Monday, February 20, 2017
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.
Additionally, 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
Thursday, February 16, 2017
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.
The 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
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.
Friday, February 3, 2017
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.
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.
Thursday, February 2, 2017
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.
Monday, January 30, 2017
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.
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.
Saturday, January 28, 2017
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.
Monday, November 28, 2016
A 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.
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.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
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.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
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.
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
The United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.
Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.
The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Virginia concededly did consider race in the redistricting, but the more precise issue is an interpretation under current doctrine regarding whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court is faulted for requiring an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race. The petitioners argue that “where a legislature intentionally assigns voters to districts according to a fixed, nonnegotiable racial threshold, “strict scrutiny cannot be avoided simply by demonstrating that the shape and location of the districts can rationally be explained by reference to some districting principle other than race.” If it were other-wise, they argue, even the most egregious race-based districting schemes would escape constitutional scrutiny. In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation. The plaintiff originally argued that the congressional map drawn by the NC Assembly in 2011 violated the Equal Protection Clause in two districts by making race a predominant factor and by not narrowly tailoring the districts to any compelling interest. North Carolina argues that the conclusion of racial predominance is incorrect and that it need not show that racial considerations were “actually necessary” as opposed to “having good reasons” under the Voting Rights Act. The North Carolina districts have been long controversial; a good timeline is here.
In another Equal Protection Clause case, the classification is sex rather than race. In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment. The United States argues that because the context is citizenship, only rational basis scrutiny is appropriate. This issue has been before the Court before. The last time was 2011 in Flores-Villar v. United States when the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" upheld the Ninth Circuit’s finding that the differential residency requirement satisfied equal protection. In Flores-Villar, Kagan was recused. The Court hearing Morales-Santana, scheduled for oral argument November 9, will also seemingly be only eight Justices, but this time including Kagan.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. It is concededly more expansive/restrictive than the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause in the First Amendment as the United States Supreme Court has interpreted it. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision. Trinity Lutheran argues that the Blaine Amendment violates both the Free Exercise Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, with the Eighth Circuit siding with the state of Missouri.
There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution. Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror. Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?
Finally - - - at least for now - - - the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute. Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.
We will be updating this post as the Court adds more cases to its docket.
UPDATE September 29, 2016: The Court granted certiorari to two important First Amendment cases.
September 26, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Religion, Sixth Amendment, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 19, 2016
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.
The 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.
For 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?
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.
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
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.
Rather 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.
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.
Monday, August 15, 2016
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.
[image: Henry VIII at prayer with Black Book of the Garter via ]
Friday, July 1, 2016
Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi Law Seeking to Protect LGBT Discrimination
In a 60 page opinion in Barber v. Bryant, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves (pictured below) found Mississippi HB 1523, set to become effective July 1, constitutionally problematical under both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and thus preliminary enjoined its enforcement.
The bill, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," sought to insulate the specific "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" that:
(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.
Judge Reeves characterized HB 1523 as a predictable overreaction to the Court's same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges a year ago. In discussing the debates around the HB 152 and its texts, Judge Reeves also noted that the challenges to HB 1523 were also predictable, providing his rationale for consolidating the four cases.
Judge Reeves then considered standing of the various plaintiffs as well as Eleventh Amendment immunity, followed by the established preliminary injunction standards which have at their heart the "substantial likelihood of success on the merits."
On the Equal Protection claim, Judge Reeves relied on Romer v. Evans, and found that the legislative history established animus in intent:
The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status.
Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect. Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest." But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523." Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."
On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:
The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.
Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.
Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.
July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, June 4, 2016
In Clay, the Court reversed Ali's conviction for "willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces."
The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali's claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the "religious" requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970). The Department of Justice had stated:
‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant's claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’
However, the Department of Justice abandoned that argument before the United States Supreme Court:
In this Court the Government has now fully conceded that the petitioner's beliefs are based upon ‘religious training and belief,’ as defined in United States v. Seeger, ‘There is no dispute that petitioner's professed beliefs were founded on basic tenets of the Muslim religion, as he understood them, and derived in substantial part from his devotion to Allah as the Supreme Being. Thus, under this Court's decision in United States v. Seeger, his claim unquestionably was within the ‘religious training and belief’ clause of the exemption provision.' [quoting the DOJ Brief]. This concession is clearly correct. For the record shows that the petitioner's beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them. They are surely no less religiously based than those of the three registrants before this Court in Seeger. See also Welsh v. United States.
[citations and footnote omitted]
A unanimous Supreme Court thus reversed the conviction in a per curiam opinion. (Thurgood Marshall, who had been Solicitor General, recused himself).
Justice William Douglas, in his inimitable style, concurred separately with a discourse on the Koran and the meaning of “jihad.” Douglas concluded:"What Clay's testimony adds up to is that he believes only in war as sanctioned by the Koran, that is to say, a religious war against nonbelievers. All other wars are unjust."
Monday, May 16, 2016
The Supreme Court today issued a per curiam opinion in Zubik v. Burwell, dodging the question whether the government's accommodation to its contraception mandate under the ACA violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and remanding the case to give the parties a chance to settle in a way that would satisfy everybody's interests. Here's our last post on the case.
The ruling means that religious nonprofits and the government will have a chance to work out their differences and arrive at an accommodation that would both (1) "accommodate petitioners' religious exercise" and (2) "ensur[e] that women covered by petitioners' health plans 'receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.'" But the parties will do this separately in the Third, Fifth, Tenth, and D.C. Circuits, leading to the possibility that the results will be different, and possibly come back to the Supreme Court next Term.
Whatever happens in the lower courts, however, today's ruling virtual ensures that the issue won't resurface for a ruling at the Supreme Court before the fall elections.
Today's result came about after the Court asked the parties, post-argument, to brief whether "contraceptive coverage could be provided to petitioners' employees, through petitioners' insurance companies, without any such notice from petitioners." Both parties said this could happen. In particular, the non-profits said that their religious freedom wouldn't be infringed if they didn't have to do anything "more than contract for a plan that does not include coverage for some or all forms of contraception," even if their employees would receive free contraception coverage from the same insurance company. The government, for its part, said that it could modify its accommodation and still ensure that women get seamless contraceptive coverage.
The Court was quite careful to say that this is not a ruling on the merits.
Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, concurred, underscoring that this isn't a ruling on the merits--or even a signal on the merits--and that lower courts would be wrong to interpret it as such. She also underscored the Court's statements that the parties could fashion an accommodation seamlessly--that is, without establishing a new, separate policy for contraception.
The ruling sends the cases back to the lower courts, gives everyone a chance to figure out how to accommodate everyone's interests, and puts the issue off until after the fall elections (at least).
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The Tenth Circuit has ruled that the Browns - - - of Sister Wives reality television fame - - - cannot challenge Utah's ban on polygamous cohabitation and marriage under Article III judicial power constraints. In its opinion in Brown v. Buhman, the unanimous three judge panel found that the matter was moot.
Recall that federal district judge Clark Waddoups finalized his conclusion from his previous opinion that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional. The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:
- (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
- (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
- (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.
[emphasis added]. Judge Waddoups concluded that the "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis." This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:
Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit panel held that the district judge should not have addressed the constitutional claims because the case was moot. Even assuming the Browns had standing when the complaint was filed, any credible threat of prosecution was made moot by a Utah County Attorney's Office (UCAO) 2012 policy which stated that "the UCAO will prosecute only those who (1) induce a partner to marry through misrepresentation or (2) are suspected of committing a collateral crime such as fraud or abuse." The opinion stated that nothing "in the record" suggested that Browns fit into this category and additionally, there was an affirmation from the defendant that "the UCAO had 'determined that no other prosecutable crimes related to the bigamy allegation have been or are being committed by the Browns in Utah County as of the date of this declaration. ' ”
The opinion found that the "voluntary cessation" exception to mootness was not applicable because that was intended to prevent gamesmanship: a government actor could simply reenact the challenged policy after the litigation is dismissed.
Yet the problem, of course, is that the statute remains "on the books" and the policy is simply not to enforce it except in limited cases. The court rejected all of the Browns' arguments that the UCAO statement did not moot the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute including a precedential one; the possibility that a new Utah County Attorney could enforce the statute; the failure of defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, to renounce the statute's constitutionality; and the tactical motives of the defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, in adopting the policy. The court stated:
The first point misreads the case law, the second is speculative, the third is minimally relevant, and the fourth may actually assure compliance with the UCAO Policy because any steps to reconsider would almost certainly provoke a new lawsuit against him. Such steps also would damage Mr. Buhman’s credibility as a public official and might even expose him to prosecution for perjury and contempt of federal court for violating his declaration. Assessing the veracity of the UCAO Policy must account for all relevant factors, which together show no credible threat of prosecution of the Browns.
Thus, like other criminal statutes that are said to have fallen into "desuetude," the statute seems immune from constitutional challenge.
In a very brief section, the court does note that the plaintiffs no longer live in Utah, but have moved to Nevada, another rationale supporting mootness. The Nevada move is discussed in the video below featuring some of the children involved.
April 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexuality, Standing, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)
Thursday, March 24, 2016
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in Zubik v. Burwell, the case testing whether the government's accommodation to the contraceptive requirement for religious nonprofits violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Our preview is here.
The big news is, well, that there's no big news. Nothing new came out in oral arguments, and the justices' questions seemed only to put their positions on public display or to help them write their mostly-already-decided decisions. The Court spent plenty of time on how the accommodation works (and therefore whether it's a substantial burden), and whether there are other ways the government can achieve its interests (and therefore whether the accommodation is narrowly tailored). The number and types of exceptions already built into the requirement will clearly play a part in the decisions (because they show, or don't, how the accommodation isn't narrowly tailored, depending on your view). The question where the government does, or can, draw the line between religious nonprofits and churches will also be important (for the same reason). But none of this is really new.
The justices seemed to divide four-four, traditional progressives for the government and traditional conservatives for the nonprofits. Justice Kennedy may have left himself a small (very small) opening to go with the progressives; but if he does, it'll be on narrowly tailoring. (Justice Kennedy bought the nonprofits' theory that the government accommodation "hijacked" their insurance coverage--"hijack" being the word of the day for the nonprofits and the conservatives--and therefore created a substantial burden on their religious practice.)
If there's a four-four split, the lower courts' decisions will stand. This means, without some other action by the Court, that the accommodation will be invalid only in the Eighth Circuit--the only one to rule for the nonprofits so far--and valid in the rest of the country.