Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hawai'i District Judge Extends Injunction Against Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

In an opinion and order in Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson has granted the motion to convert the previously issued Temporary Restraining Order  against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780) (colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0") into a Preliminary Injunction.  This has the effect of extending the time frame of the injunction as well as making appeal likely.

Judge Watson incorporated the rationales as stated in the previous TRO as we previously discussed, but elaborated on several matters.  First, Judge Watson again considered the standing issues and again concluded that both the state of Hawai'i and the individual plaintiff, Dr. Ismail Elshikh, had standing.

On the likelihood of success on the merits, Judge Watson again set out the classic Establishment Clause test articulated in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) and again concluded that the first prong requiring the government action to have a primary secular purpose was not met.

650px-Seal_of_the_State_of_Hawaii.svgJudge Watson declared that "As no new evidence contradicting the purpose identified by the Court has been submitted by the parties since the issuance of the March 15, 2017 TRO, there is no reason to disturb the Court’s prior determination" (emphasis in original).

Instead, the Federal Defendants take a different tack. They once more urge the Court not to look beyond the four corners of the Executive Order. According to the Government, the Court must afford the President deference in the national security context and should not “‘look behind the exercise of [the President’s] discretion’ taken ‘on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason.’” Govt. Mem. in Opp’n to Mot. for TRO 42–43 (quoting Kliendienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753, 770 (1972)), ECF No. 145. No binding authority, however, has decreed that Establishment Clause jurisprudence ends at the Executive’s door. In fact, every court that has considered whether to apply the Establishment Clause to either the Executive Order or its predecessor (regardless of the ultimate outcome) has done so.

(emphasis in original).  The footnote to this passage includes citations to the recently decided Sarsour v. Trump (Virginia District Judge upholds EO 2) and Int’l Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump  (Maryland District Judge enjoins part of EO 2). Judge Watson adds

The Court will not crawl into a corner, pull the shutters closed, and pretend it has not seen what it has.

While future Executive action could cure the defects, the attempt by this second EO to merely sanitize the first EO was not sufficient. 

Judge Watson declined to narrow the TRO's scope and the injunction is a nationwide one including sections 2 and 6. The judge stated he was

cognizant of the difficult position in which this ruling might place government employees performing what the Federal Defendants refer to as “inward-facing” tasks of the Executive Order.
Any confusion, however, is due in part to the Government’s failure to provide a workable framework for narrowing the scope of the enjoined conduct by specifically identifying those portions of the Executive Order that are in conflict with what it merely argues are “internal governmental communications and activities, most if not all of which could take place in the absence of the Executive Order but the status of which is now, at the very least, unclear in view of the current TRO.” Mem. in Opp’n 29. The Court simply cannot discern, on the present record, a method for determining which enjoined provisions of the Executive Order are causing the alleged confusion asserted by the Government. 

In other words, the federal government cannot complain about the injunction's breadth if the government does not take steps necessary to narrow it. Quoting the Ninth Circuit panel on the original EO in Washington v. Trump, Judge Watson stated that "even if the [preliminary injunction] might be overbroad in some respects, it is not our role to try, in effect, to rewrite the Executive Order.”

Judge Watson's order and opinion set the stage for the case to be appealed to the Ninth Circuit, even as IRAP v. Trump is beginning to proceed in the Fourth Circuit.

March 29, 2017 in Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Virginia District Judge Upholds Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

In his opinion in Sarsour v. Trump, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Virginia Anthony Trenga denied the Plaintiffs' motion for Temporary Restraining Order or Preliminary Injunction.

At issue is the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0." 

Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," was enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump,; our backgrounder on the issues is here.  The President withdrew the initial EO and the Ninth Circuit denied the sua sponte motion for en banc review, but in a somewhat unusual step there was a substantive dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee.

Recall also that regarding the March 6, 2017 EO ("Muslim Travel Ban 2.0"), two other federal district judges issued injunctions before the EO became effective.  In Hawai'i v. Trump, United States District Judge Derrick Watson issued a TRO of sections 2 and 6 of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their Establishment Clause challenge.  In International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang issued a preliminary injunction of section 2(e) of the EO based on the likelihood of plaintiffs to prevail on their statutory claim under the Immigration and Nationality Act and their constitutional claim under the Establishment Clause.Judge Trenga disagrees with both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, although the opinion does not engage in a substantial dialogue with these opinions. 

Linda Sarsour
Linda Sarsour, plaintiff via

For example, on the statutory claim in Sarsour v. Trump, Judge Trenga concludes after reviewing "the text and structure of the INA as a whole, and specifically, the practical, operational relationships" of the provisions, that the nondiscrimination restrictions of §1152 do not "apply to the issuance or denial of non-immigrant visas or entry under §1182(f).  In a footnote, Judge Trenga acknowledges that the judge in IRAP v. Trump "attempted to reconcile these seemingly contradictory provisions," and simply adds, "There, the court concluded that Section 1152 bars the President from discriminating on the basis of nationality in the issuance of immigrant visas only." (footnote 12).  Judge Trenga characterized the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as a "legislative rabbit warren that is not easily navigated," but his ultimate conclusion seems to be based on a broad view of Executive authority. Judge Trenga writes that the he "also has substantial doubts that Section 1152 can be reasonably read to impose any restrictions on the President’s exercise of his authority under Sections 1182(f) or 1185(a)."

Similarly, on the Establishment Clause claim Judge Trenga accorded the Executive broad deference.  Unlike the judges in both Hawai'i v. Trump and IRAP v. Trump, Judge Trenga found that the facial neutrality of "EO-2" was determinative.  Judge Trenga held that past statements - - - or the EO-2 statements (described in a footnote as including the President's statement that EO-2 was a "watered-down version" of EO-1, and Presidential Advisor Stephen Miller's statements) - - - have not "effectively disqualified him from exercising his lawful presidential authority":

In other words, the substantive revisions reflected in EO-2 have reduced the probative value of the President’s statements to the point that it is no longer likely that Plaintiffs can succeed on their claim that the predominate purpose of EO-2 is to discriminate against Muslims based on their religion and that EO-2 is a pretext or a sham for that purpose. To proceed otherwise would thrust this Court into the realm of “‘look[ing] behind’ the president’s national security judgments . . . result[ing] in a trial de novo of the president’s national security determinations,” Aziz, 2017 WL 580855, at *8, and would require “a psychoanalysis of a drafter’s heart of hearts,” all within the context of extending Establishment Clause jurisprudence to national security judgments in an unprecedented way.

Likewise, on the Equal Protection claim, Judge Trenga concluded that although the EO would have a differential impact on Muslims, it was facially neutral.  The Judge relied on an earlier Fourth Circuit case, Rajah v. Mukasy (2008) and articulated the standard as requiring merely a rational national security basis for an immigration measure to survive an Equal Protection Clause challenge.  And again, Judge Trenga accorded the Executive wide discretion: "These are judgments committed to the political branches - - - not to the courts."

In sum, Judge Trenga's opinion aligns with the Ninth Circuit dissent from en banc review by Judge Bybee and is in opposition to the other district judges who have rendered opinions on the second EO which have enjoined its enforcement.  

March 25, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Ninth Circuit Declines En Banc Review in Washington v. Trump, Muslim Ban I . . . but with dissent

Recall the proceedings in Washington v. Trump in which a panel opinion upheld an injunction against the January 27, 2017 Executive Order by the President, now popularly known as Muslim Ban I.  Because the President withdrew the EO, replacing it with the March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" - - - enjoined today in Hawai'i v. Trump - - - proceedings in the Muslim Ban I became irrelevant and the United States dismissed the appeal.  Nevertheless, upon the request of a Ninth Circuit judge, a poll was taken to determine whether the Ninth Circuit should hear the case en banc and vacate the panel opinion.  Today, the order on this en banc request was rendered, and the "matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the active
judges in favor of en banc reconsideration." 

The order is accompanied by a paragraph concurring opining by Judge Reinhardt:

I concur in our court’s decision regarding President Trump’s first Executive Order – the ban on immigrants and visitors from seven Muslim countries. I also concur in our court’s determination to stand by that decision, despite the effort of a small number of our members to overturn or vacate it. Finally, I am proud to be a part of this court and a judicial system that is independent and courageous, and that vigorously protects the constitutional rights of all, regardless of the source of any efforts to weaken or diminish them.

BybeeThere is also a more than 20 page dissenting opinion authored by Judge Jay Bybee (pictured) and joined by Judges Kozinski, Callahan, Bea, and Ikuta.

The dissenting opinion of Judge Bybee, controversial in many quarters for his expansive views of Executive power, argues that the President's EO was "well within the powers of the presidency."  Essentially, the dissent argues that the panel opinion did not sufficiently defer to the Executive and Congressional power over immigration.  "The appropriate test for judging executive and congressional action affecting aliens who are outside our borders and seeking admission is set forth in Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)."  The dissent faults the panel opinion because it "missed" the Court's 2015 opinion in Kerry v. Din, "in which Din (a U.S. citizen) claimed that the government’s refusal to grant her Afghani husband a visa violated her own constitutional right to live with her husband. A plurality held that Din had no such constitutional right." 

Judge Bybee's opinion seems to suggest that the panel misconstrued the law in service of the judge's own personal agendas, even as the opinion criticizes personal attacks on judges:

We are all acutely aware of the enormous controversy and chaos that attended the issuance of the Executive Order. People contested the extent of the national security interests at stake, and they debated the value that the Executive Order added to our security against the real suffering of potential emigres. As tempting as it is to use the judicial power to balance those competing interests as we see fit, we cannot let our personal inclinations get ahead of important, overarching principles about who gets to make decisions in our democracy. For better or worse, every four years we hold a contested presidential election. We have all found ourselves disappointed with the election results in one election cycle or another. But it is the best of American traditions that we also understand and respect the consequences of our elections. Even when we disagree with the judgment of the political branches—and perhaps especially when we disagree—we have to trust that the wisdom of the nation as a whole will prevail in the end.

Above all, in a democracy, we have the duty to preserve the liberty of the people by keeping the enormous powers of the national government separated. We are judges, not Platonic Guardians. It is our duty to say what the law is, and the meta-source of our law, the U.S. Constitution, commits the power to make foreign policy, including the decisions to permit or forbid entry into the United States, to the President and Congress. We will yet regret not having taken this case en banc to keep those lines of authority straight.     

Finally, I wish to comment on the public discourse that has surrounded these proceedings. The panel addressed the government’s request for a stay under the worst conditions imaginable, including extraordinarily compressed briefing and argument schedules and the most intense public scrutiny of our court that I can remember. Even as I dissent from our decision not to vacate the panel’s flawed opinion, I have the greatest respect for my colleagues. The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties. It does no credit to the arguments of the parties to impugn the motives or the competence of the members of this court; ad hominem attacks are not a substitute for effective advocacy. Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.

This dissenting opinion serves as a reminder that the question of the amount of deference to the Executive regarding a "Muslim ban" is a contentious one; this dissenting opinion may also serve as a roadmap to the arguments supporting broad executive power.

[Update: Federal District Judge Theodore Chuang finds the Mandel standard inapplicable in his opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump]. 

March 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (1)

Hawai'i District Judge Issues TRO Against Muslim Travel Ban 2.0

United States District Judge Derrick Watson has issued a Temporary Restraining Order in Hawai'i v. Trump against the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), which is colloquially known as the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0."  Recall that the original EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here.  Recall also that Judge Watson allowed Hawai'i to amend its original complaint challenging the previous EO. 

Judge Watson's more than 40 page opinion first engages in an explanation of the facts giving rise to the litigation.

HawaiiDetailedMapNext, Judge Watson concludes there is Article III standing.  He finds that Hawai'i has standing based on its proprietary interests (and thus there was no need to reach the parens patriae standing theory).  The first proprietary interest is the state's financial and intangible interests in its universities, very similar to the interests the Ninth Circuit found sufficient in Washington v. Trump, involving the previous EO.  The second proprietary interest was to the state's "main economic driver: tourism."  Additionally, Judge Watson concludes that Dr. Elshikh, added as a plaintiff in the amended complaint has standing, specifically addressing the Establishment Clause claim in which injury can be "particularly elusive." Moreover, his claim is ripe.

As to the likelihood of success on the merits prong of the TRO requirement, Judge Watson concluded that the plaintiffs "and Dr. Elshikh in particular" are likely to succeed on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim (and thus the court did not reach the other claims).

Judge Watson acknowledged that the EO does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion. There is no express reference, for instance, to any religion nor does the Executive Order—unlike its predecessor—contain any term or phrase that can be reasonably characterized as having a religious origin or connotation.

Nevertheless, the court can certainly look behind the EO's neutral text, despite the Government's argument to the contrary, to determine the purpose of the Government action.  Judge Watson stated that the record before the court was "unique," including "significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation" of the EO and its "related predecessor."  Judge Watson then provided excerpts of several of Trump's statements, and rejected the Government's caution that courts should not look into the "veiled psyche" and "secret motives" of government decisionmakers:

The Government need not fear. The remarkable facts at issue here require no such impermissible inquiry. For instance, there is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.[]” SAC ¶ 38, Ex. 6 (Press Release, Donald J. Trump for President, Donald J. Trump Statement on Preventing Muslim Immigration (Dec. 7, 2015), available at https://goo.gl/D3OdJJ)). Nor is there anything “secret” about the Executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order:
Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive
 Order came to be. He said: “When [Mr. Trump] first announced
 it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a
commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
SAC ¶ 59, Ex. 8.
On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President’s Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, “Fundamentally, [despite “technical” revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington,] you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].” SAC ¶ 74.

In a footnote, Judge Watson lists "many more" examples.

Moreover, Judge Watson engaged with the plaintiffs' arguments that the EO was contextual, including pointing out that the security rationales listed in the EO included an incident involving an Iraqi national when Iraq was no longer included in the EO; the delayed timing of the EO; and the focus on nationality rather than residence.  But Judge Watson noted that while such "assertions certainly call the motivations behind the Executive Order into greater question, they are not necessary to the Court's Establishment Clause determination."

Judge Watson does note that context could change and that the Executive is not forever barred, but as it stands the purpose of the EO is one that has a primary religious discriminatory purpose and will most likely not survive the Establishment Clause challenge.

Having found a likelihood of success on the merits of the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Watson easily found there was irreparable harm and that a temporary restraining order was appropriate.

Judge Watson's injunction against Sections 2 and 6 of the EO applies "across the Nation."  Should an emergency appeal be sought, Judge Watson's order already denies a stay of the TRO, but does direct the parties to submit a briefing schedule for further proceedings.

March 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Religion, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 6, 2017

President Issues Revised "Travel Ban"

The President's revised Executive Order (March 6, 2017), entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," has substantial changes from the previous EO, 13769, issued January 27, 2017, also entitled "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States," and now enjoined by the Ninth Circuit in Washington v. Trump, as well as subject to an injunction in Virginia in Aziz v. Trump (note that the state of Virginia intervened). Our backgrounder on the issues is here.

This new EO, signed without the fanfare of the previous one, acknowledges that the previous EO "has been delayed by litigation" and does seek to remedy some of the problems with the EO.  For example, the scope is much narrower and the suspension of entry excludes "any lawful permanent resident" as well as some other categories. This will make the applicability of constitutional protections less clear.  While the Constitution protects non-citizens, it does not have global applicability.

The new EO avers that the previous EO was not a "Muslim Ban":

Executive Order 13769 did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion.  While that order allowed for prioritization of refugee claims from members of persecuted religious minority groups, that priority applied to refugees from every nation, including those in which Islam is a minority religion, and it applied to minority sects within a religion.  That order was not motivated by animus toward any religion, but was instead intended to protect the ability of religious minorities -- whoever they are and wherever they reside -- to avail themselves of the USRAP [US Refugee Admissions Program] in light of their particular challenges and circumstances.

Nevertheless, this new EO does not mention otherwise religion. Of course, omitting references to "religion" or stating that an act is not motivated by animus does not end the inquiry.  Instead, there will most certainly be arguments that courts can consider the new EO as religiously-motivated under either First Amendment or Equal Protection Clause doctrine.

The new EO also changes the seven nations to six - - - omitting Iraq as a "special case."  This could also give rise to a national origin classification - - - is Iraq, with its "active combat zones" so different from Libya and Yemen which are described similarly?  The omission of Iraq is also problematical because the new EO recites as part of its justification this specific incident: "For example, in January 2013, two Iraqi nationals admitted to the United States as refugees in 2009 were sentenced to 40 years and to life in prison, respectively, for multiple terrorism-related offenses." 

That relatively brief paragraph, §1(h), ends by stating that "The Attorney General has reported to me that more than 300 persons who entered the United States as refugees are currently the subjects of counterterrorism investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  Issues with the Attorney General and counterterrorism aside, the objections of other government officials regarding the efficacy of the travel ban would certainly figure in any judicial measurement of the fit between the travel ban and the government purposes.

In terms of litigation and constitutional challenges, the first order of business will be procedural questions regarding whether the new EO can be substituted for the previous EO through amended complaints and other pleadings or will there need to be new cases.

 

 

 

March 6, 2017 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sixth Circuit Finds County Commission Prayer Violates First Amendment

In its divided opinion in Bormuth v. County of Jackson (Michigan), a panel of the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the prayer practices of a county commission violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

The constitutionality of legislative prayer has most recently been before the United States Supreme Court in the sharply divided opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the practice of the town beginning its meetings with invited religious leaders providing prayers.  The Court essentially extended Marsh v. Chambers (1983), regarding legislative prayer in the Nebraska legislature, to town meetings despite their quasi-legislative and quasi-adjudicative function.  

The Sixth Circuit first held that the County of Jackson's Board of Commissioners’ practice strays from the traditional purpose and effect of legislative prayer:

A confluence of factors distinguishes the Jackson County practice from the practices upheld in Marsh and Town of Greece. These factors include the deliverance of the invocations by the Commissioners themselves in a local setting with constituent petitioners in the audience, as well as the Board’s intentional decision to exclude other prayer givers in order to control the content of the prayers.

A-6130305Additionally, the Sixth Circuit in Bormuth was troubled by the issue of coercion raised by the plaintiff.  The facts were not only that the Chair of the Jackson County Commission generally  "directs those in attendance to “rise” and “assume a reverent position" before a County Commissioner delivers a Christian prayer, but that a Commissioner "made faces" and "turned his chair around" when Bormuth expressed concern about the prayers.  One Commissioner later stated that Bormuth was attacking "my Lord and savior Jesus Christ," and another Commissioner remarked, “All this political correctness, after a while I get sick of it.”  As Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote for the panel majority:

Admittedly, the precise role of coercion in an Establishment Clause inquiry is unclear, especially within the context of legislative prayer. In that sense, both Justice Kennedy’s and Justice Thomas’s opinions involve at least some departure from the state of the law as it existed before Town of Greece. However, given that there is controlling precedent supporting Justice Kennedy’s opinion and no controlling precedent supporting Justice Thomas’s concurrence, Justice Thomas’s concurrence is neither the “the least doctrinally far-reaching-common ground among the Justices in the majority,” nor the “opinion that offers the least change to the law.” [citation omitted]. What is more, when viewed within the context of the majority’s holding, Justice Kennedy’s opinion clearly represents the narrowest grounds. The majority’s holding was that there was no coercion. According to Justice Kennedy, this was because there was no coercion in the record. According to Justice Thomas, this was because there could never be coercion absent formal legal compulsion. Within the context of a ruling against the respondents, therefore, the narrower opinion is Justice Kennedy’s, not Justice Thomas’s. Accordingly, Justice Kennedy’s conception of coercion is the holding of the Court under binding Sixth Circuit precedent.

 In finding coercion in Bormuth,  Judge Moore noted that Town of Greece ruled that “[t]he analysis would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person’s acquiescence in the prayer opportunity.”  Judge Moore then detailed the presence of all three of these criteria in Bormuth.

Judge Moore discussed Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina,  in which a divided Fourth Circuit held that the identity of the person leading a prayer opening the county Board of Commissioners meeting was irrelevant and upheld a prayer led by a Board member.  Dissenting Sixth Circuit Judge Griffin wrote at length and relied heavily on Lund.  For her part, Judge Moore specifically stated that Judge Wilkinson’s panel dissent in Lund is much more convincing than the majority opinion, and noted that because Lund has been granted a rehearing en banc, this view is one that "a significant number of Fourth Circuit judges presumably share."  Additionally, however, Judge Moore found that  there are "significant factual differences" between the practice at issue in the Fourth Circuit and the one before the court in the Sixth Circuit.

The issue of legislative prayer in the context of local government continues to vex the courts; there is almost sure to be a petition for rehearing en banc in the Sixth Circuit mirroring the successful one in the Fourth.

image: Bernardo Strozzi, St Francis in Prayer, circa 1620, via National Gallery of Art

 

February 20, 2017 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Washington Supreme Court Denies Constitutional Claims of Florist in Same-Sex Wedding Refusal

In its unanimous opinion in State v. Arlene's Flowers, the Supreme Court of Washington upheld the Washington Law Against Discrimination including sexual orientation as applied to a business that refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding. 

The owner of Arlene's Flowers argued that the anti-discrimination statute was not applicable to her and if it did, it violated her constitutional rights of free speech, free exercise, and free association under the First Amendment as well as under the Washington state constitution.

On the First Amendment claims, the court found that Arlene's Flowers argument regarding compelled speech failed because the owner's flower arranging did not meet the threshold of expression.  The court relied on Rumsfeld v. FAIR to hold that the owner's

decision to either provide or refuse to provide flowers for a wedding does not inherently express a message about that wedding. As [she] acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism. [She] also testified that she has previously declined wedding business on "[m]ajor holidays, when we don't have the staff or if they want particular flowers that we can't get in the time frame they need."  Accordingly, an outside observer may be left to wonder whether a wedding was declined for one of at least three reasons: a religious objection, insufficient staff, or insufficient stock.

Roses_-_Vincent_van_GoghThe court rejected the applicability of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston (1985), as well as a litany of other United States Supreme Court cases regarding this threshold of expression.  In essence, the court emphasized that it was the sale of all flowers from her shop rather than any particular floral arrangement that was at issue in the case. 

On the Free Exercise claim, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument that the Washington ant-discrimination law was not a neutral one of general applicability and should therefore warrant strict scrutiny.  Instead, the court applied the rational basis standard of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, which the Washington anti-discrimination easily passed.

However, the analysis of free exercise under the Washington state constitution, article I §11 was not so simple because Washington has not always adopted the Smith standard when reviewing claims under its state constitution.  Nevertheless, the court found that even subjecting the Washington anti-discrimination law to strict scrutiny, the statute survives.  The court "emphatically" rejected the claim that there was no compelling interest of the state in flowers for weddings: the "case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches." 

Finally, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument regarding free association, noting that all of the cases upon which she relied were not businesses.  As to the business itself, the court also upheld a finding of personal liability of the owner, the person who had refused service.

The United States Supreme Court has denied petitions for writ of certiorari in similar cases, but it is highly likely that a petition for certiorari will follow, especially given the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Court.

 

February 16, 2017 in Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Virginia District Judge Enjoins Trump's EO "Muslim Ban"

The federal district judge in Aziz v. Trump, having previously granted the Motion of the State of Virginia to intervene, has granted a Preliminary Injunction against section 3(c) of the President's Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." The judge's order is  supported by a 22 page Memorandum Opinion.  Recall that the Ninth Circuit has also recently ruled on the matter (refusing to stay a district judge's injunction); our general explainer of the issues is here.

Judge Leonie Brinkema rested her opinion on the Establishment Clause, finding a likelihood of success on the merits on that claim, and thus not reaching the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause or statutory claims.

Judge Brinkema found that the case was justiciable and that Virginia as a state has standing to raise claims based on the injuries to its universities.  The judge rejected the contention that the President has unbridled power to issue the EO, stating that

Maximum power does not mean absolute power. Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set by Congress’ delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. It is a bedrock principle of this nation’s legal system that “the Constitution ought to be the standard of construction for the laws, and that wherever there is evident opposition, the laws ought to give place to the Constitution.” The Federalist No. 81, at 481 (Alexander Hamilton) (Clinton Rossiter ed., 1999).     Defendants have cited no authority for the proposition that Congress can delegate to the president the power to violate the Constitution and its amendments and the Supreme Court has made it clear that even in the context of immigration law, congressional and executive power “is subject to important constitutional limitations.” Zadfldas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 695 (2001).

 As to whether or not the EO is a "Muslim ban," the judge relied on public statements by the President and his senior advisors, noting that although the Government disputes the relevancy of the statements, the government does not contest their accuracy. Among the statements the Judge found relevant are candidate Trump's campaign statements and Rudolph Guiliani's January 29, 2017 interview on Fox News.

Judge Brinkema's analysis of the Establishment Clause issue relies heavily on McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky in which the Court found unconstitutional the display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse based in large part of the motive of the state actors. The judge also rejected the argument that the EO could not be a "Muslim ban" because it did not ban all Muslims:

The argument has also been made that the Court cannot infer an anti-Muslim animus because the E0 does not affect all, or even most, Muslims. The major premise of that argument—that one can only demonstrate animus toward a group of people by targeting all of them at once—is flawed.      For example, it is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court considered the displays of the Ten Commandments erected by the Kentucky counties in McCreary, which had a localized impact, to be targeted at all persons outside the Judeo-Christian traditions. Moreover, the Supreme Court has never reduced its Establishment Clause jurisprudence to a mathematical exercise. It is a discriminatory purpose that matters, no matter how inefficient the execution. [citations omitted]

Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction of 3(c) of the EO against Virginia residents or those affiliated with Virginia's education institutions.

 

February 13, 2017 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hawai'i Challenges the "Muslim Ban" in Federal Court

Joining the more than 15 other cases filed across the nation challenging Trump's Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, now available on the whitehouse.gov site here, today Hawai'i filed a Complaint in Hawai'i v. Trump, accompanied by a  lengthy motion for Temporary Restraining Order and supporting Memorandum of Law.

Hawai'i asserts standing as a state based on its diversity in ethnic population, its high number of noncitizen residents including business owners and students, and its tourism-based economy. Washington state previously brought suit (with an oral ruling granting a TRO); Virginia is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit there.

The constitutional claims are by now familiar from suits such as the first one in Darweesh v. Trump and the one filed by CAIR, Sarsour v. Trump, including Equal Protection claims as we analyzed here. Other constitutional claims generally include First Amendment Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause and Procedural Due Process.  There have also been constitutional claims based on the Emoluments Clause (Mohammed v. United States, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, with Temporary Restraining Order entered) and a substantive due process right to familial association (Arab American Civil Rights League v. Trump , filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, with an injunction entered.  Again, Lawfare is maintaining a collection of all the primary source documents.

The Hawai'i complaint includes an innovative count alleging a violation of the substantive due process right to international travel. According to the supporting memo, the right to travel abroad is  “part of the ‘liberty’” protected by the Due Process Clause; as the Court stated in Kent v. Dulles (1958), “Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values.” The EO fails to satisfy the applicable due process standard for the same reasons it fails the equal protection analysis.

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The Attorney General has not been confirmed and the Acting AG was terminated by the President when she stated the Muslim Ban was indefensible, but the DOJ attorneys seem to be vigorously defending these suits.

February 3, 2017 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Daily Read: OLC Memo on EO "Muslim Ban"

There were some questions whether the seemingly hasty release late Friday afternoon of the Executive Order, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, popularly called a "Muslim Ban," had been presented to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as required by law.

Pursuant to a FOIA request, an OLC Memo has been released.  It's seemingly a boilerplate memo, simply repeating the content of the EO and concluding "The proposed Order is approved with respect to form and legality."

It's a quick read at a bit over one page, with the EO appended afterwards.  There is no legal analysis. 

For comparison, the recent anti-nepotism OLC Memo, concluding that the President could appoint his son-in-law to a White House position runs about 14 single spaced pages.

 

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February 2, 2017 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Executive Authority, Race, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Muslim Advocacy Group CAIR Files Complaint Challenging Presidential "Muslim Ban"

In a complaint filed today in Sarsour v. Trump, attorneys with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have challenged the constitutionality of President Trump's late Friday EO, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, now available on the whitehouse.gov site here.   Recall that the EO was fairly quickly subject to a partial stay by a federal judge and encountered "judicial resistance" as Jonathan Hafetz over at Balkinization observes. There  are now several cases pending; a very helpful updated post with litigation documents from Qunita Juresic is over at Lawfare here. In addition to litigation, the EO has sparked nationwide protests, as well as criticism from other Republicans and 16 State Attorney Generals

In Sarsour, the complaint acknowledges that the text of the EO does not contain the words "Islam" or "Muslim," but argues in its Introduction that:

the Executive Order has already gained national and international media attention and nationwide protests, and has been dubbed uniformly as the “Muslim Ban” because its apparent and true purpose and underlying motive—which is to ban Muslims from certain Muslim‐majority countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) (hereinafter the “Muslim majority countries”)—has been broadcast to the general public by the Trump Administration

and that the EO is a

fulfillment of President Trump’s longstanding promise and boasted intent to enact a federal policy that overtly discriminates against Muslims and officially broadcasts a message that the federal government disfavors the religion of Islam, preferring all other religions instead.

The complaint has three constitutional claims, as well as a a fourth count alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.

2017.01.29_No_Muslim_Ban_Protest,_Washington,_DC_USA_00270_(32442762652)Front and center are the First Amendment Religion Clauses claims. The first count is labeled an Establishment Clause violation, but also argues that Islam is being singled out for disfavored treatment as "uniquely threatening and dangerous."  A discussion of the Establishment Clause arguments from David Cole, Legal Director of the ACLU, is over at Just Security here.  In the second count, the claim is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause as it relates to the John and Jane Doe plaintiffs who are residents but non-citizens originating from the Muslim-majority countries at issue in the EO. Interestingly, there is not a statutory Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim; there would seem to a good argument that RFRA's "persons" includes noncitizens as well as corporations as the Court held in Hobby Lobby.[Update: In Ruiz-Diaz v. United States, the Ninth Circuit applied RFRA to non-citizen in the United States on  five-year religious worker visas, ultimately concluding RFRA was not violated].

In addition to the First Amendment counts, the complaint includes a Fifth Amendment Equal Protection claim on behalf of the John and Jane Doe plaintiffs, contending that by preventing the non-citizen lawful resident Muslims originating from these specific Muslim-majority nations "from engaging in international travel and returning home in the United States" and from "applying for immigration benefits" under the federal statute and international human rights law including political asylum, the EO is unconstitutional.  We've previously discussed the Equal Protection issues involved in the EO here.

The EO is certainly going to attract additional judicial challenges, as well as legislative ones. 

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January 30, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Constitutionality of President's "Muslim Ban": Equal Protection Issues

President Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) late Friday afternoon entitled "Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”  (The text is not yet on Whitehouse.gov; it is reproduced in the New York Times here].

Is it constitutional, specifically on the basis of equal protection?

The preliminary question is whether equal protection is an applicable doctrine.  Despite being in the Fourteenth Amendment governing state action, the principle of equal protection has long been held to constrain actions by the federal government.  In Bolling v. Sharpe (1954), for example, a companion case to Brown to Board of Education, the Court essentially held that the equal protection principles of Brown would apply to the D.C. schools of Bolling through the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. One of the precedents on which the Court in Bolling relied was Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), in which the Court phrased the issue regarding the constitutionality of federal military orders regarding Japanese internment as:

The questions for our decision are whether the particular restriction violated, namely, that all persons of Japanese ancestry residing in such an area be within their place of residence daily between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., was adopted by the military commander in the exercise of an unconstitutional delegation by Congress of its legislative power, and whether the restriction unconstitutionally discriminated between citizens of Japanese ancestry and those of other ancestries in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

In Hirabayashi, the Court famously pronounced

Distinctions between citizens solely because of their ancestry are, by their very, nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality. For that reason, legislative classification or discrimination based on race alone has often been held to be a denial of equal protection. 

The support for this principle in Hirabayashi was Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), which involved state action that affected Chinese nationals in California, excluded from citizenship by federal law.  In Yick Wo, the Court was clear that "any person" in the text of the Fourteenth Amendment was "universal in their application to all persons" without regard to any differences of nationality.

But Yick Wo does not mean that equal protection or other constitutional rights apply globally.  The question of what "subject to the jurisdiction" of the state or federal government as applied to noncitizens means is a vexing one. For example, in Boumediene v. Bush (2008) involving the habeas corpus rights of noncitizens detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Court rehearsed the "extraterritorality cases" and ultimately concluded that the Suspension Clause (generally prohibiting the suspension of habeas corpus), in Article One, Section 9, clause 2, applied to noncitizens detained at Guantanamo Bay.  Unlike the "enemy combatants" in Boumediene, however, the "noncitizens" subject to the President's Executive Order (EO) often have substantial links to the United States.  Although the language of the EO lacks clarity on the question, a government spokesperson today has stated that the EO applies to permanent legal residents, often known as "green card" holders.  Thus, all "aliens" are not the same. Instead, there is a sliding scale of rights, greatest in a naturalized citizen and least in a non-resident non-citizen without any immigration status, but in between there are numerous other categories including those who are permanent legal residents, including those who have "rights" that are "more extensive and secure" because the person has made "preliminary declaration of intention to become a citizen,"  Johnson v. Eisentrager (1950).  Moreover, the question of territoriality is also cloudy.  As the EO went into effect, some people were landing in the United States, and thus "in" the country, and for "permanent residents" who may have been traveling briefly abroad and have no other home, their domicile may be in the United States. 

Assuming the Equal Protection Clause applies, the EO on its face makes classifications based on national origin and religious identity.  The national origin classification is clear and by reference, the EO applies to 7 nations: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. These nations are Muslim-majority nations, and a provision of the EO regarding refugee status directs priority to "refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. "

Generally, classifications based on national origin, as well as religious identity, would receive strict scrutiny, as derived from the famous footnote four of United States v. Carolene Products Company, although religious identities are more rarely litigated under Equal Protection (one example is here), given the robust First Amendment protections. 

When the federal power over immigration is involved, it may be argued that the otherwise applicable level of scrutiny is less appropriate, or even if it does apply, its application includes greater deference to the national government.  But in cases such as Nyguen v. INS (2001), involving a Fifth Amendment equal protection challenge to a federal gender classification with differing rules for unwed mothers and for unwed fathers in their ability to confer derivative citizenship, the Court carefully considered the usual level of scrutiny.  And in a similar recently-argued case, Lynch v. Morales-Santana, there was little indication that simplistic deference to the national government was appropriate; the Second Circuit had held that the gender differential violated equal protection.

If strict scrutiny applied to this national origin and religious classifications, it would require a compelling government interest with the means chosen being narrowly tailored.  National security is oft-considered a compelling interest, and the EO repeatedly cites "September 11." Yet, even accepting that this would be compelling, there are serious problems proving the narrowly tailored prong.  If one accepts the "September 11" rationale, the link to an event more than 15 years ago is tenuous.  Additionally, even if there was such a link, there is no overlap in the nationality of those involved in the September 11 attacks and those targeted in the EO.

Not only is there a mismatch between the nationalities of September 11 attackers and the nationalities of those targeted in the EO, there is the odd coincidence that President Trump has no business connections in the nations targeted while having such business interests in the nations excluded. This might lead to an argument that stated national security interest is not the President's genuine interest, similar to the Court's rejection of the "racial purity" interest in Loving v. Virginia and its conclusion that the "real" interest was White Supremacy.  There could be an argument that the President's "real" interest in the EO is one of personal profit, an interest that coincides with the recently filed Emoluments Clause challenge.  Or there might be an argument that the President's "real" interest relates to Russia, an interest that would coincide with ongoing investigations into the Trump-Putin connections.  Finally, there is an argument that the targeting of Muslims is based on animus and the bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group, an interest that the Court has repeatedly found to not even satisfy the lowest level of scrutiny requiring a mere legitimate interest, in cases such as Moreno v. USDA (1973).

There are certainly other issues in addition to equal protection; the just-filed ACLU complaint's first claims rest on procedural due process, although there is also an equal protection claim.  [Update here].

Nevertheless, equality arguments will loom large in the "Muslim ban" challenges.

January 28, 2017 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Complaint and TRO Motion Filed on Behalf of Standing Rock Water Protectors

complaint alleging violations of the First and Fourth Amendments by North Dakota officials has been filed on behalf of "water protectors" at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest at Standing Rock.  The plaintiffs in Dundon v. Kirchmeier have also filed a motion and memo for a Temporary Restraining Order "enjoining Defendants from curtailing their First and Fourth Amendment rights by using highly dangerous weaponry, including Specialty Impact Munitions (SIM, also known as Kinetic Impact Projectiles or KIP), explosive “blast” grenades, other chemical agent devices, and a water cannon and water hoses in freezing temperatures, to quell protests and prayer ceremonies associated with opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

As to the First Amendment, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants have sought to eliminate protected First Amendment activity in a public forum.  Additionally, even if there were an "unlawful assembly" not protected by the First Amendment, the defendants violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of excessive force.  Moreover, the plaintiffs claim that the activities of the government officials have become a custom warranting government liability.

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Dakota Access Pipeline Native American protest site,
photo by Shane Balkowitsch, via


The factual claims in the complaint and memo supporting the TRO are troubling; some of the accounts will be familiar from reporting, but the legal documents compare the use of force at Standing Rock to other situations. 

For example, on the water cannon:

The use of water cannons in riot control contexts also can lead to injury or death. Potential health effects include hypothermia and frostbite, particularly if appropriate medical and warming services are not easily accessible. High-pressure water can cause both direct and indirect injuries. Direct injuries may include trauma directly to the body or internal injuries from the force of the water stream. Eye damage resulting in blindness as well as facial bone fractures and serious head injuries have been documented. Ex. V at 59; Anna Feifenbaum, White-washing the water cannon: salesmen, scientific experts and human rights abuses, Open Democracy (Feb. 25, 2014); https://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/anna-feigenbaum/white-washingwater-cannon-salesmen-scientific-experts-and-human-rights; https://web.archive.org/web/20070221053037/http://newzimbabwe.com/pages/mdc44.15976.html (fatalities reported in Zimbabwe in 2007, when water cannons were used on peaceful crowd, causing panic); http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/Default.aspx?pageID=238&nid=49009 (fatalities reported in Turkey in 2013, when water cannon water was mixed with teargas); https://www.kyivpost.com/article/content/ukraine-politics/activist-watered-by-police-diedbecause-of-pneumonia-335885.html (fatality reported in Ukraine in 2014, when businessman Bogdan Kalynyak died from pneumonia after being sprayed by water cannon in freezing temperatures). There is no current caselaw on the use of water cannons against protesters in the United States because, along with attack dogs, such use effectively ended in the U.S. in the 1960s amidst national outcry over the use of these tactics on nonviolent civil rights protesters.

More information is available from the Water Protectors Legal Collective  and National Lawyers Guild.

 

November 28, 2016 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, History, Race, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ten Commandments at City Hall Violates Establishment Clause (even with other secular monuments)

The Tenth Circuit ruled last week in Felix v. City of Bloomfield that the city's monument to the Ten Commandments violated the Establishment Clause, even though the overall display included other, later-erected secular monuments.

The case arose when a city council member obtained council permission to place a Ten Commandments monument in front of city hall, along with other monuments that would celebrate the city's "history of law and government." The council member raised private money for the Ten Commandments monument (from churches, among other sources), and, after some fits and starts, placed the massive monument (over five feet tall, 3,400 pounds, sunk 14 inches into the ground) right in front of city hall. The city held an unveiling ceremony, which included religious references, statements, and the like, and some secular ones, too.

After this suit was filed, arguing that the Ten Commandments monument violated the Establishment Clause, the council member arranged for other monuments at city hall, including one for the Declaration of Independence, one for the Gettysburg Address, and one for the Bill of Rights.

The Tenth Circuit ruled that the Ten Commandments monument violated the Establishment Clause. The court wrote that an objective observer, reasonably informed about the monument, would have concluded that the city was endorsing religion. The court said that the text on the monument, its prominent location, the religious circumstances surrounding its financing and unveiling, and the timing of this lawsuit (just seven months after the monument's unveiling) all pointed toward endorsement.

The court recognized the city's effort to secularize the display with later, secular monuments, but said that this wasn't enough to scrub the religious history behind it.

November 17, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Sexual Conversion Ban Case

In the continuing - - - yet seemingly concluding - - - saga of challenges to the constitutionality of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit's opinion today in Welch v. Brown revisited its August opinion upholding the law.  Today's opinion announces that the Ninth Circuit will not rehear the case en banc - - - "no judge of the court" having requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc - - - and issues an amended opinion.

The change from the August opinion is slight, adding an example in the opinion's description of the challengers' argument in one paragraph:

Plaintiffs first argue that, under the Establishment Clause, SB 1172 excessively entangles the State with religion. Their argument rests on a misconception of the scope of SB 1172. For example, Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Welch may not “offer certain prayers or quote certain Scriptures to young people” even “while working as a minister for Skyline Church” within “the four walls of the church . . ., while engaging in those religious activities.” The premise of this Establishment Clause argument is mistaken, and the argument fails, because SB 1172 regulates conduct only within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.

[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].

With such a small revision, it would seem there was little contention about the case.  Recall that Welch itself is a sequel to Pickup v. Brown, in which the Ninth Circuit declined en banc review (albeit more divisively), to other First Amendment challenges to the California statute. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit in King v. Christie rejected a challenge to New Jersey's similar SOCE-ban statute.  The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in both Pickup and King, making prospects for a grant of certiorari in Welch v. Brown rather slim, especially for an eight Justice Court.

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October 4, 2016 in Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 26, 2016

SCOTUS ConLaw Cases Preview for 2016-17 Term

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.

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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

Divided Fourth Circuit Upholds County Commissioner's Prayer

In its divided opinion in Lund v. Rowan County, North Carolina, the Fourth Circuit has held that the identity of the person leading a prayer opening the county Board of Commissioners meeting is irrelevant - - - even a prayer led by a Board member is within the ambit of Town of Greece v. Galloway (2014) and without a First Amendment Establishment Clause problem.

As the majority opinion, authored by Judge Steven Agee and joined by Judge Dennis Shedd, describes it:

At most Board meetings, the chairperson would call the meeting to order and invite the Board and audience to stand for the ceremonial opening. A designated commissioner would then deliver an invocation of his or her choosing followed by the pledge of allegiance. The content of each invocation was entirely in the discretion of the respective commissioner; the Board, as a Board, had no role in prayer selection or content. The overwhelming majority of the prayers offered by the commissioners invoked the Christian faith in some form. For example, prayers frequently included references to “Jesus,” “Christ,” and “Lord.”  It was also typical for the invocation to begin with some variant of “let us pray” or “please pray with me.” Id. Although not required to do so, the audience largely joined the commissioners in standing and bowing their heads during the prayer and remained standing for the pledge of allegiance.

Louis-Émile_Minet_Les_CharitonsThe litigation was begun before the United States Supreme Court issued its sharply divided opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the practice of the town beginning its meetings with invited religious leaders providing prayers.  The Court essentially extended Marsh v. Chambers (1983), regarding legislative prayer in the Nebraska legislature, to town meetings despite their quasi-legislative and quasi-adjudicative function.  The Fourth Circuit extends Town of Greece to prayers by the elected officials (and arguably adjudicators) themselves: "the Supreme Court attached no significance to the speakers' identities in its analysis" of either Town of Greece or Marsh.  Indeed, as the Fourth Circuit majority notes, Justice Kennedy writing for the plurality in Town of Greece averred that the "principal audience" for the prayers is not the public but "lawmakers themselves, who may find that a moment of prayer or quiet reflection sets the mind to a higher purpose and thereby eases the task of governing."  The Fourth Circuit therefore found that the district judge's conclusion that legislative prayer led by a legislator violates the Establishment Clause.

Judge Agee's opinion for the Fourth Circuit majority then took up the question of whether "some other facet" of the Board of Commissioner's praying practice took it "outside the protective umbrella of legislative prayer."  These four "guideposts" included the selection of the legislative prayer, the content of the prayer, selection of the prayer-giver, and the effect of the prayer "over time" as advancing a particular religion.  Judge Agee's opinion rejected each of these concerns.  First, the selection of the legislative prayer was not done by the "Board as a whole," but each of the five commissioners was in effect "a free agent."  Second, the majority found the content not objectionable because it did not cross the line into proselytizing: "There is no prayer in the record asking those who may hear it to convert to the prayer-giver’s faith or belittling those who believe differently. And even if there were, it is the practice as a whole -- not a few isolated incidents -- which controls." Third, the selection of the prayer-givers was not problematic, even though it was limited to the five commissioners.  The majority opinion here comes close to requiring a type of specific motive: "Absent proof the Board restricted the prayer opportunity among the commissioners as part of an effort to promote only Christianity, we must view its decision to rely on lawmaker-led prayer as constitutionally insignificant."  Fourth and last, the majority found no problem based on its analogies to Town of Greece and Marsh, in which the prayers were overwhelmingly Christian.

All-falling-faithsFor Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, dissenting, the prayer practices of the Rowan County Commissioners crossed the constitutional line into a violation of the Establishment Clause. Wilkinson, whose forthcoming book argues that the 1960s  were damaging "to our need for the sustenance of faith," here concludes that Rowan County is not welcoming to various faiths. He does not argue that the commissioner as prayer-leader is determinative, but it is one of the factors that distinguishes the Rowan County practice from Town of Greece, that makes it "a conceptual world apart."  For Wilkinson:

I have seen nothing like it. This combination of legislators as the sole prayer-givers, official invitation for audience participation, consistently sectarian prayers referencing but a single faith, and the intimacy of a local governmental setting exceeds even a broad reading of Town of Greece. That case in no way sought to dictate the outcome of every legislative prayer case.

Wilkinson's opinion provides several examples that the plaintiffs, all non-Christians, found "overtly sectarian," including:

Our Heavenly Father, we will never, ever forget that we are not alive unless your life is in us. We are the recipients of your immeasurable grace. We can’t be defeated, we can’t be destroyed, and we won’t be denied, because of our salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. I ask you to be with us as we conduct the business of Rowan County this evening, and continue to bless everyone in this room, our families, our friends, and our homes. I ask all these things in the name of Jesus, Amen.”

Judge Wilkinson noted that the "closed universe" of prayer-givers - - - the five Commissioners - - - over a period of years had led to a constriction in the religious identities represented that could communicate a message of non-belonging to citizens coming before the Board.  But Wilkinson's concern also extended into a concern about representative secular democracy itself:

Entrenching this single faith reality takes us one step closer to a de facto religious litmus test for public office. When delivering the same sectarian prayers becomes embedded legislative custom, voters may wonder what kind of prayer a candidate of a minority religious persuasion would select if elected. Failure to pray in the name of the prevailing faith risks becoming a campaign issue or a tacit political debit, which in turn deters those of minority faiths from seeking office. It should not be so.

The United States Supreme Court's now-eight Justices may not be eager to welcome another government prayer case into the docket so soon after the 5-4 decision Town of Greece, especially one that might result in a 4-4 split, affirming the Fourth Circuit's opinion.  And yet?  Perhaps the Rowan County Board of Commissioners prayer practices might be a step too far for one of the Justices who joined the Court's majority in Town of Greece?  Or perhaps for the Fourth Circuit en banc? 

 

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September 19, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

District Judge Rules RFRA Exemption in Transgender Title VII Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[footnotes omitted].

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

Texas Attorney General Opinion: Prayer to Start Court Is Constitutional

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

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

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

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

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

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

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