Monday, September 26, 2016
The United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.
Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.
The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Virginia concededly did consider race in the redistricting, but the more precise issue is an interpretation under current doctrine regarding whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court is faulted for requiring an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race. The petitioners argue that “where a legislature intentionally assigns voters to districts according to a fixed, nonnegotiable racial threshold, “strict scrutiny cannot be avoided simply by demonstrating that the shape and location of the districts can rationally be explained by reference to some districting principle other than race.” If it were other-wise, they argue, even the most egregious race-based districting schemes would escape constitutional scrutiny. In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation. The plaintiff originally argued that the congressional map drawn by the NC Assembly in 2011 violated the Equal Protection Clause in two districts by making race a predominant factor and by not narrowly tailoring the districts to any compelling interest. North Carolina argues that the conclusion of racial predominance is incorrect and that it need not show that racial considerations were “actually necessary” as opposed to “having good reasons” under the Voting Rights Act. The North Carolina districts have been long controversial; a good timeline is here.
In another Equal Protection Clause case, the classification is sex rather than race. In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment. The United States argues that because the context is citizenship, only rational basis scrutiny is appropriate. This issue has been before the Court before. The last time was 2011 in Flores-Villar v. United States when the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" upheld the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the differential residency requirement satisfied equal protection. In Flores-Villar, Kagan was recused. The Court hearing Morales-Santana, scheduled for oral argument November 9, will also seemingly be only eight Justices, but this time including Kagan.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. It is concededly more expansive/restrictive than the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment as the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision. Trinity Lutheran argues that the Blaine Amendment violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, with the Eighth Circuit siding with the state of Missouri.
There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution. Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror. Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?
Finally - - - at least for now - - - the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute. Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.
We will be updating this post as the Court adds more cases to its docket.
UPDATE September 29, 2016: The Court granted certiorari to two important First Amendment cases.
September 26, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Religion, Sixth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 19, 2016
The official trailer for the movie, Loving, based on Loving v. Virginia (1967) and due to be released November 4, is available:
The film has already received some positive reviews including from audiences at the Cannes Film Festival.
The case is always a popular read with ConLaw students and the film will certainly only accentuate that interest.
The trailer includes reference to the United States Supreme Court case, but it is best offered to students as a supplement on the course website rather than as precious minutes of class time.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Maricopa County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio held that shackling a pregnant woman while she gives birth might rise to a constitutional violation:
We are presented with an important and complex issue of first impression in our circuit: whether the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement officers to restrain a female inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or during postpartum recovery. We hold today that in this case, the answer to that question depends on factual disputes a properly instructed jury must resolve.
Ms. Mediola-Martinez was 6 months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and unconstitutionally detained: "Because she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, she was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13- 3961(A)(5)," before the Ninth Circuit "later ruled it unconstitutional. See Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772, 792 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert denied, 135 S. Ct. 2046 (2015)."
Ms. Mediola-Martinez went into early labor about two months later. During the actual C-section procedure, she was not restrained. However, before the procedure when she was "in active labor" and during the postpartum recovery, she was restrained. She had plead guilty a few days before the birth and was released on a sentence of time-served a few days after.
The Ninth Circuit panel acknowledged that the weight of precedent and evidence decries the practice of shackling pregnant women in its discussion of whether the practice is a "sufficiently serious deprivation" of medical care posing a substantial risk of serious harm and thus constitutes an Eighth Amendment claim. Additionally, the panel held that she had sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference. A jury, the court held, should consider this claim.
The Ninth Circuit was not so welcoming to the Equal Protection Clause claim. Mediola-Martinez argued that the county's restraint policy discriminated on the basis of race against Mexican-Americans. But as the court noted, she needed to show that the "Restraint Policy not only had a discriminatory impact, but that it was enacted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against members of a protected class." The "offensive quotes" of Sheriff Arpaio were not sufficient to prove intent: "Even if those hearsay statements were admissible, however, they do not mention the Restraint Policy and do not otherwise lead to any inference that Sheriff Arpaio’s 2006 Restraint Policy was promulgated to discriminate against Mexican nationals." Likewise, discriminatory intent could not be inferred from the general population statistics; there needs to be a "gross" statistical disparity to raise the specter of intent.
The court was cautious but clear:
Crafting a restraint policy that balances safety concerns with the inmates’ medical needs is equally challenging. But it is not impossible. And we leave it to a jury to decide whether the risk the Maricopa County Restraint Policy posed to Mendiola-Martinez was justified, or whether the County Defendants went a step too far.
Or perhaps several steps?
image: "Birth Room" via
Friday, July 29, 2016
In its extensive opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory, the Fourth Circuit has permanently enjoined the implementation of North Carolina SL 2013-381’s photo ID requirement and changes to early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration. The Voter Information Verification Act, the Fourth Circuit concluded, made a racial classification although it seemed neutral, reasoning that
on the day after the Supreme Court issued Shelby County v. Holder (2013), eliminating preclearance obligations, a leader of the party that newly dominated the legislature (and the party that rarely enjoyed African American support) announced an intention to enact what he characterized as an “omnibus” election law. Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.
In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.
The Fourth Circuit concluded that the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act violated both the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and §2 of the Voting Rights Act. For both, the hurdle was finding the legislature acted with racially discriminatory intent. Most of the opinion is devoted to this discussion. The Fourth Circuit reversed the district judge on this basis, writing that the judge seemed "to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," and ignoring "critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina."
In the Equal Protection analysis, the Fourth Circuit applied the well-established requirement of racial intent (as well as effects) from Washington v. Davis. In considering whether the seemingly-neutral voting requirements were enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” their discriminatory effect, citing Pers. Adm’r of Mass. v. Feeney (1979), the Fourth Circuit discussed the factors of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp. (1977):
In Arlington Heights, the Court set forth a nonexhaustive list of factors to consider in making this sensitive inquiry. These include: “[t]he historical background of the [challenged] decision”; “[t]he specific sequence of events leading up to the challenged decision”; “[d]epartures from normal procedural sequence”; the legislative history of the decision; and of course, the disproportionate “impact of the official action -- whether it bears more heavily on one race than another.”
The Fourth Circuit then discussed these factors individually. Importantly, on the sequence of events, the opinion stated that
the General Assembly’s eagerness to, at the historic moment of Shelby County’s issuance, rush through the legislative process the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow -- bespeaks a certain purpose. Although this factor, as with the other Arlington Heights factors, is not dispositive on its own, it provides another compelling piece of the puzzle of the General Assembly’s motivation.
But, as the Fourth Circuit noted - - - and for which it faulted the district court - - - the factors should not be considered in isolation. Instead, Arlington Heights requires a totality of circumstances analysis.
The Fourth Circuit having found that race was a factor in the enactment of the Voter Information Verification Act (emphasis in original), the burden shifted to the state to demonstrate that the law would have been enacted without this factor, by assessing "whether a law would have been enacted without a racially discriminatory motive by considering the substantiality of the state’s proffered non-racial interest and how well the law furthers that interest." The Fourth Circuit faulted the district judge for conducting this analysis through a "rational-basis-like lens," when such deference is "wholly inappropriate."
The Fourth Circuit discussed each challenged provision of the Voter Information Verification Act. On the voter identification requirement specifically, the Fourth Circuit found Crawford largely inapplicable given that Crawford did not involve even an allegation of intentional race discrimination. It found that while preventing voter fraud is a valid government interest, the means chosen are both too narrow and too broad. Similarly, the Fourth Circuit found that the other provisions could not satisfy the standard:
In sum, the array of electoral “reforms” the General Assembly pursued in SL 2013-381 were not tailored to achieve its purported justifications, a number of which were in all events insubstantial. In many ways, the challenged provisions in SL 2013-381 constitute solutions in search of a problem. The only clear factor linking these various “reforms” is their impact on African American voters. The record thus makes obvious that the “problem” the majority in the General Assembly sought to remedy was emerging support for the minority party. Identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote was an easy and effective way to do so.
The Fourth Circuit panel was unanimous to this point, but divided as to the relief. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, wrote the panel's opinion except to Part V.B., from which she dissented. Her dissent is from a permanent injunction as to the photo identification requirement given that the North Carolina legislature passed a "reasonable impediment exception" from that requirement. She would"only temporarily enjoin the photo ID requirement and remand the case to the district court to determine if, in practice, the exception fully remedies the discriminatory requirement or if a permanent injunction is necessary."
The dissenting point is a small one. The Fourth Circuit panel unanimously held that the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act violates both the Equal Protection Clause and §2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Monday, July 11, 2016
In a just-published article, Black Lives Matter and Respectability Politics in Local News Accounts of Officer-Involved Civilian Deaths: An Early Empirical Assessment, 2016 Wisconsin Law Review 541, ConLawProf Osagie K. Obasogie (pictured below) and UC Hastings law student Zachary Newman present a compelling discussion of how news media - - - and by extension the general public - - - engage in the politics of respectability with regard to allegations of police misconduct, focusing on the conduct or character of the victim.
The authors argue that although " sustained media attention to Black Lives Matter may lead some to conclude that journalists have become more sensitive to how respectability politics can lead to inaccurate reporting and encourage more balanced descriptions of these events, our qualitative assessment of the selected data suggests that journalists’ reporting of these incidents continues to reflect a troubling respectability politics that minimizes the lives lost and overstates the legitimacy of police use of deadly force."
In looking at news reports from 2013 until July 2015, the authors conclude that
overall, as a qualitative matter, there is a notable discursive consistency across pre– and post–Black Lives Matter reporting on officer-involved killings, suggesting that the movement’s concerns over race and respectability are not reflected in journalists’ accounts. This overall finding is empirically supported by three persistent themes throughout the data: (1) a strong commitment to colorblindness in discussing the race of the parties involved, (2) the dominance of the police perspective in reporting these incidents, and (3) continued use of criminalizing language unrelated to the incident itself to characterize the victim’s respectability.
The authors insights could be extended to more recent events, including those of this past week, which will be sure to still be on the minds of law students in our classes and this article could be a great introductory reading for 1L students.
Additionally, more must-read discussions of respectability politics including the events of the last week is over at Race and the Law Prof Blog, including Atiba Ellis's, On Respectability, the Dallas Shootings, #BlackLivesMatter, and Reasoned Discourse which links to that blog's online symposium on Respectability Politics.
July 11, 2016 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, News, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)
Thursday, June 23, 2016
On Fisher's second trip to the Court, the United States Supreme Court has found that the affirmative action plan of the University of Texas did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. In a relatively brief opinion for the majority, Justice Kennedy, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor - - - recall Kagan was recused - - - affirmed the Fifth Circuit's conclusion rebuffing Fisher's equal protection claim (and some believed rebuffing the Supreme Court's remand).
Recall that Fisher I was a 7-1 opinion. (Only Justice Ginsburg dissented in Fisher I; Justice Kagan was recused, and Justice Sotomayor's joining of the majority has been subject to much speculation after her impassioned dissent in Schuette v. BAMN) remanding the case to the Fifth Circuit. On remand in 2014, the Fifth Circuit somewhat surprisingly essentially reiterated its earlier position, holding that the university met its burden of demonstrating the narrowing tailoring necessary to satisfy strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
During oral argument, the possibility that there could ever be a constitutional mention of race in an admissions program was at issue, with Breyer actually "spelling it out" (After Breyer asked for an example of using race and Fisher's attorney replied "you could give more emphasis to socio-economic factors," Breyer stated: "That's not to use race. I'm saying r-a-c-e, race. I want to know which are the things they could do that, in your view, would be okay. Because I'm really trying to find out. Not fatal in fact, we've said. Okay? Not fatal in fact. Fine.")
Essentially, the Court today found that there were no workable race-neutral means to accomplish UT's compelling interest in diversity:
In short, none of petitioner’s suggested alternatives— nor other proposals considered or discussed in the course of this litigation—have been shown to be “available” and “workable” means through which the University could have met its educational goals, as it understood and defined them in 2008. Fisher I, supra, at ___ (slip op., at 11). The University has thus met its burden of showing that the admissions policy it used at the time it rejected petitioner’s application was narrowly tailored.
Kennedy's opinion ends with a paean to diversity and a warning, including to UT:
A university is in large part defined by those intangible “qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness.” Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U. S. 629, 634 (1950). Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission. But still, it remains an enduring challenge to our Nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.
In striking this sensitive balance, public universities, like the States themselves, can serve as “laboratories for experimentation.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 581 (1995) (KENNEDY, J., concurring); see also New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U. S. 262, 311 (1932) (Brandeis, J., dissenting). The University of Texas at Austin has a special opportunity to learn and to teach. The University now has at its disposal valuable data about the manner in which different approaches to admissions may foster diversity or instead dilute it. The University must continue to use this data to scrutinize the fairness of its admissions program; to assess whether changing demographics have undermined the need for a race-conscious policy; and to identify the effects, both positive and negative, of the affirmative-action measures it deems necessary.
The Court’s affirmance of the University’s admissions policy today does not necessarily mean the University may rely on that same policy without refinement. It is the University’s ongoing obligation to engage in constant deliberation and continued reflection regarding its admissions policies.
Justice Alito disagreed strongly and read portions of his dissent from the bench. His dissent was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas (who also wrote briefly separately). Alito's 50 page dissent argues that the means chosen is not satisfied, but also questions diversity as a compelling governmental interest:
The University has still not identified with any degree of specificity the interests that its use of race and ethnicity is supposed to serve. Its primary argument is that merely invoking “the educational benefits of diversity” is sufficient and that it need not identify any metric that would allow a court to determine whether its plan is needed to serve, or is actually serving, those interests.
Interestingly, Alito ends by suggesting that perhaps Amanda Fisher has no standing after all, and implying that his colleagues' (or one particular colleague?) integrity has eroded: "The majority cannot side with UT simply because it is tired of this case."
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
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.
Monday, May 23, 2016
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.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
In its opinion in Vergara v. California today, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District of California reversed the conclusion of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education. California's so-called teacher tenure statutes challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including the permanent employment statute (§44929.21(b)); dismissal statutes (§§ 44934; 44938(b)(l) and (2) and 44944); and a seniority statute, "Last In First Out" or "LIFO" statute (§44955).
In a nutshell, the appellate court found:
Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.
The appellate court implied that the trial judge had misconstrued his constitutional task:
With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.
The appellate court's 36 page opinion contains a careful rehearsal of the evidence before the trial judge as well as a discussion of his opinion. In its own analysis, the appellate court considered the plaintiffs' original contentions that:
the challenged statutes create an oversupply of grossly ineffective teachers because (i) the tenure statute’s probationary period is too short, preventing the identification of grossly ineffective teachers before the mandated deadline for reelection; (ii) when grossly ineffective tenured teachers are identified, it is functionally impossible to terminate them under the overly burdensome and complicated dismissal statutes; and (iii) when reductions-in-force are required, the statute requires the termination of junior, competent teachers while more senior, grossly ineffective teachers keep their jobs only because they have seniority. Plaintiffs argued, and the trial court agreed, that two distinct classes of students—Group 1 (an “unlucky subset” of students within the population of students at large) and Group 2 (poor and minority students)—were denied equal protection because the challenged statutes led members of these groups to be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.
The unanimous panel found that there was no "identifiable class" for equal protection purposes: the group of "unlucky students" who are allegedly harmed by being assigned to grossly ineffective teachers have only one defining characteristic - - - they are assigned to grossly ineffective teachers. As for the second group - - - identified as poor and minority students - - - the appellate court found that there was insufficient causation for a facial constitutional violation: "the statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth." While it is possible, the appellate court noted, that the plaintiffs could have shown that the implementation of the statutes inevitably resulted in "consequential assignment of disproportionately high numbers of grossly inefficient teachers to schools predominantly serving low-income and minority students," the plaintiffs here did not make such a showing.
While the appellate court recognized there were "deplorable staffing decisions made by some local administrators," this was not sufficient to support a facial challenge to teacher tenure statutes.
The appellate decision is much better reasoned than the trial judge's opinion, which derided the "uber due process" provided by the statutes and did not elaborate on the facts and evidence. It is likely to stand.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
In a case involving both 42 USC §1981 and Title VII, a panel of the Second Circuit in its opinion in Village of Freeport v. Barrella addressed the question of whether "Hispanic" was included in definitions of race. In a word, the answer was yes. In a few words, Judge Jose Cabranes' opinion for the panel answered:
Based on longstanding Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedent, we reiterate that “race” includes ethnicity for purposes of § 1981, so that discrimination based on Hispanic ancestry or lack thereof constitutes racial discrimination under that statute. We also hold that “race” should be defined the same way for purposes of Title VII.
The plaintiff, Barrella, argued that the Village official had not appointed him chief of police because Barrella was a white Italian‐American, and that the Village had instead appointed a less‐qualified Hispanic. A jury found in favor of Barrella. At trial and on appeal, the Village contended that there was no "race" discrimination or classification, because "Hispanic" is not a race. Judge Cabranes' opinion discussed the "societal confusion" regarding "Hispanic," and included an interesting Appendix on the various labels the United States Census has used, starting in 1930. The court, however, clearly stated:
The existence of a Hispanic “race” has long been settled with respect to §1981. Although that statute never uses the word “race,” the Supreme Court has construed it as forbidding “racial” discrimination in public or private employment. The Court has further defined “racial discrimination,” for purposes of §1981, as including discrimination based on “ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
But the clarity with regard to §1981 does not exist with regard to Title VII, which is further complicated by an "analytic" problem. The Second Circuit recognized that although its precedent had "avoided the question so far,"
the proper categorization of Hispanicity has important analytical implications. Section 1981 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race but not on the basis of national origin. Accordingly, if we were to treat Hispanicity as a national origin, but not as a race, for purposes of Title VII, plaintiffs in cases involving pro‐ or anti‐Hispanic discrimination might in some circumstances need to present two different factual arguments in order to invoke the distinct remedies of that statute along with those of § 1981.
In deciding the issue of "Hispanicity," the Second Circuit disapproved of the district judge's decision to treat the question as one of fact: "The meaning of the word “race” in Title VII is, like any other question of statutory interpretation, a question of law for the court." The error was harmless, however. On the question of law, the Second Circuit clearly held that "race" encompasses "ethnicity" for purposes of Title VII, just as in §1981.
On the ultimate disposition, an evidentiary issue caused the Second Circuit to vacate the judgment and remand the case for a new trial. Yet the case makes an important contribution in the continuing dialogue on the meanings of race - - - both statutory and otherwise.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
Roosevelt begins by provocatively asking whether we could dare to even "invent" a character like Richard Posner if he did not exist, flatteringly describing Posner as "arguably America’s greatest living judge." (A judgment that many might find more than a bit arguable.)
As to the book, Roosevelt has a few criticisms. Although it is "a valuable contribution to debates over the future of federal courts and law schools alike," its "list of judicial problems and possible academic solutions is long enough to be overwhelming: It includes 55 problems and 48 solutions." Moreover, some of the criticisms are "overstated." As to legal scholarship, Roosevelt takes Posner to task for his judgment about the correctness of the now-reviled decision in Korematsu v. United States, upholding a Japanese internment conviction during World War II, and notes that legal scholarship has shown that the government not only over-reacted but was less than candid with the Court.
While Roosevelt has high praise for the book, it does not seem like a must-read. Instead, read Roosevelt's review.
Monday, January 18, 2016
On this Martin Luther King Day, the 2016 Presidential Proclamation includes attention to the continuing quest for educational equality:
Today, we celebrate the long arc of progress for which Dr. King and so many other leaders fought to bend toward a brighter day. It is our mission to fulfill his vision of a Nation devoted to rejecting bigotry in all its forms; to rising above cynicism and the belief that we cannot change; and to cherishing dignity and opportunity not only for our own daughters and sons, but also for our neighbors' children.
We have made great advances since Dr. King's time, yet injustice remains in many corners of our country. In too many communities, the cycle of poverty persists and students attend schools without adequate resources -- some that serve as a pipeline to prison for young people of color. Children still go to bed hungry, and the sick go without sufficient treatment in neighborhoods across America. To put up blinders to these realities or to intimate that they are inherent to a Nation as large and diverse as ours would do a disservice to those who fought so hard to ensure ours was a country dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.
It's worth (re)reading Professor Taunya Lovell Banks' 2013 article, The Unfinished Journey - Education, Equality and Martin Luther King, Jr. Revisited, 58 Villanova Law Review 471, available on ssrn, arguing that educational equality includes economic equality.
Delivered as a MLK Day Lecture at Villanova, Professor Banks remarks have continued resonance as the United States Supreme Court deliberates Fisher II regarding affirmative action in higher education:
As our experience with Brown [v. Board of Education] has taught us, law is an imperfect vehicle for bringing about massive social change. In 1963, Dr. King, in his often quoted Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote about the “interrelatedness of all communities and states.” The same year he wrote in his book Strength to Love that: “True integration will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations.” I contend that we as Americans have an unenforceable obligation to provide quality education for all of our children and not handicap some children so that others can become more competitive. We must do this by public will, not solely through law.
As I said earlier, our efforts to bring about educational equality should be multi-directional, and lawyers have a role to play. As part of this battle some lawyers and academics must recommit to convincing state courts to define more broadly their guarantees of a free public education. We must convince state courts that education is a fundamental right. Others must work with state legislatures to get them to commit, in words and funds, to the achievement of a twenty-first century notion of educational equality. More importantly, we all must work to get Americans throughout the nation to recommit to a strong public education system throughout the country.
[footnotes omitted; emphasis added].
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
In its more than 100 page opinion today in In Re Simon Shiao Tam, the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.
The central issue was the denial of a trademark registration to "The Slants" by the applicant Simon Shiao Tam, on behalf of the Portland, Oregon "all Asian American dance rock band" (pictured below).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, established in 1982 by a the merger of the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals and the appellate division of the United States Court of Claims, was reviewing the denial of the trademark by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). A panel of the Federal Circuit rejected Tam's First Amendment arguments, finding that it was bound by circuit precedent from 1981 that held that the First Amendment was not implicated by the denial of trademark registration.
The Circuit sua sponte ordered rehearing en banc. The majority opinion, authored by Judge Kimberly Moore (who was formerly a law prof at George Mason School of Law), was joined by 8 other judges, including Chief Judge Sharon Prost, reasoned that much had changed since the 1981 circuit precedent - - - including the jurisprudence offering protections for commercial speech under the First Amendment - - - and that the First Amendment should apply.
Not only should the First Amendment apply, it is violated in the most egregious manner: viewpoint discrimination. Moore's opinion for the majority stresses that the "disparagement" provision "discriminates against speech because it disapproves of the message conveyed by the speech" and is therefore subject to strict scrutiny. That the government might itself not disapprove but "claims that some part of the populace will disapprove of the message" is irrelevant. When the PTO refuses to register a trademark under this provision,"it does so because it believes the mark conveys an expressive message—a message that is disparaging to certain groups." Mr. Tam was undoubtedly engaging in expressive speech:
Mr. Tam explicitly selected his mark to create a dialogue on controversial political and social issues. With his band name, Mr. Tam makes a statement about racial and ethnic identity. He seeks to shift the meaning of, and thereby reclaim, an emotionally charged word. He advocates for social change and challenges perceptions of people of Asian descent. His band name pushes people. It offends. Despite this—indeed, because of it—Mr. Tam’s band name is expressive speech.
The court rejected the government's three arguments, including its argument that the First Amendment did not apply since no speech was prohibited. The government's second argument - - - that trademark registration is government speech - - - was likewise rejected. Here, the court distinguished last Term's decision in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, the confederate flag license plate case, by distinguishing between the license plate (which the government continues to own and which the car driver must affix) and the trademark symbol (which the government does not "own" and the registrant can use or not). As for public perception, the court used a copyright analogy: just as the public does not associate copyrighted works such as Fifty Shades of Grey with the government, "neither does the public associate individual trademarks such as THE SLANTS with the government."
The court likewise rejected the government argument that § 2(a) merely withholds a government subsidy for Mr. Tam’s speech and is valid as a permissible definition of a government subsidy program: "Trademark registration does not implicate Congress’s power to spend or to control use of government property." Further, the "benefits of trademark registration, while valuable, are not monetary, and are "unlike a subsidy consisting of, for example, HIV/AIDS funding," as in the Court's 2013 decision in USAID v. Alliance for an Open Society.
The majority's opinion clearly rests on its conclusion that the disparagement provision of § 2(a) is viewpoint discrimination that cannot survive strict scrutiny. But it also provides the fall-back rationale of commercial speech.
Even if we were to treat § 2(a) as a regulation of commercial speech, it would fail to survive. In Central Hudson, the Supreme Court laid out the intermediate- scrutiny framework for determining the constitutionality of restrictions on commercial speech. First, commercial speech “must concern lawful activity and not be misleading.” If this is the case, we ask whether “the asserted governmental interest is substantial,” id., and whether the regulation “directly and materially advanc[es]” the government’s asserted interest and is narrowly tailored to achieve that objective.
[citations omitted]. But the court's rationale circles back. The court finds that 2(a) fails at the second step: the government interest cannot be substantial because it is based on viewpoint discrimination. This is certainly predictable in light of IMS v. Sorrell (2011). The court finds that the government's asserted interest in "fostering racial tolerance" cannot support a speech regulation. "The case law does not recognize a substantial interest in discriminatorily regulating private speech to try to reduce racial intolerance." The cases relied upon are outside the commercial speech realm.
This tension between commercial speech and non-commercial speech permeates some of the opinions by Judges who did not join the majority. Perhaps most persuasive is the dissenting opinion by Judge Jimmie Reyna, arguing that §2(a) survived commercial speech's intermediate scrutiny:
The marketplace of ideas differs dramatically from the marketplace of goods and services. While the marketplace of ideas may tolerate or even benefit from the volatility that accompanies disparaging and insulting speech, the marketplace of goods and services is a wholly different animal. Commerce does not benefit from political volatility, nor from insults, discrimination, or bigotry. Commerce is a communal institution regulated for the mutual economic benefit of all. Commercial speech that discredits or brings reproach upon groups of Americans, particularly based on their race, has a discriminatory impact that undermines commercial activity and the stability of the marketplace in much the same manner as discriminatory conduct.
As the court notes numerous times throughout its opinions, the disparagement provision has long been contentious, including the notorious "Dykes on Bikes" trademark dispute (which I wrote about here).
But currently - - - and looming largely - - - the ongoing litigation currently before the Fourth Circuit regarding the PTO's cancellation of the trademark of a football team with the name many believe disparages Native Americans.
Moreover, given that a circuit court has declared a portion of a federal statute unconstitutional, this issue could well be going to the United States Supreme Court.
UPDATE: September 29, 2016, The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Today the Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas - - - Fisher II - - - (again) raising the constitutionality of the admissions plan at the University of Texas that includes a consideration of race. How much a consideration of race is included in the plan as well as the effect of any considerations surfaced in today's argument which demonstrated the deep divide amongst the Justices on issues of race.
This deep divide was apparent, despite the fact that Fisher I was a 7-1 opinion as Justice Breyer noted today. (Only Justice Ginsburg dissented in Fisher I; Justice Kagan was recused). Breyer stated that the Court "promised in Fisher I" that strict scrutiny would not be "fatal in fact" as applied in university affirmative action. Justice Breyer had previously stressed in a colloquy with Bert Rein, representing Fisher, that it must be possible to use race, actually "spelling it out" to counsel. After Breyer asked for an example of using race and Rein replied "you could give more emphasis to socio-economic factors," Breyer stated:
That's not to use race. I'm saying r-a-c-e, race. I want to know which are the things they could do that, in your view, would be okay. Because I'm really trying to find out. Not fatal in fact, we've said. Okay? Not fatal in fact. Fine.
Yet the problem of the requirement of narrowly tailored proved difficult. Perhaps Solicitor General Verrilli, supporting the University of Texas, expressed the problem best by calling it a "Catch-22." Indeed, it seemed that the university's plan was problematic both because it was and was not effective. Nevertheless, one recurring argument was whether the University of Texas plan was as good as - - - if not better - - - than the plans upheld in Grutter and Bakke.
The arguments were not limited to the means chosen, however, for the continued validity of diversity as a compelling interest in higher education surfaced repeatedly. While General Verrilli did not mention George Washington, he did aver to the continued importance of diversity in higher education and for the nation. Moreover, there were references to the hope expressed by the Court in Grutter v. University of Michigan that affirmative action would not be necessary in 25 years. Chief Justice Roberts asked counsel for University of Texas, Gregory Garre, whether we were going to "hit the deadline" in 12 more years. Justice Scalia asked Solicitor General Verrilli if he thought we could "stop disadvantaging some applicants because of their race" in another 13 years.
Scalia made it clear that he thought the time for any type of racial affirmative action was long past, if there ever was such a time. Indeed, in what was probably the most controversial commentary in the argument, Scalia advanced what might be called a separate-but-unequal argument:
There are there are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less advanced school, a less a slower track school where they do well. One of one of the briefs pointed out that that most of the most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas.
. . . . They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they're that they're being pushed ahead in in classes that are too too fast for them.
Will it all devolve to Justice Kennedy?
Recall that the Fifth Circuit in Fisher on remand from the United States Supreme Court did not remand to the district court, but decided the case. But just what that evidence might possibly be adduced at a trial was also a controversial subject at the oral argument.
Still, this might be the only compromise available for such a divided Court.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
The trial judge in Massachusetts set to preside over the prosecution of four Black Lives Matter protesters has reportedly told the defendants that they cannot wear shirts with those words - - - Black Lives Matter - - - during the trial. Apparently at a pretrial hearing, the judge noticed one of the defendants wearing attire with the words and stated:
"Is that appropriate to wear in front of a jury? Why isn't that unfair to the commonwealth? You're asking me to ferret out jurors who are not fair ... I'm not going to allow clothing with that message."
While judges have a great deal of discretion in the courtroom, the courtroom is not without First Amendment protections, even when it comes to the symbolic expression of attire. However, most of the cases involving defendant attire have been about protecting the defendant's right to a fair trial rather than any right of the government's. A quintet of cases from the United States Supreme Court - - - Illinois v. Allen (1973), Estelle v. Williams (1976), Holbrook v. Flynn (1986), Deck v. Missouri (2005), and Carey v. Musladin (2006) - - - considered various aspects of "attire" during trial. In Allen, it was the possibility of the shackling and gagging the defendant, in Williams it was the defendant's "prison garb," in Holbrook v. Flynn it was uniformed guards in the courtroom, in Deck it was shackling the defendant, and in Musladin it was the defendant's objection to spectators' wearing buttons with the victim's photograph.
The rights of court spectators to First Amendment expressions is not well-established. Justice Souter concurred in Musladin mentioning the possibility of such a right, but contended that trial judges had affirmative obligations to ensure a fair trial, including regulating the attire of spectators. But what if the spectators support the defendant? Some judges have prohibited supportive attire. For example, in 2013 an Indiana judge prohibited spectators from wearing buttons supporting Bei Bei Shuai, on trial for unsuccessful suicide attempt that resulted in a miscarriage. And last year, a judge banned spectators from wearing pink hands pinned to their shirts in support of Cecily McMillan for assaulting a police officer who she said had grabbed her breast.
As to the defendants, they risk being held in contempt if they do wear the prohibited clothing. Perhaps the most famous case involved the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial.
But the First Amendment principle is preserved whether or not the defendants comply with the judge's order about their expressive attire. Prohibiting defendants from wearing non-obscene words that support their political viewpoints certainly raises a First Amendment issue of viewpoint and content discrimination.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
As the oral argument scheduled for December 9 for Fisher II approaches, organizations and individuals are filing amicus briefs for the Court's consideration. SALT - - - the Society of American Law Teachers - - - a progressive organization of law faculty that has long fought for diversity in legal education, has predictably filed an amicus brief supporting University of Texas's admissions program.
One of the more interesting aspects of the brief is its argument that race neutrality is essentially impossible: "race-blind holistic review is not only a contradiction in terms, it is infeasible." As the brief argues, "Put simply, because peoples’ lives are not “color blind,” neither can a holistic admissions policy be."
Consider a college application from an individual who lists youth leadership in his or her African Methodist Episcopal Church as an activity. Or consider an application from a first-generation Latina high-school senior whose personal essay discusses her immigrant parents’ experiences and how she learned to thrive in an English-dominated culture even though Spanish is the language spoken at home. If the reader is to conduct holistic review but cannot consider race, the reader is confronted with uncomfortable choices about how to handle these applications.
Moreover, if the reader cannot consider race, the reader would be confronted with an impossible task, because race affects assessments of individuals consciously or unconsciously, regardless of intentions and any mandate from this Court. . . .
Just as Dostoevsky’s polar bear will occupy the mind of anyone challenged not to think about it, so too will the admonition not to think about race generate an unspoken preoccupation with that subject.
Although the SALT amicus brief does not argue that race will then be only used negatively, that is perhaps a consequence of an elimination of racialized diversity as a positive value.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The Court heard oral arguments today in Foster v. Humphrey regarding a challenge to a 1987 conviction and death sentence by an all-white Georgia jury based on Batson v. Kentucky (1986) applying equal protection principles to peremptory challenges in jury selection.
A seemingly new issue on the case involved whether or not the United States Supreme Court should be hearing the case at all. While the Court granted certiorari to the Georgia Supreme Court (as we discussed and as the petition requested), the problem is that the Georgia Supreme Court had denied review . . . . for reasons that are unclear. Was it discretionary? Was that discretion bounded? Did the Georgia Supreme Court's denial of review for lack of a meritorous claim constitute a decision on the merits? And even more complexly, did the Georgia state courts have an adequate and independent state ground - - - res judicata - - - under Michigan v. Long (1983)? (Beth Burton, the attorney for Georgia seemed to concede this was not the case.) And to add yet another layer of complexity, even if the United States Supreme Court decided it should review the matter, what exactly should it review? As Chief Justice Roberts asked, "In other words, are we addressing just whether there's arguable merit to the claim or are we addressing the claim on its own merits?"
On the merits of the Batson claim, the problem arises from the "smoking gun" of prosecutorial notes singling out the Black potential jurors in the case. Although Steve Bright, attorney for Foster suggested that there was "an arsenal of smoking guns" here, Justice Scalia suggested that Foster had to "establish [in order ] to reverse the Georgia courts is that the new smoking gun, assuming that all the rest were not enough to demonstrate a Batson violation the new smoking guns would tip the scale." Justice Kagan seemed to see it differently, suggesting to Beth Burton, the Georgia Deputy Attorney, that this was a clear Batson violation:
You have a lot of new information here from these files that suggests that what the prosecutors were doing was looking at the African-American prospective jurors as a group, that they had basically said, we don't want any of these people. Here is the one we want if we really have to take one. But that there all the evidence suggests a kind of singling out, which is the very antithesis of the Batson rule.
Burton initially suggested that the prosecutors' notes highlighting Black jurors was that the prosecutor was preparing for a Batson challenge. Justice Breyer expressed some incredulity at this based on the fact that prosecutors never previously advanced such a reason. Justice Breyer also seemingly expressed incredulity at the prosecutors' argument that there were "40 different reasons" - - - other than race - - - meant that one was truly valid, rather than drawing an inference from the sheer number of reasons that they were invalid.
Justice Kennedy, perhaps the decisive vote, seemed convinced the prosecutors committed a Batson violation: "They've - - - they've made a mistake - - - they've made a mistake of - - - in Batson." But Justice Kennedy was also quite vocal in pressing the attorneys on the procedural issue, which could be an escape hatch for the Court in what could prove to be a difficult case.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
En Banc Sixth Circuit Rejects "Heckler's Veto" in "Bible Believers" Protest at Arab-American Festival
The en banc Sixth Circuit's opinion in Bible Believers v. Wayne County clearly rejected the existence of a "heckler's veto" to inflammatory but protected speech under the First Amendment's speech clause, as well as finding the speech protected under the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The en banc court also found that the government was liable and that there was no qualified immunity.
Recall that last year a panel of the Sixth Circuit rejected the constitutional challenges of the Bible Believers group, affirming the district judge's grant of summary judgment for the government.
The underlying controversy arose when a group known as the "Bible Believers," Evangelical Christians, came to the Arab International festival on the streets of Dearborn, Michigan - - - as they had done the year before - - - to "preach." Their speech included "strongly worded" slogans on signs, t-shirts, and banners (e.g., "Islam Is A Religion of Blood and Murder"), a "severed pig's head
on a stick" (intended to protect the Bible Believers by repelling observers who feared it), statements through a megaphone castigating the following of a "pedophile prophet" and warning of "God's impending judgment." A crowd gathered, seemingly mostly of children and adolescents, who yelled back and threw items at the preachers. A law enforcement asked the Bible Believers to leave, and - when pressed - saying they would be cited for disorderly conduct. They were eventually escorted out.
The Sixth Circuit's extensive en banc opinion, authored by Judge Eric Clay - - - and in which 8 (including Clay) of the 15 Sixth Circuit judges joined - - - resolutely "confirms" the free speech protections that should be accorded to a speaker even when "angry, hostile, or violent crowds" seek to silence that speaker.
The opinion first finds that the Bible Believers' speech was protected, rejecting exception of incitement (to riot) and fighting words. The "fighting words" discussion is regrettably short - - - a single paragraph - - - and summarily advances the "objective standard" requiring the insult to be likely to provoke the "average person" (emphasis in original) and moreover to be directed at an "individual." In the context of the facts here, these principles deserved further exploration.
After a brief discussion of the public forum, the en banc opinion then discussed at length the "heckler's veto" doctrine and concluded it was not a viable doctrine. Applying that conclusion, the opinion discussed law enforcement performance, citing the video record (which the court did at several points in the opinion): there was "next to no attempt made by the officers to protect the Bible Believers or prevent the lawless actions of the audience" and it was not sufficient an effort "to maintain peace among a group of rowdy youths" - - - i.e., the crowd at the festival - - - if it consists of a"few verbal warnings and a single arrest. The court advised:
We do not presume to dictate to law enforcement precisely how it should maintain the public order. But in this case, there were a number of easily identifiable measures that could have been taken short of removing the speaker: e.g., increasing police presence in the immediate vicinity, as was requested; erecting a barricade for free speech, as was requested; arresting or threatening to arrest more of the law breakers, as was also requested; or allowing the Bible Believers to speak from the already constructed barricade to which they were eventually secluded prior to being ejected from the Festival. If none of these measures were feasible or had been deemed unlikely to prevail, the WCSO [Wayne County Sheriff's Office] officers could have called for backup—as they appear to have done when they decided to eject the Bible Believers from the Festival—prior to finding that it was necessary to infringe on the group’s First Amendment rights. We simply cannot accept Defendants’ position that they were compelled to abridge constitutional rights for the sake of public safety, when at the same time the lawless adolescents who caused the risk with their assaultive behavior were left unmolested.
In a very brief analysis, the court held that the free exercise claim "succeeds on the same basis as the free speech claim." As for the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court's discussion is similarly summary, but its analysis seems much too conclusory:
The Festival included a number of other religious organizations that came to share their faith by spreading a particular message. There are several distinctions between the Bible Believers and these other groups. Mainly, the Bible Believers chose, as was their right, not to register for an assigned table under the information tent. Instead, they paraded through the Festival and proselytized, as was also their right, while carrying signs and a severed pig’s head. Although these actions set them apart from the other speakers and religious organizations at the Festival, they do not do so in any relevant respect. Any speaker could have walked the Festival grounds with or without signs if they chose to do so. The Bible Believers, like the other religious organizations at the Festival, sought to spread their faith and religious message. Although they declined to utilize the tent set aside for outside groups, their conduct was at all times peaceful while they passionately advocated for their cause, much like any other religious group. Wayne County did not threaten the Bible Believers based on their decision to march with signs and banners, but based on the content of the messages displayed on the signs and banners. The county’s disparate treatment of the Bible Believers was based explicitly on the fact that the Bible Believers’ speech was found to be objectionable by a number of people attending the Festival. Wayne County therefore violated the Bible Believers’ right to equal protection by treating them in a manner different from other speakers, whose messages were not objectionable to Festival-goers, by burdening their First Amendment rights.
The en banc court also held that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity and that municipal liability was established. On these issues, there were vigorous dissents. And indeed, the en banc majority seems on tenuous ground, especially given its earlier discussion of Sixth Circuit precedent in Glasson v. City of Louisville decided in 1975:
In this Circuit, a modicum of confusion is understandable with respect to the prohibition against the heckler’s veto due to Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith affirmative defense. . . . . Therefore, to the extent that Glasson’s good-faith defense may be interpreted as altering the substantive duties of a police officer not to effectuate a heckler’s veto, it is overruled.
Yet in the discussion of qualified immunity, the en banc court reasoned:
To the extent that Glasson’s discussion of a good-faith defense confused the issue of whether a heckler’s veto constitutes a constitutional violation, the facts and analysis in Glasson nonetheless alerted Defendants that removing a peaceful speaker, when the police have made no serious attempt to quell the lawless agitators, could subject them to liability.
That both the district judge and a previous panel of the Sixth Circuit had found that law enforcement's actions were constitutional, this seems a harsh conclusion - - - and is inconsistent with recent qualified immunity in First Amendment cases. (For example, recall the unanimous Supreme Court 2014 opinion in Lane v. Franks, not cited in the Sixth Circuit opinions).
On the whole, the Sixth Circuit opinion validates the First Amendment right of provocative, offensive, and "challenging speech" - - - including symbolic speech such as marching with a pig's head on a stick - - - and requires law enforcement to protect such speech against (physically) hostile reactions by directing their efforts against those who are hostile rather than the speakers. As Judge John Rogers, dissenting, suggested, one way to view the underlying controversy was that the "Bible Believers were hecklers seeking to disrupt the cultural fair" being held by the Arab-American community as an expressive enterprise. The en banc majority clearly rejected that view - - - and held that the government should be liable for damages.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
A divided Ninth Circuit panel has affirmed the district judge in granting habeas corpus and vacating a death sentence in its opinion in Crittenden v. Chappell.
Crittenden's claimed the prosecutor at trial excluded an African-American prospective juror on account of her race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as interpreted in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The Ninth Circuit had previously clarified that the peremptory challenge at issue need not be motivated solely by race, but only “motivated in substantial part” by race, “regardless of whether the strike would have issued if race had played no role.” On remand, the district judge found that the prosecutor was substantially motivated by race.
While there are several issues in the case, including deference, appellate procedure, and retroactivity, the issue of "intent" under equal protection doctrine in the Batson context was central. The district judge's opinion engaged in specific comparisons regarding jurors and also stated "[t]he [side-by-side juror] comparisons demonstrate that . . . [the prosecutor] was motivated, consciously or unconsciously, in substantial part by race." The relevance of "unconsciously" was a division among the Circuit judges. For the majority, this was a "passing comment" in the district judge's opinion, and "all the court meant was, whatever the explanation for the prosecutor’s racial motive, that motive was a substantial reason for his use of a peremptory strike." (emphasis in original). The majority added, "In other words, why the prosecutor had a conscious racial motive to strike [the potential juror] Casey in the first place – whether or not 'unconscious racism' partly explained that motive – was simply irrelevant to the Batson inquiry." It interestingly added this footnote:
It was relevant, of course, to the prosecutor’s reputation. The district court’s reference to “unconscious racism” spared him from being found a racist. By suggesting the prosecutor may have had more benign racial motives for the strike, or that his racial motive may have been influenced by unconscious racism, the court hoped to shield the prosecutor from possible disrepute. As the court made clear, however, this effort was not designed to – and did not – detract from the court’s key finding that the strike was consciously motivated by race.
Thus, because the majority upheld the district court’s finding of a conscious racial motive, "we do not – and need not – address whether unconscious bias can establish a Batson violation."
Judge Margaret McKeown dissented from the opinion authored by Judge Raymond Fisher and joined by Judge Marsha Berzon, arguing that there needed to be a clearer indication of discriminatory purpose:
The remaining question is whether, in striking [the potential juror] Casey, the prosecutor had a discriminatory purpose. “‘Discriminatory purpose’ . . . implies more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences. It implies that the decisionmaker . . . selected . . . a particular course of action at least in part ‘because of,’ not merely ‘in spite of,’ its adverse effects upon an identifiable group.” Hernandez v. New York (1991) (plurality) (quoting Person. Admin. of Mass. v. Feeney, (1979)). The touchstone, as described in our caselaw, is whether race was a “substantial motivating factor” in the prosecutor’s decision to strike Casey.
(ellipses in original). For dissenting judge McKeown, the burden was on the defendant to prove purposeful discrimination and he failed to do so. She added,
This case calls to mind Justice Breyer’s observation that the Batson inquiry can be an “awkward, sometime hopeless, task of second-guessing a prosecutor’s instinctive judgment—the underlying basis for which may be invisible even to the prosecutor exercising the challenge.” Miller-El v. Dretke (2005) (Breyer, J., concurring). In view of the record of what actually happened, the trial judge’s findings and the ultimate composition of the jury, our retrospective parsing simply cannot elevate ambiguous, speculative foundation to proof that the prosecutor was motivated in substantial part by racism.
The problem of the degree of proof of intent in equal protection claims generally and Batson specifically has vexed the courts. Recall that the United States Supreme Court will be taking another look at equal protection doctrine under Batson this term in Foster v. Humphrey; the lower court had held that merely because the prosecutor's notes and records revealed "that the race" - - - meaning Black - - - "of prospective jurors was either circled, highlighted or otherwise noted on various lists" did not establish purposeful discrimination.