreover, Judge Gergel rejected the argument that  "same-sex couples should not look to the courts to protect their individual rights but to the 'usually reliable state democratic processes' for relief" as the Sixth Circuit's very recent opinion upholding state prohibitions of same-sex marriage declared, by noting that the Fourth Circuit rejected this same argument.

Judge Gergel did, however, dismiss Governor Nikki Haley as a defendant.  Judge Gergel noted that "simply being the state's chief executive sworn to uphold the laws is not sufficient" and there is "little evidence to support an argument that Defendant Haley has taken enforcement action or engaged in other affirmative acts to obstruct Plaintiffs' asserted fundamental right to marry. "  Judge Gergel specifically distinguished Bowling v. Pence, in which a federal judge reversed a prior order dismissing the Governor of Indiana as a defendant after he took "affirmative action to enforce the statute."

Judge Gergel issued a temporary stay of the injunction until November 20, 2014.

 

November 12, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Eleventh Amendment, Equal Protection, Family, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Court to Hear Alabama Redistricting Case

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the case challenging Alabama's re-drawing of its state legislative districts after the 2010 census. The case pits a claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act against a defense under Section 5, although the constitutionality of those provisions is not (directly) at issue in the case.

Alabama redrew its state legislative districts after the 2010 census in order to maintain equal population across districts (within 2 percent), to maintain the existing number of majority-minority districts, and to maintain the existing percentage of black voters in those majority-minority districts. But the state's demographics shifted so that in order to achieve those goals the state had to pack black voters into existing majority-minority districts. The net result was to consolidate minority voting power in these majority-minority districts, but to enhance Republicans' power in the rest of the state.

Democrats and black legislators and groups sued, arguing that the re-districting plans violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and amounted to racial and political gerrymanders. The state countered that it was compelled to draw the districts this way under Section 5 of the VRA in order to preserve majority-minority districts and to avoid retrogression. (The irony of Alabama using Section 5 as a shield after it so vigorously attacked Section 5 in Shelby County has escaped no one.)

The three-judge district court divided along party lines--the two judges appointed by a Republican president ruling for the state, and the lone judge appointed by a Democrat dissenting.

The case pits the plaintiffs' Section 2 claim against the state's Section 5-based reason for the districts. The state's position--that Section 5 made them do it--is part of a larger trend of states applying "not the Voting Rights Act, but a hamhanded cartoon of the Voting Rights Act--substituting blunt numerical demographic targets for the searching examination of local political conditions that the statute actually demands," according to Loyola's (Los Angeles) Justin Levitt. The state's position also potentially puts the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Court: If Section 5 requires race-based decisions like this, isn't it unconstitutional? That question isn't squarely before the Court, but it's certainly lingering behind the curtains.

November 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Supremes to Consider State Tax Credits for Out-of-State Income

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Comptroller v. Wynne, the case testing the scope of a state's authority to tax the out-of-state income of its residents. In particular, the case asks whether a state can provide a credit for income tax paid to other states against a resident's state income tax without also providing a credit against that resident's county income tax. Here's an exerpt from my preview of the case for the ABA's Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases:

FACTS

Maryland imposes a “state income tax” and a “county income tax” on all of the income earned by a Maryland resident, even income earned out of state. (For those subject to the state income tax but not the county income tax, because they live out of state but earn income in Maryland, the state imposes a “Special Non-Resident Tax,” or “SNRT.”) That means that a Maryland resident who earns income out of state pays the Maryland “state income tax,” the Maryland “county income tax,” and the state income tax of the other state on that income. Maryland allows an off-setting credit for income tax on out-of-state income tax paid in another state, but only as to the Maryland state income tax, not as to the Maryland county income tax. (Maryland used to allow the off-setting credit as to the state income tax and the county income tax. But in 1975, the legislature amended the state tax code to eliminate the credit as to the county income tax.)

An example may help. (This comes from the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling in this case.) Suppose that Maryland imposes a state income tax of 4.75 percent on all income earned by its residents, a county income tax of 3.2 percent on all income earned by its residents, and an SNRT of 1.25 percent on the income earned by non-residents in Maryland. Suppose that Pennsylvania imposes the exact same taxes at the exact same rates.

Suppose that John lives in Maryland and earns $100,000 per year. Suppose he earns half of his income from activities in Maryland and half of his income from activities in Pennsylvania. If so, John owes $4,750 (or .0475 x $100,000) in Maryland state income tax and $3,200 (or .032 x $100,000) in Maryland county income tax, for a total of $7,950 for all Maryland taxes.

At the same time, John also owes $2,375 (or .0475 x $50,000) in Pennsylvania state income tax and $625 (or .0125 x $50,000) in Pennsylvania SNRT tax for a total of $3,000 for all Pennsylvania taxes.

Based on John’s tax owed to Pennsylvania, John qualifies for a Maryland state tax credit in the amount of $2,375 (the maximum allowable credit under the Maryland tax code, given the assumptions in this example). That means that John owes a total Maryland tax of $5,575, and John’s total state income tax burden is $8,575 (or $5,575 for all Maryland state taxes plus $3,000 for all Pennsylvania state taxes).

(Note that John’s total state tax burden is $625 more than the total state income tax burden for an individual, let’s call her Mary, who earned the same amount of income, but only in Maryland. Mary would only owe $7,950 in Maryland state taxes—the same as John’s Maryland state tax burden without the credit for taxes paid to Pennsylvania.)

In the 2006 tax year, Brian and Karen Wynne found themselves in a position like John’s—that is, paying state income taxes in other states, but not receiving a credit toward their Maryland county tax. Brian and Karen Wynne are a married couple living in Howard County, Maryland. Brian Wynne was one of seven owners of Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc., a company that does a national business providing healthcare services. Maxim is an S-corporation under the Internal Revenue Code, which means that Maxim’s income is imputed (or “passed through”) to its owners for federal income tax purposes. Maryland also accords pass-through treatment to the income of an S-corporation. In 2006, Maxim earned income in 39 states and, as an S-corporation, allocated to each owner a pro rata share of the taxes paid in each state.

The Wynnes reported Brian Wynne’s income from Maxim on their 2006 Maryland state tax return. The Wynnes claimed a credit based on Brian’s pro rata share of state and local income taxes paid to other states.

The Maryland Comptroller made a change in the computation of the local tax owed by the Wynnes and revised the credit for taxes paid to other states. This resulted in a deficiency in the Maryland taxes paid by the Wynnes, and they appealed. After exhausting their administrative appeals, the Wynnes appealed to the Maryland Tax Court, where they argued that the limitation on the credit to the Maryland state tax (which did not extend to the Maryland county tax) for tax payments made to other states discriminated against interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The Tax Court rejected the argument, and the Wynnes appealed, until the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state high court, agreed. This appeal followed.

CASE ANALYSIS

While the Commerce Clause gives Congress authority to regulate interstate commerce, the so-called Dormant Commerce Clause restricts the states from discriminating against interstate commerce. (The Dormant Commerce Clause is not in the Constitution as such. Instead, the Court infers it from the Commerce Clause and federalism principles.) One way that a state might discriminate against interstate commerce is through its tax scheme. When this happens, the Court uses a four-part test first articulated in Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Brady. 430 U.S. 274 (1977). Under that test, a state tax does not violate the Commerce Clause if

  1. [the tax] is applied to an activity with a substantial nexus to the taxing state;
  2. it is fairly apportioned so as to tax only the activities connected to the taxing state;
  3. it does not discriminate against out-of-staters; and
  4. it is fairly related to services provided by the state.

The Maryland Court of Appeals held that the Maryland tax scheme violates the second and third prongs of this test. The court ruled that the tax scheme was not fairly apportioned, because it amounted to double-taxation of income. The court ruled that the scheme discriminated against out-of-staters, because it favors individuals who do business only in Maryland over individuals who do business across state lines.

The parties disagree over whether and how the Complete Auto test applies to the Maryland tax scheme for individual income taxes passed through an S-corporation. (That last part is important, because, as described below, different rules may apply to a state tax scheme for corporate income taxes owed by a C-corporation.) They also disagree over the application of the time-honored principle that states can tax all the income of their residents, even income earned in other states.

Maryland argues first that states have authority to tax all income of their residents, including income earned outside the state’s borders. The state says that this authority is based on the taxpayer’s domicile, not the source of his or her income, and it claims that the state’s authority to tax its residents is justified based on the substantial benefits that residents receive from the state. The state contends that it has designed its income tax system to ensure that all Maryland residents contribute to the benefits that the state offers those residents. In particular, the state says that the tax credit for out-of-state income tax is designed to reduce Maryland tax payments for residents earning income outside the state while at the same time requiring those residents to pay some income tax to support state and local government programs.

The state argues that the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling—compelling Maryland to give a credit for tax payments to other states against both the state income tax and the county income tax—would mean that certain Maryland taxpayers could take advantage of state and local benefits “without contributing any income taxes in return.” The state claims that this is particularly unjustified, because Maryland taxpayers can exercise their political power within Maryland to change the state tax system. (In contrast, the state argues, other tax schemes invalidated by the Supreme Court involved disproportionate income taxes on nonresidents, who did not have political power within the taxing state.) The state says that “Maryland’s system simply asks something more of the State’s own citizens,” and that those citizens can work through the political process to change it, if they like.

The state argues next that the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling would undermine the principle that a state can tax all the income of its residents, wherever earned. It says that the ruling effectively means that a state is barred from taxing its residents’ out-of-state income to the extent that another state has already taxed that income. This, in turn, means that a state’s authority to tax its residents’ income is subordinate to another state’s authority to tax that income. The state contends that this does not square with the general rule that a state can tax all its residents’ income. It also says that this is not supported by the Constitution, which treats all states equally for this purpose and does not provide a priority of states’ authority to tax.

The state claims further that no principle of double taxation bars Maryland from denying a credit toward the Maryland county tax. It says that there is no problem with double taxation so long as both sovereigns have valid authority to impose the taxes that result in double taxation. It claims that this rule is consistent with the principle that a state can impose taxes to pay for a fair share of services, and the reality that “states do significantly more for their residents than they do for taxpayers who simply earn income within their territory.”

Finally, the state argues that the Maryland Court of Appeals wrongly applied the standard under Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Brady. It says that the court wrongly looked at the taxes that the Wynnes paid to all states, and not the taxes they paid only to Maryland. The state contends that the Maryland scheme, taken on its own, is completely neutral with respect to interstate commerce, and that a higher overall tax burden (as illustrated in the example above) is only due to the accident of two taxing sovereigns simultaneously exercising their valid taxing authorities. Moreover, the state claims that the Maryland Court of Appeals was wrong to conclude that the Maryland tax is not fairly apportioned. It says that the Maryland tax is based on Maryland residency, and that there is no need for it to be apportioned—indeed, that residency cannot be apportioned.

The federal government, weighing in as amicus curiae in support of Maryland, adds that Wynne is wrong to focus on whether the Commerce Clause requires states to offer credits for out-of-state income taxes paid by corporations. (Wynne’s argument on this point is summarized below.) The government says that C-corporations have a different relationship to, and receive different benefits from, the state than individuals (taxed as an S-corporation)—and that corporate income tax is different than personal income tax. The government contends that this means that the Commerce Clause analysis for these different types of taxes might be different. Moreover, the government says that it is an open question whether states must apportion income of resident corporations by providing credits for out-of-state income tax.

Wynne argues first that the Maryland tax scheme violates the Commerce Clause. He says that the scheme results in double taxation of out-of-state income as a result of engaging in interstate commerce. He says that the Court has long invalidated that kind of tax.

Wynne argues next that the state applies the wrong test. Wynne says that the state never applies the Complete Auto test and instead “tries to float above the Commerce Clause jurisprudence” to find an exception to the rule that a state may not double tax interstate commerce. He claims that the state’s reliance on its sovereign authority to tax its residents is misplaced, because the Court has struck state taxes—even taxes on residents—that violate the Commerce Clause. He contends moreover that this reliance is misplaced, because the Court’s jurisprudence has never turned on labels (like “residency”); instead it turns on whether a tax substantially affects interstate commerce. And Wynne says that Maryland’s scheme has a substantial effect on interstate commerce, because, as here, “it discourages interstate activity by a corporation that operates in dozens of States.”

Wynne argues that the state is wrong to say that it can double-tax income in order to ensure that residents pay for state services. He claims that he would still pay substantial state income taxes even with a credit against his county tax, and that he pays all manner of other state taxes that go to support state services. And Wynne contends that Maryland and other states provide extensive services to resident corporations, but that, under Supreme Court precedent, they cannot double-tax them. He says that this shows that Maryland’s argument about paying for services “proves too much.”

Finally, Wynne argues that the state’s position would have a “bizarre result.” He says that the state’s position means that states could not double-tax resident C-corporations, but could double-tax resident S-corporations. He claims that this makes no sense, given that each kind of corporation engages in interstate commerce.

SIGNIFICANCE

This case could have immediate and important fiscal significance for Maryland and states and municipalities around the country. For Maryland, a ruling affirming the Maryland Court of Appeals could cost the state between $45 and $50 million per year in tax revenue, and as much as $120 million in retroactive tax-refund claims. Around the country, such a ruling could affect more than 2,000 municipal income taxes nationwide that might not provide credits for out-of-state income taxes. States could seek to make up losses by increasing income tax rates (or imposing or increasing other taxes), but that option could be politically difficult.

More generally, the case potentially tests the long-standing principle that a state may tax all the income of its residents, even if earned out of state. But this principle is well established and universally relied upon. The Court is unlikely to rule in a way that threatens it.

Finally, the ruling of the Maryland Court of Appeals is in tension with other state-court rulings on similar (but not exactly the same) issues. This case will settle the matter, and tell us whether a state must provide a credit against all aspects of the state income tax.

November 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sixth Circuit Allows Constitutional Challenge of "Hosing" Detainees to Proceed

In its opinion in Williams v. City of Cleveland, a panel of the Sixth Circuit faulted the district judge for over-extending Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington (NJ) to include a challenge to a practice by Cleveland that "compelled pretrial detainees who were being processed into the facility to undress in the presence of other detainees and to have their naked genitals sprayed with delousing solution from a pressurized metal canister."

Recall that the United States Supreme Court in Florence upheld the authority of jail authorities to strip search a person accused of a minor crime without individualized suspicion under the Fourth Amendment.   As we stated when the decision was rendered in April 2012, "Writing for the 5-4 majority, Kennedy's relatively brief opinion could be summed up in a single word: deference."

Yet that deference was not total and today's holding from the Sixth Circuit elaborates on the limits of Florence.  The complaint in Williams was stayed pending resolution of Florence, and after Florence, the plaintiffs sought to amend their complaint to distinguish Florence.  The district judge denied the motion to amend as "futile" because there was no real constitutional issue raised by the manner of the delousing.

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Pieter de Hooch "A Mother's Duty" (Mother delousing child's hair) circa 1660  via

Reversing, the unanimous panel of the Sixth Circuit noted that Florence "took pains to emphasize that its holding applied only to the blanket policy before it, which required a visual strip search and a compulsory shower with self-applied delousing solution."  This means, according to the court, that the particular method of conducting a search must still be reasonable, and that this reasonableness is weighed against the level of intrusion.

As the panel described the allegations, the "hose treatment"  included the plaintiffs being "ordered to crouch naked on the floor with several strangers in the room while corrections officers" directed a pressurized hose of delousing liquid aimed at their intimate body parts.  The incident also included for one plaintiff being hosed off by another detainee and for another plaintiff, the delousing liquid "penetrating her anus."   For the panel, "simply spraying the detainee with a hose as if she was an object or an animal," is problematical because

it is not obvious that it would be impracticably onerous for the jail to permit self-application of the delousing solution while reserving the “hose treatment” for instances where individual detainees misapply or refuse to properly apply the provided solution.

However, the panel noted that in "the final analysis" "the jail may have had good reasons for conducting these procedures in the particular manner in which it did."  However, "that is a matter for resolution either at trial or on summary judgment, not on the pleadings."

Thus, the case will proceed at the trial level.

November 10, 2014 in Criminal Procedure, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

D.C. Circuit Upholds Recess Appointment Under Noel Canning

The D.C. Circuit today upheld an appointment to the NLRB on the first day of a 17-day intra-session recess of the Senate for a vacancy that existed before the recess. The case is an application of the Supreme Court's ruling last Term in Noel Canning--and it shows why all three parts of that ruling matter.

The case was a challenge to an NLRB decision based on lack of quorum, just like Noel Canning. In particular, the appellants, Stevens Creek Chrysler Jeep Dodge, argued that President Obama's appointment of Gary Becker to the Board violated the Recess Appointment Clause, because President Obama made the appointment to an already-existing vacancy on the first day of an intra-session recess.

The D.C. Circuit said that the recess appointment authority extends to intra-session recesses and to vacancies that already existed at the time of the recess, based on two of the holdings in Noel Canning. The court also said that the 17-day recess here was longer than the 10 days that the Supreme Court identified as enough to constitute a "recess."

Breaking a little new ground, however, the court also said that it didn't matter that Becker's appointment came on the first day of this 17-day recess. That's because, under historical examples that the Court relied upon in Noel Canning, the "lawfulness of a recess appointment depends on the ultimate length of the recess . . . not the number of days from the start of the recess to the appointment."

But don't count on this to shift the balance of power back to the President (by allowing him to recess appoint on the first day of any open-ended recess). Instead, it'll only mean that the Senate, if it wants to foil the use of the recess appointment power, won't have an open-ended recess; it'll define the recess and use pro forma sessions (as it did in the recess leading to Noel Canning).

November 10, 2014 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sotomayor Stays Kansas Federal Judge's Same Sex Marriage Injunction

In an Order late today, Justice Sotomayor stayed the preliminary injunction of Judge Daniel Crabtree entered last week in Marie v. Moser regarding Kansas' same-sex marriage ban.

As we noted, Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction himself, reasoning that although the injunction seemed firmly established given Tenth Circuit precedent, Kansas raised many jurisdiction and justiciability issues. 

As is usual, there is no reasoning supporting the Supreme Court stay.  Here's the text of Justice Sotomayor's opinion:

UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,

IT IS ORDERED that the preliminary injunction entered by the United State District Court for the District of Kansas on November 4, 2014, is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Tuesday, November 11, 2014, by 5 p.m. ET, and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.

Perhaps we can expect another Order from Justice Sotomayor late on Tuesday?

 Justice Sonia Sotomayor by Donkey Hotey
Caricature of Justice Sonia Sotomayor by Donkey Hotey via

 

 UPDATE here.

November 10, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mumia Abu-Jamal Challenges Pennsylvania's "Revictimization" Statute

 

Recall the Pennsylvania legislature's passage of the "Revictimization Act" prohibiting any act that "perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim," including seemingly a graduation speech from the inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal and others have filed a complaint challenging the law in federal court as violating the First Amendment as well as Article 1 §7 of the state constitution.  

 

November 10, 2014 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)