Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ninth Circuit Refuses En Banc Consideration of Perry v Brown, the Prop 8 Case

The Ninth Circuit en banc has refused to hear the the Ninth Circuit's 2-1 panel opinion affirming the district judge's conclusion that the controversial Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Filed Order for PUBLICATION (STEPHEN R. REINHARDT, MICHAEL DALY HAWKINS and N. RANDY SMITH) (Dissent by Judge O'Scannlain, Concurrence by Judge Reinhardt)

A majority of the panel has voted to deny the petition for rehearing en banc. Judge N.R. Smith would grant the petition. The full court was advised of the petition for rehearing en banc. A judge requested a vote on whether to rehear the matter en banc.

The matter failed to receive a majority of the votes of the non-recused active judges in favor of en banc consideration. Fed. R. App. P. 35. The petition for rehearing en banc is DENIED.

The mandate is stayed for ninety days pending the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court. If such a petition is filed, the stay shall continue until final disposition by the Supreme Court.


A sharp but brief dissent by O’Scannlain, joined by Judges Bybee and Bea, highlights President Obama's recent remarks about same-sex marriage:

A few weeks ago, subsequent to oral argument in this case, the President of the United States ignited a media firestorm by announcing that he supports same- sex marriage as a policy matter. Drawing less attention, however, were his comments that the Constitution left this matter to the States and that “one of the things that [he]’d like to see is–that [the] conversation continue in a respectful way.”

Today our court has silenced any such respectful conversation. Based on a two-judge majority’s gross misapplication of Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), we have now declared that animus must have been the only conceivable motivation for a sovereign State to have remained committed to a definition of marriage that has existed for millennia, Perry v. Brown, 671 F.3d 1052, 1082 (9th Cir. 2012). Even worse, we have overruled the will of seven million California Proposition 8 voters based on a reading of Romer that would be unrecognizable to the Justices who joined it, to those who dissented from it, and to the judges from sister circuits who have since interpreted it. We should not have so roundly trumped California’s democratic process without at least discussing this unparalleled decision as an en banc court.

For many of the same reasons discussed in Judge N.R. Smith’s excellent dissenting opinion in this momentous case, I respectfully dissent from the failure to grant the petition for rehearing en banc.


Judges Rheinhardt and Hawkins, authors of the panel opinion, provided a brief response in their concurring opinion:

We are puzzled by our dissenting colleagues’ unusual reliance on the President’s views regarding the Constitution, especially as the President did not discuss the narrow issue that we decided in our opinion. We held only that under the particular circumstances relating to California’s Proposition 8, that measure was invalid. In line with the rules governing judicial resolution of constitutional issues, we did not resolve the fundamental question that both sides asked us to: whether the Constitution prohibits the states from banning same-sex marriage. That question may be decided in the near future, but if so, it should be in some other case, at some other time.


June 5, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

First Circuit: DOMA Section 3 Unconstitutional

In today's unanimous panel opinion in Massachusetts v. HHS, consolidated with Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, the First Circuit upheld federal District Judge Tauro's companion opinions that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. (April's oral argument can be heard here).

The First Circuit opined that the issue is difficult not only because of what it called the Justice Department's "about face" but because it

couples issues of equal protection and federalism with the need to assess the rationale for a congressional statute passed with minimal hearings and lacking in formal findings. In addition, Supreme Court precedent offers some help to each side, but the rationale in several cases is open to interpretation. We have done our best to discern the direction of these precedents, but only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case.

The panel relied upon Moreno, Cleburne, and Romer v. Evans, each of which "rested on the case-specific nature of the discrepant treatment, the burden imposed, and the infirmities of the justifications offered," to ultimately employ a heightened rational basis of equal protection review. 

As to federalism, the panel noted that "DOMA intrudes extensively into a realm that has from the start of the nation been primarily confided to state regulation--domestic relations and the definition and incidents of lawful marriage--which is a leading instance of the states' exercise of their broad police-power authority over morality and culture."  Although certainly the federal government does have an interest in marriage (given how many federal laws rely on the definition), nevertheless "Congress' effort to put a thumb on the scales and influence a state's decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws does bear on how the justifications are assessed."  

The First Circuit thus stops short of finding that DOMA is inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment, but deploys federalism to evaluate the government interests under equal protection.

The four interests expressed in the House Committee Report were

  • (1) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage;
  • (2) defending traditional notions of morality;
  • (3) protecting state sovereignty and democratic self-governance; and
  • (4) preserving scarce government resources.

The First Circuit rejected all these interests as inadequate, including the preservation of government resources that it found to be factually dubious, and also rejected the "child rearing" and "temporary measure" rationales advanced in litigation, as not supported by the legislation. 

Thus, the panel concluded:

the rationales offered do not provide adequate support for section 3 of DOMA. Several of the reasons given do not match the statute and several others are diminished by specific holdings in Supreme Court decisions more or less directly on point. If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress' will, this statute fails that test.

Surely BLAG - - - the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives, an organization defending DOMA funded by taxpayers - - - will petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, although perhaps first for en banc review.


May 31, 2012 in Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Evening Review: Julie Nice on the "Responsible Procreation" Argument in Same-Sex Marriage Constitutional Litigation

With President Obama making news this week proclaiming his personal support for same-sex marriage, after an extensive "evolution," it's a good time to take a look at scholarship on the constitutional arguments. 

Obama specifically mentioned same-sex couples "raising kids together."  But one of the more odd - - - at least on first review - - - arguments in support of state marriage being limited to opposite sex couples is that this is acceptable, but that opposite sex couples need more "encouragement" to marry.  This is the so-called "responsible procreation" state interest.  Perhaps it reached its most interesting articulation in the pronouncement of New York's highest court, an opinion subject to a skewering analysis - - - and fun read - - - in John Mitchell's  Chatting with the Lady in the Grocery Store about Hernandez V. Robles, the New York Same-Sex Marriage Case, available on ssrn.

ConLawProf Julie Nice (pictured below) has now elaborated this odd notion in The Descent of Responsible Procreation: A Genealogy of an Ideology, forthcoming in Loyola Los Angeles Law Review, draft available on ssrn.  With her usual scholarly integrity matched by innovative analysis, Nice "traces the genealogy of responsible procreation."

Julie NiceShe notes that same sex constitutional litigation has changed remarkably during the past several decades, with the amount of such litigation increasing substantially.  With state justifications eroding, especially since blatant discrimination has become more disfavored, defenders of state bans on same-sex marriage have primarily leaned on the responsible-procreation defense, which surmises that same-sex couples already procreate responsibly and that the rights and responsibilities of marriage should be limited to furthering the goal of encouraging more responsible procreation by heterosexuals.

Nice explains that the justification is rooted in religion.  It appeared as a justification of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  State courts split on its constitutionality: the high court of Massachusetts found it to be “unpersuasive” while the New York court used it as a justification for a rejection of constitutional challenge to same-sex-marriage bans. 

And in Perry v. Brown, the district judge and the Ninth Circuit panel ruling on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, rejected the responsible-procreation state interest. 

While the saga of Perry v. Brown is far from over, Nice predicts that the "responsible procreation" state interest is "on the wane."   She ultimately argues the emerging trend is that both executive officials and courts are rejecting the "responsible procreation" rationale and concluding that the same-sex-marriage ban is drawn, not to further a proper legislative end but to make same-sex couples and their children unequal to everyone else.  She contents that even conservative commentators defending the same-sex-marriage ban openly concede that it is drawn to disadvantage same-sex couples and to favor opposite-sex couples.

Thus, she concludes regardless of which level of scrutiny is applied, contemporary constitutional jurisprudence is quite clear that such an invidious ideology is not a legitimate basis for law.

An article worth reading that not only puts the same-sex marriage constitutional issues into perspective but also provides an excellent primer on equal protection and constitutional litigation.


May 12, 2012 in Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

South Africa Constitution's Sexual Orientation Equality Provision at Risk?

South Africa's Bill of Rights, Section 9, subsection 3 provides:

The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.

733px-LGBT_flag_map_of_South_Africa.svgThis Constitution, effective in 1997, is the post-Apartheid Constitution.  As the government itself boasts, "South Africa’s Constitution is one of the most progressive in the world and enjoys high acclaim internationally."  The progressive reputation of the South Africa Constitution is well-deserved, and it is based in part as being the first Constitution to explicitly recognize equality on the basis of sexual orientation.

Interpreting this provision, the highly respected South Africa Constitutional Court has declared sodomy laws unconstitutional, has declared the limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples as unconstitutional, and recognized family rights for same-sex couple parents. 

But the inclusion of sexual orientation has re-emerged as a controversial issue.  As ConLawProf Pierre deVos at the University of Cape Town reports on Constitutionally Speaking, the House of Traditional Leaders submitted a proposal to the Constitutional Review Committee of the National Assembly to amend section 9 of the Constitution to remove sexual orientation provisions and the Review Committee has referred the matter to the political parties.  As deVos explains it:

This means that the various Parliamentary caucuses of political parties represented in Parliament will soon have to decide whether they support unfair discrimination against people they might believe are not like them, or whether they will affirm their commitment to non-discrimination and the respect for the human dignity of all South Africans, the very bedrock on which the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution is founded. . . .

DeVos' analysis is worth reading in full. 

Coupled with recent controversies surrounding the composition of the South Africa Constitutional Court, this is alarming news indeed, and threatens South Africa's status as a constitutional democracy that is "one of the most progressive in the world."

[image: Rainbow Map South Africa via]


May 3, 2012 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

DOMA in the First Circuit (and elsewhere)

On appeal from two opinions from Federal District Judge Tauro holding Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, the First Circuit heard arguments today in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.

1st_Circuit_sealA partial audio recording of the argument is available here (the first 18 minutes is missing). 

Arguing to reverse Judge Tauro's opinions and defending DOMA was BLAG - the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives - who took up the case when the Obama DOJ decided that DOMA section 3 violates the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.  

The equal protection arguments are central, including the level of scrutiny that should apply to the category of "sexual orientation," what government interests should be considered (the ones at the time of passage or the ones offered in the present litigation), and the possibility of animus, especially given the name of the act.

In addition to equal protection, the Tenth Amendment also figured prominently in the arguments. This has caused at least one commentator to note that Paul Clement's argument on behalf of BLAG was exactly the opposite of his argument last week that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Moreover, while DOMA and the anti-immigration initiative, SB1070, in Arizona v. US are certainly reconciliable with regard to the federalism issue, Clement's argument on behalf of Arizona before the United States Supreme Court later this month will most certainly contradict his DOMA stance.

Meanwhile, Immigration Equality has filed a complaint in the Eastern District of New York arguing that DOMA section 3 is unconstitutional on the basis of equal protection regarding both sexual orientation and sex, and should not be enforced in the immigration context.

As for the DOMA argument in the First Circuit, there is a suggestion that the case should go to the en banc court.  However, for now the case is before Judges Lynch, Torruella, and Boudin, pending a panel decision.


April 4, 2012 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Oral Argument Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

DOMA Held Unconstitutional - - - Yet Again

DOMA UNCONThis time, the opinion comes from federal District Judge Jeffrey White in Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management.   Golinski is a staff attorney with the Ninth Circuit and in 2009 Chief Judge Kozinski ordered that Golinski's health benefits form listing her same-sex partner as wife be submitted by federal personnel authorities.  The DOJ since decided not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA and such actions are being defended by BLAG - - - the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of

Golinski, a federal employee and described by the court as "a lesbian woman married under California law, who is unable to secure federal health benefits for her same-sex spouse," challenged Section 3 of DOMA as a violation of equal protection and due process under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Under equal protection doctrine, the court looked at the "various factors" to determine the level of scrutiny the sexual orientation classification merited:

  • the history of invidious discrimination against the class burdened by the legislation;
  • whether the characteristics that distinguish the class indicate a typical class member’s ability to contribute to society;
  • whether the distinguishing characteristics are “immutable” or beyond the class members’ control;
  • the political power of the subject class

After finding that there was no definitive precedent regarding the level of scrutiny that should apply, and applying the factors, the judge specifically held "that gay men and lesbians are a group deserving of heightened protection against the prejudices and power of an often-antagonistic majority." 

In applying the heightened scrutiny standard, the judge considered the animus expressed by certain members of Congress in DOMA's legislative history, the judge then analyzed the government's stated interests: responsible procreation and child-rearing; nurturing the institution of traditional, opposite-sex marriage; defending traditional notions of morality; and preserving scarce government resources.  For each interest, the judge concluded that that it did not "provide a justification that is substantially related to an important governmental objective."

The opinion then engaged in an "alternative analysis" under rational basis review - - - and also applied this to the BLAG's proffered additional hypothetical rational bases for passing DOMA:

  • Congressional caution in defining a legislative term and maintaining the status quo
  • Congressional caution in area of social divisiveness
  • Consistency
  • Any other possible basis

With many references to Judge Tauro's 2010 opinions holding DOMA unconstitutional, Judge White similarly decided that these post-DOMA rationales do not satisfy rational basis.

Judge White's conclusion considers the broader issues, including separation of powers and judicial review, in context:

    The Court has found that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples. Even though animus is clearly present in its legislative history, the Court, having examined that history, the arguments made in its support, and the effects of the law, is persuaded that something short of animus may have motivated DOMA’s passage:

Prejudice, we are beginning to understand, rises not from malice or hostile
animus alone. It may result as well from insensitivity caused by simple want of
careful, rational reflection or from some instinctive mechanism to guard against
people who appear to be different in some respects from ourselves.

Board of Trustees of University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 374-75 (2001) (Kennedy,
J., concurring).
    This case was presented by an employee of the judicial branch against the executive
branch, which ultimately determined it could not legitimately support the law. The law was
then defended by the legislative branch. The judicial branch is tasked with determining whether this federal law is unconstitutional. That is the courts’ authority and responsibility. “It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is” and,where it is so, to declare legislation unconstitutional. See Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). As Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts said during his confirmation hearings: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them. ... it’s [the judge’s] job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat.” Confirmation Hearing on the Nomination of John G. Roberts, Jr. to be Chief Justice of the United States: Hearing Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 109th Cong. 56 (2005) (statement of John G. Roberts, Jr.,
    In this matter, the Court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right
to equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse.

Apart from the substance, Judge White's opinion is a model of organizational clarity.  For ConLawProfs looking for excellent opinions that demonstrate the organizational structure of equal protection doctrine, including alternative arguments, this is an opinion worth considering.


February 23, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Sexual Orientation, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prop 8 Proponents Petition for Rehearing En Banc in Ninth Circuit

416px-Anders_Zorn_-_Bruden_(The_Bride)The Proposition 8 proponents filed their petition for en banc review of the panel decision isssued earlier this month declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional, affirming the district judge's order.

This ends speculation that the proponents would bypass the Ninth Circuit and petition for a writ of certiorari as soon as possible.

The proponents contend that the panel opinion conflicts with Supreme Court precedent (Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972);Crawford v. Board of Education, 458 U.S. 527 (1982); Johnson v. Robison, 415 U.S. 361 (1974)) and "involves a question of exceptional importance." 

Not surprisingly, the proponents contend that the panel "misapplied" Romer v. Evans.  While Romer was a centerpiece of the panel's opinion regarding "animus," the proponents argue that the panel construed Romer as a question of "timing" rather than "substance."  With the animus issue thus defused, the proponents then argue that the panel's holding that "Proposition 8 does not bear even a rational relationship with the State’s indisputable interest in responsible procreation and childrearing conflicts directly with a decision of the Eighth Circuit and a host of other decisions."

More surprisingly, the proponents restate their argument regarding judicial disqualification:

Unbeknownst to the parties, at all times while presiding over and entering judgment in this case, former Judge Walker, like Plaintiffs, was a “resident[] of California … involved in [a] long-term … relationship with [an] individual[] of the same sex.”

(ellipses in original).  The panel was unanimous on this point, as was the district judge, and the refusal to abandon the disqualification-because-of-sexual-orientation argument makes the proponents seem biased rather than the judge.  Part of their argument seems to flow from their own assumption that judges are heterosexual: The proponents argue that judge's "refusal to disclose his long-term same-sex relationship was contrary to fundamental maxims of judicial propriety."  Moreover, they argue that Judge Walker's same-sex relationship contravenes "the ancient principle that “[n]o man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause,”  citing THE FEDERALIST NO. 10, at 74 (Clinton Rossiter ed., 2003).  Yet as we've previously noted, given the proponents own arguments about the importance of heterosexual marriage, it is difficult to see how a heterosexual judge - - - or a married judge - - - would be any less "a judge in his own cause." 

[image: Anders Zorn, The Bride, via]

February 21, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Opinion Analysis: Ninth Circuit in Perry v. Brown, the Prop 8 case

As we noted earlier today, the Ninth Circuit panel has affirmed the district judge that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, in a 2-1 decision.

The panel was unanimous on two points:

First, the proponents had standing.  The standing issue is convoluted in this case, for it is the standing of Hollingsworth and ProtectMarriage.com to appeal as proponents of Proposition 8, given that the state (in the person of defendant Governor Brown, formerly Schwarzenegger) refused to defend the constitutionality of Prop 8.  The panel distinguished Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, (1997), stating that unlike that case,

we do know that California law confers on “initiative sponsors” the authority “to defend, in lieu of public officials, the constitutionality of initiatives made law of the State.” The California Supreme Court has told us, in a published opinion containing an exhaustive review of the California Constitution and statutes, that it does.

While a state (or other party) cannot confer Article III standing on a federal court, a state, as an "independent sovereign" possesses the prerogative to "decide for themselves who may assert their interests and under what circumstances."  Thus, the California Supreme Court's decision is outcome determinative.

Second, Walker's sexuality was not a reason to vacate his opinion.  More precisely, applying the abuse of discretion standard, District Judge Ware, who replaced Judge Walker Vaughn, was affirmed regarding the denial of a motion to vacate Walker's judgment based on Walker's sexuality. 

The panel divided on the central issue: the constitutionality of Prop 8 itself.  The majority opinion, authored by Reinhardt concluded that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.  Reinhardt begins the panel majority opinion with an important framing of the issue:

Prior to November 4, 2008, the California Constitution guaranteed the right to marry to opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples alike. On that day, the People of California adopted Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. We consider whether that amendment violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. We conclude that it does.

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted. Because under California statutory law, same-sex couples had all the rights of opposite-sex couples, regardless of their marital status, all parties agree that Proposition 8 had one effect only. It stripped same-sex couples of the ability they previously possessed to obtain from the State, or any other authorized party, an important right—the right to obtain and use the designation of ‘marriage’ to describe their relationships. Nothing more, nothing less.

Thus, Judge Reinhardt's opinion continued, Prop 8 "therefore could not have been enacted to advance California's interests in childrearing or responsible procreation, for it had no effect on the rights of same-sex couples to raise children or on the procreative practices of other couples."  Additionally it did not "have any effect on religious freedom or on parents' rights to control their children's education; it could not have been enacted to safeguard these liberties."  Instead, all that Prop 8 "accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships."  Later in the opinion, the panel majority provides examples of the cultural significance of "marriage" as a term:

Newspapers run announcements of births, deaths, and marriages. We are excited to see someone ask, “Will you marry me?”, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly it would not have the same effect to see “Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?”. Groucho Marx's one-liner, “Marriage is a wonderful institution ... but who wants to live in an institution?” would lack its punch if the word ‘marriage’ were replaced with the alternative phrase. So too with Shakespeare's “A young man married is a man that's marr'd,” Lincoln's “Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory,” and Sinatra's “A man doesn't know what happiness is until he's married. By then it's too late.” We see tropes like “marrying for love” versus “marrying for money” played out again and again in our films and literature because of the recognized importance and permanence of the marriage relationship. Had Marilyn Monroe's film been called How to Register a Domestic Partnership with a Millionaire, it would not have conveyed the same meaning as did her famous movie, even though the underlying drama for samesex couples is no different. The name ‘marriage’ signifies the unique recognition that society gives to harmonious, loyal, enduring, and intimate relationships. . . . .

Thus, for the panel majority, Prop 8 "serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples."  The panel majority stated that the "Constitution simply does not allow for 'laws of this sort,' " quoting and citing  Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 633 (1996).

Indeed, Romer v. Evans - - - in which the Supreme Court invalidated Colorado's Amendment Two that had prohibited any policies, ordinances, or laws that allowed claims of discrimination on the basis of "homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships" - - - is a lynchpin of the panel majority's analysis.   Like Amendment 2, Prop 8 eliminated a pre-existing right:  "as the voters were told," Prop 8 would “eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.” :

Withdrawing from a disfavored group the right to obtain a designation with significant societal consequences is different from declining to extend that designation in the first place, regardless of whether the right was withdrawn after a week, a year, or a decade. The action of changing something suggests a more deliberate purpose than does the inaction of leaving it as it is.

Applying Romer's heightened rational basis scrutiny with its emphasis on animus as not satisfying a legitimate state interest, the panel majority finds Prop 8 - - - as an initiative that changed the status quo - - - to be unconstitutional.

Judge Smith, dissented as to the constitutionality of Proposition 8, largely arguing that Romer v, Evans was distinguishable.

The majority panel's final footnote forestalls the effect of the decision: "The stay pending appeal issued by this court on August 16, 2010 remains in effect pending issuance of the mandate."

The proponents now have to decide whether to seek a rehearing enbanc by the Ninth Circuit or to petition the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.  Doubtless, they will do one or the other.  And the complex Prop 8 saga will continue.



February 7, 2012 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Prop 8 Opinion: Ninth Circuit Rules Prohibiting Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

The Ninth Circuit panel has rendered its opinion in Perry v. Brown,  on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 that prohibited same-sex marriage, affirming 2-1 Judge Vaugn Walker's extensive opinion based on the trial (our recap here) the videotapes of which will not be released as the Ninth Circuit ruled recently.

The Ninth Circuit Judges on panel, Stephen Reinhardt (middle), NR (Randy) Smith (right, and Michael Hawkins (left) disagreed on the major constitutional issue.


Ninth Circuit judges on Prop 8

 The panel was unanimous that the proponents had standing and that Judge Walker's opinion should not be vacated on the basis of his sexuality.  The majority opinion, authored by Reinhardt concluded that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.  Judge Smith, dissented as to the constitutionality of Proposition 8, arguing that it was rationally related to a legitimate government interest.


(image via)

February 7, 2012 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ninth Circuit: The Prop 8 Trial Videotapes Remain Sealed

561px-Anamorphic-digital_sound+cueThe Ninth Circuit today issued its opinion in Perry v. Brown holding that the Proposition 8 trial videotapes will not be released.  The panel - - - Judges Reinhardt, Hawkins, and NR Smith - - - reversed the decision of Northern District of California Chief Judge Ware that the videotapes should be released.

Judge Reinhardt's opinion for the unanimous panel made clear that the decision was not focused on the policy questions regarding broadcast of trials or the First Amendment right of press access or publication.  Instead, the opinion highlighted the unique and narrow question: whether "the district court abused its discretion by ordering the unsealing of the recording of the trial notwithstanding the trial judge’s commitment to the parties that the recording would not be publicly broadcast."

The panel assumed without deciding that the "trial recording is subject to the common-law presumption of public access," but found that there was a "sufficiently compelling reason to override any such presumption here."

In short, the panel found that the sufficiently compelling reason was Judge Walker Vaughn's repeated assurances to the litigants that the trial recordings would not be published:

the district court [Judge Ware] failed to appreciate the nature of the statements that the trial judge [Judge Walker] had made to the litigants, the specific factual and legal context in which he made them, and the consequences of his having done so. The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments. . . . the interest in preserving the sanctity of the judicial process is a compelling reason to override the presumption in favor of the recording’s release.

The Ninth Circuit opinion is not a constitutional one, but certainly seeks to respect the integrity of Article III courts.  But it means that afficiandos of the Prop 8 trial will have to be content with the voluminous transcript that remains available, or with the re-enactment of the trial produced by actors, or with Walker's extensive opinion itself.

[image via]

February 2, 2012 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Film, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Challenge to Constitutionality of DOMA by Military Member

Cooperharris_uniformTracey Cooper-Harris (pictured right), a member of the US Army for twelve years, has filed a complaint against the US for veterans benefits for her same-sex partner, arguing that DOMA and the VA definition of "spouse"  violates the Fifth Amendment's equal protection component.  Cooper-Harris is represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization that also litigated the landmark case Frontiero v. Richardson involving a woman's right for military benefits for her husband.

This lawsuit joins the other constitutional challenges to DOMA including one filed by the Service Members Legal Defense Network, as well two companion decisions by federal district judge Tauro declaring DOMA unconstitutional, the Obama DOJ's decision not to defend it, and legislative efforts at repeal.

(h/t Jen Hogg)

February 1, 2012 in Current Affairs, Disability, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

First Circuit Rejects NOM's Challenges to Disclosure Laws Redux

In what the First Circuit calls the "second chapter" of challenges to the constitutionality of Maine's registration and disclosure laws regarding election-related advocacy, the court in National Organization for Marriage [NOM] v. McKee, essentially reaffirms its opinion last August in a case by the same name (and now to be known as NOM I).   The cases stem from the hard-fought same-sex marriage ballot initiative in Maine in 2009.  NOM II involves both NOM and American Principles in Action [APIA], although the court expressed doubt regarding APIA's standing as to some of the claims, and the principle arguments revolve around NOM.

MaineThe unanimous panel decision, authored by Judge Kermit Lipez, focuses on the "only substantively distinct issue" raised by this appeal as contrasted to NOM I:  the constitutionality of the definition of "contribution" in the "ballot question committee" [BQC] provision, Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 21-A, §1056-B.  The court concludes that the BQC provision, like the PAC provision at issue in NOM I survives the constitutional challenge.

The court quickly disposed of the First Amendment claims, on the basis of NOM I, but paid more attention to the assertion that the term "contribution" was unconstitutionally vague as a matter of due process, and that any reliance on subjective beliefs of a contributor were likewise void for vagueness. At issue were email communications such as:

"You can fight back! Can you help defend marriage in Maine and across the country, by donating $5, $10, or even, if God has given you the means, $100 or $500?"

The panel found that Maine can constitutionally require parties to determine whether or not a "reasonable listener would understand their advocacy as an invitation to contribute to a specific ballot question campaign"- - - such as that in Maine - - - based upon the specific earmarking words of the solicitor, in this case NOM.  

The court engaged in such reasoning after specifically faulting the appellants' attorneys for poor lawyering in terms of the as-applied challenges:

Appellants, however, do not address in their brief the vagueness problem with respect to donations received following any specific communication they distributed or proposed. Rather, they assert in conclusory language that subsections B and C of section 1056-B "are unconstitutionally vague as applied to most of Plaintiffs' speech." They make glancing reference to the content of the emails, noting that "some of NOM's solicitations mentioned Maine," and query whether, as a result of those mentions, donors' knowledge of the Maine ballot measure would be enough to make their donations covered "contributions" and NOM a BQC. They do not explain why they were unable, or would be unable, to link particular contributions received to their advocacy efforts on the Maine referendum, focusing their arguments instead on the language of the statute generally.

Thus, appellants are not only unable to bring a facial vagueness challenge to section 1056-B, but their failure to develop their as-applied challenges also would allow us to reject those claims summarily if we were so inclined. [citations omitted]. Given the importance of the issues raised, however, and the resources expended by all parties in this extensive litigation, we choose to explain why their vagueness contentions would in any event be substantially, if not entirely, unavailing. [citations omitted].

As the panel succinctly stated, it saw "no constitutional problem with expecting entities like appellants to make pragmatic, objective judgments about the nature of the contributions they receive where their own conduct and communications are the primary elements in the determination."

While NOM's attorney has reportedly vowed to take the case to the United States Supreme Court, there seems to be little here that would merit a grant of a writ of certiorari.

However, with the same-sex marriage issuepossibly again on the ballot in Maine in 2012, there may certainly be more litigation.

[image via]

February 1, 2012 in Campaign Finance, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sixth Circuit: Jury Must Hear Graduate Student's Refusal to Counsel Gay Clients

The Sixth Circuit today in its opinion in Ward v. Polite remanded the First Amendment free speech and free exercise of religion claims of a graduate counseling student disciplined because she would not counsel a gay client in her required student practicum. The panel reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Eastern Michigan University. 

Van_Gogh_-_Banco_de_Pedra_no_Asilo_de_Saint_RemyThis case may bring to mind a very similar situation from Augusta State University, Georgia, Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, that we discussed earlier, in which the Eleventh Circuit held that the student-counselor did not have valid First Amendment claims.  However, the Sixth Circuit distinguished Keeton at length:

At one level, the two decisions look like polar opposites, as a student loses one case and wins the other.  But there is less tension, or for that matter even disagreement, between the two cases than initially meets the eye. The procedural settings of the two cases differ. In Keeton, the district court made preliminary fact findings after holding a hearing in which both sides introduced evidence in support of their claims.  Not only are there no trial-level fact findings here, but Ward also gets the benefit of all reasonable factual inferences in challenging the summary-judgment decision entered against her.

 The two claimants' theories of constitutional protection also are miles apart. Keeton insisted on a constitutional right to engage in conversion therapy—that is, if a "client discloses that he is gay, it was her intention to tell the client that his behavior is morally wrong and then try to change the client's behavior."  That approach, all agree, violates the ACA [American Counseling Association] code of ethics by imposing a counselor's values on a client, a form of conduct the university is free to prohibit as part of its curriculum. Instead of insisting on changing her clients, Ward asked only that the university not change her—that it permit her to refer some clients in some settings, an approach the code of ethics appears to permit and that no written school policy prohibits.  Nothing in Keeton indicates that Augusta State applied the prohibition on imposing a counselor's values on the client in anything but an even-handed manner.  Not so here, as the code of ethics, counseling norms, even the university's own practices, seem to permit the one thing Ward sought: a referral.

The two decisions in the end share the same essential framework and reasoning. They both apply Hazelwood to curricular speech at the university level, and they both show that the even-handed enforcement of a neutral policy is likely to steer clear of the First Amendment's free-speech and free-exercise protections. Both decisions also are consistent with Christian Legal Society, which considered whether a Christian organization at a law school could insist that its members adhere to certain faith-based codes of conduct. The Court held that the law school's anti­discrimination policy, requiring registered student organizations to accept all comers, did not violate the First Amendment on its face, yet it remanded the case to determine whether the school selectively enforced the policy against some organizations but not others. While Keeton involved Augusta State's across-the-board application of an ethical rule that prohibits counselors from imposing their values on clients, today's case reveals evidence that Eastern Michigan University selectively enforced a no-referral policy against Ward.

 [citations omitted].

The Sixth Circuit's attempt to distinguish its opinion from Keeton - - - mostly on procedural and factual grounds - - - seems persuasive.  Yet the distinctions may be too finely wrought. 

On remand, the district court will be considering injunctive relief.  As to damages, the question of qualified immunity remains.  Clearly, however, the Sixth Circuit found that there was no valid facial challenge and affirmed the dismissal of some defendants.

[image: Vincent Van Gogh, Stone Bench in the Asylum at Saint-Remy (The Stone Bench), via]

January 27, 2012 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Religious Groups Lack Standing/Ripe Claims to Challenge Hawai'i Civil Unions Law

The Civil Unions Law, Act 1, of Hawai'i became effective January 1, 2012.  



In the last days of 2011, several religious groups sued for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the Act's implementation and prevent any enforcement against them.  In a relatively brief opinion, federal district judge J. Michael Seabright denied the TRO in Emmanuel Temple v. Abercrombie

The complaint seeking the TRO alleged that because Act 1 does not have a "religious exemption," the plaintiffs could suffer a First Amendment injury.  However, the judge found that the claim was not justiciable because the plaintiffs lacked standing and their challenge was not ripe, noting that in many cases the "injury in fact" prong of the standing analysis coincides with an inquiry regarding ripeness.

The judge found that any threat of enforcement of Act 1 against the plaintiffs was "highly speculative."   A number of unforseeable events would have to occur:

  • A couple would have to ask plaintiffs to use a particular facility of theirs - - - which presumably would have to be a "public accomodation" - - - for a civil union made possible by Act 1;
  • Plaintiffs would have to wrongly refuse based upon a protected ground;
  • The couple, having been denied, would have to file a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission;
  • The state authorities would have to decide to proceed against plaintiffs.

The judge found it was equally speculative that a couple, having been denied, would chose to file a judicial action rather than an action with the Commission.

For ConLawProfs starting the semester with Article III justiciability, this could be the basis of a great class problem. 

Situating the case outside that doctrinal framework, it is an example of religious groups filing federal actions against same-sex relationship recognition, as in New York, despite that state's religious exemption in the statute.

Further, it is yet another incident in the saga of same-sex marriage in Hawai'i; a good review and the latest litigation by same-sex couples challenging the civil union law for not providing marriage is here.

[image: Kahaluʻu Fishpond seawall and wedding chapel, Oahu, Hawaii, on National Register of Historic Places, via]

January 3, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Religion, Ripeness, Sexual Orientation, Standing, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

No First Amendment Right to Impose One's Beliefs On Others in Counseling Program

Can a counseling program at a public university require a student to address her deficiencies in becoming a "multiculturally competent counselor," particularly with regard to working with sexual minorities, before allowing her to participate in the program's clinic practicum? 

The short answer from the Eleventh Circuit is "definitely, yes."  In a 40 page opinion, Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Judge's denial of a preliminary injunction to Jennifer Keeton, a student seeking a master's degree in school counseling at Augusta State University, Georgia.  The panel's opinion, authored by Judge Rosemary Barkett, found that Keeton did not show a likelihood of prevailing on the merits.  The opinion was joined by Judge Phyllis Kravitch.  Judge William Pryor, controversial for his own oft-stated Christian beliefs and confirmed 53-45 by the Senate to the Eleventh Circuit six years ago after serving in a recess appointment, concurred specially, largely to point out how views on homosexuality have changed.

The court rejected Keeton's claims of viewpoint discrimination, retaliation, and compelled speech under the Speech Clause and free exercise under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, spending the bulk of the opinion on viewpoint discrimination.  While Keeton argued that she was discriminated against because of her Christian beliefs, specifically those she held about "homosexuality," Judge Barkett stressed throughout the opinion that the problem was not Ms. Keeton's beliefs, but whether she could - - - or would even agree to try - - - to engage in ethical counseling under the profession's standards.  The evidence showed that Ms. Keeton had made several troubling statements indicating that she would not follow the ethical guidelines.  She said that as a school counselor she would respond to a student in crisis about his sexual orientation, by voicing her disapproval, telling him any homosexual behavior was morally wrong, and referring him to someone practicing sexual conversion therapy.  As Judge Barkett stated:

ASU’s officials confirmed that their primary concern was teaching Keeton not to impose her values on clients and how to become a more effective counselor. Also, in the addendum to the remediation plan, which was added in direct response to Keeton’s email claim that she believed she was being asked to alter her personal religious beliefs, ASU’s officials clarified that “[t]he content of your moral or religious beliefs is not in question,” and that the remediation plan was concerned with teaching her how “to respond in an ethical manner and avoid imposing your personal values on the client.”

The court applied the Hazelwood framework from Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), noting that the practicum might be reasonably thought to "bear the imprimatur of the school" and the practicum, as well as the specific remediation plan to assist Ms. Keeton with meeting acceptable standards, were part of the curriculum.


While the court's treatment of Ms. Keeton's "compelled speech" claim relying on West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943), is relatively brief, the court's discussion reveals the heart of the court's reasoning: 

ASU is not forcing Keeton to profess a belief contrary to her own personal beliefs. Rather, it is compelling her to comply with the ACA [American Counseling Association] Code of Ethics, which requires those who wish to be counselors to separate their personal beliefs from their work. When a GLBTQ client asks, for example, if his conduct is moral, students are taught to avoid giving advice, to explore the issue with the client, and to help the client determine for himself what the answer is for him. If a client determines for himself that his conduct is moral, the ACA Code of Ethics requires the counselor to affirm the client, which means that the counselor must respect the dignity of the client by accepting the client’s response without judgment, not that the counselor must say that she personally believes that the client is correct. Thus, far from compelling Keeton to profess a belief or change her own beliefs about the morality of homosexuality, ASU instructs her not to express her personal beliefs regarding the client’s moral values. This is the form of treatment that ASU and the ACA have determined best promotes client welfare, which, in their view, is the objective of secular counseling.

Moreover, the court's discussion reveals the applicability of the court's reasoning in other contexts, including law and legal education:

Just as a medical school would be permitted to bar a student who refused to administer blood transfusions for religious reasons from participating in clinical rotations, so ASU may prohibit Keeton from participating in its clinical practicum if she refuses to administer the treatment it has deemed appropriate. Every profession has its own ethical codes and dictates. When someone voluntarily chooses to enter a profession, he or she must comply with its rules and ethical requirements. Lawyers must present legal arguments on behalf of their clients, notwithstanding their personal views. Judges must apply the law, even when they disagree with it. So too counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.

Finally, the Supreme Court has hardly indicated an intention to limit a school’s power to require its students to demonstrate whether they grasp a particular lesson. A school must, for instance, be free to give a failing grade to a student who refuses to answer a test question for religious reasons, or who refuses to write a paper defending a position with which the student disagrees ... No doubt, a law school would be permitted to require a student who expressed an intent to indiscriminately disclose her client’s secrets or violate another of the state’s bar rules to take extra ethics classes before letting the student participate in a school- run clinic in which the student would be representing actual clients. These actions, like ASU’s officials’ imposition of the remediation plan, are the types of academic decisions that are subject to significant deference, not exacting constitutional scrutiny.

[image: Winslow Homer, The Country School, via]


December 18, 2011 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sexual Violence in the Military: Not a Judicial Matter

The UK's Guardian has a lengthy and worth reading report entitled " Rape in the US military: America's dirty little secret" with the subtitle, "A female soldier in Iraq is more likely to be attacked by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire."   The Guardian's article mentions a lawsuit of 28 plaintiffs "who claim to have been subjected to sexual assaults while serving in the armed force" against Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates "for a culture of punishment against the women and men who report sex crimes and a failure to prosecute the offenders."

In a 2 page opinion, Judge Liam O'Grady dismissed that lawsuit the same day as the Guardian article.  Cioca v. Rumsfeld garnered much attention when it was filed in February, including a NYT article and a widely distributed video of Kori Cioca:


The judge's order concluded that Cioca and the other plaintiffs do not have a Bivens action (Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971)), because such a remedy is not available when '"special factors counseling hesitation'" are present, and the "unique disciplinary structure of the military establishment" is a "special factor" that "counsels against judicial intrusion."  In short "congressionally uninvited intrusion into military affairs by the judiciary is inappropriate."  

This same reasoning of military deference was once prominent in challenges to the military's sexual orientation policy of "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT).   More recently, of course,  the courts were much less deferential, including the Ninth Circuit's injunction against the policy earlier this year, before the policy was repealed, and the Ninth Circuit's dismissal of the case as moot. Yet as we noted, the Ninth Circuit did more than dismiss the case as moot, it specifically stated that it

"vacate[d] the district court’s judgment, injunction, opinions, orders, and factual findings—indeed, all of its past rulings—to clear the path completely for any future litigation. Those now-void legal rulings and factual findings have no precedential, preclusive, or binding effect."

Thus, those DADT findings overcoming judicial deference to the military are declared to be void, although it does seem that they might not be entirely irrelevant.


December 14, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Gender, Separation of Powers, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Constitutional Challenge to Hawai'i Marriage Law in Federal Court

776px-Bathymetry_image_of_the_Hawaiian_archipelagoThe second wave of challenges to marriage laws excluding same-sex couples began in Hawai'i. The Baehr v. Lewin decision from the Hawai'i Supreme Court in 1993 that the opposite-sex policy was a sex classification subject to strict scrutiny under the state constitution set off a chain of events. In Hawai'i, there was a successful state referendum in Hawai'i retaining the power for the legislature to decide the sex of parties to a marriage.  Nationally, there was ultimately the federal statute DOMA (now in federal disfavor) as well as many other state DOMAs.  However, there were also developments in other states that resulted in the opposite-sex requirement being relaxed. 

The complaint in Jackson v. Abercrombie filed in the federal district of Hawai'i this week challenges the Hawai'i opposite-sex marriage requirement as violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.   The 27 page complaint includes an excellent chronology: a summary of the Hawai'i litigation and subsequent cases, including Perry v. Brown now before the Ninth Circuit.  The complaint also alleges that same-sex marriage has gained in popular acceptance since Baehr v. Lewin and that the civil union law, effective in Hawai'i in 2012, is not an adequate substitute for marriage.

Most likely, a district judge would wait for the Ninth Circuit decision in Perry, but presumably the state of Hawai'i will respond.

[image: Hawai'i via]


December 9, 2011 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Doe v. Reed: After Remand, Emergency Appeal Denied

The latest installment in the continuing saga of the quest for anonymity by "Protect Marriage" members and supporters is the Ninth Circuit's denial of the emergency appeal.

As we most recently discussed, on a remand from the United States Supreme Court, the district court's opinion ordered disclosure of the names of those who signed an anti-same-sex marriage petition in Washington state in accordance with the state's usual processes.  Recall that in Doe v. Reed, decided by the United States Supreme Court in June 2010, the Court rejected a facial challenge to the state of Washington's Public Records Act (PRA),  RCW 42.56 that governs the disclosure of public records including petitions seeking a ballot initiative.  The ballot initiative at issue sought to repeal the "everything but marriage" law for same-sex couples and was spear-headed by the controversial Protect Marriage organization.  The John Doe plaintiffs challenged the public disclosure of their names as a violation of the First Amendment.


In this latest round, the John Doe plaintiffs sought to "enjoin the Washington Secretary of State from further releasing the R-71 petitions, the Intervenors from distributing the petitions, and the district court from further disclosing the identity of Protect Marriage Washington’s John Doe parties and witnesses in the district court’s unredacted order."  

In its brief opinion, over one dissent, the Ninth Circuit panel stated it "preliminarily believes that the appeal is moot due to the release of R-71 petitions" and thus held that the plaintiff/ appellants’ "renewed emergency motion for an injunction pending appeal is denied."



November 18, 2011 in Association, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Proposition 8 and the Question of Constitutional Standing: In the California Supreme Court

The question - - - certified by the Ninth Circuit to the California Supreme Court and heard in September - - - was this:

Whether under Article II, Section 8 of the California Constitution, or otherwise under California law, the official proponents of an initiative measure [PROPOSITION 8] possess either a particularized interest in the initiative's validity or the authority to assert the State's interest in the initiative's validity, which would enable them to defend the constitutionality of the initiative upon its adoption or appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative, when the public officials charged with that duty refuse to do so.

The short answer from the California Supreme Court today is "Yes."  Or, as the conclusion to the court's opinion in Perry v. Brown states:

when the public officials who ordinarily defend a challenged state law or appeal a judgment invalidating the law decline to do so, under article II, section 8 of the California Constitution and the relevant provisions of the Elections Code, the official proponents of a voter-approved initiative measure are authorized to assert the state‘s interest in the initiative‘s validity, enabling the proponents to defend the constitutionality of the initiative and to appeal a judgment invalidating the initiative.

446px-CACourt_protestIt takes the court some 60 pages to reach this conclusion in an unanimous opinion written by the new Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, with an additional 7 page concurring opinion by Justice Kennard. Kennard wrote to "highlight the historical and legal events that have led to today‘s decision and to explain why I concur in that decision," and reiterated her position that is it is the judicial role to decide whether "excluding individuals from marriage because of sexual orientation can be reconciled with our state Constitution‘s equal protection guarantee."   On the contrary, the main opinion de-emphasized Proposition 8: "the state law issue that has been submitted to this court is totally unrelated to the substantive question of the constitutional validity of Proposition 8. Instead, the question before us involves a fundamental procedural issue that may arise with respect to any initiative measure, without regard to its subject matter."

The California Supreme Court states that "past official proponents of initiative measures in California have uniformly been permitted to participate as parties — either as interveners or as real parties in interest — in numerous lawsuits in California courts challenging the validity of the initiative measure the proponents sponsored," and without any specific showings.  The opinion, it seems, could have ended there but the California Supreme Court stated it felt it was "useful and appropriate briefly to set forth, at the outset, our understanding of the federal decisions that discuss the role that state law plays in determining whether, under federal law, an individual or entity possesses standing to participate as a party in a federal proceeding."  Although the opinion emphasized that its "discussion of federal decisions is not intended to, and does not purport to, decide any issue of federal law, and we fully recognize that the effect that this opinion‘s clarification of the authority official proponents possess under California law may have on the question of standing under federal law is a matter that ultimately will be decided by the federal courts," certainly its analysis will be carefully considered by the Ninth Circuit.

The court's major analytic attention, however, was devoted to matters of state constitutional law focused on the initiative process.  In these cases, non-state actors have had the ability to defend the initiative from challenges.  Additionally, the court noted that "even outside the initiative context it is neither unprecedented nor particularly unusual under California law for persons other than public officials to be permitted to participate as formal parties in a court action to assert the public‘s or the state's interest in upholding or enforcing a duly enacted law."

If the Ninth Circuit fully credits the California Supreme Court's opinion and finds it sufficient to confer Article III standing, the court will proceed to the merits and review Judge Walker's opinion in Perry v. Brown (f/k/a Perry Schwarzenegger) that Proposition 8 violates the Constitution.

[image: Pro and anti-Proposition 8 protesters rally in front of the San Francisco City Hall via].

November 17, 2011 in Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Servicemembers File Complaint Challenging Constitutionality of DOMA

DOMA - - -  the Defense of Marriage Act - - - already suffering from legislative efforts at repeal and seriously questionable constitutional status, including the Obama DOJ's decision not to defend its constitutionality, has been challenged again. 

SLDNIn a Complaint filed today, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network representing several plaintiffs, challenged the constitutionality of DOMA in conjunction with several other statutes that govern benefits for military servicemembers.  The Complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the same district in which Judge Tauro found DOMA unconstitutional in companion cases in July 2010.

Paragraph 67 of the Complaint distills the argument:

The current military family benefits regimes of Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38, particularly as modified by DOMA, fail to address the modern military. These laws were crafted at a time when gays and lesbians were precluded from openly serving in the military, and when same-sex marriages were not legal in the United States. While Congress may have assumed that Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38 effectively covered all military spouses in the past, that is not the current reality. The military is a reflection of our society as a whole. Now that same-sex marriages are legal, and gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, service members -- such as the Plaintiffs -- with same-sex spouses do serve in the ranks. To maintain the uniformity of benefits that Congress believed it was creating in Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38, the definition of "spouse" must include these same-sex spouses as well.

The Constitutional grounds include Equal Protection, the Tenth Amendment, the fundamental constitutional right to marry (without a specific constitutional text), and Bill of Attainder. 

Most unique is the Bill of Attainder argument, based on Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution which states that "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed."  The Complaint alleges that the "Bill of Attainder clause prohibits as unconstitutional any law that legislative determines guilt and inflicts punishment upon an identifiable individual without provision of the protections of a judicial trial."  The argument is that as a result of DOMA's application to federal military benefits,

the federal government imposes a disability upon a clearly identifiable class of persons involved in legally-recognized same-sex marriages, including Plaintiffs, for no purpose other than to punish them. Plaintiffs were denied federal military benefits that they would otherwise be entitled to if not for their membership in this clearly identifiable class. Thus, through DOMA, Plaintiffs have been subjected to an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder.

The defense of DOMA is expensive: the original contract awarded by House Speaker John Boehner to Bush-era Solicitor General Paul Clement and capped at $500,000 was reportedly raised to three times that amount - - -  $1.5 million dollars - - - earlier this month.  This newest lawsuit may occasion even higher costs. 


October 27, 2011 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Sexual Orientation, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)