Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Seventh Circuit ruled last week that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their challenge to Illinois's same-day voter-registration law. The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits, although the ruling strongly suggests that the law is constitutional.
The case, brought by a Republican congressional candidate in the 2016 election and a county Republican party, alleged that Illinois's same-day registration law violated the Equal Protection Clause, because an opt-out provision would disadvantage voters in smaller counties, and thus comparatively boost Democratic voter turnout.
The law requires counties to provide same-day voter registration. But it includes an opt-out for smaller counties that don't have an electronic pollbook. Still, the law requires those counties to offer election-day registration at "the election authority's main office," as well as at "a polling place in each municipality where 20% or more of the county's residents reside if the election authority's main office is not located in that municipality."
The plaintiffs sought and received a preliminary injunction in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit stayed it before the 2016 election. Last week the Seventh Circuit vacated the injunction altogether.
The court said that the law didn't severely burden voters' constitutional right to vote, and so the district court improperly applied strict scrutiny. The court went on to say that the plaintiffs didn't demonstrate a likely success on the merits even under the less rigorous balancing test under Burdick v. Takushi. It concluded:
Even though [the Illinois law] does not force quite as many options on the smaller counties as it does on the 20 largest counties, it permits every county to adopt the default same-day rules, and it provides realistic same-day options even in the smaller places. This, couples with the lack of any data about which groups are disadvantaged and how, dooms the injunction.
The Ninth Circuit ruled last week that Maricopa County officials violated federal law when they sought and obtained a wiretap, but that that the subject couldn't recover damages, because the officials acted in good faith and consistent with Arizona law and long-standing practices.
The ruling adds to a complicated body of law on federal preemption under the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 of state law authorizing wiretaps. The Ninth Circuit aligned with the approach of the First Circuit, and asked whether state procedural protections were "in substantial compliance with the federal law."
The case arose when County Attorney Montgomery, pursuant to state law, authorized a deputy to apply for a wiretap. The deputy obtained an order, and officials intercepted eight conversations between Manuela Villa and her daughter in 2011 and 2012. Officials, pursuant to long-standing state practice, then did not immediately deliver the recordings to the state court that authorized the wiretap.
Villa sued under Title III, arguing that officials violated Title III of the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, and that Title III preempted Arizona law that authorized the wiretap. In particular, Villa argued that County Attorney Montgomery, acting pursuant to state law, improperly delegated the authority to apply for a wiretap order to his deputy, in violation of Title III, which requires the "principal prosecuting attorney" to apply for a wiretap. Villa also argued that Deputy Brockel, acting pursuant to long-standing practice, failed to timely submit the recordings to the state court that authorized the wiretap, in violation of a Title III requirement that officials submit intercepted conversations to the authorizing court "[i]mmediately upon the expiration of the period of the order, or extensions thereof."
The Ninth Circuit first ruled that Villa lacked Article III standing to seek declaratory and injunctive relief. The court said that she could demonstrate no individualized future harm that would justify prospective relief. The court rejected Villa's taxpayer-standing claim out of hand, and held that she "does not allege that she is more likely than any other member of the public to have her future conversations illegally intercepted." Because Villa lacked standing for prospective relief, the court said that she also lacks standing to pursue prospective relief on behalf of a putative class.
In contrast, the court held that Villa did have standing to pursue individual damages for past interceptions, but, as below, couldn't actually recover.
The court held next that Title III preempted Arizona law, and that Arizona officials violated Article III. As to authorizing wiretaps, the court adopted the standard set by the First Circuit: "so long as the state wiretapping statute, considered as a whole and as interpreted by state courts, is in substantial compliance with, and is therefore equal to, Title III, state wiretaps are permissible." The court said that Arizona's statute, which authorizes a principal prosecuting attorney to delegate authority to apply for a wiretap to a deputy, didn't meet the standard: "substantial compliance with Title III requires that the principal prosecuting attorney indicate, as part of the application process, that he or she is personally familiar with all of the 'facts and circumstances' justifying his or her 'belief that an order should be issued,'" but that the Arizona statute permitted the "principal prosecuting attorney to state that he or she is [only] generally aware of the criminal investigation . . . ."
As to making the recordings available to the court that approved the wiretap, the court said that "long-standing practice" at the time of Villa's wiretap, in which "county officials submitted recordings of intercepted conversations for sealing only at the conclusion of an entire criminal investigation," was "not in substantial compliance" with federal law. But the court went on to say that a practice of submitting recordings within 10 days would be in compliance with the Act.
But even though the court concluded that officials violated the Act, it also ruled that Villa couldn't recover damages, because the officials acted in good faith, consistent with Arizona law or long-standing practices. (Good faith is a defense under a Title III cause of action.)
Friday, August 4, 2017
The D.C. Circuit earlier this week allowed 17 states and the District of Columbia to intervene in the suit challenging federal subsidies to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act.
The development keeps the appeal alive, even as President Trump considers halting the payments. Such a move before this week's ruling would have mooted the appeal. But now that the states can defend the payments, and oppose Judge Collyer's ruling, it's not entirely clear whether President Trump can stop the payments, or whether the D.C. Circuit might stop him if he tried.
Recall that House Republicans sued the Obama Administration for making payments to insurance companies under the ACA, even though the line-item for those payments was zero funded. The payments were designed under the ACA to subsidize insurance companies for providing affordable plans on the exchanges. But Congress allocated no money to the line-item designated for the subsidies. The Obama Administration nevertheless made payments, drawing money from another, related account. (Without the payments, insurance rates would skyrocket on the exchanges, or insurers would have pulled out, or both.)
House Republicans sued, and Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled in their favor. But she stayed her injunction pending appeal. President Trump then inherited the appeal from the Obama Administration, allowing him to drop the appeal, leave Judge Collyer's decision in place, and stop the payments. (If President Trump dropped the appeal, Judge Collyer's stay pending appeal would have gone away.) He could even have cited Judge Collyer's ruling as a reason for stopping payments, perhaps diffusing some of the political blow-back from such a move.
But President Trump didn't drop the appeal. Moreover, he has continued the payments, even as he repeatedly suggests that he might stop. Bipartisan lawmakers have encouraged him to continue payments. A final decision is due from the White House this week.
Now, with this most recent order from the D.C. Circuit, allowing states to join the suit, the appeal will continue (with the states now defending the payments, even as the Trump Administration doesn't), and Judge Collyer's stay will remain in place, at least until the D.C. Circuit rules on the case. While the stay itself doesn't prevent the President from halting payments, the states' intervention might: Because the D.C. Circuit said that the states demonstrated sufficient harm if the subsidies stop (a condition of intervention), it's not entirely clear that President Trump can stop them. And even if he can, it's not clear that the D.C. Circuit might not prevent him from stopping them (in order not to harm the states).
In other words, the states' intervention might tie the President's hands by forcing him to continue payments, even though the parties to the lawsuit might otherwise agree to stop the payments and let the case go moot.
The uncertainty here comes, on the one hand, from the fact that the President can probably stop the payments whenever he wants, irrespective of the states' intervention or Judge Collyers' ruling and stay. But on the other hand if the states argue that the President has to make payments under the ACA (and not just that he can't be prevented from making payments), then the D.C. Circuit could stop the President from halting payments. This week's ruling suggests, but does not specifically say, that the D.C. Circuit is leaving this latter option open.
But it gets even weirder. The D.C. Circuit might not even rule on the merits. That's because the states will surely challenge the House's standing to bring the case in the first place. If the D.C. Circuit kicks the case on standing grounds, that'll undue Judge Collyer's decision against the payments.
For now, the ball's in the President's court.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced yesterday that DOJ will "tak[e] . . . into account" a city's "sanctuary" status in determining eligibility for the Department's new Public Safety Partnership program. AG Sessions accompanied the announcement with letters to Albequerque, Baltimore, San Bernadino, and Stockton--cities that had expressed an interest in participating in the PSP--asking for information related to their sanctuary policies.
The move adds a new program, the PSP, to some other Justice programs that are also unavailable to "sanctuary" jurisdictions--those jurisdictions that restrict their officers from communicating with federal authorities regarding the citizenship or immigration status of individuals in detention. In this way, the move is yet one more attempt by DOJ to encourage jurisdictions to drop their sanctuary policies.
AG Sessions initiated the PSP program in June. It provides training and technical assistance to local jurisdictions "to address violent crime in their communities." The Department initially selected twelve jurisdictions to participate in the program.
Earlier, the Department moved to clamp down on "sanctuary" jurisdictions by requiring them to drop their sanctuary policies as a condition of qualification for certain Justice grants. (In particular, DOJ said that jurisdictions that failed to comply with Section 1373 would not qualify for certain DOJ and DHS grants. Section 1373 says that "a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.") DOJ adopted this policy as a way to implement President Trump's facially overbroad sanctuary cities executive order.
AG Sessions didn't go so far as to categorically deny sanctuary jurisdictions from the PSP program, however. Instead, he said that "[b]y taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement." Specifically:
In determining which jurisdictions to select, the Department will ask interested jurisdictions the following questions:
1. Does your jurisdiction have a statute, rule, regulation, policy, or practice that is designed to ensure that U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel have access to any correctional or detention facility in order to meet with an alien (or an individual believed to be an alien) and inquire as to his or her right to be or to remain in the United States?
2. Does your jurisdiction have a statute, rule, regulation, policy, or practice that is designed to ensure that your correctional and detention facilities provide at least 48 hours advance notice, where possible, to DHS regarding the scheduled release date and time of an alien in the jurisdiction's custody when DHS requests such notice in order to take custody of the alien?
3. Does your jurisdiction have a statute, rule, regulation, policy, or practice that is designed to ensure that your correctional and detention facilities will honor a written request from DHS to hold a foreign national for up to 48 hours beyond the scheduled release date, in order to permit DHS to take custody of the foreign national?
AG Sessions tied the PSP program to the no-sanctuary-policies condition by arguing that sanctuary cities threaten public safety: "By protecting criminals from immigration enforcement, cities and states with so-called "sanctuary" policies make all of us less safe." AG Sessions presumably drew the connection at least in part in order to satisfy the relatedness requirement for federal conditioned spending programs under South Dakota v. Dole. (Under South Dakota, a federal conditioned spending program must (1) be in the "general welfare," (2) state the condition clearly, (3) be related to the condition, and (4) not turn pressure to participate into compulsion to participate.)
Thursday, August 3, 2017
The Hill reports that Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) set nine pro forma sessions for the Senate over the August recess. The move means that the body will be in session every three days, even if only very briefly (just to gavel in, then immediately gavel out), so that it won't formally adjourn for the recess. Without an adjournment (more particularly, without formally going into a "recess"), President Trump can't use his recess appointment power.
Senate Republicans effectively used this tactic to frustrate President Obama's efforts to fill key executive slots. In 2014, the Supreme Court sided with the Senate on the practice in NLRB v. Noel Canning. The Court in that case held as a general matter that the Senate is in session when it says it is, and it's not when it says it's not. In particular, it held that a Senate schedule with a pro forma session every three days does not constitute a "recess" under the Recess Appointments Clause (unless the Senate says so). So when the Senate sets an every-three-day pro forma schedule over the August "recess," it similarly isn't in "recess" under the Recess Appointments Clause. And President Trump therefore can't make recess appointments.
The American Constitution Society for Law & Policy is accepting paper proposals for a workshop on public law on January 4, 2018, at the 2018 AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego.
A committee of ACS's Board of Academic Advisors will select 10 papers. Selected authors will present his or her paper and discuss it with two experienced scholars.
Papers can be in any field related to public law. Tenure-track and tenured faculty, or faculty with similar status, who have been full-time law teachers for 10 years or less as of December 31, 2017, are eligible. (Co-authored submissions are permissible, but each coauthor must qualify.)
Please send proposals to email@example.com on or before October 18, 2017.
Check out the call on the ACS web-site for more information.
President Trump signed the Russia-sanctions bill yesterday, but issued a sweeping constitutional signing statement calling out the "clearly unconstitutional provisions" in this "significantly flawed" legislation.
While the wide-ranging statement says that the President "favor[s] tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilizing behavior by Iran, North Korea, and Russia," it also guts efforts to hold the President's feet to the fire and suggests that the President may enforce the measures (or not enforce them) nearly any way he wants. In short, given the breathtaking sweep of the statement, only time will tell whether and how the President executes the bill.
The last paragraph sums it up:
Finally, my Administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends, or our allies.
The bill, H.R. 3364, adopts several measures to keep the President on a tight leash with regard to actual enforcement of Russian sanctions and related actions. President Trump identified those specifically. Here's a summary:
Sections 253 and 257: Recognition of Foreign Territorial Changes Effected by Force in Violation of International Law
President Trump argued that these provisions "displace the President's exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds, in conflict with the Supreme Court's recent decision in Zivotofsky v. Kerry."
Section 253, titled "Statement of Policy," says that "[t]he United States, consistent with the principle of ex injuria jus non oritur, supports the policy known as the "Stimson Doctrine" and thus does not recognize territorial changes effected by force, including the illegal invasions and occupations of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and Transnistria."
Section 257 deals specifically with Ukraine and says that it's "the policy of the United States to support the Government of Ukraine in restoring its sovereign and territorial integrity; to condemn and oppose all of the destabilizing efforts by the Government of the Russian Federation in Ukraine in violation of its obligations and international commitments; to never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Government of the Russian Federation or the separation of any portion of Ukrainian territory through the use of military force; to deter the Government of the Russian Federation from further destabilizing and invading Ukraine and other independent countries," among other things.
Section 216: Congressional Oversight and Disapproval of Executive Actions with Regard to Sanctions
President Trump argues that "section 216 seeks to grant the Congress the ability to change the law outside the constitutionally required process" in conflict with INS v. Chadha. In particular, the provisions "purport to allow the Congress to extend the review period through procedures that do not satisfy the requirements for changing the law under Article I, section 7 of the Constitution." But the President "nevertheless expect[s] to honor the bill's extended waiting periods to ensure that the Congress will have a full opportunity to avail itself of the bill's review procedures."
Section 216 creates an oversight and checking process for Congress to review and disapprove of executive actions related to Russia sanctions. The section authorizes Congress to issue a "joint resolution of disapproval" that would halt disapproved presidential actions through a fast-tracked procedure. But ultimate disapproval would require presidential signature or a veto override, so satisfies constitutional requirements.
President Trump doesn't appear to complain about this ultimate disapproval procedure. Instead, he complains about the section's procedure to "extend the review period" in violation of Article I, section 7. In particular, section 216 temporarily halts presidential actions when they're under consideration by Congress, when the President is considering a joint resolution of disapproval, and when Congress is reconsidering a joint resolution of disapproval. According to the President, the temporary halt during these periods violates the presentment requirement, because the resolution would take temporary effect, even though the President hadn't signed it.
Sections 254 and 257: Coordinating Aid and Ukrainian Energy Security
President Trump objected that these provisions "purport to direct my subordinates in the executive branch to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives, in contravention of the President's exclusive constitutional authority to determine the time, scope, and objective of international negotiations."
Section 254 provides a "Countering Russian Influence Fund" and sets goals and standards for using that money, including specifying how the Secretary of State shall coordinate and carry out activities under the fund and how the Secretary can modify the goals of the fund. It also requires the Secretary to "establish a pilot program for Foreign Service officer positions focused on governance and anticorruption activities" in covered countries.
Section 257 requires the Secretary to "work with the Government of Ukraine to develop a plan to increase energy security in Ukraine, increase the amount of energy produced in Ukraine, and reduce Ukraine's reliance on energy imports from the Russia Federation," provides funding for those efforts, and sets standards and provides for congressional oversight.
Various Sections Restricting Entry to U.S.
Finally, the President objected to various provisions restricting visas to individuals who engage in certain, specified behavior, like supporting Iran's ballistic missile program, violating arms embargos, and the like. The President wrote that these provisions "would require me to deny certain individuals entry into the United States, without an exception for the President's responsibility to receive ambassadors under Article II, section 3 of the Constitution."
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
In an extensive opinion in Reproductive Health Services v. Marshall, United States Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker (ruling as district court by consent), concluded that substantial portions of a 2014 Alabama statute regulating abortion access for minors contravened well-settled precedent.
The doctrine regarding a minor's access to abortion requires that statutes requiring parental permission also provide the alternative of a "judicial bypass proceeding." As explained in Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622 (1979) (“Bellotti II”) (plurality) and affirmed in Planned Parenthood Ass’n of Kansas City v. Ashcroft, 462 U.S. 476 (1983), at a judicial bypass proceeding, a minor must be allowed to show the court either that she is mature enough and well enough informed to make her abortion decision, in consultation with her physician, independently of her parents’ wishes; or that even if she is not able to make this decision independently, the desired abortion would be in her best interests. The Court has further required that the judicial bypass proceeding “must insure the minor’s anonymity” and that it occur with the expediency necessary “to allow an effective opportunity to obtain the abortion.”
At issue in Reproductive Health Services were provisions of the 2014 Alabama Act that mandated the participation of District Attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for the fetus, and provisions that allowed the participation of the minor's parent or guardian as a party. Additionally, the Act allowed disclosure of the minor's identity to anyone who needs to know and allowed the subpoena of witnesses.
Judge Walker easily decided that these provisions were unconstitutional under Bellotti II. Indeed, in her analysis she declared the wide disclosure was a "far cry" from established doctrine. She also observed that the 2014 Alabama Act was unique: in not one of the other of the 37 states that mandate parental notification and therefore require a judicial bypass proceeding, does a state "mandates or permits participation by a parent or guardian, the DA, a GAL for the fetus, or witnesses (other than
those called by the minor) in bypass proceedings for the purpose of providing the court
with assistance in arriving at informed and proper decisions – or, indeed, for any other
She therefore did not reach Reproductive Health Services' additional claim that these same provisions of the Alabama Act also interfered with "informational privacy," although the opinion spends many pages discussing why this additional claim was no longer justiciable given the conclusion that the Bellotti II claim was successful. The judge also found that the provisions of the 2014 Alabama Act were severable.
As Judge Walker concluded:
[T]he following provisions of the Act are unconstitutional in their entirety: Alabama Code § 26-21-4(i) (the participation of the DA as a party), § 26-21-4(j) (the participation of a GAL for the unborn child as a party), and § 26-21-4(l) (the participation of a parent, parents, or legal guardian of the minor petitioner as a party). The references to the DA, GAL, and other parties will be severed from Alabama Code §§ 26-21-4(c), (e), (f), (k), and (n). The Act’s provisions permitting disclosure of a minor petitioner’s identity to “any witness who has a need to know the minor’s identity or any other person determined by the court who needs to know” are too broad to ensure a petitioner’s anonymity and, consequently, are unconstitutional; thus, that language will be severed from § 26-21-4(c). The provisions of Alabama Code § 26-21-4(f) that permit the bypass court, if it determines that “additional evidence or testimony is necessary,” to delay the bypass proceeding sua sponte to issue “subpoenas … to bring before the court admissible evidence or testimony either in support of or against the petition,” does not reasonably safeguard the petitioner’s anonymity; it opens the door to the unrestricted notification of the minor’s relatives, teachers, friends, acquaintances, and other potential witnesses concerning her bypass proceeding.
The judge did not enter a preliminary injunction, finding that the declaratory judgment sufficient.
[image: Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, circa 1665]
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled today that a group of CareFirst customers, proceeding as a class, had standing to sue the health insurer for its carelessness in protecting customers' personal information after cyber-attackers allegedly stole that information. The ruling is a victory for the plaintiffs, but it doesn't mean that the case will proceed to the merits: the lower court still has to determine whether it has diversity jurisdiction.
The problem was that the plaintiffs alleged imminent harms from the breach, and not actual harms. (As it turns out, some plaintiffs did allege actual harms, but the court didn't rule on those claims, because its ruling on imminent harms was sufficient to support standing.) The court applied the substantial-risk-of-harm test and ruled that the plaintiffs alleged a sufficiently imminent harm. Contrasting Clapper v. Amnesty International, the court said,
Here, by contrast, an unauthorized party has already accessed personally identifying data on CareFirst's servers, and it is much less speculative--at the very least, it is plausible--to infer that this party has both the intent and the ability to use that data for ill. As the Seventh Circuit asked, in another data breach case where the court found standing, "Why else would hackers break into a . . . database and steal consumers' private information? Presumably, the purpose of the hack is, sooner or later, to make fraudulent charges or assume those consumers' identities." . . . No long sequence of uncertain contingencies involving multiple independent actors has to occur before the plaintiffs in this case will suffer any harm; a substantial risk of harm exists already, simply by virtue of the hack and the nature of the data that the plaintiffs allege was taken. That risk is much more substantial than the risk presented to the Clapper Court, and satisfies the requirement of an injury in fact.
As to traceability, the court said that this doesn't require the plaintiffs to sue only "the most immediate cause, or even a proximate cause, of the plaintiffs' injuries [in this case, the robbers]; it requires only that those injuries be 'fairly traceable' to the defendant.'" The plaintiffs satisfied this test.
As to redressability, the court said that the plaintiffs have incurred costs to mitigate any damage, and that these "self-imposed risk-mitigation costs" "can satisfy the redressability requirement, when combined with a risk of future harm that is substantial enough to qualify as an injury in fact." (But the court noted that these kinds of costs are insufficient to satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement.)
Sunday, July 30, 2017
The Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday that most of two suits against the State of Michigan, state officers, Flint, and Flint officials for creating the ongoing water crisis can move forward. The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs and all residents of Flint. It reverses a lower court and means that much of the original case can move to discovery.
The two consolidated cases arose when residents of Flint sued the state, the city, and state and city officials for a variety of constitutional claims for creating the water crisis that continues to plaque the city. The district court dismissed the cases on several grounds, but the Sixth Circuit on Friday reversed much of that ruling.
The court ruled first that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act did not displace the plaintiffs' constitutional claims under Section 1983. In particular, the court said that the language and legislative history of the SDWA did not point to displacement, that the SDWA's remedial scheme is not so comprehensive as to demonstrate congressional intent to preclude, and that the "contours of the rights and protections" under 1983 are different than those under the SDWA. The court went on to rule that the SDWA similarly did not displace the plaintiffs' conspiracy claim under Section 1985.
The court also ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred claims against the State of Michigan and, in one of the two cases, against state agencies and Governor Snyder. (It noted that Eleventh Amendment immunity doesn't cover municipalities--Flint and Flint officials.) The court said that the plaintiffs in the other case sought injunctive relief against the agencies and Snyder, and could therefore move forward under Ex Parte Young. The court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the defendants waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity based on their positions in this litigation.
Finally, the court rejected the defendants' other arguments, including absolute and qualified immunity defenses for agency officials.
Thursday, July 27, 2017
In a well reasoned opinion in Davison v. Loudon County Board of Supervisors, United States District Judge James Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia found that a politician who reacted to a constituent's comment on her "official" Facebook post by deleting his comment and banning him from her Facebook page violated the First Amendment.
Phyllis Randall, Chair of the Loudon County Board of Supervisors, maintained a Facebook page, entitled "Chair Phyllis J. Randall." She generally "uses the Facebook page to share information of interest with the County she serves," and Judge Cacheris provided several examples of the types of postings - - - precisely the type of postings one would expect - - - relating to proclamations such as "Loudon Small Business Week" and photographs of herself at conferences or other events.
As a threshold matter, Judge Cacheris determined that there was state action. This state action, however, could not be attributed to the defendant County Board of Supervisors, but only as to Phyllis Randall. Although the Facebook page was not the "property" of the county and would not revert to it when Randall left office, Randall "used it as a tool of governance." The judge found that Randall used the page to communicate with her constituents and the page reflects her efforts to "swathe" it with "the trappings of her office." Further, there were other government employees who assisted with the page. Moreover, the specific act of banning the constituent Davison arose out of public rather than private circumstances. Davison had apparently complained about the corruption of Randall's colleagues on the Board (the actual post, having been deleted by Randall, was not before the judge).
Judge Cacheris referenced two of the Supreme Court's decisions last Term - - - Packingham v. North Carolina opinion, noting that Facebook had become a vital platform for speech and the exchange of ideas, and Matal v. Tam, noting that if anything is clear, "it is that speech may not be disfavored by the government simply because it offends." The judge held that it was unnecessary to decide what type of "forum" under the First Amendment the Facebook page might be, given that under no forum is viewpoint discrimination permissible. Here, the judge held, Randall clearly banned Davison because of the opinion he expressed. There was no neutral policy (such as a ban on profanity) which was being neutrally applied.
The judge observed that Davison was banned only for a short time - - - Randall retracted her ban the next morning - - - and that during this time, Davison had adequate means to communicate his message through other avenues. Nevertheless, the judge stated that
Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.
The judge issued a declaratory judgment in favor of Davison, who represented himself pro se, on the First Amendment claim, although the judge rejected a procedural due process claim that Davison had also advanced.
This case should serve as a wake-up call for politicians who use their "official" Facebook pages in ways that may violate the First Amendment. The case may also be a harbinger of decisions to come in the ongoing litigation challenging the President's practice of "blocking" people on Twitter.
[image by Matt Shirk via]
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) yesterday denied a motion by the Electronic Privacy Information Center for a Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction to stop the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting voter roll data from the states.
The ruling also says that EPIC lacks organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, and that, while it has standing to seek redress for informational injuries under the E-Government Act, the Act isn't enforceable against the Commission (because it's not an "agency").
But the court went to lengths to say that the Commission limited its request to the states for only publicly available information, that the request is only a request (not a mandate) of the states, and that publicized voter information will be de-identified. If these things change, the court's analysis could well change, too. As a result, while the ruling allows the Commission's requests for voter roll information to go forward, the ruling also reminds us that states may decline to provide the information, and that the Commission will only get already-publicily-available information, and will have to store and use it with certain limitations.
The court said that EPIC lacked organizational standing to sue on behalf of members of its advisory board, because, even if EPIC is considered a membership organization for organizational standing purposes (which the court suggested it's not), "the only practical harms that Plaintiff's advisory board members would suffer, assuming their respective states decide to comply with the Commission's request in the future, is that their already publicly available information would be rendered more easily accessible by virtue of its consolidation on the [Commission's] computer systems . . . ." According to the court, that's not enough for standing.
But the court went on to say that EPIC had informational standing under the E-Government Act. The Act requires government agencies to conduct a privacy impact statement and publicize it. The court said that EPIC (1) had been deprived of this information and (2) therefore suffered the kind of harm that Congress sought to prevent by requiring it. The court also said that EPIC had standing under circuit precedent recognizing standing for an organization that "suffered a concrete and demonstrable injury to its activities . . . ." The court held that EPIC "has a long-standing mission to educate the public regarding privacy rights, and engage in this process by obtaining information from the government," and thus suffered such an injury.
But the court held that the Administrative Procedures Act (the basis of EPIC's suit, because the E-Government Act doesn't create a separate cause of action) doesn't apply to the Commission, because the Commission isn't an "agency" under the APA.
So even though EPIC has standing, it's not likely to succeed on the merits, and the court rejected its motion for a TRO and Preliminary Injunction.
Friday, July 21, 2017
Given recent reporting that raises the specter of a Presidential self-pardon, a few sources are worth considering.
First, there is the Constitutional text itself, which is not surprisingly inconclusive on this issue. Article II §2 begins by declaring that the President "shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States" and ends by stating "and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." What's clear is the exclusion of impeachment. What's unclear is whether this power would extend to a self-pardon.
Second, although there has never been a case of Presidential self-pardon in the United States, the possibility was contemplated with regards to President Richard Nixon. An Office of Legal Counsel Opinion, Memorandum Opinion for the Deputy Attorney General, offered a succinct answer to the "question whether the President can pardon himself":
Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative.
The Memo does raise several other possibilities, including one under the 25th Amendment involving the Vice-President, as well as the legislative actions. The Memo, by Mary Lawton, was dated August 5, 1974; Nixon resigned a few days later. A month later, President Gerald Ford issued a Proclamation with a full pardon to Nixon.
Third, a 1996 law review note article by now-Professor Brian Kalt of Michigan State University College of Law, Pardon Me?: The Constitutional Case Against Presidential Self-Pardons, springboards from the possibility that President George Bush, who had pardoned several people implicated in the Iran-Contra controversy would also pardon himself as he left office. Kalt concludes that "the intent of the Framers, the words and themes of the Constitution they created, and the wisdom of the judges that have interpreted it all point to the same conclusion: Presidents cannot pardon themselves."
The bedrock principle that "no one can be a judge in his own case" is the foundation of the Kalt article and its sources as well as the OLC memo, as well as providing a rationale for even the possibility not being excluded in the Constitutional text.
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
In a careful and well-reasoned opinion in Animal Defense Fund v. Herbert, United States District Judge for Utah, Judge Robert J. Shelby, has concluded that Utah's so-called "ag-gag" statute, Utah Code §76-6-112, is unconstitutional as violating the First Amendment.
The Utah statute criminalized "agricultural operation interference" if a person:
(a) without consent from the owner of the agricultural operation, or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation by leaving a recording device on the agricultural operation;
(b) obtains access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses;
(c) (i) applies for employment at an agricultural operation with the intent to record an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation;
(ii) knows, at the time that the person accepts employment at the agricultural operation, that the owner of the agricultural operation prohibits the employee from recording an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; and
(iii) while employed at, and while present on, the agricultural operation, records an image of, or sound from, the agricultural operation; or
(d) without consent from the owner of the operation or the owner’s agent, knowingly or intentionally records an image of, or sound from, an agricultural operation while the person is committing criminal trespass, as described in Section 76-6-206, on the agricultural operation.
The analysis separated these provisions into the lying provision - - - "false pretenses" under subsection (b) - - - and the recording provisions in the other subsections. As to both types, Utah argued that the First Amendment was not applicable.
Judge Shelby's analysis of First Amendment protection for the "lying provision" included a discussion of United States v. Alvarez (2012), the "stolen valor" case, settling on a reading of Alvarez that lies that cause "legally cognizable harm" could be outside the ambit of the First Amendment. Utah argued that the false pretenses caused two types of legally cognizable harm: danger to animals (and employees) and trespass. Judge Shelby dispatched the danger argument given that there was no connection between the lie and the danger: the "Act as written criminalizes lies that would cause no harm to animals or workers." Judge Shelby's analysis of the trespass rationale is more detailed, considering whether the misrepresentation negates consent so that the liar becomes a trespasser. For Judge Shelby, the answer is "not always." Relying on Fourth and Seventh Circuit pre-Alvarez cases, Judge Shelby essentially concludes that the Utah statute is overbroad:
It is certainly possible that a lie used to gain access to an agricultural facility could cause trespass-type harm; a protestor, for example, might pose as a prospective customer, and then, after being let in the door, begin causing a scene or damaging property. But the Act also sweeps in many more trivial, harmless lies that have no discernable effect on whether a person is granted access, and, consequently, on whether a person causes any trespass-type harm. Indeed, given its broad language (“obtain[ing] access to an agricultural operation under false pretenses”), the Act on its face criminalizes, for example, an applicant’s false statement during a job interview that he is a born-again Christian, that he is married with kids, that he is a fan of the local sports team. It criminalizes putting a local address on a resume when the applicant is actually applying from out of town. In short, the Act criminalizes a broad swath of lies that result in no harm at all, much less interference with ownership or possession of the facility . . . .
Judge Shelby also rejected Utah's argument that "recording" was not protected speech under the First Amendment, citing the Seventh Circuit police recording case recognizing a First Amendment protection (note a similar Third Circuit case in the past week).
Utah also argued that the First Amendment did not apply because the acts involved private property rights, although one of the plaintiffs had been charged while she was on public property filming. More importantly, however, Judge Shelby criticized Utah's argument as confusing a landowner's ability to exclude from her property someone who wishes to speak with the "government's ability to jail the person for that speech."
The applicability of the First Amendment proved to be the thorniest issue, with Judge Shelby then easily proceeding to find these were content-based provisions deserving of strict scrutiny and then easily finding that the Utah statute did not survive. Of special interest is Utah's reliance for its government interests on protecting animals and workers from injury, despite the legislative history that "appears devoid of any reference" to such interests, instead discussing harms caused by "the vegetarian people" and others. Judge Shelby found that the Utah statute was not necessary to serve these interests and was over- and under-inclusive:
Not only is the Act seemingly not necessary to remedy the State’s alleged harms, it is an entirely overinclusive means to address them. It targets, for example, the employee who lies on her job application but otherwise performs her job admirably, and it criminalizes the most diligent well-trained undercover employees. And it is simultaneously underinclusive because it does nothing to address the exact same allegedly harmful conduct when undertaken by anyone other than an undercover investigator.
While recognizing that Utah has an interest in addressing "perceived threats" to the state agricultural industry, Judge Shelby concluded that suppressing "broad swaths of protected speech" is not a constitutionally permissible tool to accomplish this goal. Thus, this opinion joins Idaho district Judge Winmill's 2015 decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter in a defeat for the so-called ag-gag laws.
[image "elk on farm" via]
Friday, July 7, 2017
In its opinion in Fields v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit concluded that "Simply put, the First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public." As the panel majority opinion by Judge Thomas Ambro noted, "Every Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh) has held that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public"; the Third Circuit joined "this growing consensus."
The court noted that police recording has become "ubiquitous" and that such documentation has "both exposed police misconduct and exonerated officers from errant charges." In considering whether the recording was First Amendment expressive activity, the court noted that the case was "not about people attempting to create art with police as their subjects. It is about recording police officers performing their official duties." Thus, at stake is the First Amendment protection of the "public's right to know": "Access to information regarding public police activity is particularly important because it leads to citizen discourse on public issues, “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection.”
Defendants offer nothing to justify their actions. Fields took a photograph across the street from where the police were breaking up a party. *** If a person’s recording interferes with police activity, that activity might not be protected. For instance, recording a police conversation with a confidential informant may interfere with an investigation and put a life at stake. But here there are no countervailing concerns.
Fields, using his iPhone, was noticed by an officer who then asked him whether he “like[d] taking pictures of grown men” and ordered him to leave. Fields refused, so the officer arrested him, confiscated his phone, and detained him. The officer searched Fields’ phone and opened several videos and other photos. The officer then released Fields and issued him a citation for “Obstructing Highway and Other Public Passages.” These charges were withdrawn when the officer did not appear at the court hearing.
Fields, along with Amanda Geraci who had been involved in a separate incident involving recording, brought 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims for retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights. Thus, the court confronted the question of qualified immunity. The court held that at the time of the incident - - - 2013 for Fields - - - it was not sufficiently "clearly established" so that the law "gave fair warning so that every reasonable officer knew that, absent some sort of expressive intent, recording public police activity was constitutionally protected."
Dissenting in part, Judge Nygaard concluded that the right was clearly established. In addition to the "robust consensus" before the conduct at issue, the Philadelphia Police Department's own "official policies explicitly recognized this First Amendment right well before the incidents under review here took place." For Judge Nygaard, "no reasonable officer could have denied at the time of the incidents underlying these cases that efforts to prevent people from recording their activities infringed rights guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Certainly, after Fields v. City of Philadelphia, no reasonable officer could now successfully argue that there is not a First Amendment right to record police activity.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
While we usually focus on the ideals articulated in the first portion of the Declaration of Independence - - - "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - - - the bulk of the document is devoted to proving that the "history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States." It continues:
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
Monday, July 3, 2017
The D.C. Circuit on Friday dismissed a challenge to the government's drone strike program by the family of unintended, innocent victims. The court ruled that the case raised a political question.
The ruling was unsurprising, given the state of the law. But one judge on the panel concurred in order to lodge a harsh criticism.
The case involves the family members of Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber, the unintended, innocent victims of a drone strike in Yemen. They sought a declaratory judgment that the strike violated the Torture Victims Protection Act and the Alien Tort Statute.
The D.C. Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that the case raised a nonjusticiable political question. Drawing on circuit precedent, the El-Shifa case, the court wrote:
It would be difficult to imagine precedent more directly adverse to Plaintiff's position. While Plaintiffs clearly assert claims under the TVPA and ATS, the precise grounds they raise in their Complaint call for a court to pass judgment on the wisdom of [the] Executive's decision to commence military action--mistaken or not--against a foreign target. . . .
Plaintiffs will no doubt find this result unjust, but it stems from constitutional and pragmatic constraints on the Judiciary. In matters of political and military strategy, courts lack the competence necessary to determine whether the use of force was justified.
Judge Brown, who also wrote the majority opinion, concurred with a scathing critique of the application of the political question doctrine to cases like this, especially given the lack of oversight in the other two branches:
Of course, this begs the question: if judges will not check this outsized power, then who will? . . . The President is the most equipped to police his own house. But, despite an impressive number of executive oversight bodies, there is pitifully little oversight within the Executive. Presidents are slow to appoint members to these boards; their operations are shrouded in secrecy; and it often seems the board's are more interested in protecting and excusing the actions of agencies than holding them accountable. Congress perhaps? But congressional oversight is a joke--and a bad one at that. . . .
Our democracy is broken. We must, however, hope that it is not incurably so. . . . The Court's opinion . . . is all a Judiciary bound by precedent and constitutional constraints may permissibly claim. It is up to others to take it from here.
Thursday, June 29, 2017
The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday that Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored but privately-owned corporation, but now under conservatorship of an independent government agency, cannot be sued for a First Amendment violation. The court said that the corporation, even under conservatorship, isn't a government actor.
The case involves a Fannie Mae contractor, Caroline Herron, who alleged that Fannie Mae officials retaliated against her for raising concerns about mismanagement at the corporation. Herron brought a Bivens claim against Fannie Mae officials for a free-speech violation, among other claims. But the Bivens claim hinges, of course, on Fannie Mae officials being government actors. Herron argued that they were, because Fannie Mae is under conservatorship of an independent federal agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In other words, the conservatorship converted Fannie Mae (an otherwise private actor) into a government actor.
The D.C. Circuit rejected that argument. The court looked to the three-part test in Lebron v. National R.R. Passenger Corp. for determining whether a "[g]overnment-created and -controlled corporation" is a government actor for constitutional purposes. The court held that (1) the government created Fannie Mae (2) "for the furtherance of governmental objectives." But the court held that (3) under the terms of the conservatorship the government didn't permanently control it. "Although there is no specific termination date, the purpose of the conservatorship is to restore Fannie Mae to a stable condition. 'This is an inherently temporary purpose.'" For the court, it's the purpose of the indefinite conservatorship, not its internal self-destruct clause (which didn't exist), that matters.
The ruling ends Herron's case. (The course dismissed her other claims, too.)
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
With all the activity at the Court yesterday, we might be excused for missing the Court's non-decision in Hernandez v. Mesa. But even as the Court punted, remanding to the lower court, this is a case we should pay attention to.
The case involved a border patrol agent who shot and killed a Mexican youth just on the other side of the border. (Our oral argument review is here.) The case teed up an important dispute over whether the Fourth Amendment applies outside the United States, and how the Court should decide that question. (The case also asked whether the agent enjoyed qualified immunity for a related Fifth Amendment claim.)
But then the Court added a third QP--whether the plaintiffs had a Bivens claim, an issue that the lower courts dodged--signalling that the Court thought this was a substantial, even threshold, issue. Then just last week in Abbasi the Court ruled that 9/11 detainees did not have a Bivens claim and in the course substantially narrowed the Bivens doctrine. Yesterday the Court put these two pieces together and took them to their logical conclusion: It remanded Hernandez with instructions to consider, as a threshold matter (that is, before the courts gets to the extraterritoriality question, and possibly even before the court gets to the qualified immunity question), whether the plaintiffs have a Bivens claim in light of Abbasi.
This does not bode well for the plaintiffs. That's because the Court in Abbasi all but limited the Bivens "context" to cases that look exactly like the three cases in which the Court has found a Bivens remedy. Outside of that "context," the Court won't extend Bivens if "special factors" counsel against a Bivens remedy. And the Court defined "special factors" broadly enough that it'll be hard to show that they don't.
In other words, the plaintiffs will only prevail if they can show that special factors don't counsel against extending a Bivens remedy to this case. And given the very broad approach to "special factors" in Abbasi, that could be quite hard to do.
At the same time, the Court ruled that the lower court improperly granted qualified immunity to the agent. The Court said that the agent couldn't have known that Hernandez was Mexican (not American), and the lower court therefore erred in relying on the fact that Hernandez was "an alien who had no significant voluntary connection to . . . the United States."
That may be a hollow victory for the plaintiffs, however, if the courts rule as a threshold matter that they lack a Bivens claim. If they so rule, there'll be no need to even consider qualified immunity, or, for that matter, the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment.
Monday, June 26, 2017
In a brief per curiam opinion in Pavan v. Smith, the Court reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court's closely divided opinion regarding same-sex parents being listed on a child's birth certificate. Recall that Arkansas' Supreme Court's majority opinion found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite. The Court, like the dissenting justices in the Arkansas opinion, concluded that Obergefell was determinative. The Court's per curiam opinion stated that the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion "denied to married same-sex couples access to the 'constellation of benefits that the State has linked to marriage,'" quoting Obergefell.
Importantly, the Court noted, that "when a married woman in Arkansas conceives a child by means of artificial insemination, the State will—indeed, must—list the name of her male spouse on the child’s birth certificate."
Arkansas has thus chosen to make its birth certificates more than a mere marker of biological relationships: The State uses those certificates to give married parents a form of legal recognition that is not available to unmarried parents. Having made that choice, Arkansas may not, consistent with Obergefell, deny married same-sex couples that recognition.
Thus, the Court's opinion in Pavan makes it clear that Obergefell applies not merely to marriage, but also to situations in which the marital relationship affects children.