Monday, June 6, 2016
The Supreme Court ruled today in Ross v. Blake that a state prisoner wasn't excused from exhausting administrative remedies under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act because of "special circumstances," but that he may be excused if administrative remedies are unavailable.
The ruling walks back a lower-court-created exception to the PLRA exhaustion requirement, but at the same time recognizes that PLRA statutory exhaustion only applies to "available" remedies. This is probably a net loss for state prisoners (because they can no longer excuse failure to exhaust based on "special circumstances"), but it means that the plaintiff's claim in this case will stay alive, at least through remand to the lower courts, on the question whether remedies were actually "available" to him. The ruling also gives some good language on what it means to be "available" under the PLRA--fodder, no doubt, for future prisoners defending against PLRA-failure-to-exhaust claims.
While the case is not directly constitutional, it certainly has implications for prisoner civil rights and access-to-justice.
In short, the plaintiff in the case, Shaidon Blake, brought a civil rights claim against a state prison official. The official moved to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. Blake countered that he did exhaust. As the case moved to the Supreme Court, it became clear that the administrative remedial scheme itself was, well, confused, and nobody could really say whether Blake exhausted or not.
The Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Blake, saying that court-created "special circumstances" excused any failure to exhaust, especially where an inmate, as here, reasonably believed that he had sufficiently exhausted his remedies.
But a unanimous Supreme Court rejected the Fourth Circuit's "special circumstances" approach. Justice Kagan, writing for the Court, said that the PLRA contained no "special circumstances" exception, and that the courts couldn't make it up.
But at the same time, the Court said that the PLRA itself required that a plaintiff exhaust only "available" remedies, and that there were serious questions in this case whether the remedies were, in fact, available. Indeed, the Court went on at some length describing why remedies may not have been available--providing a strong prompt to the lower court on remand to hold that they were not available (and therefore to excuse Blake's failure to exhaust).
The Court said that "special circumstances" and "availability" were two different questions. Because it's probably harder to show that a remedy is unavailable than that "special circumstances" excuse exhaustion, the ruling is probably a net loss for prisoners. But at the same time, the Court remanded Blake's case with pretty specific instructions and guidance for the lower court to determine that remedies were not available, and therefore that Blake's failure to exhaust (if any) was excused. In other words, Blake may well end up at the same place he was before his case went to the Court: Exhaustion excused, but this time for lack of available administrative remedies.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
In Clay, the Court reversed Ali's conviction for "willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces."
The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali's claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the "religious" requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970). The Department of Justice had stated:
‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant's claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’
However, the Department of Justice abandoned that argument before the United States Supreme Court:
In this Court the Government has now fully conceded that the petitioner's beliefs are based upon ‘religious training and belief,’ as defined in United States v. Seeger, ‘There is no dispute that petitioner's professed beliefs were founded on basic tenets of the Muslim religion, as he understood them, and derived in substantial part from his devotion to Allah as the Supreme Being. Thus, under this Court's decision in United States v. Seeger, his claim unquestionably was within the ‘religious training and belief’ clause of the exemption provision.' [quoting the DOJ Brief]. This concession is clearly correct. For the record shows that the petitioner's beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them. They are surely no less religiously based than those of the three registrants before this Court in Seeger. See also Welsh v. United States.
[citations and footnote omitted]
A unanimous Supreme Court thus reversed the conviction in a per curiam opinion. (Thurgood Marshall, who had been Solicitor General, recused himself).
Justice William Douglas, in his inimitable style, concurred separately with a discourse on the Koran and the meaning of “jihad.” Douglas concluded:"What Clay's testimony adds up to is that he believes only in war as sanctioned by the Koran, that is to say, a religious war against nonbelievers. All other wars are unjust."
Friday, June 3, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Friends of Animals v. Jewell that Congress did not violate separation of powers when it enacted legislation ordering the Fish and Wildlife Service to reinstate a categorical exemption for captive-bred animals under the Endangered Species Act.
The ruling is a blow to endangered-species advocates, because it permits the FWS to grant an exemption to the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without going through the previous individualized-exemption application process. In other words, FWS can now grant a blanket exemption to all holders of captive-bred endangered species without publicizing individual applications and individual exemptions--and also without allowing interested parties to weigh in.
The case arose when the FWS issued the Captive-Bred Exemption to the ESA's general prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species. The Exemption meant that all captive-bred herds of three antelope species got an automatic pass, without having to go through the individual-application process in Section 10(c) of the ESA.
But Friends sued, arguing that the Exemption violated Section 10(c) of the ESA. The district court agreed, citing the plain language of Section 10(c), which says, "[t]he Secretary shall publish notice in the Federal Register of each application for an exemption or permit which is made under this section." (Emphasis added.)
After the district court struck the Exemption, the FWS backed off and withdrew the Exemption. But then Congress passed "Section 127," which ordered the FWS to "reissue the final rule published on September 2005," that is, the Exemption.
Friends sued again, this time arguing that Section 127 violated separation of powers--in particular, the rules in Plaut v. Spendthrift Farm, Inc. and United States v. Klein. (These cases were on full view in the Court's recent ruling in Bank Markazi.) The lower court dismissed the case, and the D.C. Circuit today affirmed (although on slightly different grounds).
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 127 violated Plaut, because Section 127 is prospective legislation (and not a retroactive revival of a dismissed case, in violation of Plaut):
Section 127 is not retroactive legislation because it does not establish what the law was at an earlier time. Likewise, Section 127 does not apply to a case already decided and does not overturn the court's determination in [the earlier case]--it simply alters the prospective effect of [the ESA's prohibition on taking or possessing an endangered species without an individual exemption] by exempting U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species from the Act's . . . prohibitions going forward.
The court rejected Friends' argument that Section 27 violate Klein, because Section 127 simply "amends applicable law":
On the record before us, we have no trouble in concluding that Section 127 amended the applicable law and thus does not run afoul of Klein. Section 127 directed the Secretary of the Interior to reissue the Captive-Bred Exemption "without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule." By issuing this legislative directive, Congress made it clear that, with respect to U.S. captive-bred herds of the three antelope species, individual permits are no longer required to engage in activities otherwise prohibited by [the ESA].
The court also held that Friends had informational standing, based on the language of the ESA, which says that "[i]nformation received by the Secretary as part of any application [for an exemption] shall be available to the public as a matter of public record at every stage of the proceeding." According to the court, this was enough for Friends, an endangered-species advocacy organization, to assert informational standing.
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has made news by charging that United States District Judge Gonzalo Curiel has “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation about Trump University because Curiel is of Mexican heritage and Trump proclaims he is "building a wall" between the United States and Mexico: "It’s an inherent conflict of interest.” Trump's comments are reported in The Wall Street Journal here and The Washington Post (with video) here.
Recall the motions and eventual ruling regarding the federal district judge who heard the same-sex marriage trial, Perry v. Schwarzenegger; there was an argument he should be disqualified when he revealed he was gay. As the court stated, "The fact that a federal judge shares a fundamental characteristic with a litigant, or shares membership in a large association such as a religion, has been categorically rejected by federal courts as a sole basis for requiring a judge to recuse her or himself." Moreover, these allegations of bias usually seem to be leveled against persons who have not traditionally been members of the judiciary.
This is distinct from situations such as Caperton v. Massey Coal Co., a divided opinion in which the Court's majority held that the financial campaign contributions to an elected judge on the state's highest court mandated the judge's recusal as a matter of due process when the contributor was a litigant.
And it is distinct from the decision due this Term from the Court, Williams v. Pennsylvania, argued in February, in which the bias involves a justice on the state's highest court reviewing a habeas petition that includes allegations of prosecutorial misconduct when that justice happened to be the District Attorney.
The notion of an independent - - - and impartial - - - judiciary, whether state or federal, is fundamental, but where and how the lines should be drawn can be difficult. Chief Justice Roberts's dissenting opinion in Caperton illustrated the difficulties of line-drawing with 40 numbered issues (often containing multiple questions).
No one, however, seems to have argued that a litigant's beliefs, for example about Mexico, that have nothing to do with the actual matter of litigation, for example about alleged fraudulent practices at Trump University, could lead to a credible claim that of judicial bias because the judge happens to have Mexican heritage. If this were to be the rule, then some litigants with unsavory ideas would be able to claim bias against every judge.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
The Ninth Circuit yesterday revived a student group's First Amendment retaliation complaint against the Arizona Board of Regents for pulling the plug on the group's funding in response to the group's public advocacy.
The ruling keeps this free speech case alive and sends it back to the district court.
The case arose when the Arizona Students' Association used its student-generated fees to push a ballot initiative that would increase funding for public education. In response, the state Board of Regents, which collected the fees and distributed them to the ASA, decided to withhold the fees that it already collected for the Spring 2013 semester and to make it harder for the ASA to collect future fees.
The ASA sued, but the district court dismissed the case. The court said that the Board enjoyed immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and, in any event, the complaint failed to state a claim.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court ruled that the ASA could (and did) state a Young claim for injunctive relief, but that the group failed to name individual Board members, as required under Young. The court said that the lower court should have granted ASA's motion to amend its complaint in order to name individuals and to comply with Young.
As to the merits, the appeals court ruled that ASA stated a plausible First Amendment retaliation claim. The court rejected the arguments that the Board had no obligation to pay for ASA's speech in the first place and that the fees were not a valuable government benefit:
ABOR had no affirmative obligation to collect or remit the ASA fee, but having done so for fifteen years at no cost, ABOR could not deprive the ASA of the benefit of its fee collection and remittance services in retaliation for the ASA's exercise of its First Amendment rights. ABOR's fee collection falls within the range of government benefits we have previously recognized as sufficiently valuable to give rise to a retaliation claim. Indeed, the ASA alleged that its student fees were allocated to its efforts to exercise core political speech. As we have previously held in other First Amendment retaliation cases, and as we now hold in this case, the collection and remittance of funds is a valuable government benefit, and a change in policy undertaken for retaliatory purposes that results in the deprivation of those funds implicates the First Amendment.
A high school teacher confiscates a note passed in class containing rap lyrics with a racial slur and then engages the class in a well-intentioned but poorly executed discussion of why such words are hurtful and must not be used." The school board suspends the teacher under its "written policy that forbids teachers from using racial epithets in front of students, no matter what the purpose." Does the teacher have a First Amendment claim?
In its brief opinion today in Brown v. Chicago Board of Education, the Seventh Circuit unequivocally answers "no."
In short, the Court says, Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006) "dooms" the teacher's claim. Brown was speaking as a teacher - - - and not as a citizen - - - and thus even under Pickering v. Board of Education (1968), there is no First Amendment right in the public employment context.
As the court states, "Brown is indignant that he was suspended for using a racial slur while attempting to teach his students why such language is inappropriate. His frustration is understandable, but it is not legally actionable." [There's some good reporting from when the suit was filed about the incident and the teacher Lincoln Brown from The Chicago Reader]
The court says that "the Board may have acted in a short‐sighted way when it suspended him for his effort to educate the students about a sensitive and socially important issue, but it did not trample on his First Amendment rights.”
As Chief Judge Diane Wood begins her opinion, the school board's action is within the category of "stupid but constitutional." Wood refers to the late Justice Scalia's quip that all federal judges should have a stamp with that slogan.
Monday, May 23, 2016
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today in Wittman v. Personhubalah that three members of Congress from Virginia lacked standing to appeal a federal court's rejection of the state's districting plan. The ruling means that the district court's decision stays in place, and that districting plan designed by a court-appointed special master and approved by the court now sets the lines for Virginia's congressional districts.
In this up-and-down, politically charged case, the Court not only avoided a thorny underlying question of race-based districting (and all the politics that go with it), but it also avoided the hardest standing issues in favor of resolving the case unanimously on narrower standing grounds.
The case involves the state's 2012 redistricting plan, which packed black voters into a certain congressional district. Sponsors of the measure said that they did this in order to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle and to comply with nonretrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. A district court struck the plan (twice) as a racial gerrymander, and the state declined to appeal. But Republican members of Congress, who intervened on the side of the state, tried to take the case to the Supreme Court. (In the meantime, a court-appointed special master drew a new district map, and the court approved it.)
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal for lack of standing. The Court said that one member of Congress, who challenged the district court's ruling because it would have made it harder for him to get elected in his current district, lacked standing because he was already running, and would continue to run (irrespective of the Court's ruling), in another district. In other words, that member failed to show that a Court ruling would redress his harm. The Court said that two other members of Congress, who challenged the district court's ruling for the same reason, "have not identified record evidence establishing their alleged harm."
The Court dodged the harder standing issue--whether a representative has been sufficiently harmed based on district lines that would make it less likely that he or she could get elected.
The Court also dodged the underlying issue, whether a race impermissibly dominated when a state's redistricting plan packed black voters into a district for the stated reasons to comply with one-person-one-vote and non-retrogression. The last time the Court took up a similar question, almost exactly a year ago, in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, the Court also avoided ruling squarely on the merits. Instead, the Court outlined some guiding principles and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Justice Breyer wrote the opinion for the unanimous Court.
In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts in Foster v. Chatman, the Court reversed the finding on the Georgia courts that death row inmate Timothy Foster did not demonstrate the type of purposeful discrimination in jury selection to substantiate an Equal Protection Clause violation as required under Batson v. Kentucky (1986).
Recall that in 1987 an all-white jury convicted Timothy Tyrone Foster, a "poor, black, intellectually compromised eighteen year old" of the murder of an elderly white woman. At trial, one black potential juror was removed for cause, and the prosecutors removed all four of the remaining black prospective jurors by peremptory strike, and proffered race-neutral reasons when defense counsel raised a challenge under the then-recent case of Batson. The judge rejected defense counsel's argument that the race-neutral reasons were pretexual and denied the Batson challenge. The Georgia courts affirmed.
Almost twenty years later, pursuant to a request under the state open records act, Foster gained access to the prosecution team's jury selection notes, which included highlighting the black potential jurors (image at right), circling the word "black" as an answer to the race question on the juror questionnaire, identifying the black potential jurors as B#1, B#2, and B#3 in the notes, and a draft affidavit by the prosecution investigator stating "“if we had to pick a black juror then I recommend that [Marilyn] Garrett be one of the jurors; with a big doubt still remaining.” (The affidavit was originally submitted to the court with all mentions of race excised).
In today's relatively brief opinion - - - 25 pages - - - Chief Justice Roberts carefully recited the facts and then focused on the materials in the "prosecution file." The Court concluded:
The contents of the prosecution’s file, however, plainly belie the State’s claim that it exercised its strikes in a “color-blind” manner. The sheer number of references to race in that file is arresting. The State, however, claims that things are not quite as bad as they seem. The focus on black prospective jurors, it contends, does not indicate any attempt to exclude them from the jury. It instead reflects an effort to ensure that the State was “thoughtful and non-discriminatory in [its] consideration of black prospective jurors [and] to develop and maintain detailed information on those prospective jurors in order to properly defend against any suggestion that decisions regarding [its] selections were pretextual.” Batson after all, had come down only months before Foster’s trial. The prosecutors, according to the State, were uncertain what sort of showing might be demanded of them and wanted to be prepared.
This argument falls flat. To begin, it “reeks of afterthought,” [citation omitted] having never before been made in the nearly 30-year history of this litigation: not in the trial court, not in the state habeas court, and not even in the State’s brief in opposition to Foster’s petition for certiorari. In addition, the focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury. The State argues that it “was actively seeking a black juror.” But this claim is not credible. An “N” appeared next to each of the black prospective jurors’ names on the jury venire list. An “N” was also noted next to the name of each black prospective juror on the list of the 42 qualified prospective jurors; each of those names also appeared on the “definite NO’s” list. And a draft affidavit from the prosecution’s investigator stated his view that “[i]f it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors, [Marilyn] Garrett, might be okay.” Such references are inconsistent with attempts to “actively see[k]” a black juror.
The State’s new argument today does not dissuade us from the conclusion that its prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race when they struck [potential jurors] Garrett and Hood from the jury 30 years ago. Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.
[citations to record omitted].
Only Justices Alito and Thomas did not join Roberts's opinion for the Court; Alito to write a separate concurring opinion and Thomas to write a dissenting opinion. Alito's concurring opinion states its purpose as to "explain my understanding of the role of state law in the proceedings that must be held on remand." For Alito, while the Georgia Supreme Court is "bound to accept" the Court's evaluation of the federal constitutional question that there was an Equal Protection Clause violation under Batson, "whether that conclusion justifies relief under state res judicata law is a matter for that court to decide." Alito notes that the Court is "evidencing a predilection" for granting review of state-court decisions denying postconviction relief, a "trend" he argues is inconsistent with the States' "legitimate interest in structuring their systems of postconviction review in a way that militates against repetitive litigation and endless delay." Alito's opinion only vaguely alludes to the claim that the Batson evidence was not made available to Foster. As for Thomas, his dissenting opinion stresses that the trial court observed the jury selection "firsthand" and "its evaluation of the prosecution's credibility" is "certainly far better than this Court's 30 years later." Thomas's opinion also argues that the "new evidence" has "limited probative value" and is "no excuse" for the Court's reversal of the state court's "credibility determinations."
Nevertheless, the Court's clear majority (of six) conclude that the prosecution violated the Equal Protection Clause when it engineered an all white jury to convict and sentence Timothy Foster.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Judge Julie A. Robinson (D. Kansas) granted a preliminary injunction and halted Kansas's requirement that motor-voter applicants provide proof of citizenship when they register to vote (along with their driver's license application) in federal elections.
The ruling halts Kansas Secretary of State Chris Kobach's latest effort to restrict voter registration in that state. It also requires the state to register about 18,000 voters whose registrations were cancelled or put on hold for failure to provide proof of citizenship. At the same time, it allows the state to use a proof-of-citizenship requirement for registration for state elections. Kobach will appeal.
The Kansas law requires applicants for a driver's license and for voter registration to submit proof of citizenship. But the National Voter Registration Act, Section 5, says that every application for a driver's license "shall serve as an application for voter registration with respect to elections for Federal office." It goes on to say that a state "may require only the minimum amount of information necessary to . . . enable State election officials to assess the eligibility of that applicant and to administer voter registration and other parts of the election process."
Judge Robinson focused on the "minimum amount" language and ruled that Kansas's requirement didn't meet it. In particular, she said that the evidence didn't support that Kansas needed proof of citizenship, because the registration form already required an applicant to attest to citizenship and to sign the form. She said that the attestation requirement was plenty sufficient for the state to ensure that an applicant was qualified. (She noted that there wasn't really a problem with noncitizens registering, anyway, and that the proof-of-citizenship requirement was applied in a pretty sloppily.)
Judge Robinson rejected the state's argument that this would lead to two different registration forms--one for state elections (which would require proof of citizenship) and another for federal elections (which would not). She said that this wouldn't result in two different sets of electors, just two different sets of requirements that would lead to the same result. And in any event it was a problem of the state's own creation.
The upshot is that Judge Robinson held that the NVRA preempted Kansas's proof-of-citizenship requirement under the Elections Clause and temporarily enjoined enforcement of the proof-of-citizenship requirement for motor-voter applicants for federal elections.
If the case sounds familiar, that's because it is--or almost is. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona that the state couldn't require proof of citizenship for the federal mail-in form for the same reason: the NVRA preempted state law under the Elections Clause. The NVRA provision in that case--for the mail-in registration option, not the motor-voter option--was different than the provision in this case, so Arizona didn't direct the result here. Still, the NVRA provision at issue here--the "minimum amount" language--led to the same outcome.
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Court said no. It held that "Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation" (emphasis added), but then sent the case back for determination whether there was a concrete injury in this case.
The ruling makes clear that if Robins, the plaintiff, can show a concrete harm, he will have standing. But it makes equally clear that Congress cannot simply create standing by authorizing a new individual cause of action. A plaintiff still has to show a particularized and concrete injury.
The case involves the congressionally-created individual cause of action under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Under the FCRA, Congress granted adversely affected individuals a right to sue reporting agencies for failure to "follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates." Robins sued Spokeo under the provision, arguing that Spokeo posted incorrect information about him on its website. The Ninth Circuit held that Robins had standing.
The Supreme Court today vacated that decision and remanded. Justice Alito wrote for the Court and held that standing requires both a "particularized" injury and a "concrete" injury. The Ninth Circuit analyzed whether Robins's injury was particularized, but not whether it was concrete. Justice Alito wrote that a procedural harm--like the one here, because the FCRA establishes a procedure for reporting agencies to follow--could create a concrete injury, but the Ninth Circuit didn't analyze this in Robins's case. Therefore, the Court remanded to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm.
At the same time, Justice Alito made clear that Congress could "elevat[e] to the status of legally cognizable injuries concrete, de facto injuries that were previously inadequate in law." But if so, a plaintiff still has to sufficiently allege both particularized and concrete injuries to meet the Article III standing requirement. This means that a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury alone wouldn't have standing, but a plaintiff alleging a procedural injury with a concrete and particularized harm would.
Congress' role in identifying and elevating intangible harms does not mean that a plaintiff automatically satisfies the injury-in-fact requirement whenever a statute grants a person a statutory right and purports to authorize that person to vindicate that right. Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.
Justice Thomas concurred and reached the same result by drawing on the difference between suits vindicating private rights and suits vindicating public rights. (Justice Thomas's "public rights" are probably broader than procedural claims like Robins's, and so this approach is probably more restrictive on standing.)
Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayor. She argued that Robins sufficiently alleged a concrete harm, and that remand wasn't necessary.
The Supreme Court today issued a per curiam opinion in Zubik v. Burwell, dodging the question whether the government's accommodation to its contraception mandate under the ACA violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and remanding the case to give the parties a chance to settle in a way that would satisfy everybody's interests. Here's our last post on the case.
The ruling means that religious nonprofits and the government will have a chance to work out their differences and arrive at an accommodation that would both (1) "accommodate petitioners' religious exercise" and (2) "ensur[e] that women covered by petitioners' health plans 'receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'" But the parties will do this separately in the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, leading to the possibility that the results will be different, and possibly come back to the Supreme Court next Term.
Whatever happens in the lower courts, however, today's ruling virtual ensures that the issue won't resurface for a ruling at the Supreme Court before the fall elections.
Today's result came about after the Court asked the parties, post-argument, to brief whether "contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners' employees, through petitioners' insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners." Both parties said this could happen. In particular, the non-profits said that their religious freedom wouldn't be infringed if they didn't have to do anything "more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception," even if their employees would receive free contraception coverage from the same insurance company. The government, for its part, said that it could modify its accommodation and still ensure that women get seamless contraceptive coverage.
The Court was quite careful to say that this is not a ruling on the merits.
Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, concurred, underscoring that this isn't a ruling on the merits--or even a signal on the merits--and that lower courts would be wrong to interpret it as such. She also underscored the Court's statements that the parties could fashion an accommodation seamlessly--that is, without establishing a new, separate policy for contraception.
The ruling sends the cases back to the lower courts, gives everyone a chance to figure out how to accommodate everyone's interests, and puts the issue off until after the fall elections (at least).
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Judge Rosemary Collyer (D.D.C.) ruled today that the Obama Administration spent money on reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges without a valid congressional appropriation. Judge Collyer enjoined any further reimbursements to insurers until a valid appropriation is in place, but she stayed that injunction pending appeal.
Because of the stay, the ruling will have no immediate effect on government subsidies to insurers (and thus no immediate effect on the overall ACA, reductions in cost-sharing for certain purchasers on exchanges, or any other feature of the Act). But if Judge Collyer's ruling is upheld on appeal, and if Congress fails to specifically appropriate funds for Section 1402 reimbursements, or if the stay is lifted, this could deal a significant blow to the ACA. That's because the Act would require exchange insurers to provide a cost-sharing break to certain purchasers on the exchange, but the government wouldn't be able to reimburse the insurers for those costs, as the Act assumes. This could drive up costs, or drive insurers off the exchanges, or both--in any event, undermining the goals of the ACA.
The case involves Section 1402 of the ACA, which provides reimbursements to insurers on the ACA exchanges. Those reimbursements are designed to off-set reductions in deductibles, co-pays, and other cost-sharing expenses that the ACA requires exchange insurers to provide to lower-income insurance purchasers on an exchange. In other words, the ACA requires exchange insurers to cut cost-sharing costs for certain purchasers; and Section 1402 authorizes the government to reimburse insurers for those cuts.
But Congress didn't specifically appropriate funding for Section 1402. The administration nevertheless provided reimbursements on the theories that 1402 reimbursements are part of the integrated package that makes the ACA work, and that 1402 appropriations are covered in appropriations for other provisions in the Act.
Judge Collyer rejected these arguments. In particular, she wrote that Section 1402 is separate and distinct from other portions of the Act and requires its own, specific appropriation--not an inferred appropriation, based on a holistic reading of the Act, or based on appropriations for other features of the Act. (Behind these legal arguments is the idea that everyone understood that spending for Section 1402 reimbursements would be covered by appropriations for other portions of the Act. But "everyone understood" doesn't get very far in court.)
Moreover, she said that the government's attempts to leverage King v. Burwell to argue that Section 1402 funding is a necessary part of an integrated ACA fall flat:
This case is fundamentally different from King v. Burwell. There, the phrase "established by the State" . . . became "not so clear" when it was "read in context." . . . Simply put, the statute could not function if interpreted literally; it had to be saved from itself. . . .
The problem the Secretaries have tried to solve here is very different: it is a failure to appropriate, not a failure in drafting. Congress's subsequent inaction, not the text of the ACA, is what prompts the Secretaries to force the elephant into the mousehole.
Judge Collyer's ruling is obvious not the end of this matter: the government will surely appeal. In the meantime, her stay (alone) should allow government continued spending on insurer reimbursements, and thus (alone) won't have any significant impact on the ACA.
Judge Collyer earlier ruled that the House of Representatives had standing to bring this case, but that it lacked standing to challenge another administration act, delay of time when employers had to provide minimum health insurance to employees.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled in Jankovic v. International Crisis Group that a supporter of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic failed to make out a defamation case against the International Crisis Group for critical statements in an ICG report.
The ruling means that plaintiff Milan Jankovic's case against the ICG is dismissed. (Jankovic is also known as Philip Zepter.)
Zepter, a prominent Serbian businessman, sued the ICG for defamation after the organization published a report that said that Zepter was a member of the "New Serbian Oligarchy" and that he was "associated with the Milosevic regime and benefited from it directly." The ICG report also said that individuals like Zepter continued to be in positions of power and to enjoy access to public resources, and that few of the "crony companies" had been subject to legal action, despite promises by post-Milosevic reformers. The district court concluded that a reasonable reader could construe the statements as saying that Zepter was a crony of Milosevic and supported the regime in exchange for favorable treatment.
As an initial matter, the D.C. Circuit applied its three-part rule and concluded that Zepter was a limited-purpose public figure. The court said that (1) the controversy was public, (2) Zepter played a significant role in it, and (3) the defamatory statement was germane to Zepter's participation. As to (2), the court said that "[t]he evidence . . . shows that [Zepter] was an outspoken supporter, financial backer, and advisor of Prime Minister Djindjic [who] paid over $100,000 to a lobbyist to support [Djindjic's] effort to improve relations between the United States and Serbia." "The evidence shows that Zepter had voluntarily thrust himself into ensuring that Serbia underwent reforms in the post-Milosevic era."
If there seems to be a disconnect between Zepter's role as a Djindjic supporter and a Milosevic crony, here's what the court said: "Yet even if Zepter was an important figure in the Serbian reform effort mainly due to his relationship with Prime Minister Djindjic, his relationship to Milosevic is relevant to Zepter's role in the controversy. Linking Zepter to Milosevic would be relevant to understanding Zepter's role and why he wanted to be involved in the reform effort led by Prime Minister Djindjic."
The court went on to say that Zepter failed to show evidence of actual malice. "What is still missing is evidence that ICG had 'serious doubts' about the truth of the defamatory statement or that it published the statement with a high degree of awareness of its probable falsity, such that ICG acted with reckless disregard for the statement's truth."
The ruling ends Zepter's case against the ICG.
Saturday, May 7, 2016
The continuing saga of the controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Roy S. Moore, has taken another turn with a complaint against him filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, in the special Court of the Judiciary. [While the entire complaint is almost 300 pages, more than 250 pages are devoted to the 17 appendixes of supporting documents including opinions and letters].
As the complaint notes, this is not the first time that Justice Roy Moore has been before the Court of the Judiciary: the court removed him from office in 2003 for violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for failure to obey an injunction from a federal district court. (He was re-elected in 2013.) While that earlier controversy revolved around the placement of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, the present one concerns Justice Moore's actions on same-sex marriage. As the complaint summarizes it, Chief Justice Moore's pertinent conduct "involves the interplay of four cases":
- Searcy v. Strange, before the federal district court, finding Alabama's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional in January 2015;
- Strawser v. Strange, before the federal district court, reiterating the previous finding and making a direct order in February 2015, after the United States Supreme Court had refused to grant a stay of the earlier Order.
- Obergefell v. Hodges, decided by the United States Supreme Court and requiring states to grant same-sex marriages;
- Ex parte State ex rel Alabama Policy Institute (API) (March 2015), and the certificate of judgment and dismissal of petitions on March 4, 2016.
The complaint gives a good chronology of the various events which have been contentious. As we previously noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a judicial ethics complaint after Chief Justice Moore penned a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order on same-sex marriage.
One of the more interesting aspects of the ethics charges is this:
On January 6, 2016—despite the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, despite the United States District Court's injunction against all Alabama probate judges that specifically enjoined them from obeying any contrary order of the Alabama Supreme Court, and despite the Eleventh Circuit's October 20, 2015 order recognizing the abrogation of API by Obergefell—Chief Justice Moore, under the guise of his administrative authority as Chief Justice, unilaterally issued an Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty under API to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples. His Administrative Order states in part:
IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT: Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.
[paragraph 38]. In paragraph 3, the complaint stated "Significant to the context of this matter is that the vast majority of probate judges in this state are not licensed to practice law." However, the probate judges would be bound by the Canons of Judicial Ethics; the complaint alleges that Moore "flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority as chief administrative officer of Alabama's judicial branch by "ordering or appearing to order" the probate judges not to obey the federal district court's injunction and thus ordering the probate judges to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics "knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office."
Thus, it is not only Moore's own refusal to abide by federal interpretations of the United States Constitution, but his ordering of subordinates to do so that are included in the six specific charges against him, all of which involve alleged violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which, broadly stated are:
- Canon 1. A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
- Canon 2. A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities.
- Canon 3. A judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently.
Chief Justice Moore has reportedly been suspended, pending the decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which is composed of judges, lawyers, and lay persons, and has the power to remove the Justice. Interestingly, appeal from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary is to Supreme Court of Alabama.
May 7, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, May 6, 2016
The Ninth Circuit ruled earlier this week that the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act did not on its face preempt Arizona's laws banning the use of a false identity to obtain employment.
The ruling reverses a lower court's preliminary injunction against the Arizona laws (allowing them to go into effect), but leaves open the possibility that they could be preempted as applied in the next round of motions.
The case involves Arizona's efforts to regulate the use of identity theft to obtain employment. The state's bans were designed in part to clamp down on unauthorized aliens' use identity theft to obtain employment. But they were also designed to clamp down on U.S. citizens' use of identity theft to obtain employment.
The plaintiffs in the case--an advocacy organization and individual unauthorized aliens--sued, arguing that the federal IRCA preempted Arizona's laws, based on the Court's analysis striking much of S.B. 1070 in Arizona. (The Court in Arizona held that the state could not criminalize an unauthorized alien for working, because the state law would pose an obstacle to the federal objective, codified in the federal act, to criminalize only the employer (and not the employee).) The plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction based on their facial preemption claim, and the district court granted it.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. The court held that IRCA didn't likely facially preempt Arizona's laws, because even under Arizona the laws could be applied in a constitutional way. In particular, Arizona's laws applied to U.S. citizens using identity theft to obtain employment, too--and nothing in federal law prohibits that. This constitutional application of Arizona's laws meant that they couldn't be facially preempted by IRCA, even if an application of the laws to unauthorized aliens would be preempted under Arizona.
The court noted that the Supreme Court hasn't squarely decided whether the facial-challenge standard in Salerno applied to preemption claims, or if a lower standard applied. (Salerno says that in order to succeed on a facial challenge a plaintiff has to show that "no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be invalid." That's a high bar.) Without guidance from the Court, the Ninth Circuit applied Salerno, consistent with circuit law.
The ruling is a setback for the plaintiffs. But it apparently leaves open the possibility that a court could hold that federal law preempts Arizona's laws as applied to unauthorized aliens. More to come . . . .
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent a letter to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (pictured below) advising him that both he and the state of North Carolina are in violation of Title VII because of the controversial HB2 statute. The letter focuses on Title VII, but also informs the Govern that the DOJ has also sent a letter to the North Carolina Department of Safety and the University of North Carolina similarly notifying them that they have engaged in violations of Title VII, as well as Title IX and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.
Recall that the law, entitled "An Act to provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities in schools and public agencies and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations," was challenged in late March, a week after it was enacted, on various grounds, including the Equal Protection Clause.
The DOJ letter gives Governor McCrory until the close of business on May 9 to respond.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Congressional Research Service Reports are almost always a terrific resource and this new one - - - Judge Merrick Garland: His Jurisprudence and Potential Impact on the Supreme Court by Andrew Nolan, Kate M. Manuel, and Brandon J. Murrill - - - is no exception. At almost 80 pages, with numerous footnotes, as well as two tables and an appendix, it is a wealth of information and analysis.
For example, here's an excerpt regarding Garland's views on campaign finance and the First Amendment:
While serving on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Garland has ruled in a number of major free speech cases. In particular, because the D.C. Circuit has exclusive jurisdiction over certain election law appeals,454 the bulk of these matters have involved free speech issues arising in the context of campaign finance regulations and rules governing political parties.455 Perhaps most significantly, Judge Garland wrote the opinion for a unanimous en banc court in Wagner v. FEC,456 upholding the prohibition on campaign contributions by certain federal government contractors457 against a challenge under the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment.. . . Perhaps revealing aspects of Judge Garland’s views on the constitutionality of campaign finance regulation more broadly, the opinion deferred to Congress’s judgment on how best to serve the government’s interests. . . . . In contrast, judicial deference to congressional determinations has arguably not been as evident in the Supreme Court’s more recent campaign finance jurisprudence.463 At the same time, because of the unanimity of the Wagner decision and the decision’s relatively narrow scope, it may be difficult to draw any firm conclusions regarding Judge Garland’s views on judicial deference toward congressional determinations respecting campaign restrictions from the Wagner decision, in and of itself.
Nonetheless, in another context, Judge Garland generally took a favorable view of the regulation of federal lobbyists. Specifically, in National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) v. Taylor,464 he authored a unanimous opinion rejecting a First Amendment challenge to a federal lobbying disclosure law. The court found no evidence of harassment connected to lobbying disclosures465 that might justify more skepticism with regard to the disclosure requirements, and, in a display of deference to Congress arguably like that in Wagner, ultimately concluded that there was “no reason why Congress cannot enact a scheme that plausibly yields a significant portion of the information it seeks.”466
On the other hand, during Judge Garland’s tenure on the D.C. Circuit, the appellate court issued a well-known campaign finance ruling that resulted in the establishment of super PACs, political committees that spend independently of any candidate or party and are permitted to receive unlimited contributions.467 In SpeechNow.org v. FEC,468 Judge Garland joined, but did not author, a unanimous en banc opinion holding that limits on contributions to groups that make only independent expenditures are unconstitutional.469
[footnote text omitted].
Other sections relating to the constitution include the Religion Clauses, Second Amendment, Separation of Powers, Federalism, Substantive Due Process, and Criminal Law and Procedure.
While the Report cautions "that, at least as a historical matter, attempting to predict how particular Supreme Court nominees may approach their work on the High Court based on their previous experience is a task fraught with uncertainty," since Garland's nomination there has been reference to his opinions on the DC Circuit.
This CRS Report provides a wealth of information should Garland's nomination be subject to Senate hearings.
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
The D.C. Circuit ruled today in Holmes v. FEC that a lower court erred in not certifying a challenge to federal base contribution limits to the en banc D.C. Circuit.
The ruling means that the full D.C. Circuit will take up the question whether federal base contribution limits violate the First Amendment.
The case arose when the plaintiffs challenged the federal base contribution limit of $2,600 "per election" as violating free speech. They wanted to contribute $5,200 to a congressional candidate in the general election, but the "per election" limit prohibited this. (They could have contributed $2,600 in the primary, then another $2,600 in the general, but they didn't want to contribute in the primary.) They argued that language in the plurality opinion in McCutcheon supported their claim: "Congress's selection of a $5,200 base limit [the combined limit for a primary and general election, according to the plaintiffs] indicates its belief that contributions of that amount or less do not create a cognizable risk of corruption."
The district court declined to certify the question to the D.C. Circuit, because the plaintiffs' argument contradicted "settled law," that is, Supreme Court precedent.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said,
We therefore do not think a district court may decline to certify a constitutional question simply because the plaintiff is arguing against Supreme Court precedent so long as the plaintiff mounts a non-frivolous argument in favor of overturning that precedent. That the plaintiff will be fighting a losing battle in the lower courts does not necessarily make the question "obviously frivolous," or "wholly insubstantial," or "obviously without merit." The plaintiff has to raise the question to ensure that it is preserved for Supreme Court review. And certifying the question fulfills Section 30110's evident purpose of accelerating potential Supreme Court review.
At the same time, the court declined to order certification for a related Fifth Amendment claim against base limits. The court said that this claim was based on regulations, not the Act, and therefore not subject to certification.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Supreme Court Decides First Amendment Protects "Mistaken" Perception of Political Activity by Public Employee
In its relatively brief opinion in Heffernan v. City of Paterson, NJ, the Court decides that the First Amendment is applicable when a government employer takes an adverse employment action against an employee for perceived (but not actual) political activity. Heffernan, a police officer, was demoted for his perceived political activity: he had decided to stay neutral but was seen picking up a mayoral campaign sign at the request of his "bedridden mother" to "replace a smaller one that had been stolen from her lawn" and was therefore demoted.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Breyer, began by noting that the First Amendment "generally prohibits"government officials from "dismissing or demoting an employee because of the employee’s engagement in constitutionally protected political activity" and posing the question of whether "the official’s factual mistake makes a critical legal difference."
In determining that the factual mistake is not a critical legal difference, Breyer's 8 page opinion for the Court concludes that it is the "government's reason" that "counts." Supporting this conclusion is the language of the First Amendment itself:
Unlike, say, the Fourth Amendment, which begins by speaking of the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects . . . ,” the First Amendment begins by focusing upon the activity of the Government. It says that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”
(This point was made by Justice Ginsburg in oral argument). Additionally, the conclusion focusing on the government's rationale supports the underlying rationale of the rule:
The constitutional harm at issue in the ordinary case consists in large part of discouraging employees—both the employee discharged (or demoted) and his or her colleagues—from engaging in protected activities . . . . The upshot is that a discharge or demotion based upon an employer’s belief that the employee has engaged in protected activity can cause the same kind, and degree, of constitutional harm whether that belief does or does not rest upon a factual mistake.
Finally, Breyer's opinion for the Court noted that the recognition of mistaken employer beliefs will not open the floodgates (or as the Court phrases it "impose significant costs on the employer"), because "the employee will, if anything, find it more difficult to prove that motive, for the employee will have to point to more than his own conduct to show an employer’s intent to discharge or to demote him for engaging in what the employer (mistakenly) believes to have been different (and protected) activities."
In remanding the case, the Court did recognize that Heffernan may have been dismissed under a "different and neutral policy," but did not express its views on that issue.
Dissenting, Justice Thomas joined by Justice Alito - - - in an opinion as long as the one for the Court - - - stressed that Heffernan did not have a constitutional right that had been violated: "The mere fact that the government has acted unconstitutionally does not necessarily result in the violation of an individual’s constitutional rights, even when that individual has been injured."
In oral argument, Justice Alito had described the issue as being "like a law school hypothetical." The Court, however, has decisively answered the question in favor of construing the First Amendment to prohibit government "wrongs" rather than requiring the actual exercise of individual "rights."
Friday, April 22, 2016
Divided Second Circuit Upholds New York's "Maintain an Office" Requirement for Nonresident Attorneys
In the divided panel opinion in Schoenefeld v. Schneiderman, a Second Circuit panel majority upheld the constitutionality of a requirement that attorneys who practice law in New York but do not reside within the state be required to maintain an office in New York.
The statute, N.Y. Judiciary Law §470, provides:
A person, regularly admitted to practice as an attorney and counsellor, in the courts of record of this state, whose office for the transaction of law business is within the state, may practice as such attorney or counsellor, although he resides in an adjoining state.
Schoenefeld, admitted to practice in New York but who lived in New Jersey and maintained her main office in New Jersey, wished to practice law in New York without having the expense of a separate office in New York. She challenged §470 on several constitutional grounds. The district judge found that the statute violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause, Art. IV, §2, cl.1. The lack of clarity in the statute caused the Second Circuit on appeal to certify the question of the "minimum requirements" to satisfy §470 to New York's highest court. The New York Court of Appeals answered the certified question: §470 "requires nonresident attorneys to maintain a physical office in New York."
Writing for the Second Circuit panel majority, Judge Reena Raggi, who was joined by Judge Susan Carney, concluded that §470 had no discriminatory or protectionist purpose. Instead, §470 - - - with "its origins in an 1862 predecessor law" - - - was actually enacted to reverse a court ruling that had barred a nonresident attorney from practicing law at all given the difficulties of service of process. Despite changes and recodifications, the majority concluded that there was no showing that the current §470 was "being maintained for a protectionist purpose." Again, the majority found that §470 was enacted for "the nonprotectionist purpose of affording such attorneys a means to establish a physical presence in the state akin to that of resident attorneys, thereby eliminating a court‐identified service‐of‐process concern."
The majority relied in large part on the Supreme Court's unanimous 2013 decision in McBurney v. Young holding that a state can restrict its own freedom of information law, FOIA, to its own citizens without violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause.
In his vigorous dissenting opinion, Judge Peter Hall argued that the real import of §470 is that resident attorneys need not maintain an office while nonresident attorneys must maintain an office, thus discriminating. The next step in the analysis, Judge Hall contended, should be to consider the state's justification for such discrimination. Judge Hall distinguished McBurney based on the "simple reason that the Virginia FOIA is not an economic regulation, nor does it directly regulate the right to pursue a common calling." Hall's dissent criticized the majority for imposing a requirement of discriminatory intent as part of a prima facie case that would be appropriate under the Equal Protection Clause but is not under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. Moreover, Judge Hall concluded that New York's "proffered justifications for the in‐state office requirement— effectuating service of legal papers, facilitating regulatory oversight of nonresident attorneys’ fiduciary obligations, and making attorneys more accessible to New York’s courts—are plainly not sufficient."
Thus, New York can constitutionally compel attorneys who do not reside in New York to maintain a physical office in New York.
April 22, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)