Tuesday, September 1, 2015

District Judge Finds "Obamacare" Contraception Mandate Unconstitutional as applied to "March for Life"

In an opinion that essentially extends religious protections to a nonreligious organization, Judge Richard Leon has ruled in March for Life v. Burwell that the so-called contraceptive mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare") cannot constitutionally be applied to a nonprofit anti-abortion employer.  While portions of Judge Leon's opinion predictably relied upon the Supreme Court's closely divided 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Judge Leon notably found that the contraception mandate's exclusion of religious organizations - - - but not other organizations - - - violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.

Judge Leon applied rational basis review, but declared that

Were defendants to have their way here, rational basis review would have all the bite of a rubber stamp!

He continued:

Defendants contend that March for Life is not “similarly situated” to the exempted organizations because it “is not religious and is not a church.” Rational basis review is met, they argue, because the purpose served, “accommodating religious exercise by religious institutions,” is “permissible and legitimate.”  This not only oversimplifies the issue—it misses the point entirely! The threshold question is not whether March for Life is “generally” similar to churches and their integrated auxiliaries. It is whether March for Life is similarly situated with regard to the precise attribute selected for accommodation.  For the following reasons, I conclude that it most assuredly is.

[citations omitted]. 

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image via "March for Life" about us



In short, Judge Leon found that "March for Life" was similarly situated to religious organizations given the HHS rationale for excluding religious organizations from the contraception mandate:

HHS has chosen to protect a class of individuals that, it believes, are less likely than other individuals to avail themselves of contraceptives. It has  consequently moored this accommodation not in the language of conscientious objection,  but in the vernacular of religious protection. This, of course, is puzzling. In HHS’s own  view, it is not the belief or non-belief in God that warrants safe harbor from the Mandate.  The characteristic that warrants protection——an employment relationship based in part on a shared objection to abortifacients—is altogether separate from theism. Stated  differently, what HHS claims to be protecting is religious beliefs, when it actually is  protecting a moral philosophy about the sanctity of human life. HHS may be correct that  this objection is common among religiously-affiliated employers. Where HHS has erred,  however, is in assuming that this trait is unique to such organizations. It is not.

In other words, the HHS's rationale - - - the government interest - - - was not specifically religious and thus should not be limited to religious organizations in keeping with principles of equal protection.  Some of this reasoning is reminiscent of Hobby Lobby, of course, but there the level of scrutiny under RFRA was strict (or perhaps even stricter than strict) scrutiny, while Judge Leon is applying rational basis scrutiny. 

Interestingly, Judge Leon states that  "'religion' is not a talisman that sweeps aside all constitutional concerns," and quotes the classic conscientious objector case of Welsh v. United States (1970) for the "long recognized" principle that  “[i]f an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content . . . those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that individual a place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons.”  Taken to its logical conclusion, this reasoning has the potential to eliminate - - - or at least ameliorate - - - the "special" protection of religious freedom.

In his application of RFRA, Judge Leon's opinion is on more well-plowed ground.  He notes that while "March for Life is avowedly non—religious, the employee plaintiffs do oppose the Mandate on religious grounds."  This brings the case within the purview of Hobby Lobby.  As Judge Leon phrases it:

The final question the Court must ask under RFRA is whether the current Mandate is the least restrictive means of serving this governmental interest. Assuredly, it is not!

While Judge Leon dismissed the free exercise claim,  based upon the DC Circuit's opinion and denial of en banc review in Priests for Life v HHS, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the Equal Protection and RFRA claims (as well as a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act).  

When this case reaches the DC Circuit, it will be interesting to see how the court - - - as well as religious organizations and scholars - - - views Judge Leon's potentially destabilizing equal protection analysis.

September 1, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eighth Circuit Finds North Dakota's "Heartbeat" Abortion Prohibition Unconstitutional

A unanimous panel of the Eighth Circuit, affirming the district judge, found that North Dakota's abortion regulation based on a "detectable heartbeat" is unconstitutional in its opinion in MKB Management Corp. v. Stenehjem. 

North Dakota's 2013 House Bill 1456, codified at N.D. Cent. Code § 14-02.1, mandates physicians determine whether the "unborn child" has a "detectable heartbeat," and if so, makes it a felony for a physician to perform an abortion.  The medical evidence submitted was that a "detectable heartbeat" occurs when a woman is about six weeks pregnant.

LogoThe court held that a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability is binding United States Supreme Court precedent, quoting language from Gonzales v. Carhart (2007): "Before viability, a State 'may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy.'” 

However, the Eighth Circuit opinion noted that while it could not depart from the current state of protection of the right to abortion, the United States Supreme Court should reconsider the issue.  Essentially, the Eighth Circuit opinion argues that "developments in the unborn" should shift the balance to the ability of the states - - - and not the courts - - - to protect the unborn and assert the interest in "potential life."  The court's opinion also discussed the controversial findings that women who have had abortions suffer from emotional ills including regret, as well as repeating evidence that "some studies support a connection between abortion and breast cancer."  The court thus concludes, "the continued application of the Supreme Court’s viability standard discounts the legislative branch’s recognized interest in protecting unborn children."

Nevertheless, the opinion clearly finds the North Dakota law unconstitutional.

July 22, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Second Circuit Holds Unwed Mother-Father Immigration Distinction Unconstitutional

In its opinion in Morales-Santana v. Lynch, a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit has held that the differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child violated equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment's protections. It creates a conflict in the circuits and sets up another trip to the United States Supreme Court on the issue, the last one having resulted in a 4-4 split as discussed below. 

The statutory scheme at issue, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1409(c), was the one in effect when Morales-Santana was born in 1962 outside the US to unwed parents.  His parents married each other in 1970 and he was admitted to the US as a lawful permanent resident in 1975.   In 2000, Morales-Santana was placed in removal proceedings after a conviction for various felonies and applied for withholding based on derivative citizenship from his father.

Derivative citizenship, which occurs at the moment of birth, is bestowed on a child born abroad to an unwed citizen mother and non‐citizen father has citizenship at birth so long as the mother was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of at least one year at some point prior to the child’s birth. By contrast, a child born abroad to an unwed citizen father and non‐citizen mother has citizenship at birth only if the father was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth for a period or periods totaling at least ten years, with at least five of those years occurring after the age of fourteen.  Morales-Santana's father, born in Puerto Rico in 1900, met the one year requirement but not the ten year requirement at the time of his son's birth.  Both parties agreed that had Morales‐Santana’s mother, rather than his father, been a citizen continuously present in Puerto Rico until 20 days prior to her nineteenth birthday, she would have satisfied the requirements to confer derivative citizenship on her child. It is this gender‐based difference in treatment that Morales‐Santana claims violated his father’s right to equal protection.

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image via

The Second Circuit's decision that the differential requirements for unwed fathers and mothers is unconstitutional must confront several United States Supreme Court decisions that point in a different direction on the equal protection issue in citizenship statutes, including two recent decisions.  First, the Court  in  Nguyen v. INS (2001) upheld gender discrimination regarding establishment of paternity.  The Second Circuit notes that Morales-Santana complied with the statutory provisions upheld in Nguyen: the child was "legitimated" and thus paternity "acknowledged" when his parents married in 1970.  Second, and more important, is the Court's per curiam affirmance by an "equally divided Court" in Flores-Villar v. United States in 2011. The Ninth Circuit in Flores-Villar  had upheld the differential residency requirement. 

Judge Ray Lohier's for the Second Circuit subjects the statutory scheme to intermediate heightened scrutiny under United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), rejecting the government's argument that essentially all citizenship statutes should be subject to mere rational basis review. 

With regard to the government's proffered interests, the court acknowledged that ensuring a sufficient connection between the child and the United States is important, but then states that the differential treatments of mothers and fathers is unrelated to it:  the government

offers no reason, and we see no reason, that unwed fathers need more time than unwed mothers in the United States prior to their child’s birth in order to assimilate the values that the statute seeks to ensure are passed on to citizen children born abroad.

The Second Circuit then recognizes that its "determination conflicts with the decision of the Ninth Circuit in Flores‐Villar, which addressed the same statutory provisions and discussed the same governmental interest in ensuring a connection between child and country."

As to the government's second interest - - - preventing statelessness - - - the court again agrees that it is important, but concludes that this was not a genuine actual interest of the legislation.

Neither the congressional hearings nor the relevant congressional reports concerning the 1940 Act contain any reference to the problem of statelessness for children born abroad. The congressional hearings concerning the 1952 Act are similarly silent about statelessness as a driving concern.

Moreover, even if it had been the government's concern, gender-neutral alternatives - - - which the court notes had been proposed as "far back as 1933" - - - would serve this purpose.  Additionally, the ten year differential, which importantly cannot be cured since it attaches at the moment of birth, is substantial.  Again, this time in a footnote (n.17), the court acknowledges that its decision differs from that of the Ninth Circuit.

The court then finds the paternity provision unconstitutional and rejects the government's proposed remedy that all derivative citizenship be subject to the longer ten year period.

Presumably, the government will seek certiorari.  (And while this case involves a previous statute, the current statute maintains a gender differential).  A petition would have a good chance of being granted given the split in the circuits.  But the Court's 4-4 split in 2011 in Flores-Villar occurred because Justice Kagan was recused; this would not be the case this time.  And perhaps the Obama Administration will chose not to seek review. 

July 8, 2015 in Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Second Circuit Upholds DMV Ban of "Choose Life" License Plate Against First Amendment Challenge

In its divided opinion in Children First Foundation v. Fiala, the Second Circuit held that the Commissioner of Motor Vehicle's rejection of "Choose Life" license plates for the state's specialty plate program is constitutional.  Judge Pooler, joined by Judge Hall, reversed the district judge's conclusion that the rejection violated the First Amendment. 

The Second Circuit's divided opinion enters the fray of what might be called the developing doctrine of license plates, be they state-mandated, vanity, or as here, "specialty" plates issued by the state as a means of raising revenue. As we've discussed, the Fourth Circuit recently held that North Carolina's provision of a "Choose Life" specialty license plate violated the First Amendment; the New Hampshire Supreme Court invalidated a vanity license plate regulation requiring "good taste"; a Michigan federal district judge similarly invalidated a refusal of specific letters on a vanity plate; and on remand from the Tenth Circuit, the design of the Oklahoma standard license plate was upheld.  

The progenitor of this doctrine is the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard (1977) involving compelled speech.  This Term the Court heard oral arguments in Walker v. Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans; a divided Fifth Circuit had held that the rejection of the Sons of Confederate Veterans plate (featuring the Confederate flag) was a violation of the First Amendment as impermissible content and viewpoint discrimination.  The Second Circuit stayed the mandate of its decision pending the outcome of Walker. 

The specialty license plate litigation involves the intersection of a number of First Amendment doctrines.  As Judge Pooler's opinion in Children First Foundation expressed its holding:

We conclude that the content of New York’s custom license plates constitutes private speech [rather than government speech] and that the plates themselves are a nonpublic forum. CFF’s facial challenge fails because New York’s custom plate program did not impermissibly vest the DMV Commissioner with unbridled discretion in approving custom plate designs. Furthermore, that program, as applied in this case, was reasonable and viewpoint neutral, which is all that the First Amendment requires of restrictions on expression in a nonpublic forum.

License
Judge Pooler's well-structured opinion supports this conclusion.  First, the court considers whether the license plate is government speech or private speech.  If the speech is government speech, then the First Amendment has little application. (Recall that this was the position of the dissenting judge in the Fifth Circuit's decision in Sons of Confederate Veterans).  Agreeing with other circuits, the court reasons that an application of Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum (2009) and Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Ass’n (2005) leads to " little difficulty concluding that such an observer would know that motorists affirmatively request specialty plates and choose to display those plates on their vehicles, which constitute private property."

Next, Judge Pooler's opinion considers the type of forum and concludes it is a "nonpublic forum," rejecting a comparison to a designated public forum formed when the government accepts advertising on buses.   Nevertheless, the opinion notes that the prohibition of "unbridled discretion" as a type of prior restraint is prohibited even in nonpublic forums. 
 
However, the court finds that the DMV does not exercise unbridled discretion that renders the DMV specialty license plate program facially unconstitutionally.  The court does note that the statute and regulation afford the DMV "broad discretion" and - - - standing alone - - - their ability "to provide an adequate safeguard against the Commissioner’s exercise of unbridled authority is dubious."  This argument is the centerpiece of Judge Livingston's extensive dissent.  For the majority, the agency policies and practices, written and unwritten, are highly pertinent.  The court specifically considers whether there was a uniform application.  It approvingly notes that the DMV denied a vanity plate for "RU486," with its reference to the so-called "morning-after pill."  And the court distinguishes specialty plates like "Cop Shot" and "Union Yes":

bringing to justice individuals who have attacked police officers cannot reasonably compare—either by its very nature or by the level of contentiousness that surrounds it—to the issue of abortion. With respect to the decision to issue a “Union Yes” plate, while the myriad issues pertaining to organized labor in the United States are social and political in nature, there is no basis to conclude that the Department failed to apply the policy against creating plates that touch upon contentious political issues as opposed to having applied the policy and merely reaching a different result than it did with the “Choose Life” plate.

Finally, regarding the as-applied challenge, which in some respects overlaps with the facial challenge, the court noted that while the distinction between viewpoint and content discrimination can be "hazy," a rejection of all abortion-related speech in a nonpublic forum is the type of content related policy that is subject only to a reasonableness requirement.  The court recognized the state's legitimate interests of avoiding road rage and avoiding the appearance of the government endorsing one side in a contentious political debate.  Interestingly, regarding "road rage," the court rejected CFF’s contention that because the “Choose Life” plates have been "available for purchase in other states for twelve years with no definitive proof of ill effects," this  and concluded that this did not render unreasonable New York’s decision, especially given the timing of the application and ejection when "the DMV was aware of violent protests and bombings at abortion clinics." 
 
Additionally, the court rejected CFF's due process and equal protection claims.
 
The Second Circuit's opinion is sure to be reevaluated when the United States Supreme Court renders its decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, as the court recognized when it stayed its mandate.  The court's delivery of its decision before Walker could be subjected to much speculation.

 

May 27, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guide to the Amicus Briefs in Obergefell v. Hodges: The Same-Sex Marriage Cases

The United States Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on April 28 in the same-sex marriage cases, now styled as Obergefell v. Hodges, a consolidated appeal from the Sixth Circuit’s decision in DeBoer v. Snyder, reversing the district court decisions in  Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee that had held the same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, and creating a circuit split.    

 Recall that the Court certified two questions:

    1)Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

    2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state? 

The case has attracted what seems to be a record number of amicus briefs.  As we discussed last year, previous top amicus brief attractors were the same-sex marriage cases of Windsor and Perry, which garnered 96 and 80 amicus briefs respectively, and the 2013 affirmative action case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which attracted 92.  [Note that the "Obamacare" Affordable Care Act cases including 2012's consolidated cases of  NFIB v. Sebelius attracted 136 amicus briefs.]

The count for Obergefell v. Hodges stands at  139. 147  [updated: 17 April 2015]

76 amicus briefs support the Petitioners, who contend that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.

58 66 amicus briefs support the Respondents, who contend that same-sex marriage bans are constitutional.

05 amicus briefs support neither party (but as described below, generally support Respondents).

According to the Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States, Rule 37, an amicus curiae brief’s purpose is to bring to the attention of the Court “relevant matter not already brought to its attention by the parties.”  While such a brief “may be of considerable help to the Court,” an  “amicus curiae brief that does not serve this purpose burdens the Court, and its filing is not favored.”

 An impressive number of the Amicus Briefs are authored or signed by law professors.  Other Amici include academics in other fields, academic institutions or programs, governmental entities or persons, organizations, and individuals, often in combination.  Some of these have been previously involved in same-sex marriage or sexuality issues and others less obviously so, with a number being religious organizations. Several of these briefs have been profiled in the press; all are linked on the Supreme Court’s website and on SCOTUSBlog.

Here is a quick - - - if lengthy - - - summary of the Amici and their arguments, organized by party being supported and within that, by identity of Amici, beginning with briefs having substantial law professor involvement, then government parties or persons, then non-legal academics, followed by organizations including religious groups, and finally by those offering individual perspectives.  [Late additions appear below]Special thanks to City University of New York (CUNY)  School of Law Class of 2016 students, Aliya Shain & AnnaJames Wipfler, for excellent research.

 

Continue reading

April 16, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Foreign Affairs, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, History, Interpretation, Privacy, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Race, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fourth Circuit Finds North Carolina's Anti-Abortion "Right to Know" Statute Violates First Amendment

[updated below]

In the unanimous panel opinion today in Stuart v. Camnitz, authored by Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, the court agreed with the district judge that North Carolina's "Woman's Right to Know Act" violates the First Amendment.  The Act required a physician "to perform an ultrasound, display the sonogram, and describe the fetus to women seeking abortions."

The Fourth Circuit ruled that the statute is

quintessential compelled speech. It forces physicians to say things they otherwise would not say. Moreover, the statement compelled here is ideological; it conveys a particular opinion. The state freely admits that the purpose and anticipated effect of the Display of Real-Time View Requirement is to convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions.

A_young_physician_feeling_the_pulse_of_a_young_woman,_a_pain_Wellcome_L0013913The court rejected the state's contention that the statute was merely a regulation of professional speech that should be subject to the low standard of rational basis review.  Instead, the court reasoned that because the statute was a content-based regulation of speech, it should be evaluated under an intermediate scrutiny standard akin to that of commercial speech.

Importantly, the court also acknowledged its specific disagreement with the Eighth Circuit's en banc opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Rounds (2012) and the Fifth Circuit's opinion in Tex. Med. Providers Performing Abortion Servs. v. Lakey (5th Cir. 2012).   The Fourth Circuit states that its sister circuits were incorrect to reply on a single paragraph in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, and "read too much into Casey and Gonzales [v. Carhart]," neither of which, the court points out, were First Amendment cases.

As the court stated,

In sum, though the State would have us view this provision as simply a reasonable regulation of the medical profession, these requirements look nothing like traditional informed consent, or even the versions provided for in Casey and in N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.82. As such, they impose an extraordinary burden on expressive rights. The three elements discussed so far -- requiring the physician to speak to a patient who is not listening, rendering the physician the mouthpiece of the state’s message, and omitting a therapeutic privilege to protect the health of the patient -- markedly depart from standard medical practice.

It concluded,

Abortion may well be a special case because of the undeniable gravity of all that is involved, but it cannot be so special a case that all other professional rights and medical norms go out the window. While the state itself may promote through various means childbirth over abortion, it may not coerce doctors into voicing that message on behalf of the state in the particular manner and setting attempted here.

Most likely North Carolina will seek en banc review or petition for certiorari based on the conflicting opinions in the Fifth and Eighth Circuits.

UPDATE: On June 15, 2015, the United States Supreme Court's Order denied certiorari in the case now styled Walker-McGill v. Stuart, with a notation "justice Scalia dissents," but with no accompanying opinion.

[image via]

 

December 22, 2014 in Abortion, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Fifth Circuit Stays Injunction Against Texas' Restrictive Abortion Law HB2

In Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey, the Fifth Circuit today issued a stay of the majority of the district judge's injunction against portions of Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis.  A panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional. 

This newest round of opinions consider the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement. 

In the stay opinion, authored by Judge Jennifer Elrod (pictured below) the majority states that there is some confusion concerning whether the district judge's opinion is actually limited to the as-applied challenge or whether it goes further.

Elrod

The majority interjects some confusion of its own with its statement that the district judge was wrong to conclude that "the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them" because

In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes.

The Fifth Circuit's majority opinion states that

the district court’s approach ratchets up rational basis review into a pseudo-strict-scrutiny approach by examining whether the law advances the State’s asserted purpose.  Under our precedent, we have no authority by which to turn rational basis into strict scrutiny under the guise of the undue burden inquiry.

It is this point on which Judge Stephen Higginson, concurring in part and dissenting in part, disagrees.  He states that he does not read the earlier HB 2 case, Abbott, "to preclude consideration of the relationship between the severity of the obstacle imposed and the weight of the State’s interest in determining if the burden is 'undue.'" And that consistent with the correct analysis, "the district court considered the weight of the State’s interest in its undue-burden review."

With one small exception - - -the district court’s injunction of the physical plant requirements of the ambulatory surgical provision remaining in force for El Paso - - - the Fifth Circuit stayed the district judge's injunction.  While the court states that the merits panel is not bound by its determination, it will certainly be persuasive when the Fifth Circuit considers the next round in the saga of the constitutionality of HB2.

October 2, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 1, 2014

District Judge Enjoins Portions of Texas' Restrictive Abortion Law, HB 2

The latest installment in the continuing saga of HB 2, Texas' restrictive abortion law, occurred late Friday with Judge Lee Yeakel enjoining the admitting privileges requirement and the ambultory-surgical-center requirement in his 21 page  opinion  in Whole Woman's Health Center v. Lakey.

Recall that a panel of the Fifth Circuit in March upheld the admitting privileges provision of controversial  Texas HB 2 passed despite a well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis, after it had issued a stay of Judge Yeakel's decision enjoining the provision as unconstitutional. 

This new opinion considers the as-applied challenge to the admitting privileges provision combined with the the ambultory-surgical-center requirement. 

In considering the testimony and evidence in the bench trial, Judge Yeakel found that the "experts’ testimony substantially contradicted each other and, predictably, reached opposing conclusions," noting that this is "the nature of expert testimony."   But the judge did use some of that testimony, as well as carefully considering the parties' stipulations. 

The court concludes that the act’s ambulatory-surgical—center requirement, combined with the already in-effect admitting-privileges requirement, creates a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women. The obstacles erected for these women are more significant than the “incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion.” [citing Casey].  The court concludes that the overall lack of practical access to abortion services  resulting from clinic closures throughout Texas as a result of House Bill 2 is compelling evidence of a substantial obstacle erected by the act.  

The judge also concluded "that the severity of the burden imposed by both requirements is not balanced by the weight of the interests underlying them."  And, perhaps most interestingly, the judge explicitly considered the legislative intent of HB2:

An abortion regulation is also violative of a woman’s right to an abortion if it was adopted with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle to a woman’s ability to choose a previability abortion. [citing Gonzales v Carhart]. Because the act’s two requirements have the effect of creating an undue burden, an additional finding that the act was passed with the purpose of erecting a substantial obstacle is not required in order to declare the act unconstitutional. However, the court  concludes, after examining the act and the context in which it operates, that the ambulatory-surgical- center requirement was intended to close existing licensed abortion clinics. The requirement’s  implementing rules specifically deny grandfathering or the granting of waivers to previously licensed  abortion providers. This is in contrast to the “frequent” granting of some sort of variance from the  standards which occur in the licensing of nearly three-quarters of all licensed ambulatory surgical  centers in Texas. Such disparate and arbitrary treatment, at a minimum, suggests that it was the intent of the State to reduce the number of providers licensed to perform abortions, thus creating a substantial obstacle for a woman seeking to access an abortion. This is particularly apparent in light of the dearth of credible evidence supporting the proposition that abortions performed in ambulatory  surgical centers have better patient health outcomes compared to clinics licensed under the previous regime.  

[emphasis added].

Thus, the judge enjoined the enforcement of HB2.  

The Attorney General of Texas is sure to appeal. 

September 1, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

After Hobby Lobby, What Now?

The Supreme Court's ruling in Hobby Lobby this week opened up a potential free-for-all for closely held corporations to challenge all types of federal government regulations in the name of the owners' religious beliefs.  (The only requirement: the reg has to pose a substantial burden on the belief.  But we saw in Hobby Lobby itself how easy it is to meet that standard.)  If so, those regs would be subject to RFRA's strict scrutiny test.  That test requires the government to show that its regulation is the least restrictive way that it can achieve its compelling government interest--a tall order, indeed, and one that the government in other contexts can almost never satisfy.

In other words, the ruling seems to invite a religious exception for unknown numbers of federal laws.  The majority dismissed this worry and did its best to cabin the ruling, but in truth only time will tell how far Hobby Lobby reaches.  We can expect to a flurry of cases testing this.

So: What now?

RobsonConLawProfBlog's own Ruthann Robson answers the question in her excellent post over at The London School of Economics Blog.  Robson says that Congress has three ways to undo the Hobby Lobby ruling: (1) redefine "person" in the Dictionary Act to exclude for-profits; (2) change the level of scrutiny in RFRA (to rational basis review, consistent with the First Amendment standard); or (3) repeal RFRA entirely.

You might say that these options are unfriendly to religions.  But Robson tells us why it's really the ruling itself that's religion-unfriendly.  Robson argues that the ruling actually creates a disincentive for Congress to grant exemptions or accommodations to federal laws for religious organizations.  That's becuase HHS's exemption for religious organizations (like Notre Dame, Little Sisters, and the like) was Exhibit A in the Court's conclusion that the so-called contraception mandate was not the least restrictive way for Congress to require insurers to provide contraception for women.  (After all, if Congress could create an exemption for religious organizations, there's no reason why it couldn't similarly create an exemption for closely held corporations with religious owners.  The fact that Congress had this alternative (and used it for religious organizations, but not for closely held corporations), according to the Court, shows why the so-called contraception mandate wasn't the best tailored way for Congress to achieve its goal.)

Robson's right.  And she's right in arguing that Congress was sloppy and short-sighted in enacting RFRA in the first place, and that now, after Hobby Lobby, it may wreak all sorts of as-yet-unknown havoc.  She concludes:

While Congress should take care when seeking to "reverse" a Supreme Court opinion, Congress did not take such care when ti sought to "overrule" Smith by enacting RFRA.  Now Congress should act quickly and firmly to remedy the problem it caused by enacting RFRA.  What Congress giveth, it can taketh away.  And it should.

July 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"

On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act)  to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage?  Here's our primer on the issues for more detail.  Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results. 

The oral arguments  in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision. 

Birth_Control_Review_1919bThe majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim.  The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.

The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.

Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong.  However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.

 Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion.  As we discussed,  Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.

 The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg,  joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons).  The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of  "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."  Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:

And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.”  I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.

Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.”  Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.

[citations and footnotes omitted].

Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."

However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.

[image via]

June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Oregon District Judge Declares Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Joining a decided trend which we last discussed here and here, today Oregon District Judge Michael McShane declared unconstitutional the state’s same-sex marriage prohibition in Article 15 of the state constitution. Judge McShane’s 26 page  opinion in Geiger v. Kitzhaber concludes that because “Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

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voting in 2004 ballot measure defining marriage as man/woman only: red is no; green is yes; dark green is yes by 2/3 or more; via

Judge McShane noted that the state defendants “concede that Oregon's marriage laws banning same-gender marriage are unconstitutional and legally indefensible, but state they are legally obligated to enforce the laws until this court declares the laws unconstitutional,” and thus, the case “presents itself to this court as something akin to a friendly tennis match rather than a contested and robust proceeding between adversaries.”  However, McShane did not find (or analyze) any Article III “case or controversies” issues, or address standing (including defendant standing).

Judge McShane notes that last term’s decision in Windsor v. United States  finding DOMA unconstitutional

may be distinguished from the present case in several respects. Yet, recounting such differences will not detract from the underlying principle shared in common by that case and the one now before me. The principle is one inscribed in the Constitution, and it requires that the state's marriage laws not "degrade or demean" the plaintiffs in violation of their rights to equal protection.

Unlike Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court in Windsor, however, Judge McShane’s opinion in Geiger is quite specific regarding the level of scrutiny being applied: rational basis.  McShane rejected two arguments for intermediate scrutiny.  First, he rejected the argument based upon a gender classification, concluding that the “targeted group here is neither males nor females, but homosexual males and homosexual females” and thus the state's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, not gender.  Second, he rejected the applicability of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Labs, reasoning that the panel's decision in SmithKline is not yet a truly final and binding decision given that the mandate has not issued pending en banc review. (Recall that last week, a federal district judge in Idaho found "SmithKline’s examination of Windsor is authoritative and binding").

Judge McShane then engaged in the by now familiar analysis of government interests - - - including protecting traditional marriage and promoting responsible procreation - - - and their relationship to the same-sex marriage prohibition.  Like his fellow judges in recent cases, Judge McShane found rational basis is not satisfied.

And like some of his fellow judges, McShane shared his personal perspective.  McShane's provided his in an extended conclusion:

I am aware that a large number of Oregonians, perhaps even a majority, have religious or moral objections to expanding the definition of civil marriage (and thereby expanding the benefits and rights that accompany marriage) to gay and lesbian families. It was these same objections that led to the passage of Measure 36 in 2004 [the ballot measure defining marriage as only between a man and a woman]. Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion,
a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called "smear the queer" and it was played with great zeal and without a moment's thought to today' s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but 1~86 when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a"millennia of moral teaching," the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. Bowers, 478 U.S. at 197 (Burger, C.J., concurring), overruled by Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 578. Even today I am reminded ofthe legacy that we have bequeathed today's generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says "dad ... that is so gay."

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

It is at times difficult to see past the shrillness of the debate. Accusations of religious bigotry and banners reading "God Hates Fags" make for a messy democracy and, at times, test the First Amendment resolve of both sides. At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities.

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise.

 Judge McShane's opinion ends with a exhortation perhaps more befitting religious rhetoric than legal analysis.

 

May 19, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourth Amendment, Interpretation, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Daily Read: Michele Gilman on the "Court for the One Percent"

If the defining issue of the United States is inequality, how is the nation's highest Court addressing that issue? 

According to Michele Gilman's new article, A Court for the One Percent: How the Supreme Court Contributes to Economic Inequality, forthcoming in the Utah Law Review and available on ssrn, the Court is decidely part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Gilman
Professor Michele Gilman

Gilman's article is valuable because it traverses several different doctrinal areas.  Obviously, she discusses Citizens United.  But - - - refreshingly - - - she argues that "Citizens United is just one piece of a larger problem."  She contends that this problem did not begin with the Roberts' Court, as her discussions of Harris v. McCrae, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, and Dandridge v. Williams illustrate.  Ultimately, she suggests that the Court stands in the way of addressing inequality because the legislative and policy suggestions that have worked in other "affluent democracies" will be deemed unconstitutional in the United States:

We currently have a Court majority that is not only unsympathetic to inequality arguments, but also seemingly oblivious to (or skeptical of) the connection between government policies and market outcomes. The Court has ruled that it is up to the legislative branch, rather than the Courts, to remedy economic inequality. Yet, the Court has doomed legislative enactments that would ameliorate inequality, such as desegregation plans, campaign finance reforms, and consumer protection laws. Conversely, when legislatures enact policies that tend to worsen economic inequality or magnify its effects, the Court defers, such as school financing laws and voter identification requirements. In short, the Court’s rulings consistently sustain policies that create or maintain economic inequality.

Gilman has some explanations for this state of affairs, but, more importantly, she proposes a proactive five point plan of change.   This important article is worth a read.

May 7, 2014 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Oral Arguments in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus on Campaign Lies

The Court heard oral arguments today in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements.  As we explained when the Court granted certiorari in January, the case centers Article III.  The Sixth Circuit determined that the case was not ripe because although Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List because it could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review."  It could also not show its speech was chilled; indeed representatives from the organization stated they would double-down.

580px-Seal_of_the_Ohio_Elections_Commission.svgThis is not to say that the First Amendment was entirely absent from today's arguments.  Arguing for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion organization,  Michael Carvin referred to the Ohio Election Commission as a "ministry of truth," a characterization later echoed by Justice Scalia.  During Eric Murphy’s argument, on behalf of the State of Ohio, there were references to United States v. Alvarez in which the Court found the “Stolen Valor” statute unconstitutional, with Justice Alito (who first mentioned the case) as well as Justices Scalia and Sotomayor participating in that discussion.

But Article III concerns, the subject of the grant of certiorari, dominated.  But which Article III concerns specifically?  As Justice Ginsburg asked:  "Do you think this is a matter of standing or ripeness?"  Michael Carvin's reply deflects the doctrinal distinctions and seeks to go to the heart of his argument:

In all candor, Justice Ginsburg, I can't figure out the difference between standing and ripeness in this context.  No question that we are being subject to something. I think the question is whether or not the threat is sufficiently immediate.

 Analogies abounded.  Justice Sotomayor asked why the injury in this case wasn't as "speculative" as in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA decided in early 2013 in which the Court denied standing to Amnesty International to challege domestic surveillance under FISA?  On the other hand, the challengers in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project did have standing, based on a credible threat of prosecution" based upon 150 prior prosecutions.  But, as the Deputy Solicitor General noted in answer to a query from Chief Justice Roberts and quoting from Ohio's brief, under the Ohio statute between 2001 and 2010 there were "a little bit over 500" proceedings based on the state false statements law.

The context of an election was discussed at several junctures.  Another election cycle is approaching and election cycles themselves are short periods of intense action and when they conclude the issues can be moot. 

Despite the references to Younger v. Harris, federalism was more anemic than robust.  The notion that the state supreme court should be given an opportunity to construe the false statement law provoked laughter, with Chief Justice Roberts remark "Well, that will speed things up" as a catalyst. 

If the oral argument is any indication, it seems that the federal courts will have a chance to consider the merits of the First Amendment challenge to the Ohio statute.

April 22, 2014 in Federalism, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Daily Read: Mother Jones on Hobby Lobby's Investments (in Contraception)

Last week's oral arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and the companion case of Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. v. Sebelius saw discussions about the substantial burden on the companies regarding providing contraceptive coverage and included Chief Justice Roberts noting that Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs included the provision of health insurance and Justice Kennedy specifically asking about why the company could not simply pay any fines or taxes. 

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Mary Harris "Mother" Jones via

According to an article by Molly Redden in Mother Jones magazine today, Hobby Lobby does not exercise its religion in quite the same way when in comes to its 401(K) retirement plans.  Based on corporate disclosures, three-quarters of the funds (73 million) have holdings that "clashed" with the owners of Hobby Lobby's stated religious principles.  The corporation apparently did not avail itself of the faith-based investing that is often available. 

Under First Amendment free exercise doctrine as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), questioning sincerity is difficult and adherents to a religious belief need not be consistent in their beliefs.  Seemingly the only case in which a "contraceptive mandate" challenge suffered on these grounds is Eden Foods v. Sebelius. 

Nevertheless, this scenario could have served as the basis of an interesting hypothetical regarding the "substantial burden" on its religious beliefs the company and owners claim.

 

April 1, 2014 in Abortion, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Justice Kennedy and the Hobby Lobby Contraceptive Mandate Oral Arguments: Is it Simply Administrative Law?

The arguments in the consolidated cases of  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities v. Sebelius displayed Justices sharply divided on the issues as we discussed.  Whether Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote in the cases is sure to be the subject of much speculation.  What, if anything, might be derived from his expressions at oral argument?  

He began, relatively early in the oral argument, by making space for Paul Clement to elaborate on his "framework" and by posing a question about RFRA:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You were beginning by giving us a framework for your argument. Do I think of this as a statutory case? Of course, the First Amendment is on the stage at some point here, but I take it you can prevail just on the question of statutory interpretation, and if that is so, are there any statutory rules that work in your favor, that is to say, avoiding a constitutional question or how do we think about this case, primarily as a statutory case?

Justice Kagan thereafter pointed out that RFRA was a "special kind of statute" that "specifically refers back to a "body of constitutional law."

Justice Kennedy also asked about the relative substantial burden of paying any fines: "Let's assume that the cost of providing insurance is roughly equivalent to the $2,000 penalty. How ­­ how is the employer hurt? He can just raise the wages."

Clement eventually answered that “If they take away the health care insurance, they are going to have to increase the wages to make up for that. And they're going to have to pay the $2,000 penalty on top of it, plus they're going to have to violate their ­­ their own interest which is, we actually ­­ we believe it's important to provide our employees with qualified health care.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Okay, the last is important. But just assume hypothetically that it's a wash, that the employer would be in about the same position if he paid the penalty and the employer ­­ pardon me, an employee went out and got the insurance and that the employee's wages were raised slightly and then it's ­­ and that it's a wash so far as the employer are concerned, other than the employer's religious objection, but just on the financial standpoint. Can we assume that as a hypothetical. Then what would your case be?

MR. CLEMENT: I think my case would be that in that case the government might be able to sort of support itself on the compelling interest. I think there would still be a substantial burden on their exercise. But again, this all turns on issues that the government hasn't put in issue.

Toward the end of Clement's time, Kennedy posed a different type of query:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Just before your time starts to go too fast, how would you suggest that we think about the position and the rights of the ­­ of the employees? And you can have hypotheticals about the employer makes them ­­ wants to make them wear burkas and so forth. That's not in this case. 

But in ­­ in a way, the employees are in a position where the government, through its healthcare plans, is ­­ is, under your view, is ­­ is allowing the employer to put the employee in a disadvantageous position. The employee may not agree with these religious ­­ religious beliefs of the employer. Does the religious beliefs just trump? Is that the way it works?

In Kennedy's extensive colloquy with Solicitor General Verrilli, the subject veered from compelling governmental interest back to the status of RFRA:

JUSTICE KENNEDY:  Is it your position that part of the compelling interest here is that you have to protect the integrity ­­ the operational integrity of the whole Act?

GENERAL VERRILLI: It is part of our argument, absolutely. And ­­ but it ­­ but there is in addition to that, much more ­­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Does that mean the constitutionality of the whole Act has to be examined before we accept your view?

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I think it has been examined, Your Honor, is my recollection.

(Laughter.)

GENERAL VERRILLI: But ­­ but with respect to ­­ but with respect to the ­­ there is a particularized interest here in that what we are talking about is a question of whether 14,000 employees and their families get access to this contraceptive coverage.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: You ­­ you have exempted a whole class of corporations and you've done so under your view not because of RFRA.

GENERAL VERRILLI: So let me ­­ let me go to that ­­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Now, what ­­ what kind of constitutional structure do we have if the Congress can give an agency the power to grant or not grant a religious exemption based on what the agency determined? I recognize delegation of powers rules are somewhat more abundant insofar as their enforcement in this Court.

But when we have a First Amendment issue of ­­ of this consequence, shouldn't we indicate that it's for the Congress, not the agency to determine that this corporation gets the exemption on that one, and not even for RFRA purposes, for other purposes.

 Kennedy later continued on the issue of compelling governmental interest:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I still don't understand how HHS exercised its judgment to grant the exemption to nonreligious corporations if you say it was not compelled by RFRA.

GENERAL VERRILLI: I don't think ­­

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Then it must have been because the health care coverage was not that important.

GENERAL VERRILLI: It didn't grant an exemption to any nonreligious organizations, Justice Kennedy. It granted an exemption to churches, and that was it. . . .

And later, Justice Kennedy, whose opinions on abortion are certainly complex, asked Verrilli what seemed a version of a particular "slippery slope" that had not been extensively considered:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: Under your view, a profit corporation could be forced ­­ in principle, there are some statutes on the books now which would prevent it, but ­­ could be forced in principle to pay for abortions.

GENERAL VERRILLI: No. I think, as you said, the law now ­­ the law now is to the contrary.

JUSTICE KENNEDY: But your reasoning would permit that.

GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I think that ­­ you know, I don't think that that's ­­ I think it would depend on the law and it would depend on the entity.

 Finally, during Verrilli's argument, Justice Kennedy expressed interest in a hypothetical posetd by Justice Alito about a law requiring humane treatment of animals and therefore prohibiting kosher and halal slaughter.

Justice Kennedy asked no questions during Clement's rebuttal, but Clement gave the last word to Kennedy:

 . . . . If I could have just one second more to say that the agency point that Justice Kennedy has pointed to is tremendously important, because Congress spoke, it spoke in RFRA. Here the agency has decided that it's going to accommodate a subset of the persons protected by RFRA. In a choice between what Congress has provided and what the agency has done, the answer is clear.

Certainly Clement's articulation is simplistic, but it could satisfy Kennedy's initial search for some statutory construction principles that might make the answer to the divisive issues also seem simple.

[image: Justice Kennedy by Donkey Hotey via]

March 25, 2014 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties on RFRA and the "Contraceptive Mandate"

Should corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage? 

Simplified, that's the question at the heart of the oral arguments today in the consolidated cases of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius in which the Court granted certiorari in November.  The legal issues are complex (our primer is here and another here), but given the basic conflict, it's no wonder the case has attracted so much attention. Another good overview is Lyle Denniston's preview of the arguments for SCOTUSblog.

Recall that the Tenth Circuit's divided en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby essentially split 5-3 over the issue of whether a for-profit secular corporation has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.  The majority essentially concluded there was such a right and that the right was substantially burdened by the requirement of the PPACA that employer insurance plans include contraception coverage for employees.

Recall also that the Third Circuit's divided panel opinion in Conestoga Woods rejected the contention that the corporation could raise a claim under RFRA, either as a corporation possessing free exercise of religion rights or under a "pass through" theory allowing the beliefs of the owners to pass to the corporate form.

Moreover, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are not the only two opinions on these issues.  A digest of some previous circuit court cases and some discussion of the controversy is here; the divided Seventh Circuit opinion is discussed here; and the ACLU has a helpful running tab on all the cases here. So, the Court's ultimate conclusion will impact a number of cases.

Today's 90 minute oral argument {transcript} in the consolidated cases began with Paul Clement representing the "private parties," Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood and then Solicitor General Donald Verrilli  representing the federal government, including Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Not surprisingly, the questions to Clement largely came from Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg, and the questions to Verrilli came from Justices Alito and Scalia, as well as Chief Justice Roberts.   Also not surprisingly, the arguments were peppered with slippery slopes, other analogies, questions of Congressional intent in passing RFRA, RFRA's relationship with First Amendment doctrine, and the relevance of the corporate form. 

The question as to the cost of not complying with the mandate (part of the substantial burden on the corporations under RFRA) was the subject of this rather interesting exchange during Paul Clement's argument:

JUSTICE KAGAN:  . . . .

And so the question is, why is there a substantial burden at all?

MR. CLEMENT: Well, just to be clear, we were talking about the same thing. So the option, the choice, is between paying a $475 million a year penalty and a $26 million a year penalty.  That's what Hobby Lobby faces.  So $2,000 per person - - -  ­­

JUSTICE KAGAN: No, between paying $2,000 per employee per year if Hobby Lobby does not provide ­­- - -

MR. CLEMENT: That's $26 million.

JUSTICE KAGAN: You know, Hobby Lobby is paying something right now for the - - -­­ for the coverage. It's less than what Hobby Lobby is paying for the coverage. There are employers all over the United States that are doing this voluntarily because they think that it's less.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I thought - - -­­ I thought that part of the religious commitment of the owners was to provide health care for its employees.

MR. CLEMENT: That is true, Mr. Chief Justice. It is also true that this ­­- - -

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, if they want to do that, they can just pay a greater salary and let the employees go in on the exchange.

MR. CLEMENT: Exactly, which is, by the way, why comparing the $2,000 penalty to the cost of the health care is a false - - - ­­ it's a false comparison.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: It's not called a penalty. It's called a tax. And it's calibrated ­­ - - - and it's calibrated ­­

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: She's right about that.

 (Laughter.)

 The laughter arises from Chief Justice Roberts' decision in NFIB v. Sebelius that the ACA was constitutional under Congress' power to tax, but it is worth noting that Roberts jumped in to assert the corporation's exercise of religion as including the provision of health insurance.  Justices Ginsburg and Kagan later come back to this point:

JUSTICE GINSBURG: There was a point made earlier, and I think you didn't mean to say this, that provision of health care is not part of their religious belief. Covering their employees for health care, that is not a religious tenet, right?

MR. CLEMENT: No, it actually is.  Again, it hasn't been the principal theory been litigated. But see, if you complaints and you go back to our briefs, you know, it's part of the religious beliefs that both the Hahns and the Greens have. They think it's actually important ­­- - -

JUSTICE KAGAN: But, Mr. Clement, you're not saying, are you, that their religious beliefs mandate them to provide health care? I thought that you were never making that claim.

MR. CLEMENT: I didn't have to make that claim in the course of this litigation. What I'm pointing out, though, is for purposes of the substantial burden analysis, it is perfectly appropriate to take into account that the 2,000 ­­ the $26 million in fines they would pay would not be the only thing that they would lose out if they are on that horn of the dilemma. They would also lose out all the additional wages they would have to pay, and they would be in this position of not offering health care, which is something they believe is important for their religion as well.

JUSTICE KAGAN: You know, I'm sure they seem like very good employers. And I'm sure they want to be good employers. But again, that's a different thing than saying that their religious beliefs mandate them to provide health insurance . . . .

If the "substantial burden" under RFRA is the most difficult element that the corporations to meet, then the strict scrutiny test applicable to any substantial burden is surely the government's most difficult task.  The questioning noted that the "least restrictive means" test in RFRA was clearly more difficult to meet than even the pre-Smith cases that RFRA explicitly sought to restore - - - and there did not seem to be even a glimmer that RFRA should be held unconstitutional (which would, of course, require a departure from O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Gonzales). 

 Justice Breyer, asking his first question of the argument, requested that Verrilli provide a "precise answer" to the "least restrictive" argument that the government should simply pay for the contraceptive coverage.  Verrilli's argued that this suggestion by the corporations was not properly before the Court, but even if it was, that even the accommodation would be subject to a RFRA challenge.   Justice Alito suggested that Clement be asked about whether this would hapen, and indeed Clement was asked (by Justice Sotomayor).  Clement's reply:

We haven't been offered that accommodation, so we haven't had to decide what kind of objection, if any, we would make to that. But it's important to recognize that as I understand that litigation, the objection is not to the fact that the insurance or the provider pays for the contraception coverage. The whole debate is about how much complicity there has to be from the employer in order to trigger that coverage. And whatever the answer is for Little Sisters of the Poor, presumably you can extend the same thing to my clients and there wouldn't be a problem with that.

 Whether Justice Kennedy will be the deciding vote in this case is certain to be subject to much speculation and his questions will be closely read; our extended discussion is here.  But without question, the Justices seem sharply divided.

 

March 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Gender, Oral Argument Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Arkansas Federal Judge Permanently Enjoins Arkansas 12 Week Gestation Abortion Ban

In an opinion in Edwards v. Beck, a federal judge permanently enjoined portions of Arkansas' Act 301, which imposed regulations on the performance of abortions in Arkansas.

Judge Wright considered the Act's three provisions: a heartbeat testing requirement; a disclosure requirement; and a ban on abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected and the fetus has reached twelve weeks’ gestation.

She found that the 12 week ban prohibits pre-viability abortions and "thus impermissibly infringes a woman’s Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

Yet Judge Wright concluded that the disclosure and heartbeat testing could be severed from the unconstitutional 12 week provision, because they are

independently capable of furthering the stated purpose of Act 301, to protect unborn children, and that they are severable from the unconstitutional twelve-week ban and the requirement of license revocation for a physician who performs an abortion banned under the Act. The State, from the inception of a pregnancy, maintains its own interest in protecting the life of a fetus that may become a child, and the Supreme Court has recognized that the disclosure of truthful information about fetal development is relevant to a woman’s decision- making process and is rationally related to the State’s interest in protecting the unborn.

The judge's analysis on the severability issue is relatively slight and she could easily have reached the opposite conclusion under her articulated rationales.  But she decided that only the ban on 12 week abortions was declared unconstitutional.

 

March 15, 2014 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fourth Circuit Declares North Carolina's "Choose Life" License Plate Offering Unconstitutional

In its unanimous  opinion today in ACLU of North Carolina v. Tata a panel of the Fourth Circuit has concluded that North Carolina's specialty license plate "Choose Life" is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Recall that in December 2012,  Senior United States District Judge James Fox found that while the the "choose life" specialty license plate was offered by the government, it was not the type of "government speech" to which the First Amendment would not apply. 

As the Fourth Circuit explained:

The Supreme Court and this Court have recognized individual speech interests in license plate messages. And in this case, too, the specialty plate speech at issue implicates private speech rights, and thus First Amendment protections apply.

But this did not mean the state had no responsibility.  Indeed, the court concluded:

North Carolina invites its vehicle owners to “[m]ake a statement” and “promote themselves”—but only if they are on the government’s side of a highly divisive political issue. This, North Carolina may not do. Because the specialty plate speech at issue implicates private speech rights and is not pure government speech, North Carolina’s authorizing a “Choose Life” plate while refusing to authorize a pro-choice plate constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.

Life


The court's opinion is an excellent rehearsal, in less than 30 pages, of what might be called the First Amendment doctrine of license plates, following from the classic First Amendment case of Wooley v. Maynard.  We recently discussed the Native American image on the Oklahoma license plate and Michigan's refusal of specific letters on a vanity license plate.

February 11, 2014 in Abortion, First Amendment, Reproductive Rights, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Is RFRA Unconstitutional?

RFRA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, is at the center of the upcoming and increasingly contentious cases of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Sebelius and  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. to be heard by the Court on March 25, involving religious-based challenges to the contraception “mandate” of the Affordable Care Act by corporations and corporate shareholder/owners.  RFRA, 42 USC § 2000bb–1, provides that

(a) Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.

(b) Government may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person—

™(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
™(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Passed by Congress in 1993, RFRA's purpose was to change the Court's interpretations of the First Amendment.  RFRA's findings explicitly state that :

(4) in Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith the Supreme Court virtually eliminated the requirement that the government justify burdens on religious exercise imposed by laws neutral toward religion; and

(5) the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner and Wisconsin v. Yoder is a workable test for striking sensible balances between religious liberty and competing governmental interests.

The United States Supreme Court found that RFRA was unconstitutional as exceeding Congressional power under the enforcement clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in City of Bourne v. Flores.  Thus, RFRA cannot constitutionally be applied to state laws. 

So the short answer to the question "Is RFRA unconstitutional" is "yes," with a "but"  quickly added.  But RFRA still applies to the federal government.  Or so we assume?

That underlying assumption is questioned by an amicus brief filed in Hobby Lobby on behalf of Freedom from Religion Foundation, et. al., by ConLawProf Marci Hamilton.  Hamilton - - - who argued for the City of Bourne in Bourne v. Flores - - - argues that RFRA is similarly unconstitutional as applied to the federal government.  The brief argues that the "plain language" of the statute

establishes that Congress was aggrandizing its power by taking over this Court’s power to interpret the Constitution. On its face, therefore, RFRA is not an ordinary statute, and is in violation of the separation of powers and Art. V. Moreover, the only class of beneficiaries for these extreme rights against constitutional laws is religious, which violates the Establishment Clause. No matter how much one pretends that RFRA is “just a statute,” it is in fact an unconstitutional enactment.

Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog, writing over at Constitution Daily, notes that the argument that RFRA is unconstitutional

has arisen late in the cycle for written arguments, so it is unclear whether the Court will ultimately reach that argument, and even whether the federal government and the private businesses involved in the pending cases will respond to it.  The Court need not deal with it at all, but, if it does, it would be a daring use of judicial power to nullify the law.

Given that the opposing parties have not raised the issue of RFRA's constitutionality, and seem to agree on that aspect of the case (if on little else), the Court might take it upon itself to solicit another amicus brief on this issue, similar to the manner in which the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to argue that BLAG had no standing in Windsor v. United States.  That may seem highly unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

 

January 30, 2014 in Executive Authority, First Amendment, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Second Circuit on Mandatory Disclosures for "Pregnancy Crisis Centers"

In its overdue opinion in The Evergreen Association, Inc. d/b/a Expectant Mother Care Pregnancy Centers v. City of New York, a divided panel of the Second Circuit ruled that only one of the three major provisions of NYC's Local Law 17 seeking to mandate disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers was constitutional.

Recall that in July 2011, a federal district judge enjoined all of Local Law 17 finding that the disclosure provisions did not survive strict scrutiny under the First Amendment, and the Second Circuit heard oral arguments in the appeal 16 months ago.  Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit considered two similar laws seeking to compel disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers, issuing two en banc opinions in 2013.  The en banc Fourth Circuit in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore reversed the granting of a preliminary injunction finding fault with the application of the summary judgment standard by the district judge.   The en banc Fourth Circuit in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, 722 F.3d 184 (4th Cir. en banc), affirmed a finding that one of the mandated disclosures was constitutional and the other was not.

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The underlying problem that the local laws intended to address is the existence of "crisis pregnancy centers" that arguably appear to be medical offices but are anti-abortion counseling centers.  The solutions that the local laws proposed were various "disclosures" by the centers.  In the case of Local Law 17, the disclosures were three:

  • whether or not they have a licensed medical provider on staff (the “Status Disclosure”);
  • whether or not they provide or provide referrals for abortion, emergency contraception, or prenatal care (the “Services Disclosure”);
  • that “the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider” (the “Government Message”)

The Second Circuit upheld only the first, the "Status Disclosure."

The Second Circuit's opinion declined to decide whether the disclosures merited strict scrutiny or the lesser standard of intermediate scrutiny, stating - - - not altogether convincingly - - - that its conclusions were the same under both standards.

The panel opinion did find that the government had a compelling interest for Local Law 17 and thus for all three disclosure provisions: protecting public health and protecting a woman's access to reproductive health care.  But the panel found that only the status disclosure was "sufficiently tailored" to these interests.  In finding that the status disclosure was narrowly tailored, this certainly met both strict and intermediate scrutiny standards.

As to the services disclosure, the panel considered the "context" of the mandated disclosure regarding whether the facility provides or provides referrals for abortion, emergency contraception, or prenatal care to be the "public debate over the morality and efficacy of contraception and abortion."  Given this context of "public issues," the burden to justify the compelled speech is high.  Not surprisingly, the panel found that the mandated services disclosure did not survive.  However, the intermediate scrutiny analysis is less satisfying.  Here's the entirety of the analysis:

Finally, we consider whether a different answer would obtain under intermediate scrutiny, which looks to whether the regulation at issue is not more extensive than necessary to serve a substantial governmental interest. While it is a closer question, we conclude that it would not, considering both the political nature of the speech and the fact that the Status Disclosure provides a more limited alternative regulation.

The panel's analysis on the government speech analysis is less explicit regarding the standard of review, emphasizing that the government message could be conveyed in many different ways.

In addition to the specific disclosures, the district judge had found that Local Law 17's definition of "pregnancy services centers" was unconstitutionally vague; a conclusion with which the Second Circuit panel majority disagreed.  However, dissenting in part, one judge would have found all three provisions unconstitutional, arguing that the law is a "bureaucrat’s dream" containing  "deliberately ambiguous set of standards guiding its application, thereby providing a blank check to New York City officials to harass or threaten legitimate activity." 

The Second Circuit opinion largely agrees with the 2013 en banc Fourth Circuit's Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County, but the constitutional doctrine remains unclear.  Given the complexities, and judicial decisions upholding other mandated disclosures in the reproductive rights realm, this remains a great subject for some scholarly intervention.

January 24, 2014 in Abortion, First Amendment, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)