Monday, June 3, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in Hillman v. Maretta that the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, or FEGLIA, preempted Virginia's effort to prioritize the widow or widower of a deceased federal employee over the employee's designated beneficiary. The Court ruled that Virginia's law conflicted with congressional purposes and objectives in enacting FEGLIA. The judgment was unanimous, but Justices Thomas and Alito wrote separate concurrences.
The ruling means that a state cannot upset or side-step a deceased federal government employee's designation of beneficiary on his or her life insurance plan, even if the state prioritizes a current spouse over a former spouse.
The case pitted the widow of a federal employee, Hillman, against the employee's former spouse, Maretta, who was also the designated beneficiary on the employee's FEGLIA plan. Maretta, as designated beneficiary, collected $124,558.03 from the plan upon the employee's death. But Hillman sued, arguing that Maretta was liable to her under Secion 20-111.1(D), or just Section D, of the Virginia Code. Section D said that when a former spouse receives a death benefit, that former spouse is liable to "the person who would have been entitled to it were [Section A, another Section within the Viginia Code] not preempted"--in this case, Hillman, the widow.
Maretta argued that FEGLIA preempted Section D. FEGLIA says that life insurance proceeds go first to the employee's designated beneficiary. It allows proceeds to go to another person, if "expressly provided for in the terms of any court decree of divorce, annulment, or legal separation," so long as the decree is received by the government before the employee's death. Finally, FEGLIA has an express preemption provision that says that federal law preempts state law "to the extent that the law or regulation is inconsistent with the contractual provisions."
The Court ruled for Maretta, and struck Section D. Justice Sotomayor, for the Court, wrote:
Section D interferes wtih Congress' scheme, because it directs that the proceeds actually "belong" to someone other than the named beneficiary by creating a cause of action for their recovery by a third party. . . . It makes no difference whether state law requires the transfer of the proceeds . . . or creates a cause of action, like Section D, that enables another person to receive the proceeds upon filing an action in state court. In either case, state law displaces the beneficiary selected by the insured in accordance with FEGLIA and places someone else in her stead.
Op. at 10.
Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to emphasize his view that the majority's "purposes and objectives" approach is "illegitimate," but that FEGLIA nevertheless preempts Section D, because the ordinary meaning of Section D directly conflicts with the plain language in FEGLIA. Justice Alito also concurred in the judgment but wrote separately to argue that the majority's analysis swept too broadly. Justice Alito said that FEGLIA preempted, because Section D overrides the insured's actual and articulated choice of beneficiary. He said that the majority's approach went too far, because it prioritizes the designated beneficiary "even if the insured's contrary and expressed intent is indisputable."
Monday, May 13, 2013
The Supreme Court ruled today in Dan's City Used Cars, Inc. v. Pelkey that federal law does not preempt a plaintiff's state law claim against a towing company for the illegal sale of his car. The ruling affirms the New Hampshire Supreme Court's ruling in favor of the plaintiff and settles a split among state high courts on the question. Otherwise, the ruling doesn't break any new ground, and it's not a particular surprise.
The case arose when Dan's City towed Pelkey's car from his landlord's parking lot and later traded it away without compensating Pelkey. (Pelkey was suffering with a serious medical condition for which he was later hospitalized, and thus left his car in the parking lot during a snow--a towing offense under the landlord's rules.) Pelkey sued for wrongful sale (but not wrongful towing) under state law. The lower state court said that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act, FAAAA, preempted Pelkey's suit and dismissed the case. (The FAAAA applies to motor carriers.) The New Hampshire Supreme Court reversed, and this appeal followed.
The FAAAA preemption clause says,
[A] State . . . may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier . . . with respect to the transportation of property.
In an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the unanimous Supreme Court held that Pelkey's suit wasn't "with respect to the transportation of property," because it was based on the allegedly wrongful sale of his car after it was transported--that is, post-towing. The Court said that this result is consistent with congressional purposes is enacting the FAAAA preemption clause.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Kansas thumbed its nose at the federal government and its current and future gun laws recently in SB 102, the Second Amendment Protection Act, which declares federal gun laws unenforceable in the state.
In particular, SB 102 says that the state legislature "declared" that firearms and accessories "manufactured commercially or privately and owned in Kansas and that remain within the borders of Kansas . . . have not traveled in interstate commerce" and therefore are not subject to federal regulation, including any federal registration requirement, under the Commerce Clause. In short, the law seeks to insulate firearms and accessories that are made and kept only within the state from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause. This reading of the Clause would deny the federal government authority to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce--a well settled congressional authority. (The law also says that component parts imported from other states don't transform an otherwise Kansas-made firearm into an item in interstate commerce.) To that extent, the law seems well tailored to test this long-standing aspect of congressional Commerce Clause authority--the power to regulate intrastate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. If so, that's unlikely to go anywhere. (Even in last summer's ACA/individual-mandate case, the Court gave no indication that it would wholly reconsider Congress's power to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.)
More, SB 102 outlaws enforcement of federal law--even by federal law enforcement. Enforcement of federal law is a felony in Kansas, but the legislature gave federal law enforcement officials this gift: Kansas won't arrest or detain them prior to, or during the pendancy of, any trial for a violation. In other words, the charge, trial, and conviction are all just part of the political theater surrounding this obviously invalid law.
(In addition to the substantive portions of the law, SB 102 also includes the usual statements for this kind of law--statements about the Tenth Amendment (in support of a robust idea of states' rights) and the Second Amendment (as an absolute bar to any gun regulation). It also has a section on the Ninth Amendment.)
Attorney General Eric Holder shot back, reminding the state of the Supremacy Clause, and concluding that "the United States will take all appropriate action, including litigation if necessary, to prevent the State of Kansas from interfering with the activities of federal officials enforcing federal law."
Governor Brownback responded, arguing that the measure enjoyed wide bi-partisan support in the state. He said that this meant that "[t]he people of Kansas have clearly expressed their sovereign will. It is my hope that upon further review, you will see their right to do so."
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in American Trucking Association v. City of Los Angeles, the case asking whether federal law preempts the Port of Los Angeles's "concession agreement" that it requires of all drayage truck operators. Our argument preview is here.
Two points got the Court's attention. First, the justices tested whether the Port was acting in a proprietary way in enforcing the concession agreement, thus triggering the market participant exception. This question turns on whether the Port's enforcement of the agreement had "the force and effect of law"--language from the preemption clauses in the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act that means that enforcement by a state as state is preempted, but enforcement by a state as market actor is not. Here, the Port's concession agreements are contracts with drayage truck operators (making the Port look like a market actors), but they are ultimately backed by criminal penalties, even if not for breach of the contract, and the whole operation relates to regulation of public land (making the Port look like the state). Take a look at this exchange with the attorney for the Port:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: You are saying that you can do by contract what you cannot do by regulation. And I don't understand that argument when there are criminal penalties that attach to the breach of the contract.
MR. ROSENTHAL: But, Justice Kennedy, let me say again, there are no criminal penalties that attach to the breach of the contract. It is purely a contract. The remedies are purely civil. Even our other side in their argument has conceded there are no criminal penalties to the breach of the concession agreement.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I'm not sure that's crucial. You think a state can say nobody's going to come on our highways until it signs a contract? Okay? These highways belong to us, they are State land, and anybody who wants to ride on the highways, you have to enter a contract with the State. And that's going to get around this Federal statute?
Others, too, asked about the criminal penalties and the scope of the Port's regulatory authority--all to the end of determining whether the Port looks more like the state, or more like a market actor, when it enforces its concession agreement.
Next, the Court pressed on the scope of Castle, the case overturning Illinois's punishment of a carrier's repeated violations of the state's freight-weight restriction by completely suspending the carrier's right to use Illinois state highways for certain periods. Here, the arguments turned on whether the Port's enforcement mechanism was a punishment for prior violations (as in Castle), or whether it simply operated to ensure that only currently compliant trucks had access to the Port. There's also an issue about the continued vitality of Castle, given that the federal regulatory scheme that governed at the time has since been superceded.
The Port seemed to have the tougher time at arguments, but that's no (necessary) bellweather. There were plenty of open questions to suggest that there are no easy answers here. As a practical matter, if the Court rules against the Port, it would undo years of litigation and negotiation between the Port and the surrounding community related to environmental and health concerns and send those paties back to the drawing table. That, in turn, could impact both community health and the environment, and the Port's plans for even more expansion.
Monday, April 15, 2013
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in American Trucking Association v. Los Angeles, testing whether the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act preempts certain provisions of the "concession agreement" that the Port of Los Angeles requires of all Port drayage service providers, as part of the Port's efforts to reduce drayage truck emissions.
Here's my ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases article on the case, reprinted here with permission:
The Port of Los Angeles (POLA, or the Port) is an independent division of the City of Los Angeles. That is, it raises and manages its own revenue, independent of the City, by leasing its terminal facilities to shipping lines and stevedoring companies, which load and unload cargo from docking ships.
Drayage trucks are an integral part of the operations at the Port. They transport cargo from the Port’s marine terminals directly to customers, or to off-Port long-distance trucks or railroads for further transport. But POLA does not contract for any drayage services. Instead, cargo owners, ocean carriers, railroads, and other transportation providers arrange for drayage services through Licensed Motor Carriers (LMCs). Most LMCs, in turn, contract with independent truck owners and operators to provide drayage services.
In 2008, the Port adopted a “concession agreement” system for drayage service providers. The system was part of an earlier-adopted “Clean Action Plan” designed to address community opposition to Port expansion and to reduce air pollution produced by Port activities. Under the system, the Port requires any drayage service provider seeking access to the Port’s premises to enter into a standard-form “concession agreement” with the Port. That agreement grants the concessionaire “a non-exclusive license to access [the] Port property for the purpose of transporting containers and/or other cargo to and from marine terminals.” In exchange, the concessionaire agrees to comply with several requirements. In particular, the concessionaire must (1) submit an off-street parking plan for all of its permitted trucks, (2) display placards on its trucks that provide a phone number for reporting environmental or safety concerns, (3) demonstrate that it has sufficient financial resources to perform its obligations under the agreement, and (4) ensure that vehicle maintenance is conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
The standard-form agreement also lists penalties for failure to comply with these requirements. The penalties for a default, if not timely cured, include suspension or revocation of the concession agreement and the right of the concessionaire to use the Port’s facilities. In other words, the Port could altogether exclude a drayage service provider for significant noncompliance with the agreement—what the agreement calls a “Major Default.”
Moreover, violation of the agreement can result in criminal penalties. This is because the Port incorporates the concession agreement system into the preexisting tariff that governed Port operations. A violation of the tariff constitutes a misdemeanor subjecting the violator to a $500 fine and imprisonment up to six months.
American Trucking Associations, Inc. (the ATA), a trucking-industry trade group, sued the City and the Port in federal court, arguing that certain concession agreement requirements were preempted by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act (FAAA). The district court found none of the requirements preempted. A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit largely affirmed, reversing the district court only as to a requirement that is not relevant here. This appeal followed. The federal government petitioned to participate as amicus in support of reversal.
This case raises two distinct issues of federal preemption of state law. The first issue, an express preemption issue, involves two sections of the FAAA. The first section, 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(1), covers general state regulation of motor carriers, like the concession agreement’s off-street parking requirement. It provides that:
a State, political subdivision of a State, or political authority of 2 or more States may not enact or enforce a law, regulation, or other provision having the force and effect of law related to a price, route, or service of any motor carrier.
This first section exempts “the safety regulatory authority of a State with respect to motor vehicles.” 49 U.S.C. § 14501(c)(2)(A).
The second section, 49 U.S.C. § 14506(a), specifically addresses vehicle identification requirements, like the concession agreement’s placard requirement. It provides that:
[n]o State, political subdivision of a State, interstate agency, or other political agency of two or more States may enact or enforce any law, rule, regulation standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law that requires a motor carrier . . . to display any form of identification on or in a commercial motor vehicle . . ., other than forms of identification required by the Secretary of Transportation.
The first issue asks whether the concession agreement’s off-street parking and placard requirements “hav[e] the force and effect of law” under these sections so that the requirements are preempted by the sections. That question, in turn, depends on whether the concession agreement looks more like a state regulation or more like an ordinary commercial contract. If the concession agreement looks more like a state regulation, it is covered by these sections, and it is preempted. On the other hand, if it looks more like an ordinary commercial contract, it is not covered by these sections, and it is not preempted.
A related question is whether the market participant doctrine applies. The market participant doctrine says that the FAAA preempts only state regulation, not actions a state takes as a market participant. The parties and the federal government disagree about whether the market participant doctrine applies in this case—in particular, whether it applies when the FAAA does not contain an explicit market participant exception.
The second issue involves the application of a 1954 Supreme Court case on preemption, Castle v. Hayes Freight Lines, Inc. In Castle, the Court considered an Illinois statute that limited the weight of freight that could be carried in commercial trucks registered under the federal Motor Carrier Act. The Illinois law punished a carrier’s repeated violations by suspending the carrier’s right to use Illinois state highways for periods of ninety days and one year. The Court said that the Motor Carrier Act left regulation of the size and weights of trucks to the states. But it also held that Illinois’s law forbidding an offending carrier from using all of the state’s highways was “equivalent to a partial suspension of [the carrier’s] federally granted certificate” and was therefore preempted.
The parties and the federal government disagree about the meaning, the scope, and even the continued vitality of Castle. For example, they disagree about whether Castle prohibits the Port from punishing drayage service providers by banning them merely from the Port, even if not from the entire state highway system (as in Castle). The parties also disagree about which concession agreement requirements might be covered by Castle. Finally, they disagree about whether Castle remains good law. The government, for its part, is unsure whether the Port will punish only past, cured violations (as in Castle), and thus whether the punishment even falls under Castle.
The ATA argues first that the plain language of the FAAA expressly preempts the off-street parking and placard provisions of the concession agreement. It says that the parking provision regulates drayage trucks’ “price, route, or service” in violation of § 14501(c)(1), and that the placard provision requires drayage trucks “to display any form of identification . . . other than forms . . . required by the Secretary of Transportation” in violation of § 14506(a). Moreover, it claims that the concession agreement amounts to a “comprehensive licensing scheme” that is “penally enforceable” through the tariff and thus have “the force and effect of law.”
The ATA argues that the market participant exception does not apply. It says that because Congress enacted the FAAA, and because it does not contain a market participant exception, there is no market participant exception to the Act’s provisions. But the ATA claims that even if the FAAA contains an implicit market participant exception, it does not apply here. According to the ATA, that is because the parking and placard requirements are not aimed at the efficient procurement of goods and services or at the use of state-allocated funds, the purposes of the exception; instead, the provisions are aimed at a traditional regulatory goal, to reduce air pollution. Moreover, the ATA contends that the Port is not even a direct participant in the drayage market; instead, it is a regulator of drayage services.
Next, the ATA argues that Castle bars the Port from enforcing even non-preempted regulations on drayage service providers by suspending or revoking their access to the Port. The ATA says that the concession agreement permits the Port to deny a drayage service provider “any and all access” to the Port for certain defaults of the concession agreement, and that this penalty is directly at odds with the Court’s holding in Castle. It claims that Castle forbids even a partial suspension of a drayage operator’s federally licensed activities, even though a denial of access to the Port may not rise to the level of the comprehensive ban at issue in Castle. Finally, the ATA contends that Castle is still good law, and that Congress has only reaffirmed the federal government’s exclusive authority to issue interstate-commerce permits, and to revoke them.
The federal government supports the ATA, but takes a more nuanced tack. It says that the FAAA does not naturally preempt all arms-length commercial agreements between the government and motor carriers. But it says that the Port’s concession agreement looks more like a regulatory scheme than an arms-length commercial agreement between market participants. In particular, the government points to four features of the Port’s agreement and its operations that together suggest that the agreement is really a regulation (and not a commercial agreement): the criminal sanctions that back the agreement; the public ownership of the Port; the generally regulatory character of the agreement’s provisions; and the fact that the government generally does not contract with drayage service providers. For these reasons, the government claims that the FAAA preempts the off-street parking and placard requirements.
Next, the federal government says that it is unclear whether the concession agreement provisions at issue here would contravene Castle. The government argues that Castle prevents the Port from barring a motor carrier’s access to the Port only for a past, cured infraction, and not for the carrier’s current failure to comply with otherwise non-preempted state safety regulations. In other words, it says that nothing in Castle prevents the Port from prohibiting a carrier’s truck from operating at Port facilities until it complies with non-preempted regulations. Given that we do not know whether the Port might punish past, cured violations of the agreements by barring Port access, the government urges the Court to remand the case for a determination on that question.
The Port argues first that the market participant exception shields the off-street parking and placard provisions from preemption. It claims that the Court’s precedents and related acts suggest that the market participant exception applies to the FAAA, even with its express preemption clauses. Moreover, the Port claims that its adoption of the concession agreements fall within the market participant exception. In particular, the Port claims that the concession agreements do not have the “force and effect of law,” because they are contractual in nature, not regulatory in nature. (It claims that under the terms of the tariff and the concession agreement, the criminal sanctions under the tariff do not apply to LMCs.)
Next, the Port claims that Castle does not bar the concession agreements’ safety-based restrictions on access to the Port. The Port says that Castle only prohibits a ban on using all of a state’s freeways, not a ban on a single Port, as here. But even aside from the Ninth Circuit’s approach, the Port claims that the ATA’s argument that Castle prevents the Port from suspending or revoking a motor carrier’s access for safety-related violations would improperly read the safety exception out of § 14501(c)(2)(A). Finally, the Port contends that Castle is no longer good law with respect to the concession contract requirement. That is because Castle arose under an earlier, and superseded, regulatory regime.
The Port of Los Angeles is the largest container port in the United States in terms of both shipping container volume and cargo volume. In 2007, it was the thirteenth busiest port in the world, and the fifth busiest in the world when combined with the cargo volume at the adjacent Port of Long Beach. In both 2007 and 2008, the Port handled more than $240 billion in cargo. The Port’s activities are connected with over 900,000 jobs in the greater Los Angeles region. As big as it is, however, the Port projects that increased global trade and larger ships will double the demand for its cargo handling capacity over the next decade. To meet demand and stay competitive, the Port seeks to expand.
At the same time, Port activities produce pollution that significantly affects the air quality of the surrounding area and the health of local residents. Community and environmental groups tied up Port expansion plans in court for years because of these concerns. (They continue to oppose expansion efforts, for example, by protesting the Port’s plan to develop a new rail yard, approved just last month.) The Port’s Clean Action Plan, including the concession agreements, was designed to address these kinds of environmental concerns.
In this way, the case is a classic conflict between economic growth and environmental justice. If the Court reverses the Ninth Circuit and holds that the FAAA preempts some or all of the Port’s concession agreement requirements, the ruling will frustrate the Port’s efforts to reduce pollution in order to address the concerns of community and environmental groups. This could lead community and environmental groups to redouble their efforts to halt expansion and thus deal a significant set-back to Port expansion efforts. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, as amicus in support of affirming the Ninth Circuit, put it this way: “If the Port is not permitted to take such modest and reasonable steps as those represented by the off-street and placard provisions, its ability to adopt limited measures tailored to specific, local issues arising from Port activity will be compromised, which may result in additional litigation and delays.”
On the other hand, if the Court affirms the Ninth Circuit and holds that the FAAA does not preempt the concession agreement requirements, the Port’s efforts will stay on the books. This may be a victory for community and environmental groups, and for the Port itself. But given the issues that have come to a head just recently with the rail yard project, it is safe to say that this case will certainly not resolve all the problems or in any way mark the end of this ongoing dispute.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments earlier this week in Mutual Pharmaceutical v. Bartlett, a case testing whether the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (and in particular the Hatch-Waxman Act) preempts a state design-defect claim against a generic drug manufacturer.
The case is important because of the large and increasing role that more affordable generics play in the prescription drug market. But as Justice Kagan pointed out early in the argument, the case may also affect branded drugs. That's because both branded and generics need to get FDA approval for new or changed formulas, and yet they both could be subject to state-law design-defect claims, as in this case. If so, depending on the nature of the state law claim, the state court ruling could set a different standard than the FDA standard--making it impossible for a manufacturer, branded or generic, to comply with both. But again: that depends on the nature of the state-law claim.
Recall that the Court just two years ago ruled in PLIVA v. Mensing that the FDCA did preempt a state failure-to-warn claim against a generic manufacturer. The reason: Under the FDA's process for generic approval (under Hatch-Waxman), a generic has to bear the same label as its branded counterpart. Under the federal FDCA, the generic has no control over the label, and so the Court said that it can't be held to a higher labeling requirement under state tort law. In other words, the requirement under federal law (to bear the same label as its branded counterpart) conflicted with duties set by the state tort suit (to include different warnings).
But that was a failure-to-warn claim. Bartlett involves a design-defect claim, going to the generic's design, not (or maybe not) its label.
Still, the label was one sticking point, maybe the most important sticking point, at argument this week. The justices struggled to figure out whether the plaintiff's design-defect claim turned at all on faulty labeling. (If it did, the case would more likely be governed by Mensing, and the claim more likely to be preempted.) The plaintiff argued that the trial court judge carefully distinguished between considering the label for its adequacy as opposed to its effectiveness. According to the plaintiff, the judge ruled out the former consideration, because the defendants waived a defense that would have turned on adequacy. Moreover, according to the plaintiff, the label's effectiveness goes to limiting the danger of an inherently dangerous drug--and is therefore not a consideration of labeling in its own right, but rather a consideration of labeling as related to a pure design-defect claim. It's not clear that the Court bought this distinction, however, and the defendant argued strenuously against it.
Another and related sticking point was the nature of the state design-defect claim. Was it a pure strict liability claim, in which the plaintiff simply received compensation for injuries resulting from an inherently dangerous drug? If so, the claim operated more like a drug compensation fund, and even the defendant said there was no preemption. That's because the defendant could comply with both the federal requirements for generics and the state duty to pay. Stated differently, the state tort suit wouldn't set a new standard of care; instead, it would simply require compensation. But if the label was relevant to the design-defect claim--and if, as the Court held in Mensing, the defendant had no control over the label--the state tort suit could be understood as setting a new standard (in the same way the failure-to-warn claim did in Mensing)--and the FDCA would preempt.
Yet another sticking point was the FDA approval process as opposed to the process of state-court juries. The FDA puts new drugs through a rigorous ringer to weigh the costs and benefits before approval. But state court juries grant damage awards based on the judgments of a handful of lay individuals. The question is: If the FDA approves a drug and thus its counterpart generic--based on thorough and expert cost-benefits analyses--why should a state court lay jury be able to second-guess and even overrule it?
The Court divided 5-4, along conventional ideological lines, in Mensing. That seems like a plausible, even likely, result here, too.
Monday, March 18, 2013
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the case testing whether the federal National Voter Registration Act preempts Arizona's requirement that voter applicants show additional proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. We posted a preview here.
If the questions from the bench are any indication, this could be a very close one. Justice Sotomayor and Kagan seemed to line up squarely behind the respondents (and against Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement). Justices Ginsburg and Breyer did too, but perhaps a little less forcefully. On the other side, Justice Scalia seemed set with Arizona on the merits (focusing on the NVRA text), but he wondered why the state didn't challenge the EAC's rejection of its state-specific proof-of-citizenship requirements earlier, right after the EAC rejected them. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito seemed to lean toward Arizona, too, largely for pragmatic reasons, suggesting that the NVRA scheme wouldn't make a lot of sense by the respondent's reading. Justice Kennedy seemed concerned that Arizona's position could destroy the "utility of the single form" (on the one hand), but also that the Ninth Circuit applied a preemption test under the Elections Clause that was too federal friendly (on the other).
The Justices were concerned about everything from legislative purpose behind the NVRA, to legislative language, to the role of the EAC (the administrative agency that approves the federal form and state-specific additions to it), to Arizona's failure to challenge the EAC's rejection of its state-specific citizenship requirements. The standard for Elections Clause preemption (as opposed to more ordinary Supremacy Clause preemption) got very little attention (notably just from Justice Kennedy).
Justices Sotomayor and Kagan seemed to be the most active and skeptical in questioning Arizona's attorney. They asked whether Arizona's additional citizenship requirements wouldn't undermine the purpose of the NVRA, to ease and simplify voter registration; whether Arizona is actually accepting and using the federal form (as required by the NVRA), especially when it apparently rejects mail-in ballots that don't satisfy Arizona's extra citizenship requirements; and whether Arizona's position would make the federal form "just another hoop to jump through." (Those were Justice Kagan's words. Justice Kennedy earlier suggested a similar sentiment--"But otherwise, the whole utility of the single form is missing--is gone"--but framed it as a question about what opposing counsel would argue.)
Justice Breyer wanted to know how Arizona accepted and used the federal form's attestation-under-perjury requirement, again, as required by the NVRA, suggesting that Arizona wasn't accepting and using it, and therefore not complying with the NVRA.
Justice Scalia asked why Arizona didn't challenge the EAC's rejection of its state-specific citizenship requirements earlier--after the EAC rejection, and not now, only after voters challenged Arizona's requirements.
On the other side, Justice Alito wondered how the federal form alone could ensure that an applicant was qualified--giving an example of a minor who completed and signed the form--suggesting that the federal form alone wasn't sufficient. Justice Scalia looked to the language of the NVRA--states "may require only"--and argued that the "may" made it permissive--and that state's therefore could add requirements. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito wondered whether under the respondent's reading and the government's reading the NVRA wouldn't create an unworkable system, with the possibility of a state-form voter registration list and a federal-form voter registration list in each state.
Chief Justice Roberts asked whether the respondent's reliance on the EAC's decision to reject Arizona's request to include its citizenship requirement wasn't undermined by the EAC's bad decision (according to respondent) allowing Louisiana to supplement the requirements on the federal form. (Arizona first raised Louisiana's state-specific requirement, approved by the EAC, to include a driver's license number or Social Security number or, if neither is available, to attach certain other documents as an argument that a requirement for additional documents does not violate the NVRA. The Court spent some time trying to figure out if the parties thought this was a good decision, and, if so, why Louisiana's requirement is the same or different than Arizona's.)
Friday, March 15, 2013
Arizona is once again before the Supreme Court, on Monday, with a major federalism case, this time testing whether federal law preempts the state's efforts to add a proof-of-citizenship requirement, over and above the federal requirement, to its voter registration application. The case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, asks whether the preemption standard under the Elections Clause is the same as the ordinary preemption standard under the Supremacy Clause, and whether the National Voter Registration Act preempts Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement.
The former issue--going to the standard of preemption under the Elections Clause--is an important one. The Court puts a thumb on the scale against preemption in ordinary Supremacy Clause preemption cases. This case will tell us whether states get that thumb in Elections Clause cases, too. If so, and if the Court rules Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement not preempted, we're likely to see certain states move toward more requirements like Arizona's, making it tougher for certain citizens to vote.
Here's an excerpt from my preview of the case in the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (with permission):
May Arizona require applicants for voter registration to provide additional evidence of U.S. citizenship without conflicting with the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act?
Congress enacted the National Voter Registration Act, the “NVRA,” or the “Motor Voter Act,” in 1993 in order to enhance voter participation by eligible citizens in federal elections while at the same time protecting the integrity of the electoral process. To these ends, the NVRA requires states to accept three kinds of registration applications from would-be voters in federal elections. First, the NVRA requires states to treat any application for a driver’s license as an application for voter registration. Next, it requires states to accept mail-in applications. Finally, the NVRA requires states to accept in-person applications at sites designated by state law.
In connection with these three methods, the NVRA provides for the creation of certain voter registration applications. Thus the NVRA requires states to create a combined driver’s license and voter registration application form commonly called the “Motor Voter Form.” (The Motor Voter Form is not at issue in this case.) The NVRA also directs the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the “EAC,” to create the Federal Form, a nationally uniform voter application that applicants can use to register by mail or in person at designated locations. The NVRA requires that the Federal Form “shall include” a statement that specifies each eligibility requirement (including citizenship), contains an attestation of eligibility, and requires the applicant’s signature. It says that the Federal Form “may not include any requirement for notarization or other formal authentication.” And it says that the Federal Form “may require only such identifying information . . . and other information as is necessary to enable the appropriate state elections official to assess the eligibility of the applicant.” The NVRA requires states to “accept and use” the Federal Form, but it also allows a state to “develop and use” its own form, so long as the state form meets all of the NVRA criteria for the Federal Form. (Even if a state develops and uses its own form, however, the NVRA still requires every state to “accept and use” the Federal Form.) Moreover, a state may ask the EAC to add state-specific instructions to the Federal Form.
The EAC-created Federal Form specifies each eligibility requirement, including U.S. citizenship, but does not, by its plain terms, require proof of citizenship. Thus the Federal Form requires an applicant to tick a box that says that the applicant is a U.S. citizen and to swear or affirm, by signature, that he or she is a U.S. citizen and that “the applicant, to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, meets each of his or her state’s specific eligibility requirements.” The Federal Form’s state-specific instructions for Arizona require an applicant to include the number of his or her valid Arizona driver’s license or non-operating identification license, or the last four digits of his or her Social Security number. The state-specific instructions say that if an applicant does not have these numbers, “[a] unique identifying number will be assigned by the Secretary of State.” (The Federal Form, with Arizona’s state-specific instructions, is here.) In short, the Federal Form relies on an applicant’s attestation, without further proof, to determine U.S. citizenship. Arizona’s state-specific instructions only require proof if an applicant has an Arizona driver’s license or identification license, or a Social Security number.
In 2004, Arizona sought to add a proof-of-citizenship requirement. Thus Arizona voters approved Proposition 200, requiring applicants for voter registration to provide evidence of U.S. citizenship beyond the attestation requirement and the state-specific instructions in the Federal Form. In particular, Proposition 200 says that an applicant must provide his or her driver’s license number, non-operating identification number, a number associated with Native American tribal status, his or her certificate of naturalization number, or a legible photocopy of his or her U.S. birth certificate or passport. (Proposition 200 also requires registered voters to present identification in order to cast their ballots at the polls. The voter-ID component of Proposition 200 is not at issue in this case.) By its terms, this proof-of-citizenship requirement applies to both the federal form and to Arizona’s state form.
About a year after Arizona voters enacted Proposition 200, the U.S. Department of Justice precleared it under the Voting Rights Act. Arizona then asked the EAC to include its proof-of-citizenship requirement on the state-specific instructions on the federal form. The EAC declined. (The Executive Director of the EAC initially declined the request, stating that the NVRA preempted the requirement. The full EAC later upheld this decision.)
Nevertheless, Arizona implemented the new proof-of-citizenship requirements in Proposition 200 with respect to its state-specific voter registration application form and with respect to the Federal Form. As to the state-specific form, Arizona now specifically requires the proof of citizenship specified in Proposition 200. Its instructions say that an applicant must provide a driver’s license or non-operating identification license number, or, if those are not available, a birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization documents or an alien registration number, or proof of Native American Indian tribal membership. The instructions say that without this proof of citizenship, “the form will be rejected.” (Arizona’s state specific form is here.) As to the Federal Form (which, again, did not change in the wake of Proposition 200), Arizona officials now ask Federal Form applicants for evidence of citizenship pursuant to Proposition 200 whenever their Federal Form does not include such evidence of citizenship.
Just to be clear: Before Proposition 200, Arizona required only a driver’s license or non-operating identification license, or, when those were not available, a “unique identifying number . . . assigned by the Secretary of State,” in order to register to vote. After Proposition 200, Arizona now requires a driver’s license or non-operating identification license, or, when those are not available, a birth certificate, U.S. passport, naturalization documents or an alien registration number, or proof of Native American Tribal membership. Thus Proposition 200 added a significant proof-of-citizenship requirement, but only for those applicants who do not have a driver’s license or non-operating identification license.
Soon after Proposition 200 passed, two groups of plaintiffs sued, arguing, among other things, that the new proof-of-citizenship requirements were preempted by the NVRA. In particular, the plaintiffs argued that the new proof-of-citizenship requirements went beyond the requirements of the NVRA in a way that conflicted with the NVRA. In a first round of litigation, the plaintiffs’ case went to the Supreme Court on preliminary motions, and the Court remanded it for a determination on the merits. In the second round, on remand, the district court ruled in favor of Arizona on the plaintiffs’ preemption claim. The Ninth Circuit reversed. This appeal followed.
This case tests the boundary between congressional authority and state authority in the special context of regulation of federal elections. That boundary is set in the Constitution’s Elections Clause: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” In other words, states get the first crack at regulating the mechanics of federal elections, but Congress has ultimate authority to override, or preempt, state regulation. The framers gave Congress this special power over federal elections in order to safeguard against potential state efforts, through manipulation of their election laws, to undermine the national government. (At the extreme, the framers were concerned that states could frustrate the very creation of the national government by neglecting to hold federal elections.) Here, the Elections Clause governs, because Congress enacted the NVRA pursuant to its Elections Clause power.
The Supreme Court first examined congressional authority to preempt state law under the Elections Clause in Ex Parte Siebold, 100 U.S. 371 (1879). The Court in that case said that federal law preempts state law whenever they conflict: “the laws of the State, in so far as they are inconsistent with the laws of Congress on the same subject, cease to have effect as laws.” Over a century later, the Court in Foster v. Love, 522 U.S. 67 (1997), reaffirmed this principle and held that federal law setting the date for congressional elections (the Tuesday after the first Monday in November) preempted a Louisiana statute that established an open primary in October with a run-off on Congress’s specified election day only if the primary failed to produce a majority candidate.
While Siebold and Foster go specifically to Elections Clause preemption, the Court has also developed an approach to preemption under the Supremacy Clause. According to that approach, the Court seeks to preserve the “delicate balance” between the states and federal government, especially in those areas traditionally under state control. Thus under Supremacy Clause preemption the Court applies a “presumption against preemption” and holds that federal law preempts state law only when it is the “clear and manifest” purpose of Congress to do so. In short, the Court puts a thumb on the scale against preemption in its Supremacy Clause analysis.
The Court has not specifically said whether its approach to preemption under the Supremacy Clause applies also to preemption under the Elections Clause. If so, Congress would face a higher bar in preempting state law under the Elections Clause; if not, Congress could more easily preempt state law.
The parties dispute this, with Arizona arguing for the higher Supremacy Clause standard, and the plaintiffs-respondents arguing for a lower preemption standard. They also dispute whether under either standard Proposition 200 actually conflicts with the NVRA, and thus whether the NVRA preempts it.
[Summary of specific arguments omitted.]
This case tests the boundary between congressional authority and state authority in the special context of the Elections Clause. The Supreme Court has not ruled directly on this issue; in particular, it has not specifically set a standard for federal preemption of state law under this Clause. Thus this case is important because the Court’s ruling will (at least partially) fill this void and tell us something about the scope and extent of congressional authority, and therefore the scope and extent of state authority, under this Clause.
That, in turn, is important, because it will set the standard for federalism in relation to regulation of federal elections. If the Court borrows and applies the standard for preemption under the Supremacy Clause—with all its deference to state sovereignty, in the interest of maintaining the “delicate balance” between the states and federal government—the states could have more latitude to regulate elections, even affecting the composition of the federal government. (Various state efforts to strategically manipulate voting requirements in the 2012 elections in order to seek political advantage in federal elections stand as a stark and recent reminder of how state regulation could affect the federal government—exactly what the framers were concerned about.) But on the other hand if the Court applies a lower standard, one without deference to state sovereignty or considerations of federalism, the ruling could restrict the states in how they regulate elections, even restricting states from imposing additional proof-of-citizenship requirements (as in this case).
Still, the standard that the Court sets for preemption may be distinct from its ruling on preemption in this case. Whatever standard the Court adopts, its ruling in this case will tell us how much flexibility states have in adding to the NVRA requirements. If the Court holds that the NVRA does not preempt Proposition 200, this could invite states to impose all manner of additional requirements, potentially undercutting the congressional purpose of uniformity in voter registration in the NVRA and, again, potentially affecting the very composition of the federal government. But if the Court holds that the NVRA preempts Proposition 200, the ruling will restrict states in imposing additional requirements and will underscore national uniformity in voter registration.
In the end, whatever the Court rules, Congress could get the last word. That’s because Congress can always go back and rewrite its legislation in response to any preemption ruling from the Court. Here, Congress could rewrite the NVRA to more explicitly preempt state requirements like those in Proposition 200 (on the one hand), or to allow those requirements (on the other). In this way, Congress could effectively undo any decision in this case. The Court’s ruling will be important, to be sure, but it will not necessarily be the final decision on this issue.
Outside of these considerations, this case is also important because it comes to the Court just one month after the Court heard oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder, testing the constitutionality of the preclearance provision in the Voting Rights Act. A bare majority of justices seemed skeptical in those arguments that preclearance and the related coverage formula were still necessary in 2013 to enforce the constitutional prohibitions against voting discrimination. In particular, a number of justices expressed concern about congressional infringement on state sovereignty and equality among the states. Between this case and Shelby County, we will learn quite a bit about where the Roberts Court stands on federalism and voting rights.
This case also comes just a year after Arizona v. U.S., 567 U.S. ___ (2012), another case testing Arizona’s authority, as against the federal government, to regulate non-citizens, when the regulation spills over and affects how Arizona treats U.S. citizens. Arizona v. U.S. involved the state’s efforts to clamp down on illegal immigration by authorizing its officers to check the immigration status of individuals that they detain and to regulate undocumented aliens in various ways. That case was a partial victory for Arizona and a partial victory for the United States. This case is yet a different test of Arizona’s authority, as against the federal government, to address illegal immigration.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
The Fifth Circuit earlier this week ruled in Teltech Systems, Inc. v. Bryant that Mississippi's Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act was preempted by the federal Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009. The ruling strikes Mississippi's law, until and unless Mississippi successfully appeals.
Mississippi's Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act prohibits a person from entering false information into a telephone caller identification system with the intent to deceive, defraud, or mislead the recipient of a call. (Think solicitations that come up as an apparently legitimate local residential or cell phone number.) Plaintiffs, organizations that provide third-party spoofing services, sued, arguing that the Act violated free speech and the dormant Commerce Clause, and that it was preempted by the federal Truth in Caller ID Act. The court ruled only on this last claim.
The federal TCIA makes it unlawful for any person "to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value." 47 U.S.C. Sec. 227(e)(1).
Preemption turned on the Mississippi ACA's sweep. As the court explained, the Mississippi ACA sweeps somewhat broader than the TCIA, as it bans not only "harmful" spoofing but also "non-harmful" spoofing (done simply to deceive or mislead, but not to harm). There was good evidence that Congress not only did not ban non-harmful spoofing, but sought to protect it. "Congress apparently regarded some forms of spoofing worthy of protection from more restrictive state regulation." Op. at 10.
Thus, said the court, the TCIA preempted the state ACA. The court explained, drawing on Arizona v. United States, the immigration-and-preemption case from last Term:
Arizona v. United States is illustrative. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 subjects employers who hire unauthorized aliens to criminal and civil sanctions, but imposes no such penalties on the hired unauthorized aliens. An Arizona statute . . . went further, making it a misdemeanor for unauthorized aliens to apply for, or solicit, work. Although the Arizona statute advanced the same goal as IRCA--preventing hiring unauthorized aliens--the Court held the Arizona statute's enforcement scheme conflicted with the federal regulatory scheme. Examining the "text, structure, and [legislative] history of IRCA," the Court held the Arizona statute posed an obstacle to "the careful balance struck by Congress with respect to unauthorized employment of aliens."
Op. at 11 (citations omitted).
So too with Mississippi's ACA, because it banned non-harmful spoofing, a category that Congress protected.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
The constitutional "rights" of noncitizens are now less likely to be successfully argued under equal protection theories than under federalism (preemption) or administrative agency power issues according to Geoffrey Heeren in his article Persons Who Are Not The People: The Changing Rights of Immigrants in The United States, forthcoming in 44 Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. and available in draft on ssrn.
Heeren reminds us that in the 1886 case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the United States Supreme Court recognized the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims by noncitizens, including immigrants within its definition of "we the people." Yet, although such early Supreme Court cases upheld immigrants’ right to work in the face of state restrictions, relying heavily on the logic and rhetoric of natural rights, in more recent cases such as Arizona v. United States these equality norms are missing. Heeren argues this is a loss given the importance of "rights." He concludes:
In this climate, perhaps the best that can be hoped is for immigrants to invoke individual rights proxies like federalism or agency skepticism. But history, even U.S. legal history, is full of sudden change. The contemporary Supreme Court may prioritize structural rights based on federalism over individual rights and administrative law claims over constitutional ones. But these currently prevailing doctrines evolved from a very different state of affairs—one in which immigrants succeeded to a remarkable extent in pressing claims as equals.
Heeren's article is worth considering not only in light of his excellent discussion of various constitutional doctrines but also in terms of the political consequences of "rights" for noncitizens.
Friday, October 26, 2012
In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of Indiana v. Commissioner of Indiana Department of Health, the Seventh Circuit this week affirmed a district judge's injunction against the state's defunding of Planned Parenthood.
However, the Seventh Circuit upheld the district court on the statutory claim under the Medicaid Act's "free choice of provider" provision, and rejected the constitutional claims of preemption and unconstitutional conditions.
On the preemption claim, the Seventh Circuit panel reversed the district judge's finding that the federal block-grant program for the diagnosis and monitoring of sexually transmitted diseases conflicted with Indiana's defunding of Planned Parenthood in contravention of the Supremacy Clause. The panel applied a presumption in favor of a lack of preemption and found no conflicts, even as implied.
While the district judge had not reached the unconstitutional conditions claim - - - having granted relief on the other claims - - - the Seventh Circuit stated that "it makes sense" to address it. The panel focused on the constitutional right at stake, reasoning that it is a "right against coercive government burdens," but this "implies no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion." Thus, the panel concluded that the unconstitutional conditions claim was not likely to succeed on the merits: given that "the government’s refusal to subsidize abortion does not unduly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion, then Indiana’s ban on public funding of abortion providers—even for unrelated services—cannot indirectly burden a woman’s right to obtain an abortion."
Thus, although the Seventh Circuit opinion's result requires the funding of Planned Parenthood, the court foreclosed constitutional claims.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Today the United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari of the State of Arizona in Arizona v. The Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, from the Ninth Circuit's en banc opinion in Gonzalez v. Arizona. (The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, ITCA, was a named plaintiff in Gonzales).
The central issues, as have been the case with other recent Arizona laws before the Supreme Court, involve pre-emption and citizenship. Here, Arizona's law derives from a ballot initiative, Proposition 200, passed in 2004. It requires prospective voters in Arizona to provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register to vote and requires registered voters to show identification to cast a ballot at the polls. The plaintiffs contended that these provisions were pre-empted by the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Acts.
With regard to the polling place requirements, the en banc Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge and rejected the plaintiffs' claims that the requirements were inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act, violated the Twenty Fourth Amendment's prohibition of poll taxes, or violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
However, the Ninth Circuit found the challenge to the registration to vote provisions had merit. As a grounds of pre-emption, the plaintiffs relied on the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, but also upon the Elections Clause, Art. I, § 4, cl. 1. Recall that the Elections Clause provides: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators." The Ninth Circuit en banc extensively discussed Election Clause pre-emption and compared the provisions of the NVRA and the Proposition 200 regulations. The court found:
Although Arizona has offered a creative interpretation of the state and federal statutes in an effort to avoid a direct conflict, we do not strain to reconcile a state’s federal election regulations with those of Congress, but consider whether the state and federal procedures operate harmoniously when read together naturally. Here, under a natural reading of the NVRA, Arizona’s rejection of every Federal Form submitted without proof of citizenship does not constitute “accepting and using” the Federal Form. Arizona cannot cast doubt on this conclusion by pointing out that the NVRA allows states to reject applicants who fail to demonstrate their eligibility pursuant to the Federal Form. Congress clearly anticipated that states would reject applicants whose responses to the Federal Form indicate they are too young to vote, do not live within the state, or have not attested to being U.S. citizens. Indeed, the NVRA instructs the EAC [Election Assistance Commission] to request information on the Federal Form for the precise purpose of “enabl[ing] the appropriate State election official to assess the eligibility of the applicant.” Thus, a state that assesses an applicant’s eligibility based on the information requested on the Federal Form is “accepting and using” the form in exactly the way it was meant to be used. In contrast, Proposition 200’s registration provision directs county recorders to assess an applicant’s eligibility based on proof of citizenship information that is not requested on the Federal Form, and to reject all Federal Forms that are submitted without such proof. Rejecting the Federal Form because the applicant failed to include information that is not required by that form is contrary to the form’s intended use and purpose.
In its petition for writ of certiorari, Arizona argues that the Ninth Circuit mistakenly created a "new, heightened preemption test" under the Elections Clause and incorrectly concluded that the Proposition 200 requirements were preempted by the NVRA.
The litigation has already garnered a few amicus curiae briefs at the certiorari stage; it is sure to be another closely watched case on Arizona's attempts to regulate citizenship.
[image: ITCA,"Tribal Homelands in Arizona" via]
Monday, August 20, 2012
Sections 7 and 8 of Georgia's immigration regulation statute, known as HB 87, were enjoined by federal district Thomas Thrash in June 2011, a few months after the law was passed.
Today, the Eleventh Circuit, in its opinion in Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights v. Governor of Georgia, upheld the injunction against Section 7 - - - the criminalization of transporting, harboring, or inducing to enter Georgia any "illegal alien" - - - finding the provisions preempted by federal law. The court found that the Georgia statute directly conflicted and was an obstacle to federal immigration law.
The court, however, reversed the injunction against Section 8 - - - the "show me your papers" provision - - - relying upon the Supreme Court's June opinion in Arizona v. United States. However, the Eleventh Circuit left open an "as applied challenge" to section 8, much as the Court did in Arizona v. US.
While the Eleventh Circuit spent a substantial portion of its 33 page opinion rejecting the state's challenge to plaintiffs' standing as well as the state's argument that there was no private cause of action under the Supremacy Clause or preemption, the preemption analysis is central and well-supported.
[image of Georgia flag/map via]
Friday, July 27, 2012
The order means that the full Ninth Circuit will review the panel ruling and possibly reverse it, allowing the plaintiffs' state-law failure-to-warn claim to go forward. It also means that the case is all the more likely to ultimately attract the attention of the Supreme Court. (There's already a minor circuit split.)
The core issue--the one that divided the three-judge panel--is whether the plaintiffs' failure-to-warn claim is sufficiently independent of the FDA's requirement that a medical device manufacturer discover and report to the FDA any complaints about the product's performance and any adverse health consequences attributable to the product. If so--that is, if the state failure-to-warn claim stands on its own, independent of FDA reporting requirements--it's likely not preempted. But if the failure-to-warn claim derives from the FDA requirement, it may be preempted.
The panel majority said that the case is governed by Buckman. In Buckman, the Court ruled that the FDCA preempted a state-law fraud-on-the-FDA claim, because the claim derived exclusively from a requirement owed to the FDA (and not directly to the plaintiffs). The Court distinguished Lohr, which held that the FDCA did not preempt certain negligence claims that paralleled FDCA requirements, writing that "the [Lohr] claims arose from the manufacturer's alleged failure to use reasonable care in the production of the product, not solely from the violation of FDCA requirements," whereas the Buckman fraud claims "exist solely by virtue of the FDCA disclosure requirements." Op. at 4094.
The dissent argued that the plaintiffs' failure-to-warn claim was an independent, preexisting state-law cause of action that did not derive exclusively from FDCA reporting requirements--that it looked more like the independent, but parallel, claim in Lohr than the FDCA-derived claim in Buckman. The dissent argued that Riegel only reinforced the Lohr holding.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
UPDATE: SCALIA's dissenting opinion and Court's June 25 decision here]
Justice Scalia, long known for his scathing written opinions, is under increasing scrutiny - - - and criticism - - - for his comments/questions during oral arguments. The critiques focus on both content and tone of his performance on the Bench and are especially pronounced with regard to Arizona v. United States, the case involving the constitutionality of certain sections of Arizona's notorious immigration law known as SB1070. As we discussed, the oral arguments seemed less about preemption (a sometimes technical and dry issue) and more about federalism and immigration policy unmoored from the statutory and Supremacy Clause considerations.
In a case about borders, several commentators are suggesting that Scalia needs to better monitor his own boundaries.
For example, Dana Millbank in a Washington Post column compares Scalia's rhetoric to that of the "street protestors" stating that they were "nearly identical" in "tone and substance." Millbank argues that although "[t]echnically, Scalia was questioning counsel," at times "he verged on outright heckling" of the Solicitor General.
Similarly, in an article in UK's the Guardian, US political science professor Scott Lumieux notes that Scalia's remarks in Arizona v. United States were "yet more Fox News-style posturing by Scalia," continuing a pattern Lumieux also discusses from recent oral arguments including those concerning the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the ACA.
And in a article entitled "Scalia Reveals How Little He Knows About Immigration Policy," Neil Pippenger in The New Republic refrains from characterizing Scalia's tone, but relates Scalia's "policy suggestion" intended to solve Mexico's objections:
“Well, can’t you avoid that particular foreign relations problem by simply deporting these people?”
A few people sitting near me gasped as Scalia continued: “Look, free them from the jails”—here, [Solicitor General] Verrilli tried to interrupt him, but the justice would not be cut off—“and send them back to the countries that are objecting!”
An mp3 and transcript of the oral arguments in Arizona v. United States is now available at Oyez, so one can hear and read the basis for such criticisms. Of course, without visual broadcast, those not in the courtroom must rely on the representations of others in that regard. However, the transcript and audio certainly lend credence to the critiques.
[image: Justice Scalia at speaking engagement via]
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The oral argument today in the closely watched Arizona v. United States, involving the constitutionality of several provisions of Arizona's notorious SB 1070 that the DOJ argues are pre-empted by federal law and which the lower courts agreed.
These four provisions at issue are:
- Section 2(B): requires every Arizona law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped, arrested, or detained if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country unlawfully;
- Section 3: criminalizes the failure to carry an “alien registration document;'"
- Section 5(C): criminalizes undocumented immigrants applying for employment or being employed;
- Section 6: authorizes warrantless arrests if based upon probable cause that a person has committed a deportable crime.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: -- could I interrupt, and turning to 2(B), could you tell me what the State's view is -- the Government proposes that it should be read on its face one way, and I think the State is arguing that there's a narrower way to read it. But am I to understand that under the State's position in this action, the only time that the inquiry about the status of an individual rises is after they've had probable cause to arrest that individual for some other crime?
Sotomayor persisted raising the "critical" issue of how long and under what circumstances the state would detain someone. After some discussion, including queries by Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, Justice Scalia asked whether any such problems were "immigration" problems or Fourth Amendment problems. Yet the questions on 2(B), in conjunction with Section 6, continued to dominate, until Justice Roberts shifted the inquiry:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Counsel, maybe it's a good time to talk about some of the other sections, in particular section 5(C). Now, that does seem to expand beyond the Federal government's determination about the types of sanctions that should govern the employment relationship.
You talk about supply and demand. The Federal government, of course, prohibits the employment, but it also imposes sanctions with respect to application for work. And the State of Arizona, in this case, is imposing some significantly greater sanctions.
Roberts again took charge and turned the argument to Section 3, the state crime of failure to carry a registration document, which Clement argued was "parallel" to the federal requirements.
Arguing for the United States, Solicitor General Verrilli had barely finished "may it please the Court," when Chief Justice Roberts posed this query:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Before you get into what the case is about, I'd like to clear up at the outset what it's not about. No part of your argument has to do with racial or ethnic profiling, does it? I saw none of that in your brief.
When Verrilli answered "That's correct," Roberts again repeated his statement:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Okay. So this is not a case about ethnic profiling.
Justice Scalia quickly articulated a states rights perspective. Responding to the federal government's position that "the Constitution vests exclusive authority over immigration matters with the national government," Scalia asked:
JUSTICE SCALIA: All that means, it gives authority over naturalization, which we've expanded to immigration. But all that means is that the Government can set forth the rules concerning who belongs in this country. But if, in fact, somebody who does not belong in this country is in Arizona, Arizona has no power? What does sovereignty mean if it does not include the ability to defend your borders?
VERRILLI: . . . . Now, we are not making an allegation of racial profiling; nevertheless, there are already tens of thousands of stops that result in inquiries in Arizona, even in the absence of S.B. 1070. It stands to reason that the legislature thought that that wasn't sufficient and there needed to be more.
And given that you have a population in Arizona of 2 million Latinos, of whom only 400,000 at most are there unlawfully --
JUSTICE SCALIA: Sounds like racial profiling to me.
GENERAL VERRILLI: And they're -- and given that what we're talking about is the status of being unlawfully present --
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Do you have the statistics as to how many arrests there are and how many -- and what the -- percentage of calls before the statute [SB1070]?
The discussions of preemption were often less focused on Congressional intent than on generalized federalism concerns, although at one point Chief Justice Roberts seemed to highlight the only precedent that mattered. Attempting to engage in an analogy, Verrilli argued:
. . . . if you ask one of your law clerks to bring you the most important preemption cases from the last years, and they rolled in the last -- the last hundred volumes of the U.S. Reports and said, well, they are in there. That -- that doesn't make it --
- CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: What if they just rolled in Whiting?
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: That's a pretty good one.
The analogy was never completed.
But if Arizona v. United States mimics Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, decided last May and upholding the Legal Arizona Workers Act, we can expect a fractured opinion ultimately finding in favor of Arizona.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Arizona v. United States on the issue of the constitutionality of Arizona's notorious SB 1070, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer two years ago. The law was controversial from the beginning for a variety of reasons, but the case before the Court focuses on the pre-emption issue as brought before the federal courts by the Department of Justice.
The DOJ was mostly successful in the lower courts. The Court granted the review sought by Arizona of the Ninth Circuit opinion upholding the district court's preliminary injunction against specific provisions of as SB 1070. We've previously outlined some of Arizona's arguments on certiorari.
The oral arguments have attracted much attention. Lyle Dennison at SCOTUSblog has a lengthy, detailed, and incisive analysis, though many readers will be most interested in his outcome bottom line: "With Justice Kagan not taking part, a 4-4 split among those who are taking part would simply uphold — without a written opinion — the Ninth Circuit decision barring enforcement of the four provisions at issue." Kevin Johnson posts over at Immigration Law Prof blog and surfaces an interesting possible outcome. Findlaw has a quick review, ACS has a good discussion, and The Tuscon Sentinel has particularly excellent discussion in a "primer." The NYT has a great graphic of copy-cat SB 1070 statutes in other states.
After the oral argument, there is sure to be much analysis, prediction, and the inevitable wait for the opinion due before the end of the term.
And of course, political responses. Given that the Court's task is the interpretation of a statute and that the "touchstone" of preemption is Congressional intent, Congress can always legislate. While immigration legislation is never easy, at least one Senator is vowing to propose a statute including what seems to be express preemption.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
A sharply divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled earlier this week in Stengel v. Medtronic, Inc. that the plaintiffs' state law failure-to-warn claim based on Medtronic's failure to provide disclosures to the FDA is impliedly preempted under the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The ruling deepens a circuit split, aligning the Ninth Circuit with the Eighth, and against the Fifth. It also leaves little, if any, daylight for a state law claim paralleling the MDA in the Ninth Circuit.
The case grows out of Richard and Mary Lou Stengel's claim against Medtronic for damages for injuries from a premarket approved medical device. The Stengels claimed, among other things, that Medtronic failed to report problems with the device; their proposed amended complaint read:
Under federal law and regulation, [Medtronic] was under a continuing duty to monitor the product after premarket approval and to discover and report to the FDA any complaints about the product's performance and any adverse health consequences of which it became aware and that are or may be attributable to the product.
The Stengels filed a state failure-to-warn claim, which paralleled the FDA reporting requirement, in state court, and Medtronic removed to federal court.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the Stengels' state failure-to-warn claim was impliedly preempted under the MDA under Buckman Co. v. Plaintiffs' Legal Committee (2001). Buckman held that state fraud-on-the-FDA claims were preempted under the FDCA. The majority in Stengel said those claims were the same as the Stengels' claim for preemption purposes:
The Stengels' theory is that if Medtronic had acted wtih reasonable care in complying with the regulations that required it to provide information to the FDA, the FDA would have required Medtronic to warn physicians about the danger of inflammation connected to its pump and Stengel could have avoided the infury caused by the pump. This is precisely the same theory that was rejected in Buckman. The only difference is that, in Buckman, the defendant allegedly misinformed the FDA overtly by providing false information, whereas here the defendant allegedly misinformed the FDA tacitly by failing to report information that it had a duty to report. The policing of such conduct in both instances is committed exclusively to the federal government, and recognizing a state cause of action based on such conduct would conflict with the statutory scheme established by Congress.
Judge Noonan wrote in dissent that the Supreme Court specifically said in Medtronic, Inc. v. Lohr (1996) that state common law duties could parallel the MDA, so long as they were not expressly preempted by the MDA. The Court restated this in Riegel v. Medtronic (2008). Judge Noonan wrote that nothing in Buckman limited this statement, and that Riegel demonstrated its continuing validity.
Although the ruling this week leaves a theoretical opening for a state law claim that parallels the MDA, under the majority's approach it's hard to see what it is.
Friday, April 20, 2012
The en banc Ninth Circuit this week in Gonzalez v. Arizona overturned Arizona's requirement that prospective voters in Arizona provide proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register. But the court also upheld the state's requirement that registered voters show ID to cast a ballot at the polls.
The case is the latest ruling on Arizona's many attempts to clamp down on illegal immigration--just a week before the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday on S.B. 1070. It's also the latest ruling on the many attempts in the states to tighten registration and voting requirements. The case suggests that states may face difficulties in tightening registration requirements for federal elections, even if they have flexibility in enacting voter ID laws at the polls. (The Supreme Court rejected a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection challenge to Indiana's voter ID law in 2008 in Crawford v. Marion County. Under Crawford, voter ID laws are subject merely to a balancing test--at least unless plaintiffs can show that a particular voter ID law creates a much more significant barrier to voting than the plaintiffs demonstrated in Crawford.)
The Ninth Circuit ruled that Arizona's registration provision conflicted with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and that the NVRA superceded Arizona's registration provision. The NVRA prescribes three ways that states can register voters for federal elections: application with an application for a driver's license; mail application using a federal form designed by the Eelection Assistance Commission; and in-person registration. The NVRA also requires states to create a combined driver's license and voter registration form, and it delegates to the EAC the creation of a nationally uniform Federal Form for mail and in-person registration for federal elections. (The key language: the NVRA says that states must "accept and use" the Federal Form developed by the EAC.) States may (but are not required to) create their own forms for federal elections, so long as those forms meet NVRA criteria. (State forms do not replace the Federal Form; the Federal Form is still required.)
The NVRA says that the Federal Form "may require only such identifying information . . . as is necessary to enable the [state] to assess the eligibility of the applicant." It also says that the Federal Form must include an "attestation that the applicant meets [citizenship requirements]." Under the NVRA, the EAC created a Federal Form that asks "Are you a ctiizen of the United States of America?" The Form says that an applicant should not complete the form if he or she answered no.
While neither the NVRA nor the EAC Federal Form requires proof of citizenship (beyond the attestation), Arizona's Proposition 200 does. It says that "[t]he county recorder shall reject any application for registration that is not accompanied by satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship." (Arizona's requirement applies to both the Federal Form and to the state form. The EAC earlier rejected Arizona's proposal to modify the Federal Form consistent with Prop 200.) Arizona's Prop 200 thus goes beyond and adds to the requirements of the NVRA and the EAC Federal Form.
The court ruled that the additional ID requirement in Arizona's Prop 200 conflicted with the NVRA and the EAC Federal Form. It sais that the NVRA doesn't give states room to add to the Federal Form--exactly what Prop 200 sought to do. And because Congress enacted the NVRA under the Elections Clause, the NVRA trumps Arizona's law. The Elections Clause says that "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators." The court ruled that a valid enactment under the Elections Clause, like the NVRA, preempts conflicting state law, with no presumption against preemption (as in more traditional preemption cases, under the Supremacy Clause, because the Elections Clause does not require the same kind of balancing of federalism concerns).
But while the court ruled the registration provision unconstitutional, it upheld the voter ID provision against challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the 24th Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. As to the Section 2 challenge, the court said that the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence showing that "Latinos' ability or inability to obtain or possess identification for voting purposes . . . resulted in Latinos having less opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." As to the constitutional challenges, the court applied a Crawford-like balancing analysis and upheld the law.
Chief Judge Kozinski wrote in concurrence that "this is a difficult and perplexing case," and that the "statutory language we must apply is readily susceptible to the interpretation of the majority, but also that of the dissent." He concurred in full, even though he dissented in the prior three-judge panel. (He explains why on page 4196.)
Judge Berzon, joined by Judge Murguia, concurred but suggested that the plaintiffs could make out a Section 2 case against voter ID, but that under the current record they didn't.
Judge Pregerson concurred and wrote that the plaintiffs did make out a Section 2 case against voter ID.
Judge Rawlinson, joined by Judge Smith, concurred on voter ID, but dissented on the registration requirement.
April 20, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Supremacy Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 22, 2012
The Supreme Court ruled last year in PLIVA v. Mensing that federal prescription drug laws preempt plaintiffs' state failure-to-warn claims against generic drug manufacturers, even as it ruled three years again in Wyeth v. Levine that similar federal laws do not preempt plaintiffs' state law claims against brand-name manufacturers.
The New York Times this week examined the impact of Mensing and, unsurprisingly, found that courts are routinely dismissing state law claims against generic manufacturers, and that many generic prescription drug users have no idea that they are waiving their claims against manufacturers simply by opting for a generic equivalent over a brand-name drug:
The Supreme Court ruling affects potentially millions of people: nearly 80 percent of prescriptions in the United States are filled by a generic, and most states permit pharmacists to dispense a generic in place of a brand name. More than 40 judges have dismissed cases against generic manufacturers since the Supreme Court ruled last June, including some who dismissed dozens of cases consolidated under one judge.
The article reminds readers that Congress could easily change the landscape and allow suits against generics to go forward. But it doesn't look like that'll happen anytime soon.