Tuesday, April 4, 2017
In her Opinion and Order in Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner, Indiana State Dept of Health, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt enjoined Indiana Code § 16-34-2-1.1(a)(5), requiring a woman to have an ultrasound at least eighteen hours prior to an abortion.
The judge found that Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) was likely to prevail on the merits under the undue burden standard rearticulated most recently in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) regarding the substantive due process right to an abortion. The new statute combined two prior Indiana laws – an ultrasound requirement and a time sensitive informed consent requirement – into one new law that required a woman seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound at least 18 hours before her abortion. Indiana's
principle rationale for the statute was fetal life, but the judge found that “the State has not provided any convincing evidence that requiring an ultrasound to occur eighteen hours prior to an abortion rather than on the day of an abortion makes it any more likely that a woman will choose not to have an abortion.” The judge was similarly unconvinced by the state's "alternative justification" of the "psychological importance" to the woman of viewing the ultrasound if she chose to do so. Even accepting the proposition that there could be psychological benefit, the evidence did not address the relevant question of the difference between "women having an ultrasound eighteen hours prior to the abortion as opposed to the day of the abortion."
The judge found that the burdens imposed by the statute, including increased travel distances and delays in obtaining abortion services, were not balanced by the state's unsubstantiated interest. Moreover, the judge found it relevant that the burdened women were mainly low-income women who would suffer financial burdens disproportionately, explaining that many women miss work because of these laws, and may have to reserve childcare for the days that they are away or traveling. Additionally, the judge weighed delays, explaining increases in double booked appointments, as well as increases in delays for women struggling to meet timing requirements for their abortions. The judge relied both on expert testimony as well as "specific examples" from nine woman relating to these burdens.
In sum, Judge Pratt concluded:
The new ultrasound law creates significant financial and other burdens on PPINK and its patients, particularly on low-income women in Indiana who face lengthy travel to one of PPINK’s now only six health centers that can offer an informed-consent appointment. These burdens are clearly undue when weighed against the almost complete lack of evidence that the law furthers the State’s asserted justifications of promoting fetal life and women’s mental health outcomes. The evidence presented by the State shows that viewing an ultrasound image has only a “very small” impact on an incrementally small number of women. And there is almost no evidence that this impact is increased if the ultrasound is viewed the day before the abortion rather than the day of the abortion. Moreover, the law does not require women to view the ultrasound imagine at all, and seventy-five percent of PPINK’s patients choose not to. For these women, the new ultrasound has no impact whatsoever. Given the lack of evidence that the new ultrasound law has the benefits asserted by the State, the law likely creates an undue burden on women’s constitutional rights.
The law was signed by now Vice President Pence when he was Governor of Indiana; it is uncertain whether the present state administration will pursue the same agenda.
h/t Juliet Critsimilios
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
In its unanimous opinion in Burns v. Cline, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held state SB 1848, a law restricting abortion, unconstitutional.
SB 1848 had similar requirements as the challenged Texas bill HB2, which the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in June. Oklahoma’s bill, like Texas’ HB2, had an admitting privileges provision that required all abortion facilities, on any day an abortion was being administered, to have a doctor at the facility equipped with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Additionally, the bill had twelve other regulations on abortions providers, including standards for supplies, equipment, training, screenings, procedures (both pre and post op), and record keeping. Certain violations of these standards implicated felony and civil penalties.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court cited Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt extensively, explaining that every woman has a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy pre-viability, and that laws that impose an undue burden on that right are unconstitutional. The court also elucidated that a law seeking to protect women’s health while actually impeding on the right cannot withstand constitutional review.
The court relied on the plaintiff doctor, outlining Burns’ 41 years of private practice experience and the singular time he had to call an ambulance for a patient over the course of that tenure. The court also considered Burns’ application to 16 different hospitals for admitting privileges. Burns was either rejected because his medical specialty does not have recognized board certification, or because he was unable to meet a requirement of admitting at least 6 patients per year. The court noted that his exemplary record was the blockade to his access to the 6 in-patient requirement.
SB 1848 would have closed Burns’ clinic or subject him to civil penalties if it remained open. SB 1848 would have rendered Oklahoma with only one operable abortion provider for the entirety of the state. Because of this, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found this an unconstitutional undue burden under both Hellerstedt and Casey. The court rejected the state’s argument that this bill advanced women’s health under the reasoning from Hellerstedt. Of note was the court’s reference to the Oklahoma State Medical Association, as well as various expert testimony and data points laid out in Hellerstedt, that explained both the safety of an abortion and the lack of safety for patients should these bills withstand constitutional review.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court also rejected the bill under the Oklahoma Constitution single subject rule. SB 1848 created 12 unrelated provisions against abortion providers, imposing major penalties on providers should the regulation be unheeded. The state argued that because all of the regulations were in some way related to abortion, they were not averse to the single subject rule. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma rejected this reasoning, stating that the legislation’s multiple sections were not “germane, relative and cognate” to a common purpose.
The most obvious importance of this case is its strict adherence to the undue burden standard outlined in Hellerstedt. But importantly, the court's rationale regarding the state constitutional standards for omnibus bills is likely to have a heavy impact.
[with assistance from Juliet Critsimillos, CUNY School of Law]
Friday, December 9, 2016
In a closely divided (4-3) opinion in Smith v. Pavan, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that the state statutes governing the issuance of birth certificates to children could deny same-sex parents to be listed as parents.
Essentially, the majority opinion, authored by Associate Justice Josephine Hart found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite:
Obergefell did not address Arkansas’s statutory framework regarding birth certificates, either expressly or impliedly. Rather, the United States Supreme Court stated in Obergefell that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.
Justice Hart noted that the Court in Obergefell did mention birth certificates "only once" and quoted the passage, construing it being related "only" to the Court's observation that states conferred benefits on married couples, which in part demonstrated that “ the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.”
Not surprisingly, dissenting justices construed this same passage as providing support for the opposite conclusion. In a well-wrought dissent by Justice Paul Danielson, he argues:
[T]he United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell that states are not free to deny same-sex couples “the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.” Importantly, the Court listed “birth and death certificates” specifically as one of those benefits attached to marital status. Thus, the majority is clearly wrong in holding that Obergefell has no application here. Indeed, one of the cases on review in Obergefell, Tanco v. Haslam, 7 F. Supp. 3d 759 (M.D. Tenn. 2014), rev’d sub nom. DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014), involved a same-sex married couple who challenged the Tennessee law providing that their child’s nonbiological parent would not be recognized as the child’s parent, which affected various legal rights that included the child’s right to Social Security survivor benefits, the nonbiological parent’s right to hospital visitation, and the nonbiological parent’s right to make medical decisions for the child.
Furthermore, one of the four principles discussed by the Court in Obergefell, for purposes of demonstrating that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples, is that the right to marry “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” The opinion makes clear that the protection of children and the stability of the family unit was a foundation for the Court’s decision.
[citations to Obergefell omitted].
For the majority, biology was the paramount "truth" that vital records should reflect. Moreover, this "truth" is evinced in dictionary definitions of words such as "husband" and "father," a strategy in cases that Obergefell rejected.
However, the relevance of Smith v. Pavan even in Arkansas is unclear. As Justice Rhonda Wood argued, the case may not have warranted a decision by the court:
Two key circumstances have developed since this litigation started. First, plaintiffs received relief in that the State has issued the appropriate birth certificates to them. Second, the State concedes that the relevant statutes involving determination of parentage must comply with Obergefell, including the statute governing the status of people born via artificial insemination. These developments render the majority’s decision provisional.
Moreover, there were (new) facts in dispute, despite the procedural posture of summary judgment:
First, according to the affidavit of the State Registrar of Vital Records, the Department of Health will issue birth certificates listing both same-sex parents if the hospital submits documentation reflecting that fact. However, the parties disputed at oral argument how the department’s decision is actually being applied. There are no facts in the record to resolve this dispute. Moreover, the State has now conceded that children born of artificial insemination should have both parents deemed the natural parents, whether same-sex or opposite sex, under Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201 (Repl. 2015) and asserts that it will place both same-sex parents on the birth certificate under the State’s new interpretation of this statute. This statute provides that “[a]ny child born to a married women by means of artificial insemination shall be deemed the legitimate natural child of the women and the women’s husband [read spouse] if the [spouse] consents in writing to the artificial insemination.” Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201(a). It is likely, therefore, that a same-sex couple will now have both spouses’ names listed on the original birth certificate without a court order, so long as the child was conceived via artificial insemination, the same-sex marriage occurred prior to the insemination, and the non-biological parent consented to the insemination. Appellants and appellees both conceded at oral argument this would resolve the challenge by two of the three same-sex marriage couples.
It is possible that Arkansas would revoke its concessions given the state supreme court's ruling, but if the state does, then this seems a clear case for a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
[image: Arkansas Supreme Court building]
December 9, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 12, 2016
Reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Maricopa County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio held that shackling a pregnant woman while she gives birth might rise to a constitutional violation:
We are presented with an important and complex issue of first impression in our circuit: whether the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement officers to restrain a female inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or during postpartum recovery. We hold today that in this case, the answer to that question depends on factual disputes a properly instructed jury must resolve.
Ms. Mediola-Martinez was 6 months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and unconstitutionally detained: "Because she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, she was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13- 3961(A)(5)," before the Ninth Circuit "later ruled it unconstitutional. See Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772, 792 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert denied, 135 S. Ct. 2046 (2015)."
Ms. Mediola-Martinez went into early labor about two months later. During the actual C-section procedure, she was not restrained. However, before the procedure when she was "in active labor" and during the postpartum recovery, she was restrained. She had plead guilty a few days before the birth and was released on a sentence of time-served a few days after.
The Ninth Circuit panel acknowledged that the weight of precedent and evidence decries the practice of shackling pregnant women in its discussion of whether the practice is a "sufficiently serious deprivation" of medical care posing a substantial risk of serious harm and thus constitutes an Eighth Amendment claim. Additionally, the panel held that she had sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference. A jury, the court held, should consider this claim.
The Ninth Circuit was not so welcoming to the Equal Protection Clause claim. Mediola-Martinez argued that the county's restraint policy discriminated on the basis of race against Mexican-Americans. But as the court noted, she needed to show that the "Restraint Policy not only had a discriminatory impact, but that it was enacted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against members of a protected class." The "offensive quotes" of Sheriff Arpaio were not sufficient to prove intent: "Even if those hearsay statements were admissible, however, they do not mention the Restraint Policy and do not otherwise lead to any inference that Sheriff Arpaio’s 2006 Restraint Policy was promulgated to discriminate against Mexican nationals." Likewise, discriminatory intent could not be inferred from the general population statistics; there needs to be a "gross" statistical disparity to raise the specter of intent.
The court was cautious but clear:
Crafting a restraint policy that balances safety concerns with the inmates’ medical needs is equally challenging. But it is not impossible. And we leave it to a jury to decide whether the risk the Maricopa County Restraint Policy posed to Mendiola-Martinez was justified, or whether the County Defendants went a step too far.
Or perhaps several steps?
image: "Birth Room" via
Friday, March 4, 2016
The Court issued an Order today in June Medical Services v. Gee involving Louisiana's abortion statute "The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, HB 388. The district judge had found the Louisiana's statute's admitting privilege provision was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction. The Fifth Circuit in a 15 page opinion granted the state's emergency motion to stay the district judge's preliminary injunction. Thus, the Court's Order essential reinstates the injunction against the Louisiana statute.
The Louisiana statute is similar to Texas's HB 2 at issue in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstdet (previously Cole), argued before the Court on Wednesday. In today's Order regarding the Louisiana statute, the Court referenced Whole Woman's Health:
Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, No. 14A1288 (June 29, 2015), the application to vacate the stay entered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on February 24, 2016, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, is granted and the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the district court’s injunction is vacated.
Justice Thomas would deny the application.
In the Whole Woman's Health oral argument, Justice Alito mentioned the Louisiana litigation twice, both times in regarding to the evidence in the case about the precise number of abortions that were being performed. But on the constitutional issues, it does seem as if the decision in Whole Woman's Health will be determinative regarding the Louisiana statute's constitutionality.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Federal District Judge Enters Preliminary Injunction Against Center for Medical Progress, Anti-Abortion Group
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) - - - including its founder David Daleiden, others (and their aliases) associated with the nonprofit, as well as "fake" companies - - - has been in the news a great deal of late.
Daleiden and employee Merritt have recently been indicted in connection with an “investigation” of Planned Parenthood and the publication of a “heavily edited” video charging Planned Parenthood with unauthorized selling of fetal tissue. The video has prompted some lawmakers to urge defunding of Planned Parenthood and, interestingly, the grand jury indictment of Daleiden and Merritt in Texas sprung from an inquiry into whether Planned Parenthood had violated any criminal laws. Planned Parenthood has recently sued CMP under RICO and for various tort-like claims.
Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California has issued a preliminary injunction that some might view as a prior restraint against CMP and its associates in an Order in National Abortion Federation v. Center for Medical Progress. In July, Judge Orrick issued a TRO. The discovery orders and motions were quite contentious, with CMP seeking relief from the Ninth Circuit, which was denied, and Justice Kennedy (in his role as Justice for the Ninth Circuit) refusing to intervene. The preliminary injunction prohibits:
(1) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party any video, audio, photographic, or other recordings taken, or any confidential information learned, at any NAF annual meetings;
(2) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the dates or locations of any future NAF meetings; and
(3) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the names or addresses of any NAF members learned at any NAF annual meetings.
This injunction relates primarily to the enforcement of a “confidentiality agreement” required by attendees of the NAF national conference, which Center for Medical Progress admitted violating, engaging in over 250 hours at each of two conferences (2014 and 2015), including of personal conversations, intended - - - as CMP founder Daleiden admits, to “trap people into saying something really messed up” and to say the words “fully intact baby.” Judge Orrick found that enforcement of the confidentiality agreement does not violate the First Amendment, citing Cohen v. Cowles Media (1991). Judge Orrick also found that this was not a “typical ‘newsgathering’ case” in which "prior restraints" would be disfavored, but instead had exceptional circumstances:
The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to a numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.
One of the cases that Judge Orrick's footnote distinguishes is Judge Winmill's decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter, finding Oregon's ag-gag law unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment, which is presently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Undoubtedly, Center for Medical Progress will eventually follow the path to the Ninth Circuit. Taken together, these cases raise controversial issues about the First Amendment's protection for what some might name "investigative journalism" and what others view as "illegal actions."
Thursday, January 7, 2016
The amicus brief of Anice MacAvoy, Janie Schulman, and Over 110 Other Women in the Legal Profession Who Have Exercised their Constitutional Right to an Abortion filed in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the abortion case before the United States Supreme Court regarding Texas's controversial HB2 statute, puts the emotions and stories of legal professionals whose abortions have played a positive role in their lives and careers.
Although the amicus does not cite the Court's most recent abortion decision, Gonzales v. Carhart (Carhart II), the import of the amicus is a challenge to some of the reasoning in that case. Specifically, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Carhart II stated that:
Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. The Act recognizes this reality as well. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision. Casey, supra, at 852–853 (opinion of the Court). While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. See Brief for Sandra Cano et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 05–380, pp. 22–24. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow. See ibid.
The dissenting opinion of four Justices, authored by Justice Ginsburg, responded to this passage at length:
Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from “[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.” Ante, at 29. Because of women’s fragile emotional state and because of the “bond of love the mother has for her child,” the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. Ante, at 28–29. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Cf. Casey, 505 U. S., at 873 (plurality opinion) (“States are free to enact laws to provide a reasonable framework for a woman to make a decision that has such profound and lasting meaning.”). Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.
This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution—ideas that have long since been discredited. Compare, e.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U. S. 412, 422–423 (1908) (“protective” legislation imposing hours-of-work limitations on women only held permissible in view of women’s “physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal funct[ion]”); Bradwell v. State, 16Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, J., concurring) (“Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. … The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”), with United States v. Virginia, 518 U. S. 515 , n. 12 (1996) (State may not rely on “overbroad generalizations” about the “talents, capacities, or preferences” of women; “[s]uch judgments have … impeded … women’s progress toward full citizenship stature throughout our Nation’s history”); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U. S. 199, 207 (1977) (gender-based Social Security classification rejected because it rested on “archaic and overbroad generalizations” “such as assumptions as to [women’s] dependency” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Though today’s majority may regard women’s feelings on the matter as “self-evident,” ante, at 29, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]he destiny of the woman must be shaped … on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 852. See also id., at 877 (plurality opinion) (“[M]eans chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.”); supra, at 3–4.
The brief of the attorneys who have had abortions and are legal professionals clearly supports the view that women must be able to exercise reproductive free choice. The stories of the women attorneys gathered in the amicus brief is a testament to the positive aspects of abortions - - - rather than the regrets - - - that women attorneys have experienced.
January 7, 2016 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, December 14, 2015
The United States Supreme Court today issued a simple Order staying the mandate of the Alabama Supreme Court's controversial denial of full faith and credit to a Georgia adoption of three children by a member of a same-sex couple in V.L. v. E.L. Recall that the Supreme Court of Alabama's opinion, reversing the lower courts, relied primarily on a dissent from the Georgia Supreme Court in another case.
Today's Order reads in full:
The applications for recall and stay of the Supreme Court of Alabama’s Certificate of Judgment, in case No. 1140595, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, are granted pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the issuance of the mandate of this Court.
It is clearly not a ruling on the merits. Whether or not it provides an indication that the Court will grant the petition for writ of certiorari is speculative.
Nevertheless, this controversy is reminiscent of previous controversies involving the Alabama Supreme Court - - - whose Chief Justice is Roy Moore (pictured above) - - - and the state courts' interpretation of same-sex marriage as opposed to the United States Supreme Court.
Friday, November 13, 2015
The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole to the Fifth Circuit's decision essentially upholding the bulk of the controversial HB2 statute passed in 2013 (despite the famous filibuster by Wendy Davis). Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.
The Fifth Circuit's most recent opinion, reversing the district judge, held that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, did not impose an "undue burden" on women and were thus constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The Fifth Circuit did find that HB2 was unconstitutional as applied to the Whole Woman's Health facility in McAllen, Texas, but not as to the the Reproductive Services Facility in El Paso, Texas. The facility in McAllen is the only one in the "Rio Grande Valley." However, there is another facility close to the closed facility in El Paso - - - a mere 12 miles away - - - but importantly across the state line in New Mexico. The Fifth Circuit distinguished its own opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier regarding Mississippi's restrictive abortion law which had the effect of closing all the clinics in the state, by emphasizing the fact that even before HB2 "half of the patients at the St. Teresa [New Mexico] clinic came from El Paso which is in the same 'cross-border' metropolitan area as St. Teresa," and including a footnote that the court's analysis would be different "in the context of an international border." Thus, the court found it irrelevant that the nearest in-state facility was 550 miles away.
The United States Supreme Court's grant of certiorari means that the Court will consider direct abortion regulations - - - and thus the continuing precedential value of Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) - - - for the first time since Carhart v. Gonzales in 2007 in which the Court upheld the controversial federal so-called partial birth abortion ban. The Court's most recent foray into the abortion controversy was its 2014 opinion in McCullen v. Coakley finding Massachusetts' buffer-zone legislation protecting abortion clinics violative of the First Amendment.
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!
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.
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
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.
The 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.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
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.
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 opinion 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, although this seems unlikely.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
The Fifth Circuit has issued its opinion in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, as the latest in the continuing saga regarding the constitutionality of HB 2.
Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.
This opinion dissolves the district judge's opinion except as to one clinic in McAllen, Texas, holding that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements did not impose an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions as a facial matter (and relying in part on Planned Parenthood of Texas Surgical Providers v. Abbott as a basis for res judicata). As applied, the court distinguished McAllen from El Paso, which has another abortion clinic nearby, albeit across the Texas state border in New Mexico.
It is unlikely this latest opinion will be an end to the litigation regarding HB2.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
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.
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."
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.
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
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] 149 [updated] LINKS TO ALL THE BRIEFS ARE AVAILABLE ON THE ABA WEBSITE HERE.
76 77 amicus briefs support the Petitioners, who contend that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional.
58 66 67 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.
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)
Monday, December 22, 2014
Fourth Circuit Finds North Carolina's Anti-Abortion "Right to Know" Statute Violates First Amendment
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.
The 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.
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.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
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.
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.
Monday, September 1, 2014
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.
Thus, the judge enjoined the enforcement of HB2.
The Attorney General of Texas is sure to appeal.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
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?
ConLawProfBlog'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.
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.
The 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.
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)