Thursday, August 25, 2016

First Circuit Says Puerto Rico's AMT Violates the Dormant Commerce Clause

The First Circuit ruled today in Wal-Mart Puerto Rico, Inc. v. Zaragoza-Gomez that Puerto Rico's amendment to its Alternative Minimum Tax discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause.

The ruling means that Puerto Rico can't apply its amended AMT against Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in Puerto Rico. The ruling also strikes a blow at Puerto Rico's effort to deal with its fiscal crisis and to prevent multi-state corporations doing business in Puerto Rico from shifting profits off-island by purchasing goods and services from related mainland entities at artificially inflated prices.

The amended AMT provided for a graduated corporate tax on goods sold or transferred to the corporate taxpayer by a related party or home office outside of Puerto Rico (for example, Wal-Mart's offices in the mainland US selling to Wall-Mart Puerto Rico). The top rate, 6.5%, applied to corporate taxpayers with $2.75 billion or more in gross sales. Wal-Mart was the only company big enough to be subject to this rate. Moreover, "[f]or a retailer like Wal-Mart PR that engages in a high volume of transactions with low profit margins on each item sold, this feature of the AMT can result in a particularly high tax liability relative to income."

Wal-Mart sued, and the First Circuit struck the tax. The court said that the tax plainly discriminated against interstate commerce, because it taxed only interstate transactions. Moreover, the court said that the amended AMT wasn't the only way (and therefore wasn't necessary) to meet Puerto Rico's interest in stopping profit shifting:

The amended AMT is a blunt and unnecessary overinclusive approach to combating profit-shifting abuse. It essentially establishes an irrebuttable presumption that all intercorporate transfers to a Puerto Rico branch from related mainland activities are fraudulently priced to evade taxes. In fact, the Secretary all but admits that there are narrower alternatives that target profit-shifting. . . . Having identified numerous less restrictive alternatives to advance Puerto Rico's legitimate local purpose, we hold that the AMT is a facially discriminatory law that does not survive heightened scrutiny under the dormant Commerce Clause.

August 25, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sixth Circuit Holds Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act is Unconstitutional Ex Post Facto Law

In its opinion in Doe v. Snyder, the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the 2006 and 2011 amendments of Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA), as retroactively applied to plaintiffs violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, United States Constitution, Art. I §10, cl. 1.

The Ex Post Facto Clause only applies to retroactive punishment, and the opinion notes that under the United States Supreme Court's Smith v. Doe (2003), upholding Alaska's SORA, the test is "quite fixed": "an ostensibly civil and regulatory law, such as SORA, does not violate the Ex Post Facto clause unless the plaintiff can show 'by the clearest proof' that 'what has been denominated a civil remedy' is, in fact, 'a criminal penalty.'"

Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the unanimous panel, applied the Smith v. Doe test for determining whether a statute that does not have a punitive intent nevertheless has actual punitive effects, including five factors:

  • Does the law inflict what has been regarded in our history and traditions as punishment?
  • Does it impose an affirmative disability or restraint?
  • Does it promote the traditional aims of punishment?
  • Does it have a rational connection to a non-punitive purpose?
  • Is it excessive with respect to this purpose?

Grand Rapids mapIn considering the history factor, the court relied on an amicus brief from law professors and discussed the relationship of SORA to ancient punishments of banishment.  To this end, the court reproduced a map for Grand Rapids Michigan, illustrating (in blue) where persons under SORA were now prohibited from living, working, or traveling.  

The map also figured into the court's conclusions regarding the other factors, including the rational relationship.  Indeed, the court found that SORA may actually increase recidivism rates and that "Tellingly, nothing the parties have pointed to in the record suggests that the residential restrictions have any beneficial effect on recidivism rates."

There were other constitutional challenges to SORA, but the court seemingly found the Ex Post Facto argument most determinative. The court's originalist theoretical perspective on the Ex Post Facto Clause is  striking:

Indeed, the fact that sex offenders are so widely feared and disdained by the general public implicates the core counter- majoritarian principle embodied in the Ex Post Facto clause. As the founders rightly perceived, as dangerous as it may be not to punish someone, it is far more dangerous to permit the government under guise of civil regulation to punish people without prior notice. Such lawmaking has “been, in all ages, [a] favorite and most formidable instrument[] of tyranny.” The Federalist No. 84, supra at 444 (Alexander Hamilton). It is, as Justice Chase argued, incompatible with both the words of the Constitution and the underlying first principles of “our free republican governments.” Calder, 3 U.S. at 388–89; accord The Federalist No. 44, supra at 232 (James Madison) (“[E]x post facto laws . . . are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation.”).

 Thus, while the court acknowledged that the Smith v. Doe test was a difficult one to meet, "difficult is not the same as impossible" and Smith v. Doe should not "be understood to write a blank check to states to do whatever they please in this arena." Most likely, Michigan will disagree and seek United States Supreme Court review to ask the Court to clarify its understanding.




August 25, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Sixth Circuit's Mixed Ruling on First Amendment Challenges to Kentucky's Ethics Code for Judicial Elections

In its opinion in Winter v. Wolnitzek authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton for the unanimous Sixth Circuit panel, the court considered eight provisions of the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct against facial and as-applied First Amendment challenges after first concluding that there was a sufficient case or controversy under Article III.

The court applies strict scrutiny to the State's efforts to regulate the campaign speech of judicial candidates under the United States Supreme Court's decision last year in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar.  In Williams-Yulee, the no direct solicitation of contributions prohibition survived and a few of the provisions in Winter likewise survive.  The Kentucky Supreme Court, pursuant to a certification proceeding, rendered its interpretation on three of the canons.

In succinct fashion - - - the analysis of the eight provisions is less than ten manuscript pages - - - the court determined the constitutional status of the varying prohibitions as follows:


  • The campaigning clause, which prohibits a candidate for judicial office from campaigning as a member of a political organization was ruled unconstitutional as vague and overbroad.  Although the Kentucky Supreme Court had clarified this provision to mean that the candidate cannot portray themselves, either directly or by implication, as "the official nominee" of the party.  The court held there was too much slippage here, so that the use of a definitive article ("the Republican candidate") was not necessarily an endorsement as official nominee, especially when combined with other terms ("the moderate Republican candidate.")
  • The speeches clause, which prohibited judicial candidates from making speeches for or against a political party, was unconstitutional as not narrowly tailored.  The court noted that this does not prohibit a tweet for or against a political party, and distinguished a prohibition of judicial candidates from making speeches on behalf of a political organization (as the Ninth Circuit upheld).
  • The contributions clause, which prohibits judicial candidates from making financial contributions to a political organization or candidate was upheld.  Not withstanding the court's recognition that "money is speech" under Buckley v. Valeo.  The court held that this clause "narrowly serves the Commonwealth’s compelling interest in preventing the appearance that judicial candidates are no different from other elected officials when it comes to quid pro quo politics." On this, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district judge.
  • The endorsements clause, which prohibits judicial candidates from publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for public office was likewise constitutional.  Again, the court stressed the quid pro quo nature of endorsements.
  • The "acting as a leader" clause, which prohibits a judge from acting as a leader or holding any office in a political organization was constitutional on its face as well as-applied to the request to host a political event that is a fundraiser.  The fundraiser, the court reasoned, brings the judge's impartiality into question.
  • The false statements clause, prohibiting judicial candidates from making false statements with knowledge or reckless disregard of the truth is perhaps the most interesting result.  The court distinguishes another Sixth Circuit case - - - Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus - - - which was not only not limited to material statements (as it was by the Kentucky Supreme Court's certification opinion), but also makes the Williams-Yulee distinction between political and judicial candidates.  However, the court found that as-applied to a judicial candidate's statement to be "re-elected" when in fact she occupied the judicial position because of appointment rather than election, the provision was unconstitutional.  The ban there "outstrips" the government interest and did not provide sufficient "breathing space."
  • The commits clause, prohibiting judicial candidates from making pledges or promises, was remanded.  This was not a provision that was certified to the Kentucky state supreme court and the Sixth Circuit panel implied that it should be.  The problem is determining whether an "issue-based" commitment is inconsistent with the impartial performance of judicial duties, with the Sixth Circuit panel stating that if "Kentucky interprets “impartiality” to mean solely “impartiality as to parties,” the clause may well advance a compelling interest and do so narrowly."

The court ends its opinion, as it began, by acknowledging the "cross-currents" of First Amendment challenges to judicial, rather than political, campaigns.  The court navigated surely and perhaps overly-speedily through the multiple issues landing with mixed results.  It does seem that the court will be visiting this terrain again.

August 24, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Upholds Upholds California Ban on Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy Against Religion Clauses Challenge

In a sequel to the Ninth Circuit's 2013 decision in Pickup v. Brown upholding California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit upheld the same law against a facial challenge based upon the First Amendment's Religion Clauses in its relatively brief opinion in  Welch v. Brown.

The panel in Welsh - - - the same panel as in Pickup - - - held that the SB 1172 violated neither the Establishment Clause nor the Free Exercise Clause.  The panel rejected the challengers' interpretation of the law as applying to members of the clergy because the law specifically exempts religious clergy "as long as they do not hold themselves out as operating pursuant" to any therapist licenses. 

The panel also rejected the contention that the law has the primary effect of inhibiting religion. That some minors who seek sexual orientation conversion may have religious motivations does not rise to the level of an inhibition of religion, especially given that the law was not targeted at religious motivated conduct.  The panel noted that the law's legislative findings focused on "social stigmatization" and "family rejection" rather than religiosity.  The panel likewise rejected the Free Exercise Clause claim that the law was not neutral as to religion based on the same rationales and cited the Third Circuit's similar conclusion regarding New Jersey's prohibition of sexual conversion therapy in King v. Christie.

The court also reiterated its rejection of any "privacy" claim based on its previous analysis in Pickup.

So far, challenges to state prohibitions of sexual conversion therapy for minors have had little success.


 [image via]


August 24, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Disability, Due Process (Substantive), Establishment Clause, Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ninth Circuit Deals LA Hotel Workers a Win in Wage Preemption Dispute

The Ninth Circuit ruled in American Hotel and Lodging Association v. City of Los Angeles that federal labor law did not preempt LA's ordinance requiring a minimum wage for certain hotel workers in the city.

The ruling is a win for the city and for covered hotel workers. It denies the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction, but in terms that, as a practical matter, put an end to these claims. (The court ruled that federal law did not preempt, not only that that it likely did not preempt (the usual preliminary injunction standard). So the ruling tees up a city motion to dismiss these claims on the merits. And unless the plaintiffs have other claims, this ruling tees up a city motion to dismiss the entire case.)

The case arose when LA enacted an ordinance that required large hotels in the city, and smaller hotels near LAX, to pay workers $15.37 an hour (and provide other minimum benefits), unless they were covered by a collective bargaining agreement (the "collective-bargaining exemption"), and unless this wage would drive an employer into bankruptcy (the "hardship waiver"). American Hotel and Lodging Association and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association sued, arguing that the entire wage ordinance and the collective-bargaining exemption were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, because they interfered with labor-management relations. The plaintiffs pointed to Machinists preemption (named for Int'l Ass'n of Machinists v. Wis. Emp't Relations Comm'n) which says that the NLRA implicitly preempts state restrictions on "self-help," like a strike or lock-out--things that "regulate the mechanics of labor dispute resolution." The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction on this theory.

The Ninth Circuit flatly rejected the claim. The Ninth Circuit said that "[m]inimum labor standards, such as minimum wages, are not subject to Machinists preemption":

Such minimum labor standards affect union and nonunion employees equally, neither encouraging nor discouraging the collective bargaining processes covered by the NLRA. Minimum labor standards do technically interfere with labor-management relations and may impact labor or management unequally, much in the same way that California's at-will employment may favor employers over employees. Nevertheless, these standards are not preempted, because they do not "regulate the mechanics of labor dispute resolution."

The court said that minimum standards are merely background conditions of collective bargaining, not interferences with collective bargaining.

As to the collective-bargaining exemption, the court was even more direct, merely citing Lividas v. Bradshaw and its language that says that "familiar and narrowly drawn opt-out provisions" for collective bargaining agreements are valid, because they do not impact rights to collective bargaining.

August 23, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

District Judge Rules RFRA Exemption in Transgender Title VII Case

In his opinion and order in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, United States District Judge Sean Cox of the Eastern District of Michigan, the judge held that the funeral home is "entitled to a RFRA exemption from Title VII and the body of sex-stereotyping case law that has developed under it."

The funeral home, a for-profit closely-held corporation, relied upon the United States Supreme Court's closely-divided and controversial decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) which allowed a religious exemption under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement in the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage. 

800px-Snow_White_Coffin_CarriedRather than contraception, the issue in Harris Funeral Homes is the funeral home's sex-specific dress code and its termination of Stephens, an employee transitioning from male to female for failure to wear the mandated male-specific clothing.  The primary shareholder of the funeral home, Thomas Rost, stated his beliefs that the Bible teaches "that a person's sex is an immutable God-given gift" and "that is wrong for a biological male to deny his sex by dressing as a woman."  More importantly for his RFRA claim, Rost stated that he himself “would be violating God’s commands” if he were to permit one of the Funeral Home’s biologically-male-born funeral directors to wear the skirt-suit uniform for female directors while at work, because Rost “would be directly involved in supporting the idea that sex is a changeable social construct rather than an immutable God-given gift.”

Recall that under RFRA, a threshold question is whether the person's religious belief are sincerely held.  Hobby Lobby having determined that a company's major shareholder's belief is the relevant one, the EEOC conceded that the "Funeral Home's religious beliefs are sincerely held."  The next question is whether the neutral law of general applicability - - - here, Title VII - - - is a substantial burden on the person's religious beliefs.  The district judge found that allowing an employee to wear a skirt would impose a substantial burden on the ability of Rost to conduct his business in accordance with his sincerely held religious beliefs and that the economic consequences of back pay would be "severe."  The burden then shifts in RFRA to the government to satisfy strict scrutiny as well as a least restrictive means requirement.  Recall that the stated purpose of Congress in passing RFRA was to "restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner" (1964),  which Congress believed the Court had departed from in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), although Congress also added the "least restrictive means" language.

And in his Harris Funeral Homes decision, Judge Cox ultimately relied on the least restrictive means requirement. However, first Judge Cox treated the traditional strict scrutiny questions.  Judge Cox assumed "without deciding" that the EEOC had a compelling governmental interest, although Judge Cox expressed doubts whether this was true.  Indeed, Judge Cox interpreted the passage in Hobby Lobby stating that the decision provided "no such shield" to equal employment laws (and thus refuting a claim made by the dissent) as essentially dicta:

This Court does not read that paragraph as indicating that a RFRA defense can never prevail as a defense to Title VII or that Title VII is exempt from the focused analysis set forth by the majority. If that were the case, the majority would presumably have said so. It did not.

Moreover, Judge Cox relied on Hobby Lobby to contend that a general interest in ending employment discrimination is not sufficient, it must be focused on the particular person burdened: "even if the Government can show that the law is in furtherance of a generalized or broad compelling interest, it must still demonstrate the compelling interest is satisfied through application of the law to the Funeral Home under the facts of this case." (italics in original).  Although Judge Cox wrote that he "fails to see how the EEOC has met its requisite 'to the person'-focused showing," he nevertheless stated he would assume it was met.

As to the least restrictive means, Judge Cox's solution is a gender-neutral dress code:

Yet the EEOC has not challenged the Funeral Home’s sex-specific dress code, that requires female employees to wear a skirt-suit and requires male employees to wear a suit with pants and a neck tie, in this action. If the EEOC were truly interested in eliminating gender stereotypes as to clothing in the workplace, it presumably would have attempted to do so.

Rather than challenge the sex-specific dress code, the EEOC takes the position that Stephens has the right, under Title VII, to “dress as a woman” or wear “female clothing” while working at the Funeral Home. That is, the EEOC wants Stephens to be permitted to dress in a stereotypical feminine manner (wearing a skirt-suit), in order to express Stephens’s gender identity.

If the EEOC truly has a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that Stephens is not subject to gender stereotypes in the workplace in terms of required clothing at the Funeral Home, couldn’t the EEOC propose a gender-neutral dress code (dark-colored suit, consisting of a matching business jacket and pants, but without a neck tie) as a reasonable accommodation that would be a less restrictive means of furthering that goal under the facts presented here? Both women and men wear professional-looking pants and pants-suits in the workplace in this country, and do so across virtually all professions.

[footnotes omitted].

Of course, the courts have not ruled favorably on challenges to sex-specific dress and grooming codes in the employment context. 

Interestingly, Judge Cox also rejected the EEOC's gender discrimination claim based on the funeral home company's clothing allowance policy: there is a monetary clothing allowance to male employees but not female employees.  Judge Cox found that this issue was not properly brought by the EEOC. 

The EEOC is sure to appeal.  If individual employers can claim exemptions to Title VII under RFRA, it could have widespread consequences.

Although it is also possible that a new Congress could amend RFRA.

 [image via]

August 18, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

District Judge Rejects WaPo's Motion to Unseal Records in Spin-Off of D.C. Campaign Finance Investigation

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell (D.D.C.) today rejected the Washington Post's motion to unseal certain records in a criminal investigation that amounted to a spin-off of the U.S. Attorney's Office investigation into campaign finance violations during the 2010 D.C. mayoral election.

The case revolves around Jeffrey E. Thompson, a fundraiser for former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. Thompson and others were prosecuted as part of the U.S. Attorney's Office's investigation into campaign finance shenanigans in the 2010 mayoral election. (Thompson was just sentenced to three months in prison, $10,000 in fines, and 36 months of probation.) Some of the warrants in that case were sealed, and the Post moved successful to unseal them.

While pressing the campaign finance case, the U.S. Attorney's Office uncovered other, potentially criminal information about Thompson. In particular, the Post claimed that the Office uncovered information about Thompson's sexual relationships and his efforts to conceal them. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Thompson, but the Office told the court that the information could have been used to undermine Thompson's credibility as a witness in the campaign finance case. (Indeed, the government ultimately did not sponsor Thompson as a witness.)

WaPo moved to unseal the warrants in the second investigation, arguing that these were really a part of its initial request for warrants in the campaign finance investigation (because the information in the second investigation was directly linked to the campaign finance investigation by way of Thompson's credibility as a witness).

But despite having granted WaPo's motion for warrants in the campaign finance investigation, the court denied WaPo's motion for the second set of warrants. The court explained that while the First Amendment provides a qualified right of access to judicial records, the interests weighed differently here. As to the individual privacy interests:

First, the mere association with alleged criminal activity as the subject or target of a criminal investigation carries a stigma that implicates an individual's reputational interest. Second, the substance of the allegations of criminal conduct may reveal details about otherwise private activities that significantly implicate an individual's privacy interests, particularly when those allegations touch on intimate or otherwise salacious details of private affairs. Finally, where, as here, a criminal investigation does not result in an indictment or other prosecution, a due process interest arises from an individual being accused of a crime without being provided a forum in which to refute the government's accusations.

As to the law enforcement interests:

While Thompson's identity and assistance to the [U.S. Attorney's Office] has now been publicly acknowledged, the government's interest in preserving its ability to work with witnesses to obtain information regarding suspected crimes is directly implicated by the Post's request for additional disclosure in this case.

The court also rejected the Post's argument for open judicial records under the common law.

The ruling means that WaPo won't get any sealed information from the second investigation into Thompson, unless and until it successfully appeals.

August 18, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

CFP: Feminist Legal Theory at Law and Society in Mexico City

The Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network of Law & Society is a great group and Law & Society is always terrific.  Here's the call:


Call for Papers – Friday September 16th Deadline

The Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network

Seeks submissions for the

Law and Society Association Annual Meeting

Mexico City, Mexico, at the Sheraton Maria Isabel, June 20 – 23, 2017

Dear friends and colleagues,

We invite you to participate in the panels sponsored by the Feminist Legal Theory Collaborative Research Network at the Law and Society Annual Meeting in 2017. The Feminist Legal Theory CRN seeks to bring together law and society scholars across a range of fields who are interested in feminist legal theory. Information about the Law and Society meeting is available at

2017Mex_375This year’s meeting is unique in that it brings us to the Global South, and invites us to explore the theme Walls, Borders, and Bridges: Law and Society in an Inter-Connected World. We are especially interested in proposals that explore the application of feminist legal theory to this theme, broadly construed. This might include papers that explore feminist legal theory in comparative or transnational contexts, as well as in relation to the impacts of globalism and other intersections within particular locations, relationships, institutions, and identities. We are also interested in papers that will permit us to collaborate with other CRNs, such as the Critical Research on Race and the Law CRN, and welcome multidisciplinary proposals.

Our goal is to stimulate focused discussion of papers on which scholars are currently working. Thus, while you may submit papers that are closer to publication, we are particularly eager to receive proposals for works-in-progress that are at an earlier stage and will benefit from the discussion that the panels will provide.

The Planning Committee will assign individual papers to panels based on subject. Panels will use the LSA format, which requires four papers. We will also assign a chair, and one or two commentators/discussants for each panel, to provide feedback on the papers and promote discussion. For panels with two commentators/discussants, one may be asked to also chair.

As a condition of participating as a panelist, you must also agree to serve as a chair and/or commentator/discussant for another panel or participant. We will of course take into account expertise and topic preferences to the degree possible.

The duties of chairs are to organize the panel logistically; including registering it online with the LSA, and moderating the panel. Chairs will develop a 100-250 word description for the session and submit the session proposal to LSA before their anticipated deadline of October 19. This will ensure that each panelist can submit their proposal, using the panel number assigned.

The duties of commentator/discussants are to read the papers assigned to them and to prepare a short commentary about the papers that discusses them individually and (to the extent relevant) collectively, identifying ways that they relate to one another.

If you would like to present a paper as part of a CRN panel, please email:

  • An 1000 word abstract or summary,
  • Your name and a title, and
  • A list of your areas of interest and expertise within feminist legal theory

to the CRN Planning Committee at (Please do not send submissions to individual committee members.)

Note that LSA is imposing a requirement that your summary be at least 1,000 words long. Although a shorter summary will suffice for our purposes, you will be required to upload a 1,000 word summary in advance of LSA’s anticipated deadline of October 19. If you are already planning a LSA session with at least four panelists (and papers) that you would like to see included in the Feminist Legal Theory CRN, please let the Committee know.

In addition to these panels, we may try to use some of the other formats that the LSA provides: the “author meets readers” format, salon, or roundtable discussion. If you have an idea that you think would work well in one of these formats, please let us know. Please note that for roundtables, organizers are now required to provide a 500-word summary of the topic and the contributions they expect the proposed participants to make. Please also note that LSA rules limit you to participating only once as a paper panelist or roundtable participant.

Please submit all proposals by Friday, September 16 to the email provided above. This will permit us to organize panels and submit them prior to the LSA’s anticipated deadline of October 19. In the past, we have accommodated as many panelists as possible, but have been unable to accept all proposals. If we are unable to accept your proposal for the CRN, we will notify you by early October so that you can submit an independent proposal to LSA.

We hope you’ll join us in Mexico City to share and discuss the scholarship in which we are all engaged and connect with others doing work on feminist legal theory.


2017 LSA Feminist Legal Theory CRN Planning Committee

Aziza Ahmed & Elizabeth MacDowell (co-chairs)


August 18, 2016 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Conferences, Gender, Scholarship, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Seventh Circuit Says Criminal Possession of Cocaine Near "Youth Program Center" is Vague

The Seventh Circuit ruled this week that language in a state statute criminalizing the possession of cocaine near a "youth program center" was unconstitutionally vague. The ruling sends this case of hyper-aggressive prosecution back for resentencing (though the criminal law has been repealed).

The case arose when police arrested Walker Whatley at his father's home on an unrelated charge. The officer discovered a bag with just over three grams of cocaine in Whatley's pocket. Ordinarily, this would have constituted a Class C felony under state law, with a sentence of two to eight years. But because Whatley's dad lived 795 feet from the Robinson Community Church, Whatley was charged with a Class A felony of possessing more than three grams of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a "youth program center"--a charge that brought 20 to 50 years. Whatley was convicted and got 35 years--more than four times the maximum sentence for a Class C felony.

Whatley appealed through the state courts, and then brought a federal habeas claim. The district court rejected that claim, however, ruling that Whatley defaulted.

The Seventh Circuit reversed. The court ruled that the statute was unconstitutionally vague, because it defined "youth program center" as a facility with "regular" youth programs, and because "regular" didn't put a person of ordinary intelligence on notice of what was illegal. (The church hosted youth programs, but only a few times a week, and only for a few hours at a time.)

The court rejected the state court's reasoning that fair notice wasn't required, because the statute created strict liability; the court said that reasoning was "inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent that requires fair notice for all criminal statutes." "The lack of an intent element in the statute does not cure the vagueness problem; it makes it worse by making unknowing defendants absolutely liable for violating an indeterminate standard," that is, the definition of "youth program center."

The very harsh sentencing also played a factor:

In sum, a triad of factors convince us that the state courts were not simply wrong but unreasonable in applying federal law on vagueness in Whatley's case: (1) the use of the word "regular" in the definition of "youth program center" provides no objective standard, and thereby fails to place persons of ordinary intelligence on notice of the conduct proscribed and allows for arbitrary enforcement; (2) defendants are strictly liable for violating the terms of this nebulous sentencing enhancement, exacerbating the effect of the subjectivity; and (3) the consequences of violating this indeterminate strict liability provision are extreme: an increase in the sentencing range from 2-to-8 years to 20-to-50 years' imprisonment.

August 17, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Texas Attorney General Opinion: Prayer to Start Court Is Constitutional

Controversial Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion today that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause is not violated if court were opened with a prayer.  He stated:

A court would likely conclude that a Justice of the Peace's practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain as you describe is sufficiently similar to the facts in Galloway such that the practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.

Galloway is the United States Supreme Court's sharply divided 2014 opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway which involved a town board meeting. Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court in Galloway repeated referred to the issue as whether the "legislative prayer" approved by the Court in Marsh v. Chambers (1983) as part of a historical practice extended to a local legislature, despite the fact that some non-legislative functions occurred at the town board.  In the dissent for four Justices, Justice Kagan essentially argued that a prayer at the beginning of a trial was clearly unconstitutional.  Indeed, in his separate concurring opinion, Justice Alito seemingly agreed:

I am troubled by the message that some readers may take from the principal dissent’s rhetoric and its highly imaginative hypotheticals. For example, the principal dissent conjures up the image of a litigant awaiting trial who is asked by the presiding judge to rise for a Christian prayer, of an official at a polling place who conveys the expectation that citizens wishing to vote make the sign of the cross before casting their ballots, and of an immigrant seeking naturalization who is asked to bow her head and recite a Christian prayer. Although I do not suggest that the implication is intentional, I am concerned that at least some readers will take these hypotheticals as a warning that this is where today’s decision leads—to a country in which religious minorities are denied the equal benefits of citizenship.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All that the Court does today is to allow a town to follow a practice that we have previously held is permissible for Congress and state legislatures. In seeming to suggest otherwise, the principal dissent goes far astray.

At least for Attorney General Ken Paxton,  Justice Kagan's hypothetical was not as "highly imaginative" as Justice Alito averred.  Paxton's opinion recognizes that the only United States Circuit court opinion to directly consider the issue, North Carolina Civil Liberties Union Legal Found. v. Constangy (4th Cir. 1991), found opening court with prayers unconstitutional, but Paxton opines "other courts deciding the issue may disagree with Constangy that prayer in judicial settings lacks historical foundation."  Thus, Paxton states that "a Justice of the Peace's practice of opening daily court proceedings with a prayer by a volunteer chaplain," would  not violate the Establishment Clause.


[image: Henry VIII at prayer with Black Book of the Garter via ]


August 15, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Interpretation, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Requires Proof to Challenge Open Primary

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Democratic Party of Hawaii v. Nago that the plaintiff failed sufficiently to prove that Hawaii's open primary violated its First Amendment right of association. The ruling dismisses the case and keeps the state's open primary system in place.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii challenged Hawaii's open primary system as a facial violation of its associational rights. But the Party declined to submit evidence in support (showing, for example, that cross-over primary voters would influence the positions of candidates and result in candidates not supported by the Democrats), and maintained its position that the courts could decide the claim as a pure matter of law.

The courts disagreed. The Ninth Circuit said that the plaintiff had to submit proof to show that an open primary system infringed on associational rights--that the claim turns on a question of fact. And because the Democrats failed to provide any proof, their facial challenge had to fail.

August 15, 2016 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Denies Rehearing in California Concealed Carry Case

The Ninth Circuit today denied rehearing of its en banc decision in Peruta v. County of San Diego, upholding California's "good cause" requirement for a concealed carry permit against a Second Amendment challenge.

The ruling is a significant win for advocates of restricted and regulated concealed carry.

Recall that the full Ninth Circuit rejected the Second Amendment challenge to the "good cause" requirement earlier this summer. Plaintiffs petitioned for a rehearing, but the court denied it.

The ruling ends the case at the Ninth Circuit. The plaintiff's only option now is to petition for Supreme Court review. But without a ninth justice, the Court (if it accepted the case) would almost surely split 4-4, leaving the Ninth Circuit ruling in place--that is, leaving things exactly as they are now.

The plaintiffs petitioned for rehearing by arguing that the en banc majority mistakenly ruled that the Second Amendment doesn't protect a right to concealed carry (when the case was in fact about whether the "good cause" requirement infringed on the plaintiffs' right to carry at all outside the home); that the majority's approach conflicts with other courts; that the majority's approach "impermissibly relegates the Second Amendment to Second-class Status"; and that the "Decision Unnecessarily Intrudes on the Prerogatives of the State."

Today's two-page Order doesn't specifically address those claims; it simply rejects the plaintiffs' petition for rehearing.

The Ninth Circuit's case page is here, with all appellate court filings.

August 15, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Second Amendment | Permalink | Comments (2)

ACS Calls for Papers at Junior Scholars Public Law Workshop at AALS

This year the American Constitution Society is doing something new at the AALS annual meeting in San Francisco: a public law workshop for junior-ish scholars (legal academics with 10 years or less in full-time teaching).

The announcement explains: "A committee composed of members of ACS’s Board of Academic Advisors will select 10 papers and each selected author will have the opportunity to discuss his/her paper in depth with two experienced scholars, from a group that includes Erwin Chemerinsky, Pamela Karlan, Bill Marshall, Reva Siegel, Mark Tushnet, and Adam Winkler."

It's the afternoon of January 5th in San Francisco. Submissions are due October 15th. More information is available here.

August 15, 2016 in Conferences, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 13, 2016

NYT on Executive Power in the Obama Administration

Check out the first of a planned six-part series on executive power under President Obama by Binyamin Appelbaum and Michael D. Shear at the NYT. The first part deals with federal regulations; here's a taste:

Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.

Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted--one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency. But once Mr. Obama got the taste for it, he pursued his executive power without apology, and in ways that will shape the presidency for decades to come.

August 13, 2016 in Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Sixth Circuit Foils FCC Effort to Expand Broadband Coverage through Preemption

The Sixth Circuit ruled this week in State of Tennessee v. FCC that the Federal Communications Commission lacked statutory authority to preempt states' laws that restricted municipalities from providing broadband Internet service outside their boundaries.

The ruling means that the FCC can't require states to permit municipalities to provide service outside their boundaries, at least in the Sixth Circuit, and at least unless and until Congress specifically authorizes the FCC to preempt in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Because areas outside the boundaries of these particular municipalities are unserved or under-served areas, the ruling also means that certain regions outside the municipalities' boundaries will continue to go with inadequate Internet service.

The case arose when Tennessee and North Carolina implemented restrictions on municipalities' ability to provide Internet service outside their territorial boundaries. Two municipalities in those states complained to the FCC, because they saw benefits to providing service, and thus wanted to provide service, outside their boundaries. The municipalities appealed to the FCC to preempt state laws restricting broader service.

The FCC responded by finding that broader service would serve the interests of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (expanded broadband access, and all the benefits that this brings to communities), and by issuing an order preempting the portions of the state laws that prohibited municipalities from providing access beyond their boarders.

The states sued, arguing that the FCC lacked authority to preempt under the Act's preemption provision, Section 706. The court agreed.

The court said that the FCC's order ran headlong into the "Clear Statement Rule" and Nixon. Under the Clear Statement Rule, the FCC can't preempt a state action that allocates state decision-making; under Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, that rule applies when a federal government preemption action "interpos[es] federal authority between a State and its municipal subdivisions," which, the Court said, "are created as convenient agencies for exercising such of the governmental powers of the State as may be entrusted to them in its absolute discretion." As the Sixth Circuit said,

Any attempt by the federal government to interpose itself into this state-subdivision relationship therefore must come about by a clear directive from Congress, and the FCC can only pick the decision maker here if there exists a clear statement to do so in Section 706.

According to the court, Section 706 contains no such clear statement.

So despite the Act's ambitious goals and broad delegation to the FCC to achieve those goals, the court said that the Act stops short of authorizing the FCC to preempt state laws restricting Internet access beyond a municipality's boarders.

Nothing in the ruling requires a state to adopt this kind of restriction, however, or forbids a state from specifically authorizing a municipality to expand access. But when it does--as Tennessee and North Carolina have done--the FCC cannot preempt it, at least in the Sixth Circuit, and at least unless and until Congress gives the FCC specific authorization to do so.

(The North Carolina case was in the Fourth Circuit when that court transferred it to the Sixth Circuit for consolidation with the Tennessee case.)

August 12, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Officer's Allegations of Misconduct are Protected Speech

The Seventh Circuit ruled today in Kristofek v. Village of Orland Hills that a police officer's allegation of official misconduct in the higher ranks was protected speech under the First Amendment.

The ruling reverses the district court on the point and on its companion ruling that the police chief enjoyed qualified immunity. But the court rejected the officer's municipal liability claim.

The case arose when a part-time police officer, Kristofek, complained to colleagues and then to the FBI that a driver that he cited and detained may have been released, and charges dropped, because of official misconduct. (The driver's mother, a former township trustee, successfully intervened with local politicians and the police on behalf of her son. Kristofek thought that this might constitute official misconduct, based on a misconduct training that he attended.) Police Chief Scully then fired Kristofek.

Kristofek sued, arguing that his termination in retaliation for protected speech violated the First Amendment, and that the township was liable under Monell. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants.

The Seventh Circuit reversed on the First Amendment claim. The court ruled that Kristofek spoke as a private citizen on a matter of public concern when he complained to his colleagues and to the FBI, and that the Pickering balance favored his speech. The court also denied qualified immunity to Scully.

But the court rejected Kristofek's Monell claim, because Scully didn't have authority to unilaterally fire Kristofek or to set department firing policy.

The ruling sends the case back for proceedings consistent with the opinion. But it also assigns the case to a new judge.

August 11, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

D.C. Circuit Rejects Appointments-Clause Challenge to SEC ALJs

The D.C. Circuit yesterday rejected a constitutional challenge to Security and Exchange Commission Administrative Law Judges, ruling that SEC ALJs are not "officers" or "inferior officers" whose appointments need to meet the requirements of the Appointments Clause.

The court also rejected a broadside attack against the way the D.C. Circuit analyzes whether any ALJ (SEC or not) is subject to the Appointments Clause.

The petitioner's challenge was novel and sweeping. A ruling in its favor could have been quite significant, potentially threatening the authority of SEC ALJs, certain ALJs in other agencies, and possibly even ALJs across the board (at least insofar as their appointments don't satisfy the Appointments Clause). But the petitioner's novel claims ran up against circuit law. The ruling is thus a decisive win, if not a totally unpredictable one, for the government.

The case turned on whether SEC ALJs are "officers" (who, under Article II, require presidential nomination and advice and consent of the Senate), "inferior officers" (who, under Article II, may be appointed by the President alone, the courts, or the head of a department, depending on what Congress says), or just employees (who are not covered by the Appointments Clause). Under circuit law, the line between "inferior officers" and employees, in turn, depends on (1) the significance of the matters resolved by the officials, (2) the discretion they exercise, and (3) the finality of their decisions.

The court said that decisions of SEC ALJs are not final under the third prong, and therefore SEC ALJs are employees, not subject to the Appointments Clause. That's because under the law the SEC itself makes the final decision, even if only by passively adopting an ALJ's decision. The court explained:

Until the Commission determines not to order review, within the time allowed by its rules, there is no final decision that can "be deemed the action of the Commission." As the Commission has emphasized, the initial decision becomes final when, and only when, the Commission issues the finality order, and not before then. Thus, the Commission must affirmatively act--by issuing the order--in every case. The Commission's final action is either in the form of a new decision after de novo review, or, by declining to grant or order review, its embrace of the ALJ's initial decision as its own. In either event, the Commission has retained full decision-making powers, and the mere passage of time is not enough to establish finality. And even when there is not full review by the Commission, it is the act of issuing the finality order that makes the initial decision the action of the Commission within the meaning of the delegation statute. . . .

Put otherwise, the Commission's ALJs neither have been delegated sovereign authority to act independently of the Commission nor, by other means established by Congress, do they have the power to bind third parties, or the government itself, for the public benefit.

The court went on to uphold the Commission's finding of liability and sanctions against the petitioner on other grounds.

August 10, 2016 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Cases and Case Materials, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Court Boots Case by Libertarians and Greens to Participate in Presidential Debates

Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) on Friday dismissed a case by the Libertarian and Greens against the Commission on Presidential Debates and others challenging their exclusion from the 2012 presidential debates and seeking to participate in the 2016 debates.

The ruling is hardly a surprise, despite the plaintiffs' mighty efforts to navigate well settled precedent.

The Libertarians and Greens argued that their exclusion under the Commission's 15% rule (a candidate needs 15% support in the polls to participate) violated antitrust laws and the First Amendment. But Judge Collyer held that they lacked standing, and that they failed to state a claim.

Judge Collyer said that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because their injury (lack of electoral support) was too speculative and was not traceable to Commission action (on the First Amendment claim) and because their injury wasn't a harm to the market (on the antitrust claim).

Judge Collyer went on to say that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim, because the Commission isn't a government actor subject to the First Amendment (on the free speech claim) and because they failed to allege an injury to competition in a commercial market (on the antitrust claim).

Given the plaintiffs' attempts to navigate well settled First Amendment law, Judge Collyer's ruling sometimes reads like a law exam answer--covering everything from the public function exception to the state actor doctrine, to right-to-access laws, to forum analysis, to the Jaybird primaries.

Despite the plaintiffs' efforts, however, they still lost. The ruling means that the Libertarians and Greens won't be at the 2016 presidential debates, at least not by court order.

August 8, 2016 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

United States Supreme Court Stays Fourth Circuit Order in Transgender Bathroom Case

The Court today issued a stay in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board, the case from the Fourth Circuit concluding that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination,  20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity.  As we discussed,while the constitutional issues are not "front and center," the case implicates both the constitutional power of Executive branch agencies, federalism, and Equal Protection.

The stay opinion divides the Court, with Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan dissenting without opinion. 

Justice Breyer - - - the crucial vote for the majority - - - writes separately to concur stating that he votes to grant the stay "as a courtesy" joining the four other Justices to "preserve the status quo (as of the time the Court of Appeals made its decision)," meaning presumably, before the Fourth Circuit rendered its decision.


[Caricature image of Justice Breyer by Donkey Hotey via]

August 3, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Gender, Separation of Powers, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 1, 2016

Daily Pedagogy: Maintaining Scholarship While Teaching

It's August and ConLawProfs in the North America are thinking about classes for the Fall semester.  So, it's a good time to focus on pedagogy, as we'll be doing this month.

Yet if August brings the joys of contemplating going back in the classroom, it also brings the panic of impending deadlines, even if those deadlines are self-imposed.  The legal academy has a tradition - - - and often incentives  of "summer scholarship," although these may be fading given other pressures. 

One way to address the annual August anxieties is to reject the idea of a stark separation between "summer" and the "academic year," and look for synergies between scholarship and teaching that enliven both. I've tried to do this in an essay, Enhancing Reciprocal Synergies Between Teaching and Scholarship, published in the Journal of Legal Education last year and available - - - for now - - - on the once-open source ssrn. 

IMG_2295The article discusses the types of synergies that exist between teaching and scholarship for the legal academic  - - - the professional, methodological, theoretical and doctrinal - - - which are easily adaptable to other academics.  As is the overall suggestion that we should try to "pay attention" to the synergies between teaching and scholarship rather than viewing them as discrete, or even conflicting.

The article closes with a discussion of three "habits" of paying attention aimed at enhancing the reciprocal synergies between teaching and scholarship:  letting the subconscious work, commemorating one's thoughts & ideas, and engaging  - - - or not - - - in "daily practice."

August 1, 2016 in Scholarship, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)