April 15, 2013
Daily Read: Linda Sugin on the Constitutional Tax Avoidance of the Roberts Court
The Roberts Court majority is avoiding taxes: not the income taxes revealed by the returns due today, April 15, but the constitutional scrutiny that taxes deserve.
Law Prof Linda Sugin (pictured left), in her article The Great and Mighty Tax Law: How the Roberts Court Has Reduced Constitutional Scrutiny of Taxes and Tax Expenditures, draft available on ssrn, analyzes two cases that are not typically paired.
First, she considers National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, in which, as she describes it, Justice Roberts' "newly muscular tax law saved Obamacare from near death at the hands of the Commerce Clause."
Second, she examines Arizona Christian Schools v. Winn, in which, as dhe describes it, the majority "adopted a novel judicial approach to targeted tax benefits" and denied standing in an Establishment Clause challenge.
Sugin argues that these two cases, taken together, "challenge the revenue-raising role of the tax law, and give it tremendous potential to overcome constitutional obstacles that legislatures face," including state legislatures. She contends that the cases "introduce confusion into the law of taxation by incentivizing the adoption of more non-revenue policy in the tax law, and blurring the conceptual structure of taxation." She claims that "these decisions undermine the important work on tax reform and fiscal responsibility that other branches of government are doing." Ultimately, she argues that these decisions portend that "policies administered through the tax law" will be deemed constitutional "even where those same policies would be unconstitutional if administered as either direct regulation or appropriated spending."
Worth a read and not only on "tax day."
March 25, 2013
Supreme Court Takes Another Affirmative Action Case: Michigan's Prop 2
Even as we await the United States Supreme Court's opinion on the constitutionality of a university's affirmative action plan in Fisher v. University of Texas argued October 10, it has become clear that Fisher will not be the Court's last affirmative action case.
Today, the Court granted a petition for certiorari in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action to the Sixth Circuit's en banc decision in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan decided last November. Recall that the Sixth Circuit majority held Michigan's anti-affirmative action constitutional amendment, passed in 2006 as a ballot initiative Proposal 2, unconstitutional.
The en banc Sixth Circuit was seriously fractured, but none of the opinions considered the Court's affirmative action cases of Grutter and Gratz (or the pending case of Fisher). Instead, the relevant doctrine was the so-called "political process" aspect of the Equal Protection Clause which asks whether a majority may vote to amend its constitution to limit the rights of a minority to seek relief? This underlying problem is similar to some of the arguments in the Proposition 8 case - - - Hollingsworth v. Perry - - - to be argued before the Supreme Court tomorrow, March 26, and certainly resonates with the Ninth Circuit's reasoning in Perry finding that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.
In the case of Michigan's Prop 2, the Sixth Circuit majority found it troublesome that only as to racial classifications in university admissions would a person seeking to change policy have to amend the state constitution, as contrasted to other classifications that could be changed by various other means, including simply persuading an admissions committee.
As to what the Court's grant of certiorari in Coalition to Save Affirmative Action might mean for Fisher, reading the "tea leaves" is difficult. As we observed when the Sixth Circuit decided Coalition to Save Affirmative Action, a very broad approach in Fisher - - - such as a declaration that all racial affirmative action policies in education were per se unconstitutional - - - would seriously undermine the rationale of the Sixth Circuit opinion. However, a grant of certiorari in Coalition to Save Affirmative Action does not mean that Fisher will be narrow or that it will uphold the University of Texas' affirmative action plan.
And one additional "wrinkle": Justice Kagan is recused in Coalition to Save Affirmative Action.
[image Affirmative Action demonstration in 2003, via]
March 06, 2013
Ninth Circuit Grants Standing to Challenge California's Requirement for Resident Signature Gatherers for Ballot Qualification
California's Election Code, sections 8066 and 8451 require the persons who gather the signatures necessary to place a name on the ballot in an election to be residents of the political subdivision or district in which the voting is to occur. California uses the term "circulators" for the person who gathers the signatures and the term "nomination paper" for the document with the signatures, but the general scheme is a familiar one.
Indeed, recall the controversy in January 2012 over a First Amendment challenge by Republican candidates for President to the Virginia election provision that mandated that the petition be circulated by a registered (or eligible) voter in Virginia and the circulator must sign the petition in the presence of a notary. The Fourth Circuit rejected the challengers arguments on the basis of laches. Part of the candidates' argument for waiting was that they did not have standing until later in the process.
And the standing concern is a serious one.
But the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Libertarian Party of Los Angeles County v. Bowen today - - - reversing the district judge - - - held that a "concrete plan" to use circulators who do not live in the voting district, coupled with the clear intent of enforcement by California Secretary of State Bowen, is sufficient to confer standing.
In a footnote to this relatively brief opinion, the panel distinguished the Supreme Court’s February 26 decision in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA : "Unlike in Clapper, Plaintiffs’ fear of enforcement here is actual and well-founded and does not involve a 'highly attenuated chain of possibilities.' "
Thus, the question of whether states can impose residency requirements for those who gather signatures without violating the First Amendment is a live case or controversy in a California district court.
February 25, 2013
Sotomayor Focuses on Prosecutor's "Racially Charged" Remark
Writing in a "Statement" accompanying the denial of certiorari in Calhoun v. United States today, Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justice Breyer) sought to "dispel any doubt whether the Court’s denial of certiorari should be understood to signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor’s racially charged remark."
The prosecutor pressed Calhoun repeatedly to explain why he did not want to be in the hotel room. Eventually, the District Judge told the prose- cutor to move on. That is when the prosecutor asked, “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money. Does that tell you—a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”
For Sotomayor, such prosecutorial argument threatens to violate the equal protection guarentee as well as the defendant's right to an impartial jury. She also castigated the government's original position on appeal that the prosecutor's argument was merely "impolitic," and agreed with a Fifth Circuit Judge who noted that the prosecutor's argument clearly "crossed the line."
But the unusual posture of the case - - - including issues preserved for appeal - - - meant that Sotomayor's Statement was a statement, and not a dissent from the denial of certiorari. But a strong statement it certainly was:
I hope never to see a case like this again.
January 24, 2013
Libel and the First Amendment in the Iowa Supreme Court
It's easy to see how writing and publishing a memoir centering on one's former spouse, especially if the theme is how "Satan (through my ex) set out to destroy my life," might lead to a defamation action in state court by the former spouse. But as the Iowa Supreme Court demonstrated in its recent opinion in Bierman v. Weier, the entwinement of the First Amendment, the state constitution, and the tort issues are far from simple to resolve.
The opinion has an excellent discussion of First Amendment Supreme Court precedent on defamation and an interesting application of last term's decision in United States v. Alvarez, the "Stolen Valor case." The defendants argued that Alvarez should be construed to invalidate libel per se presumptions because it recognized a First Amendment right to make "factually false statements." As the court stated, however, the problem with this argument "is that both opinions making up the Alvarez majority specifically highlighted defamation as a traditional area where the law was constitutional because it did not punish statements merely because of their falsity." The Iowa Supreme Court also disregarded the applicability of Citizens United to arguments invalidating libel per se as a matter of state law.
This was not merely a matter of state common law, however, for the Iowa state constitution specifically addresses the issue of libel in Article I, section 7:
Every person may speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right. No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech, or of the press. In all prosecutions or indictments for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury, and if it appears to the jury that the matter charged as libelous was true, and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted.
The Iowa Supreme Court emphasized that the language supported the continuance of libel per se, especially given the text that made persons "responsible for the abuse of that right."
The continued constitutionality of libel per se left open the legal status of Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), the self-publishing venture named as a defendant for its role in producing Scott Weier's book. The status of ASI as a media or nonmedia defendant was important under the state libel law that uses a "Gertz [v. Robert Welch] -inspired framework, which distinguishes media and nonmedia defendants and reserves libel per se for private plaintiffs and nonmedia defendants." In assessing whether ASI was a media defendant, the Iowa Supreme Court found that it was, interestingly citing New York Times v. Sullivan in support of this rationale:
"It is true that Scott [Weier] paid ASI to publish his book, rather than the other way around. But this fact alone does not change the analysis. Both our precedents and the United States Supreme Court’s have accorded the same protection to media defendants when they publish advertisements as when they publish content they have paid for."
Given the heightened standard of libel per se, the majority found that there was no malice on the part of ASI and reversed the lower court's denial of ASI's motion for summary judgment. Scott Weier was less successful: the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the district court and the plaintiffs' claims of libel, false light, and intentional emotional distress will be proceeding to trial, barring a settlement.
January 07, 2013
Daily Read: Pam Karlan on the 2011 United States Supreme Court Term
Pamela Karlan's "Democracy and Disdain" is the Forward to Harvard Law Review's annual Supreme Court issue for the 2011 Term and is a compelling - - - indeed, necessary and delightful - - - read. Karlan's central thesis, as the title aptly communicates, is that the Roberts' Court has little but disdain for the democratic process. By "Roberts' Court," of course, she means the five Justices who usually form the majority, including Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy.
The Roberts Court’s narrow substantive reading of enumerated powers maps fairly closely onto the contemporary conservative political agenda. To the extent that the conservative agenda gains popular acceptance, the Court may garner acclaim as a guardian of constitutional values. But if the public rejects that agenda, or remains sharply divided, the Court risks being perceived as simply another partisan institution. The Court’s current status rests in substantial measure on its having been on the right side of history in Brown v. Board of Education. Only time will tell whether the Court will retain that status given the choices the Roberts Court is making.
Karlan is adept at comparing the present Court to previous ones, not only including the Warren Court. Spoiler alert: When she quotes Justice Roberts, she might not be quoting the 2012 John Roberts but the 1936 Owen Roberts, a device she uses to especially good effect. Also to good effect is her usage of other justices, colloquies in oral argument, the occasional poet, and theorist. The writing is broad and engaging without being precious. It makes her analysis of the cases even more trenchant, situated in larger themes and trends.
Of course, not all ConLawProfs will agree with Karlan's views of the Court, including one subsection entitled "Protecting Spenders and Suspecting Voters," and another "Suspecting Congress." And Karlan's argument is hardly unique, as anyone who recalls Rehnquist Court scholarship, including the excellent 2001 article "Dissing Congress," by Ruth Colker and James J. Brudney can attest. And it is especially noteworthy that the Court did uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, a case that Karlan extensively discusses and more interestingly, situates within the Term's other less notable decisions.
But this is a must read article before beginning the new semester.
[image of Pamela Karlan via]
January 7, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, History, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Separation of Powers, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 04, 2013
Daily Read: The Story Behind The Ninth Circuit's Self-Abortion Opinion
In September, the Ninth Circuit rendered its opinion in McCormack v. Hiedeman regarding the constitutionality of Idaho's "unlawful abortion" statutes that makes it a felony for any woman to undergo an abortion in a manner not authorized by statute. McCormack had been charged by the prosecutor Mark Hiedeman based on her procurement of abortion "medications" over the internet. The court held that imposing a criminal sanction on a woman poses an undue burden under Casey, but the decision was restricted to McCormack given the absence of class certification.
But who is Jennie Linn McCormack? And how common is procuring abortion "medications" via the internet?
Journalist Ada Calhoun's cover article in this month's The New Republic, "The Rise of DIY Abortions," paints a vivid portrait of Jennie Linn McCormack, as well as her attorney ("an avid fan of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books. He saw the character of dogged reporter Mikael Blomkvist as a good role model for a lawyer. . . ").
Calhoun also contextualizes McCormack's situation:
Determining how many American women have had home abortions is
exceedingly difficult: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
does not track illegal abortions. There is no blood test for drugs like
Cytotec, and so such an abortion is indistinguishable from a natural
miscarriage, even to a doctor. However, the proliferation of online
dispensers suggests a rising demand. There are thousands of websites
selling Cytotec for as little as $45 to $75 (compared with $300 to $800
for a legal medicated abortion in a clinic). Some claim to offer the
harder-to-come-by Mifeprex, but may in fact be peddling Cytotec, or
aspirin, or nothing at all. (Possible sources for the drugs include
Mexico, where Cytotec is available over the counter, or even the United
States, since it’s also prescribed here as an ulcer medication.)
The question of how drugs like Mifeprex and Cytotec are sold and administered is emerging as the next major front in the abortion debate.
Calhoun's article is a must-read for anyone teaching, writing, or thinking about abortion and is sure to be discussed at the many conferences devoted to Roe v. Wade's 40th anniversary, such as this one at the NYC Bar.
January 4, 2013 in Abortion, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Medical Decisions, Recent Cases, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 04, 2012
Daily Read: Corporate Free Speech
In their article, Commercial Expression and Business Regulation in the Shadow of Citizens United and Sorrell, available in draft on ssrn, authors ConLawProf Randy Bezanson (pictured), William O'Hare, and Robert Miller ask "whether the system and market- based flexibility accorded government in its regulatory action will continue to be respected."
In interrogating this question, one of their three case studies of regulation is off-label drug marketing, the subject of yesterday's divided Second Circuit opinion reversing a criminal conviction on the basis of the First Amendment, and an application of Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc. In their consideration of off-label drug advertising more generally, they write:
the apparent overbreadth of specific applications of a regulation will seem obviously unconstitutional without a perspective that recognizes a speech restriction as part of a broader system of similar speech regulations that, added together, protect the systematic and market justifications of government action. It may be obvious that sophisticated consumers of off-label drug treatments, or sophisticated investors in the new issue market for stock, don’t need the information or the waiting periods or the other regulatory steps that government may impose. But if those steps do help the market system by assuring equal and complete consumer information, even if at some inconvenience to a sophisticated few, there is justification for the looser scrutiny that the Supreme Court has historically accorded regulation of commercial speech.
Worth a read for anyone teaching or writing in the commercial speech area.
December 03, 2012
Second Circuit On First Amendment Right to Promote Drug for Off-Label Use Without Criminal Consequences
In a sharply divided and long overdue opinion in United States v. Caronia issued today, a panel of the Second Circuit reversed a conviction relying primarily on the Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc.
The conviction, according to the jury verdict, was for "Conspiracy to introduce a misbranded drug into interstate commerce in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(a) and 333(a)(2)." However, Judge Denny Chin, writing for the majority, emphasized that Caronia's statements - - - promoting the off-label use of the drug while he was as a pharmaceutical marketer - - - were the basis of the conviction: "Caronia was, in fact, prosecuted and convicted for promoting Xyrem off-label." Thus, because the majority rejected the government's argument that the statements were (merely) evidence of intent, the conviction raised a First Amendment issue. The panel then extensively discussed Sorrell, beginning with an explication of its two-step analysis:
First, the Court considered whether the government regulation restricting speech was content- and speaker-based. The Court held that it was; the regulation was therefore subject to heightened scrutiny and was "presumptively invalid." Second, the Court considered whether the government had shown that the restriction on speech was consistent with the First Amendment under the applicable level of heightened scrutiny. The Court did not decide the level of heightened scrutiny to be applied, that is, strict, intermediate, or some other form of heightened scrutiny.
[citations omitted]. The panel concluded "that the government's construction of the FDCA's misbranding provisions imposes content- and speaker-based restrictions on speech subject to heightened scrutiny," and then that "the government cannot justify a criminal prohibition of off-label promotion even under Central Hudson's less rigorous intermediate test." The majority seems especially troubled that the crime, at least as the court has constructed it, is "speaker-based because it targets one kind of speaker -- pharmaceutical manufacturers -- while allowing others to speak without restriction."
In a vigorous dissent, Judge Debra Ann Livingston stressed that speech acts are often evidence of intent and that "the majority calls into question the very foundations of our century-old system of drug regulation." She provides a literary analogy to refute Caronia's argument that he "merely discussed “a perfectly lawful practice: the use of a lawful drug, Xyrem, for off-label purposes.”
But the fact that a physician or a patient could legally use Xyrem for an off-label purpose is not enough to make out Caronia’s First Amendment claim. There might be no law forbidding the consumption of arsenic. But this would not endow Abby and Martha with a First Amendment right to offer arsenic-laced wine to lonely old bachelors with the intent that they drink it. See Arsenic and Old Lace (Warner Bros. Pictures 1944). And any statements Abby or Martha made suggesting their intent—even if all of the statements were truthful and not misleading—would not be barred from evidence by the First Amendment simply because arsenic might legally be consumed.
While Judge Chin's opinion could - - - taken to its logical conclusion - - - have a dramatic effect, it seems limited to the pharmaceutical arena.
November 29, 2012
Daily Read: Thirteenth Amendment Scholars Supporting Matthew Shepard & James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act
Did Congress have power pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment to pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009?
The question of the Act's constitutionality is before the Tenth Circuit in an appeal arising from the first prosecution under the Act. In Hatch v. United States, the defendant challenges 18 U.S.C. § 249(a)(1), which provides:
Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person—
There seems to be little dispute that the three defendants admitted actions against the Native American victim, including branding the victim with a swatstika, fit within the terms of the statute. But did the statute exceed Congress' power pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment, or does the statute violate equal protection as guarenteed through the Fifth Amendment?
On the Thirteenth Amendment issue, ConLawProfs William M. Carter, Jr., Dawinder S. Sidhu, Alexander Tsesis, and Rebecca E. Zietlow, have filed an amicus brief, available on ssrn, argue that the Thirteenth Amendment's enforcement clause gives Congress broad powers. They contend that the hate crime section should be analyzed under a defential rational basis standard, both because of its provenance in the Thirteenth Amendment and, perhaps most interestingly, because the statute does not make a racial classification.
This is a terrific read of engaged scholarship as well as a providing a great grounding for a class exercise or student project.
November 27, 2012
Daily Read: Political Parties and Judging
It's something that is, perhaps increasingly, difficult to ignore: the political affiliations of federal judges.
Adam Liptak's article in the NYT yesterday takes on the subject with a focus on the recent Michigan affirmative action decision from the en banc Sixth Circuit. Liptak provides the breakdown: "Every one of the eight judges in the majority was nominated by a Democratic president. Every one of the seven judges in dissent was nominated by a Republican president." This, he argues, is consistent with a forthcoming book, The Behavoir of Federal Judges, an empirical study authored by Lee Epstein, William Landes, and Richard Posner.
Liptak thus rejects - - - at least implicitly - - - the practice of SCOTUSBlog's preeminent reporter and commentator Lyle Dennison whose "note to readers" in his discussion of the Michigan affirmative action case explained; that he would not include "references to the political party affiliation of the Presidents who named the judges to the bench" because "the use of such references invites the reader to draw such a conclusion about partisan influence, without proof." Denniston, however, did include a caveat: he would provide that information" when "it is clearly demonstrated that the political source of a judge’s selection had a direct bearing upon how that judge voted — admittedly, a very difficult thing to prove."
Whether it is a question of causation, correlation, or coincidence is an issue often raised by law students in ConLaw classes, and one that ConLawProfs struggle to answer from various perspectives.
For Liptak, however, there is predictive certainty. Referencing the affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas argued in October, he writes:
The justices’ votes in the Texas case are as yet unknown. But here is a good bet: every vote to strike down the program will come from a justice appointed by a Republican president, and every vote to uphold it will come from a justice appointed by a Democratic one.
November 09, 2012
Seventh Circuit Rejects Torture Claim Against Rumsfeld
The en banc Seventh Circuit this week ruled in Vance v. Rumsfeld that two American military contractors had no cause of action against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture. The ruling was expected: the court previously vacated the three-judge panel ruling allowing the case to move forward; oral arguments suggested that the full court was hostile to the plaintiffs' claims; and the ruling aligns with similar (but distinguishable and less sweeping) rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits. We posted last on the case, with links to an earlier post, here.
The ruling ends the plaintiffs' case and effectively creates absolute immunity against such claims for military personnel and their civilian commanders--at least in the Seventh Circuit. Given similar rulings in the Fourth and D.C. Circuits--and no circuit going the other way--the case almost surely will not attract the attention of the Supreme Court. (Even if the Court took it up, it would almost certainly affirm the Seventh Circuit's ruling, given its trend with Bivens actions.) The case also extended the no-supervisory-liability rule for Bivens claims (affirmed in Iqbal), holding that Secretary Rumsfeld's alleged authorization of torture, even if true, was simply too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs.
The case involved two American military contractors who claimed that they were detained and tortured by military authorities in Iraq. They sued Secretary Rumsfeld under Bivens based on his alleged authorization of torture techniques.
The en banc Seventh Circuit reversed a three-judge panel and held that Bivens did not offer a remedy to the plaintiffs. Chief Judge Easterbrook, writing for the court, set the tone early in his opinion, expressing hostility to "creating new Bivens claims":
[The Supreme Court] has not created another [Bivens] remedy during the last 32 years--though it has reversed more than a dozen appellate decisions that had created new actions for damages. Whatever presumption in favor of a Bivens-like remedy may once have existed has long since been abrogated. The Supreme Court never created or even favorably mentioned the possibility of a non-statutory right of action for damages against military personnel, and it has twice held that it would be inappropriate to create such a claim for damges. The Court has never created or even favorably mentioned a non-statutory right of action for damages on account of conduct that occurred outside the borders of the United States. Yet plaintiffs propose a novel damages remedy against military personnel who acted in a foreign nation--and in a combat zone, no less.
Op. at 9. Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that "special factors" counseled against a Bivens remedy, in particular the courts' relative inability to assess the merits of military policies and decisions. Chief Judge Easterbrook also mentioned that Congress declined to create a statutory remedy, suggesting that it didn't want plaintiffs suing military personnel or their superiors, and that Congress created two administrative paths to remedies but that the plaintiffs did not pursue them. "But Congress has not authorized awards of damages against soldiers and their superiors, and creating a right of action in common-law fashion would intrude inapropriately into the military command structure." Op. at 17.
Note that the ruling (Part III) extends to "soldiers and their superiors," even though this case was only against Secretary Rumsfeld.
Chief Judge Easterbrook also wrote that Secretary Rumsfeld's authorization of torture was too attenuated from the actions of those who actually tortured the plaintiffs to survive the no-supervisor-liability rule for Bivens claims. The plaintiffs sought to navigate this rule by alleging that Secretary Rumsfeld personally authorized torture--i.e., that he wasn't vicariously liable, but was rather directly responsible. But Chief Judge Easterbrook wrote that Iqbal requires that a defendant "wants the unconstitutional or illegal conduct to occur." Op. at 19. That, he said, the plaintiffs did not allege.
Judge Wood concurred in the judgment only but wrote separately to emphasize that the alleged actions were torture, and could not hide behind the euphamism of enhanced interrogation techniques. Judge Wood also disagreed with the majority insofar as its opinion (Part III) would insulate military personnel (and not merely the Secretary of Defense) from Bivens liability.
Judges Hamilton, Rovner, and Williams all wrote a separate dissent and all joined each others' dissents, emphasizing different points. Judge Hamilton pointed out that the ruling gives more rights to aliens (under the Torture Victim Protection Act) than U.S. citizens and explained in great detail why U.S. law, in fact, assumes that the plaintiffs should have had a Bivens claim. Judge Rovner argued that the plaintiffs pleaded sufficiently specific facts related to Secretary Rumsfeld's direct responsibility to survive the pleading standards set in Iqbal and Twombley. And Judge Williams emphasized the remarkable scope of the majority's opinion. "No case from our highest court or our sister circuits has approached such a sweeping conclusion." Op. at 73.
November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
October 24, 2012
Complaint Sufficiently Alleges Constitutional Violations Against University Officials
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in OSU Student Alliance v. Ray that a conservative student newspaper at Oregon State sufficiently alleged constitutional claims against university officials after they removed the newspaper's distribution bins from around campus and limited the locations where the newspaper could replace the bins. The ruling reverses a lower court ruling dismissing the case, allows the plaintiffs to amend their complaint as to certain defendants, and means that the case will move forward on the merits.
The case arose when Oregon State officials removed distribution bins of the conservative Liberty newspaper, published by the Student Alliance. Officials did not similarly remove distribution bins of the official student newspaper, the Daily Barometer, or outside newspapers (like USAToday). Officials claimed that they were enforcing an unwritten policy prescribing the acceptable campus locations for outside newspaper distribution bins. Officials treated the Liberty as an outside newspaper, even though it has a student editorial staff, because its funding came almost exclusively from outside sources--donations and advertising. In contrast, the Daily Barometer received university funding through the student government. Officials said that this distinction explained why they treated Liberty bins differently than Daily Barometer bins, but it obviously didn't explain why it treated Liberty bins differently than USAToday bins.
The newspaper sued under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, arguing that four university officials--the president, a vice-president, the vice-provost for student affairs, and the director of facilities services--violated their rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection. The district court dismissed the claims for injunctive and declaratory relief after the school changed its policy; and it dismissed the claims for damages because the plaintiffs didn't plead that any of the four defendants participated in the confiscation of the newsbins.
The Ninth Circuit reversed. It ruled that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded that the certain defendants "caused" a "deprivation of federal right" and remanded to allow the plaintiffs to replead as to others.
As to the deprivation, the court said that the OSU campus is "at least a designated public forum," that the unwritten "policy" left university officials with unbridled discretion (alone enough to doom the policy), and that any standard (identified only post hoc) that distinguished between on-campus and outside publications bore no relationship to the school's interest in reducing clutter around campus. "OSU's standardless policy cannot qualify as a valid time, place, and manner restriction." Op. at 12778. And the plaintiffs correctly pleaded that it was viewpoint discrimination.
The court also said that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded an equal protection violation, because they pleaded that the university treated them differently than a similarly situated newspaper in a way that trenched on a fundamental right (free speech). It also said that the plaintiffs adequately pleaded that the defendants removed their bins without prior notice in violation of due process.
As to causation, the court recognized that "[s]ome of the plaintiffs' claims raise thorny questions under Iqbal." Claims against the director of facilities management were easiest, because that official was directly involved in the confiscation and relocation policy. But the court said that claims against the president and vice-president (the director's supervisors) had to show the requisite intent under Iqbal. The court said that the plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded that the president and vice-president knew of the director's violations of free speech--that knowledge (and not specific intent) is the relevant state of mind required for a free speech violation. (Recall that the Supreme Court required the plaintiffs to plead specific intent for equal protection and free exercise violations in Iqbal.)
The court wrote that the complaint sufficiently tied the director of facilities to the due process violation--that he was responsible for the unwritten bin policy, and that the confiscation happened pursuant to the policy--but that it didn't sufficiently tie the president and vice-president to the policy.
As to the vice-provost, the court said that the complaint didn't sufficiently allege that he knew of the free speech violations and that he wasn't sufficiently tied to the due process violation.
The court remanded the case to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to bring in the president and the vice-president on the due process claims and the vice-provost on any claims.
Judge Ikuta dissented in part, arguing that the majority's approach as to the president and vice-president "resurrects the very kind of supervisory liability that Iqbal interred."
October 24, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 27, 2012
Another Catholic School Challenge to Women's Health Regs Dismissed
Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) dismissed Wheaton College's case against Secretary Sebelius over federal regs under the ACA that require covered employers to provide women with certain forms of preventive care, including all FDA-approved forms of contraception, without cost sharing.
The case is the second in as many months dismissed for lack of standing and ripeness in the D.C. District. We posted on the earlier case, Belmont Abbey College v. Sebelius, here. This case, by a different judge, now makes it even less likely that any of these suits will succeed.
(There are two other district court rulings. In one, State of Nebraska ex rel. Bruning v. Sebelius, Judge Warren Urbom (D. Ne.) dismissed claims by religious organizations, individuals, and the state itself for lack of standing--the same ruling as in Belmont Abbey and Wheaton College, but also including individual and state plaintiffs. In another, Newland v. Sebelius, Judge John Kane (D. Co.) granted a preliminary injunction to a private corporation, not a religious organization covered under the safe harbor. Newland is different than the other cases, because it was brought by a private corporation with no protection under the safe harbor.)
The most recent case, Wheaton College v. Sebelius, involved the same and very similar issues as those in Belmont Abbey--that is, whether the government's "safe harbor" and commitment to reconsider its regs left the plaintiff without standing and the case without ripeness. Like Judge Boasberg in Belmont Abbey, Judge Huvelle said yes on both counts.
Judge Huvelle rejected Wheaton College's argument that it might be subject to litigation as too speculative. She also rejected Wheaton College's argument that it might be subject to a new government position at any time--just as the D.C. Circuit ruled in Chamber of Commerce v. FEC that the Chamber of Commerce might have been subject to an FEC enforcement proceeding at any time, even with an FEC evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Judge Huvelle wrote that Chamber of Commerce was different, because here the government's commitment not to act against employers that qualify for the safe harbor (including Wheaton College) "was the product of sustained agency and public deliberation, and it represents a final decision, that has been reiterated twice." Op. at 11.
August 27, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Ripeness, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 21, 2012
Seventh Circuit: No Qualified Immunity Against Age Discrimination Claim Under Equal Protection
A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled last week in Levin v. Madigan that individual defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity against a plaintiff's equal protection claim.
As part of the ruling, the panel also held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or ADEA, did not preclude the plaintiff's Section 1983 claim based on the Equal Protection Clause. This holding puts the Seventh Circuit at odds with every other circuit that's ruled on the question, creating a split. (District courts outside those circuits are themselves split.) Because of this, the panel circulated the opinion to all the judges on the Circuit; none voted for a rehearing en banc. This case looks like a good candidate for Supreme Court review.
Unless and until the case goes up, the Seventh Circuit's ruling means that the plaintiff's Section 1983 case against the individual defendants can move forward. The ruling says nothing about the merits.
The case arose out of a former assistant attorney general's suit against the Illinois attorney general, in both her official and individual capacities, and the state for firing him and replacing him with a younger attorney. The plaintiff sued for age discrimination under the ADEA and Section 1983 (under the Equal Protection Clause). The AG appealed the district court's denial of qualified immunity in her individual capacity.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that the ADEA did not displace the plaintiff's Section 1983 claim for violation of the Equal Protection Clause because (1) the ADEA's text and legislative history didn't expressly preclude a Section 1983 claim based on a constitutional violation and (2) the ADEA's rights and protections didn't line up with the rights and protections under Section 1983.
This portion of the opinion is at odds with every other circuit court to rule on the question.
The court went on to deny qualified immunity, because it was clearly established that age discrimination in employment violated the Equal Protection Clause, so long as the discrimination wasn't rationally related to a legitimate government interest.
July 18, 2012
Suit Seeks Damages for Targeted Killing
The ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit in the D.C. District on behalf of relatives of victims of the government's targeted killing program. The plaintiffs, parents of Samir Khan and Anwar al-Aulaqi and grandfather of Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi (Anwar's son), seek money damages against high-level government officials for authorizing targeted killings in violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and the Bill of Attainder Clause.
The case comes 19 months after Judge Bates (D.D.C.) dismissed an earlier suit by Anwar al-Aulaqi's father, seeking to stop the government from killing his son in the first place. Judge Bates ruled that al-Aulaqi's father lacked standing and failed to allege a violation of the Alien Tort Statute, and that the case raised non-justiciable political questions. (Judge Bates didn't rule on the government's state secrets claim.)
The case also comes on the heels of a couple of dismissed torture suits against high-level officials--Doe v. Rumsfeld (rejected because special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy) and Lebron v. Rumsfeld (same, and cert. denied).
All this is to say that the case faces some hurdles--political question, state secrets, Bivens special factors, and qualified immunity, to name a few.
The plaintiffs in the most recent case argue that the targeted killing were illegal under the laws of war, because the plaintiffs were not engaged in activities that presented a concrete, specific, and imminent threat of death of serious physical injury; because something short of lethal force could have been used to neutralize any threat that they posed; because they were not directly participating in hostilities; because the government failed to take steps to avoid harm to bystanders; and because the killings didn't meet the requirements of distinction and proportionality.
We covered the government's likely justification for targeted killing here, here, here, and here (among other places, linked in these posts). We still don't have a complete legal justification from the government for the targeted killing program.
July 18, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
July 11, 2012
Stolen Valor Redux: Congress to Attempt Again
With the Supreme Court's declaration in United States v. Alvarez last month that the Stolen Valor Act is an unconstitutional infringement on the First Amendment, Congress is set to revise the law - - - or, more precisely, to re-consider its revised bill, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, that had been proposed even before the oral arguments in Alvarez.
The proposed Stolen Valor Act of 2011, by Joe Heck of Nevada, added an important qualifier to the false statement: "with intent to obtain anything of value." According to news reports, various other members of Congress are weighing additional revisions.
These might include extending the prohibited subjects from military honors to combat service or perhaps any military service.
The Pentagon is also reportedly considering implementing a database of military honors, one of the less restrictive means that could also achieve the legislation's goals.
July 02, 2012
Chief Justice Roberts's Necessary and Proper Clause
What did Chief Justice Roberts do to the Necessary and Proper Clause in last week's ruling on the universal coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act?
Not much. Here's why.
Let's start with the opinion. Chief Justice Roberts wrote last week that universal coverage--the so-called individual mandate--exceeded Congress's authority under both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause (although he wrote for a five-Justice majority that it fell within congressional taxing authority). (We wrote here about the Chief's opinion on the Commerce Clause.) In so writing, the Chief rejected the government's argument that because Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the guaranteed issue and community rating provisions, it also had authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to enact universal coverage. After all, everybody agreed that guaranteed issue and community rating alone wouldn't work; they needed an individual mandate.
(Here's a primer. Guaranteed issue requires insurance companies to provide insurance to all comers. Community rating control premium rates within a particular community. Under these provisions, insurance companies will have to cover everyone (including those with high medical costs), within a range of premium rates. But when an insurance company covers everyone (including those with high medical costs), premiums go up. And when premiums go up, without an ability to discriminate, individuals are driven out of the market. Thus, guaranteed issue and community rating will drive up costs and drive down coverage. Unless, that is, individuals are required to buy insurance. If everybody has to buy insurance, the cost-distribution within the insurance pool will keep rates low (because the healthy, in effect, subsidize the unhealthy through the pool), and coverage (obviously) goes up.)
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Necessary and Proper Clause wasn't so malleable. He wrote that while universal coverage may be "necessary," it is not "proper," because universal coverage "draw[s] within its regulatory scope those who would otherwise be outside of it." Op. at 30. In other words, individuals are not the subject of the guaranteed issue and community rating regulations (insurance companies are); they are therefore not within the regulatory scope of valid congressional regulation under the Commerce Clause; and they are therefore outside of the scope of the Necessary and Proper Clause. Op. at 29-30. The Chief wrote that the Court's prior cases blessed congressional action under the Necessary and Proper Clause only when the subject of regulation under the Necessary and Proper Clause was already in the regulatory scope of congressional regulation under its principal Article I power. Here's how he described it:
The individual mandate, by contrast, vests Congress with the extraordinary ability to create the necessary predicate to the exercise of an enumerated power. This is in no way an authority that is "narrow in scope" . . . or "incidental" to the exercise of the commerce power. Rather, such a conception of the Necessary and Proper Clause would work a substantial expansion of federal authority. No longer would Congress be limited to regulating under the Commerce Clause those who by some preexisting activity bring themselves within the sphere of federal regulation. Instead, Congress could reach beyond the natural limit of its authority and draw within its regulatory scope those who otherwise would be outside of it. Even if the individual mandate is "necessary" to the Act's insurance reforms, such an expansion of federal power is not a "proper" means for making those reforms effective.
Op. at 29-30.
So, what's the effect of the Chief's opinion on the Necessary and Proper Clause? Very little.
There are two problems. The first one is exactly the same problem with the Chief's opinion on the Commerce Clause, only here it's even more pronounced. That is: the opinion may well be dicta, and, even if it's not, it doesn't have strong support as a guiding opinion under the Marks rule. Like Chief Justice Roberts's opinion on the Commerce Clause, his opinion on the Necessary and Proper Clause is not necessary to the Court's conclusion. Moreover, he's writing just for himself. The four "liberals" would have upheld universal coverage under the Necessary and Proper Clause. And the four other "conservatives" declined to join the Chief--and were in even sharper disagreement with him than they were on the Commerce Clause. (The four other conservatives would apparently read the Necessary and Proper Clause as allowing only regulation that is absolutely necessary to the named Article I powers--a reading that flies in the face of McCulloch v. Maryland and the Clause's entire history. Dissent, at 9-10.)
Moreover, the Chief's analysis is weak and apparently disavowed by all on the Court (though for different reasons), further alienating and weakening it. Chief Justice Roberts supports his new Necessary and Proper rule--that Congress can regulate only those things already within the regulatory scope--by describing the Court's prior Necessary and Proper cases. But while his description may be accurate on the facts, it is not supported by the language and analysis of those rulings. For example, the Court just two terms ago ruled in Comstock that the Necessary and Proper Clause allowed congress to authorize the detention of federal prisoners beyond their release date if they were deemed "sexually dangerous." Why? Because the Necessary and Proper Clause allows Congress to enact federal criminal law (in furtherance of its named Article I powers), and therefore to sentence offenders, and therefore to jail offenders, and therefore to keep dangerous offenders off the streets, even after their release dates--all in the name of the Necessary and Proper Clause.
Now it turns out that offenders were already within the regulatory scheme. But the Court's ruling did not turn on that, and, in fact, nowhere mentioned it. Instead, the Court said, quoting the usual language from McCulloch, that the Necessary and Proper Clause authorized Congress to take any action that was rationally related to its enumerated powers.
(The Court's opinion in Comstock was written by Justice Breyer. And Chief Justice Roberts joined it in full, even though he could have signed on with one of two more restrictive concurrences, written by Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito.)
In short, nothing in Comstock, or the Court's other Necessary and Proper decisions, sets out Chief Justice Roberts's new rule. It's just his gloss. And one, apparently, that nobody else on the Court subscribes to in his way and for his reasons.
But assuming that the courts treat the Chief's opinion as (at least) guiding, however--as they likely will--the second problem is that the Chief's opinion is quite narrow and thus only applicable to a small set of cases, if any. After all: How often does Congress seek to regulate something under the Necessary and Proper Clause that isn't within the regulatory scheme of its power-in-chief? By the Chief Justice's own reckoning: The Court has never seen this case.
And even if the Chief's opinion is guiding, courts must read it alongside Justice Breyer's majority opinion in Comstock--the Court's next-most recent foray into the Necessary and Proper Clause, and, again, an opinion that Chief Justice Roberts signed in full. Read alongside the expansive and capacious Necessary and Proper Clause described in Comstock, Chief Justice Roberts's new rule seems a narrow exception, indeed. Chief Justice Roberts did nothing last week to chip away at that expansive and capacious Clause; in fact, his opinion last week reaffirmed its long-standing principles (just as his opinion on the Commerce Clause reaffirmed the Court's broadest interpretations of that Clause).
In the end, the Chief's opinions on both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause are almost certainly moot, anyway. The real story of the case is Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion upholding universal coverage under the tax power. Any future Congress seeking to enact legislation that would push up against Chief Justice Roberts's new rules for the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause would do well to simply enact the policy as a tax penalty.
June 28, 2012
Supreme Court Upholds Affordable Care Act
A sharply divided Supreme Court today upheld key provisions in the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA," or Obamacare). The upshot is that five Justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) held that universal coverage (or the individual mandate) is upheld, and that a three-Justice plurality (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer and Kagan) held Medicaid expansion is upheld in a somewhat weaker form. A different five Justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) held that the commerce clause did not support universal coverage (but for different reasons).
The ruling means that universal coverage stands, and Medicaid expansion stands, although in a somewhat weaker form.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority; by issue:
Taxing Clause. A five-Justice majority held that Congress could enact the universal coverage provision (also called the individual mandate) under the taxing authority. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, wrote that the tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance was a valid tax.
First, for most Americans the amount due will be far less than the price of insurance, and, by statute, it can never be more. It may often be a reasonable financial decision to make the payment rather than purchase insurance, unlike the "prohibitory" financial punishment in Drexel Furniture. Second, the individual mandate contains no scienter requirement. Third, the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation--except that the Service is not allowed to use those means most suggestive of a punitive sanction, such as criminal prosecution.
Op. at 35-36. The majority was untroubled that the tax penalty could be a "tax" for taxing authority purposes, but a non-"tax" for Anti-Injunction Act purposes: Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress itself enacted the AIA and could therefore itself draft around it (which it did here); but Congress's taxing authority may support congressional action whether or not Congress calls its action a "tax."
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented, arguing that universal coverage exceeded the taxing power.
Commerce Clause. A five-Justice majority concluded that the Commerce Clause did not support congressional authority to enact universal coverage, but for two different reasons. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for himself alone, wrote that universal coverage amounted to regulating before entrance into the market for health services--i.e., regulating someone who's "inactive." (And Chief Justice Roberts didn't buy the government's claim that the maarket for health insurance was integrally connected to the market for health care.) Chief Justice Roberts wrote that universal coverage was unprecedented and unsupported by the Court's cases. (Chief Justice Roberts justified reaching the issue--even though the case could be (and was) decided on the taxing power alone--because, he said, the government designed universal coverage first as a regulation and only secondly (or alternatively) as a tax.)
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito took a harder line, arguing that Congress here went too far, because it first sought to create commerce, and then to regulate it.
Medicaid Expansion. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for himself and Justices Breyer and Kagan that Medicaid expansion as-is under the ACA--in which a state declining to participate in Medicaid expansion would stand to lose its entire pot of federal Medicaid money--was unduly coercive. But the same plurality held that Medicaid expansion could be saved by simply reading the statute to mean that a declining state could lose only the additional federal money that would have come with the expansion.
Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor wrote separately to argue that Medicaid expansion as-is under the ACA did not violate the Constitution.
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented, writing that Medicaid expansion was flatly unconstitutional.
June 28, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
June 13, 2012
Court Declines Review in Padilla's Torture Case
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to review an earlier Fourth Circuit ruling rejecting Jose Padilla's civil case against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others for torture. The move leaves the Fourth Circuit ruling untouched and will almost certainly influence the outcome in a similar case now before the full Seventh Circuit. The move also lends further legitimacy to the Fourth Circuit's approach--that separation-of-powers principles can be a "special factor" counseling against a civil damage remedy in federal court--or, in short, that the executive has something close to a trump card to shut down litigation against executive officers for torture of individuals while detained for reasons that the executive says are related to national security or terrorism.
The case, Lebron v. Rumsfeld, arose out of Jose Padilla's detention and torture. Padilla filed a Bivens claim against Rumsfeld and others for violations of his constitutional rights. The Fourth Circuit ruled that special factors counseled against a Bivens remedy and that Padilla had other forms of relief (i.e., habeas). As to special factors, the court said that separation-of-powers principles counseled against a Bivens remedy--in particular, that military matters like this are the province of the political branches, and that courts lack expertise and risk upsetting the military command structure and intelligence-gathering activities.
The Fourth Circuit ruling is in tension with similar recent rulings by the Seventh Circuit and two district courts. The Seventh Circuit case, Vance v. Rumsfeld, was vacated and is now on appeal to the full Seventh Circuit. The Court's rejection of Lebron will almost certainly influence the outcome of Vance (as if the outcome needed any influencing) and other cases by U.S. citizens alleging constitutional violations against executive officials related to national security, terror, intelligence, and the military.
The Court's rejection also lends further legitimacy to the Fourth Circuit approach, which was an aggressively pro-government, anti-plaintiff approach. The Fourth Circuit reasoning all but gives the executive a trump card to shut down constitutional litigation against executive officials anytime the government says that the case is related to national security, terror, intelligence, and the military. This approach gives the executive nearly complete control over this kind of litigation, takes the courts nearly entirely out of it, and sharply curtails plaintiffs' remedies for constitutional violations while in custody for anything that the executive says is related national security, terror, intelligence, and the military.
While the Court's rejection of Padilla's cert. petition is certainly not a ruling on the merits, the rejection signals a constriction of Bivens actions--a signal that the full Seventh Circuit will surely read and apply in the Vance case.
Congress, of course, could change this by authorizing suits for individuals like Padilla (or Vance and Ertel in the Seventh Circuit) for constitutional violations against executive officials. But don't look for that to happen anytime soon.
The next chapter in this saga will come when the full Seventh Circuit issues its ruling in Vance v. Rumsfeld. Especially now, in light of the Court's rejection of Padilla's cert. petition, look for the court to reverse the three-judge panel and to reject Vance's Bivens claim. The only interesting aspect of the Seventh Circuit ruling will be how closely the court follows the Fourth Circuit's reasoning.
June 13, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, Supreme Court (US), War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack