Monday, October 30, 2017

District Judge Partially Enjoins President's Transgender Military Ban

 In an Order and Opinion in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions to limits the service of transgender persons in the United States military. Judge Kollar-Kelly denied the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive, but granted the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.

Recall that this lawsuit, filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of several complaints challenging the president's military action, and included claims for a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly's 76 page opinion, which begins with a recitation of the President's "statement via Twitter" on July 26, 2017, announcing that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This was followed almost a month later by the TG TweetsPresident's Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." The President's Twitter statement and the subsequent Presidential memorandum are the centerpiece of the Government's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing and that their claims are not ripe under Article III.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote:

Defendants have moved to dismiss this case, principally on the basis that the Court lacks jurisdiction. Although highly technical, these jurisdictional arguments reduce to a few simple points: the Presidential Memorandum has not effected a definitive change in military policy; rather, that policy is still subject to review; until that review is complete, transgender service members are protected; and any prospective injuries are too speculative to require judicial intervention.

These arguments, while perhaps compelling in the abstract, wither away under scrutiny.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly's opinion then spends the majority of the opinion discussing the standing and ripeness issues. As to the Surgery challenge, the opinion concludes that "none of the Plaintiffs have demonstrated an injury in fact with respect to the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive," because none of the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are substantially likely to be impacted by the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive"  In fact, the plaintiffs' medical procedures would be performed.  However, there was standing on the Accession and Retention Directives because although an Interim Guidance possibly protects some transgender service members and allows for waivers,

The President controls the United States military. The directives of the Presidential Memorandum, to the extent they are definitive, are the operative policy toward military service by transgender service members.

Moreover, "the injury in fact element of standing in an equal protection case is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the imposition of the barrier.”

Compared to the extensive analysis of the Article III issues, Judge Kollar-Ketelly's analysis of the equal protection claim based on the Fifth Amendment is much more succinct. The opinion first determines the level of scrutiny, deciding on intermediate scrutiny for two reasons.

First, "on the current record, transgender individuals—who are alone targeted for exclusion by the Accession and Retention Directives—appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification," considering  whether they have "experienced a ‘history of purposeful unequal treatment’ or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities," and whether they have been as a group “relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process," and whether the group “exhibit[s] obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group.” Judge Kollar-Ketelly found that transgendered people satisfied these criteria, noting that although there was no binding precedent on this issue, other courts had reached similar conclusions and citing Evancho v. Pine-Richland Sch. Dist.

Second, Judge Kollar-Ketelly was "also persuaded that the Accession and Retention Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender, which is itself subject to intermediate scrutiny. It is well-established that gender-based discrimination includes discrimination based on non- conformity with gender stereotypes."

In the application of intermediate scrutiny, Judge Kollar-Ketelly recited the rule of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), and held that the Accession and Retention Directives relied on overbroad stereotypes and were not substantially related to the Government's stated interests.  The opinion then considered the question of deference in the military context:

Nonetheless, given the deference owed to military personnel decisions, the Court has not based its conclusion solely on the speculative and overbroad nature of the President’s reasons. A second point is also crucial. As far as the Court is aware at this preliminary stage, all of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself. As described above, the effect of transgender individuals serving in the military had been studied by the military immediately prior to the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum. In connection with the working group chaired by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the RAND National Defense Research Institute conducted a study and issued a report largely debunking any potential concerns about unit cohesion, military readiness, deployability or health care costs related to transgender military service. The Department of Defense Working Group, made up of senior uniformed officers and senior civilian officers from each military department, unanimously concluded that there were no barriers that should prevent transgender individuals from serving in the military, rejecting the very concerns supposedly underlying the Accession and Retention Directives. In fact, the Working Group concluded that prohibiting transgender service members would undermine military effectiveness and readiness. Next, the Army, Air Force and Navy each concluded that transgender individuals should be allowed to serve. Finally, the Secretary of Defense concluded that the needs of the military were best served by allowing transgender individuals to openly serve. In short, the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself. This highly unusual situation is further evidence that the reasons offered for the Accession and Retention Directives were not substantially related to the military interests the Presidential Memorandum cited.

The opinion also considered "the circumstances surrounding the announcement of the President’s policy":

the President abruptly announced, via Twitter—without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans—that all transgender individuals would be precluded from participating in the military in any capacity. These circumstances provide additional support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.

Finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the equal protection claim, the opinion quickly dispatched the other considerations used in evaluating the issuance of a preliminary injunction, finding them met.

Expect the government to appeal as well as opinions in the other pending cases.

 

October 30, 2017 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Sexuality, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Tenth Circuit Recognizes Substantive Due Process Right for Child Placed in Father's Custody

 In its unanimous panel opinion in D.T. v. Patton (and the Denver Department of Health and Human Services), the Tenth Circuit recognized a claim for substantive due process and rejected qualified immunity based on a social worker's removal of the adolescent child, D.T., from his mother and recommending to the court that D.T. be placed with his father, who sexually abused him.

The court distinguished the landmark case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989), in which the United States Supreme Court held, in somewhat similar circumstances, that state officials are not liable for private-violence under the Fourteenth Amendment.  The court relied on the "danger-creation" exception to the DeShaney doctrine, which allows liability if  a state actor affirmatively acts to create, or increase a plaintiff’s vulnerability to, danger from private violence." The court cited the Tenth Circuit's 2001 decision in Currier v. Doran, noting that "all circuits" have carved out a similar exception (in addition to the special-relationship exception), although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on such exceptions.  

Writing for the majority, Judge Scott Matheson extensive opinion discussed both DeShaney and Currier, including the elements developed in Currier:

  • the charged state entity and the charged individual actors created the danger or increased plaintiff’s vulnerability to the danger in some way;
  • plaintiff was a member of a limited and specifically definable group;
  • defendants’ conduct put plaintiff at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm;
  • the risk was obvious or known;
  • defendants acted recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk; and
  • such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking.

Candlelight_Master_Young_Boy_SingingJudge Matheson's opinion then analyzed analyzed each of these.  Of central importance was the fact that the social worker knew of the father's previous conviction of attempted sexual assault on a minor, his step-daughter, as well as the father's violation of probation for contacting her and his failure to fulfill his sex offender treatment with regard to that conviction, in addition to "other charged offenses including misdemeanor wrongs to minors and misdemeanor domestic violence."  The social worker omitted these facts as well as her concerns about them from the court because of her supervisor's comments and her resultant fear she would be terminated from her employment if she shared these facts.  Moreover, she failed to investigate D.T.'s situation once he was placed in his father's home, and recorded her visits to the home that did not actually occur.

On qualified immunity, the court found that Currier clearly established a right that she violated. The court rejected the social worker's arguments attempting to draw lines between her pre-placement and post-placement conduct. The court also rejected the social worker's claims to avoid responsibility by sharing it with her "team" or assigning it to her supervisor.  The court found that she was the major actor and withheld facts from her team.  And while her supervisor might also be liable,

Ms. Patton’s reasons for deleting parts of her initial report to the juvenile court that outlined her concerns about T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson (i.e., to avoid being fired) support that she knew of the danger posed to T.D. in Mr. Duerson’s home and that she consciously disregarded that risk.

The court thus affirmed the grant of summary judgment to D.T. by the district judge.

Concurring, Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, who has been on the Tenth Circuit since 1995, expressed her belief that Currier was wrongly decided in 2001 and conflicts with DeShaney. For Judge Briscoe,

As a general matter, I find it hard to conclude that a social worker can be “responsible for” the independent decision of a judge who ultimately orders a change of custody. But, even if we assume such responsibility exists, we cannot transform omissions or failures to act into affirmative conduct merely by considering them “in the general context of” a custody recommendation. The only affirmative act that could be found in Currier is the recommendation itself, which, in my view is no different from the affirmative recommendation in DeShaney that Joshua be returned to his father’s custody. . . . This makes the state the permanent guarantor of a child's safety.

Yet the United States Supreme Court failed to grant certiorari in Currier and there is little here to make it likely that a petition for certiorari would not have the same result.

[image "Young Boy Singing" circa 1650 via]

 

September 3, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lawsuits Filed Against Transgender Troop Ban

 Late Friday August 25, President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex."  By Monday, there were at least three lawsuits challenging the action on constitutional grounds.

A month before, Trump had tweeted his thoughts regarding transgender individuals in the military, reportedly taking military officials by surprise.

TWEETS

Soon after the tweets, the complaint in Doe v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging any military action on the basis of a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.

This complaint is now joined by two others: The complaint in Stone v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the ACLU in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, challenging the 3 policies of the military ban - - - existing troops, enlistment of new troops, and medical care - - - as well as the policies taken as a whole.  Again, the two constitutional issues are equal protection and due process. The complaint in Karnoski v. Trump was filed by lawyers for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, challenging the policy on the basis of equal protection, due process, as well as the First Amendment's free speech clause.

On the core challenge of equal protection - - - as applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment - - - the complaints vary in their detail and possible theories.  In Doe, the NCLR and GLAD complaint, paragraph 71 reads: "The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests." In Stone, the ACLU complaint, paragraph 140 contends that transgender classifications should be treated as sex classifications, deserving heightened scrutiny, and additionally in the next paragraph that transgender status itself warrants heightened scrutiny because "men and women who are transgender, as a class" have historically been subject to discrimination, have a defining characteristic that frequently bears no relation to an ability to contribute to society, exhibit immutable or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group, and are a minority with relatively little political power.  In Karnoski, the complaint contends that in addition to sex-discrimination, discrimination on the basis of transgender status "bears all the indicia of a suspect classification requiring strict scrutiny by the courts," enumerating similar criteria including history of discrimination, discrete and insular minority, no relation to ability to contribute to society, and arguing the characteristic sometimes expressed as immutability in stating that "gender identity is a core, defining trait" so "fundamental to one's identity and conscience that a person should not be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment."

However, whatever standard of scrutiny is applied, all the complaints contend that there is not a sufficient government interest in the policy - - - an argument that may well lead into judicial inquiry into Trump's unorthodox announcement on Twitter as well as any details of thoughtful decision-making.

While there has been some reporting that military officials have discretion in implementing Trump's directives, professors of military law have issued a worth-reading policy statement that the discretion is quite limited; they also argue that the directives are discriminatory and based on inaccuracies.

This litigation is certain to accelerate. Expect more action from the NCLR and GLAD action filed before the Friday policy announcement and requests for preliminary relief. 

 

August 28, 2017 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Gender, Sexuality, Speech, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Federal Court Finds Alabama's Abortion Restrictions for Minors Unconstitutional

 In an extensive opinion in Reproductive Health Services v. Marshall, United States Magistrate Judge Susan Russ Walker (ruling as district court by consent), concluded that substantial portions of a 2014 Alabama statute regulating abortion access for minors contravened well-settled precedent. 

The doctrine regarding a minor's access to abortion requires that statutes requiring parental permission also provide the alternative of a "judicial bypass proceeding." As explained in Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622 (1979) (“Bellotti II”) (plurality) and affirmed in Planned Parenthood Ass’n of Kansas City v. Ashcroft, 462 U.S. 476 (1983), at a judicial bypass proceeding, a minor must be allowed to show the court either that she is mature enough and well enough informed to make her abortion decision, in consultation with her physician, independently of her parents’ wishes; or that even if she is not able to make this decision independently, the desired abortion would be in her best interests.  The Court has further required that the judicial bypass proceeding “must insure the minor’s anonymity” and that it occur with the expediency necessary “to allow an effective opportunity to obtain the abortion.”  

At issue in Reproductive Health Services were provisions of the 2014 Alabama Act that mandated the participation of District Attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) for the fetus, and provisions that allowed the participation of the minor's parent or guardian as a party. Additionally, the Act allowed disclosure of the minor's identity to anyone who needs to know and allowed the subpoena of witnesses.

300px-Meisje_met_de_parelJudge Walker easily decided that these provisions were unconstitutional under Bellotti II. Indeed, in her analysis she declared the wide disclosure was a "far cry" from established doctrine. She also observed that the 2014 Alabama Act was unique: in not one of the other of the 37 states that mandate parental notification and therefore require a judicial bypass proceeding,  does a state "mandates or permits participation by a parent or guardian, the DA, a GAL for the fetus, or witnesses (other than
those called by the minor) in bypass proceedings for the purpose of providing the court
with assistance in arriving at informed and proper decisions – or, indeed, for any other
purpose."

She therefore did not reach Reproductive Health Services' additional claim that these same provisions of the Alabama Act also interfered with "informational privacy," although the opinion spends many pages discussing why this additional claim was no longer justiciable given the conclusion that the Bellotti II claim was successful. The judge also found that the provisions of the 2014 Alabama Act were severable.

As Judge Walker concluded:

[T]he following provisions of the Act are unconstitutional in their entirety: Alabama Code § 26-21-4(i) (the participation of the DA as a party), § 26-21-4(j) (the participation of a GAL for the unborn child as a party), and § 26-21-4(l) (the participation of a parent, parents, or legal guardian of the minor petitioner as a party).  The references to the DA, GAL, and other parties will be severed from Alabama Code §§ 26-21-4(c), (e), (f), (k), and (n). The Act’s provisions permitting disclosure of a minor petitioner’s identity to “any witness who has a need to know the minor’s identity or any other person determined by the court who needs to know” are too broad to ensure a petitioner’s anonymity and, consequently, are unconstitutional; thus, that language will be severed from § 26-21-4(c). The provisions of Alabama Code § 26-21-4(f) that permit the bypass court, if it determines  that “additional evidence or testimony is necessary,” to delay the bypass proceeding sua sponte to issue “subpoenas … to bring before the court admissible evidence or testimony either in support of or against the petition,” does not reasonably safeguard the petitioner’s anonymity; it opens the door to the unrestricted notification of the minor’s relatives, teachers, friends, acquaintances, and other potential witnesses concerning her bypass proceeding.

The judge did not enter a preliminary injunction, finding that the declaratory judgment sufficient.

[image: Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, circa 1665]

 

August 2, 2017 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 26, 2017

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari in Masterpiece Cake Shop: Pitting First Amendment Against Equality

 The United States Supreme Court, after a longer than usual period, granted certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission,  a case in which a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, essentially asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses.

Recall the Colorado ALJ firmly rejected the arguments of the cakeshop owners reasoning that to accept its position would be to "allow a business that served all races to nonetheless refuse to serve an interracial couple because of the business owner’s bias against interracial marriage."   The ALJ rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test.  

Pride_roma_2008_torta_nuziale_gay
A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a 66 page opinion.

Interestingly, the Court in 2014 denied certiorari to a similar case, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer. 

The petitioner argues an intersection of doctrines including compelled speech and free exercise, arguing that the Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law offers a "stark choice"  to those who "earn a living through artistic means: Either use your talents to create expression that conflicts with your religious beliefs about marriage, or suffer punishment under Colorado’s public accommodation law."  

 

June 26, 2017 in Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 19, 2017

SCOTUS Rules NC Statute Restricting Internet for Sex Offenders Violates First Amendment

 In the United States Supreme Court unanimous decision in  Packingham v. North Carolina, the Court found that the state statute, NCGS § 14-202.5, making it a felony for registered sex offenders to access commercial social networking sites, violated the First Amendment.  This outcome was predictable given the then-eight Justices' skepticism during the oral arguments in February.  Recall that Packingham was convicted of the North Carolina felony for his Facebook page on which he wrote " Thank you Jesus.  God is good" regarding a result on his parking ticket. 

The Court's majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a mere 10 pages.  The Court not only stresses the breadth of the North Carolina statute, but highlights the role of the Internet in "our modern society and culture" as vital to the First Amendment:

Freedom_-NO_2_SOPA
By Fekner - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 via

A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more. The Court has sought to protect the right to speak in this spatial context. . . .

While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense)for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the “vast democratic forums of the Internet” in general, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 868 (1997), and social media in particular. Seven in ten American adults use at least one Internet social networking service. . . .
While we now may be coming to the realization that the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be. The forces and directions of the Internet are so new, so protean, and sofar reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today might be obsolete tomorrow.
This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet. As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.

For the Court majority, even assuming the North Carolina statute was content neutral and should be analyzed under intermediate scrutiny, the statute "enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens."  The Court noted that the present statute applies to all social networking sites including  Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and that a state could possibly enact a more specific provision, such as prohibiting contacting a minor on social media. 

In sum, to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights. It is unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences. Even convicted criminals—and in some instances especially convicted criminals—might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, in particular if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives.

While Justice Alito's opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, agrees with the outcome, Alito criticizes Kennedy's opinion for the Court as not being sufficiently circumspect and cautious, and for engaging in "loose rhetoric."  For Alito, the problem with the North Carolina statute is likewise its breadth: "its wide sweep precludes access to a large number of websites that are most unlikely to facilitate the commission of a sex crime against a child."  Among Alito's examples are Amazon.com, the Washington Post website, and WebMD.  Yet Alito's opinion, just slightly longer than Kennedy's for the Court, found it important to argue that the entirety of the internet or even social media sites are "the 21st century equivalent of public streets and parks." In support of this, Alito argues that the internet offers an "unprecedented degree of anonymity."

Yet Alito's concurring opinion does not essentially disagree with the Court's finding that it would be possible for a state to craft a sufficiently narrow statute.  The disagreement, however, may be in the room for states to maneuver in drafting such a criminal statute. 

 

June 19, 2017 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Seventh Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Against School District in Transgender Sex-Segregated Restroom Case

In its opinion in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, Judge Ann Williams begins for the unanimous panel including Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Illana Rovner, by stating that  the issue would seem to be a "simple request: to use the boys' restroom while at school," but the school district believed it was "not so simple because Ash is a transgender boy."

The Seventh Circuit decision to affirm the preliminary injunction directing the school district allowing the plaintiff, a transgender student, Ash (also known as Ashton), to use the boy's restroom rests both on Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause.  As a preliminary issue, the court found that pendent jurisdiction of the district court's order denying the school district's motion to dismiss was not appropriate.

On the likelihood to succeed on the merits of Title IX, the court considered companion Title VII doctrine in the circuit, including the doctrine of sex-stereotyping.  The fact that Congress has not added transgender status to Title IX (or Title VII) was not determinative.  Instead,

Custom-boys-restroom-school-braille-sign-se-3937Ash can demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim because he has alleged that the School District has denied him access to the boys’ restroom because he is transgender. A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non‐conformance, which in turn violates Title IX. The School District’s policy also subjects Ash, as a transgender student, to different rules, sanctions, and treatment than non‐transgender students, in violation of Title IX. Providing a gender‐neutral alternative is not sufficient to relieve the School District from liability, as it is the policy itself which violates the Act. Further, based on the record here, these gender‐neutral alternatives were not true alternatives because of their distant location to Ash’s classrooms and the increased stigmatization they caused Ash. Rather, the School District only continued to treat Ash differently when it provided him with access to these gender‐neutral bathrooms because he was the only student given access.

And, while the School District repeatedly asserts that Ash may not “unilaterally declare” his gender, this argument misrepresents Ash’s claims and dismisses his transgender status. This is not a case where a student has merely announced that he is a different gender. Rather, Ash has a medically diagnosed and documented condition. Since his diagnosis, he has consistently lived in accordance with his gender identity. This law suit demonstrates that the decision to do so was not without cost or pain.

On the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court found that "the School District's policy cannot be stated without referencing sex" and thus the correct level of scrutiny should be the heightened one for sex classifications, citing United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996).  The court rejected the District's asserted interest of protecting the "privacy rights" of all the other students as too abstract and conjectural to be genuine.  Moreover, the court faulted the representation at oral argument regarding the necessity for a birth certificate by first noting that this was not in the policy itself, and later returning to the issue regarding passports. Perhaps more importantly, the court also critiqued the notion of documents to prove sex designations:

Further, it is unclear that the sex marker on a birth certificate can even be used as a true proxy for an individual’s biological sex. The marker does not take into account an individual’s chromosomal makeup, which is also a key component of one’s biological sex. Therefore, one’s birth certificate could reflect a male sex, while the individual’s chromosomal makeup reflects another. It is also unclear what would happen if an individual is born with the external genitalia of two sexes, or genitalia that is ambiguous in nature. In those cases, it is clear that the marker on the birth certificate would not adequately account for or reflect one’s biological sex, which would have to be determined by considering more than what was listed on the paper.

 Thus, court found the School District did not satisfy the equal protection standard of United States v. Virginia. 

Recall that the district judge in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District reached a similar conclusion on the Equal Protection Clause in February, and the constitutional claim seems to have more traction given the Title IX claim's uncertainty after the Court's dismissal and remand of  G.G. v. Glouster County School Board.

 

May 30, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Colbert, the FCC, and the First Amendment

Comedian Stephen Colbert has drawn ire and FCC scrutiny for a joke in his monologue implying the President of the United States is in a specific sexual position vis-a-vis the President of Russia.

The remark, which occurred on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" is within the so-called safe harbor provisions of the FCC regulation of indecent speech by "radio communication" (including traditional television such as CBS). 

The constitutionality of such regulation was upheld by the Court in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (1978), involving comedian George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" monologue, which had provoked complaints to the FCC by listeners.  But Pacifica's continued viability seems questionable.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, concurring in FCC v. Fox Television Stations II (2012), which did not reach the First Amendment issues involving fleeting expletives, argued that Pacifica "was wrong when it issued," and further that time, technological advances, and FCC's "untenable rulings" show why Pacifica "bears reconsideration."  Ginsberg cites the concurring opinion of Justice Thomas in the FCC v. Fox Television Stations I, decided three years earlier, in which Thomas highlights the "dramatic technological advances" that "have eviscerated the factual assumptions" underlying Pacifica: traditional broadcast media is no longer pervasive or even dominant. 

Some might argue that the Colbert remark is “obscene” and that obscenity is categorically excluded from First Amendment protection.  But to be obscene, speech must meet the classic test from Miller v. California (1973), requiring that the average person find the speech appeals to the prurient interest, describes in a patently offensive way sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and that the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.  Here, Colbert’s comment would not likely to be found obscene.  It does not appeal to the prurient interest, meaning some excessive or unhealthy interest in sex; it is not sexually arousing. 

Perhaps more importantly, it would be very difficult to find that the Colbert monologue “taken as a whole” lacks serious “political value.” In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell (1988), based on a parody about evangelist Jerry Falwell implying that his first sexual experience was with his mother in an outhouse,  Justice Rehnquist, wrote for the nearly unanimous Court about the importance of caustic humor for free political speech:

Despite their sometimes caustic nature, from the early cartoon portraying George Washington as an ass down to the present day, graphic depictions and satirical cartoons have played a prominent role in public and political debate. Nast's castigation of the Tweed Ring, Walt McDougall's characterization of Presidential candidate James G. Blaine's banquet with the millionaires at Delmonico's as "The Royal Feast of Belshazzar," and numerous other efforts have undoubtedly had an effect on the course and outcome of contemporaneous debate. Lincoln's tall, gangling posture, Teddy Roosevelt's glasses and teeth, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's jutting jaw and cigarette holder have been memorialized by political cartoons with an effect that could not have been obtained by the photographer or the portrait artist. From the viewpoint of history, it is clear that our political discourse would have been considerably poorer without them.

Colbert's remark, subject to critique as crude as well as homophobic, is nevertheless the type of political discourse protected by the First Amendment.

Here's the full clip, with the relevant passage starting at about 11:40, albeit with the offending language bleeped out as it was in the broadcast.

 



May 7, 2017 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Recent Cases, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

District Judge Finds School District's Exclusionary Bathroom Policy Likely Violates Equal Protection

In his well-reasoned and comprehensive 48 page opinion in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District, Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania has issued a preliminary injunction against a school policy that limits students to facilities that "correspond to their biological sex" or to "unisex facilities," finding that the policy likely violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The Pittsburgh-area school district passed Resolution 2 in 2016 by a close vote (5-4), after Resolution 1 which would have preserved the status quo failed to pass in a tied vote (4-4), after meetings and after some sporadic parental complaints.  The policy seemed focused on three transgender students, including the named plaintiff Juliet Evancho, the sister of Jackie Evancho who sang at the President's January inauguration.  As Judge Hornak relates, before 2016 "there were simply no issues or concerns" about the plaintiffs and everyone in the school district treated the students "consistently with their gender identities."  He added that the "most distinctive and illustrative evidence of this is that Juliet Evancho ran for Homecoming Queen in 2016, and she was elected by her peers to the “Homecoming Court” of finalists for that honor." 

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After extensively discussing the record, including the school district's privacy concerns, Judge Hornak found there was a indeed a classification being made, the plaintiffs being "distinguished by governmental action from those whose gender identities are congruent with their assigned sex" and the "only students who are not allowed to use the common restrooms consistent with their gender identities.” Later in the opinion, Judge Hornak discussed the unsatisfactory solution of the "safety valve" of unisex facilities:

the law does not impose on the Plaintiffs the obligation to use single-user facilities in order to “solve the problem.” In these circumstances, that would compel them to use only restrooms inconsistent with their gender identities or to use the “special” restrooms. That is a choice directed by official edict, and it is not a choice compelled of other students. It is no answer under the Equal Protection Clause that those impermissibly singled out for differential treatment can, and therefore must, themselves “solve the problem” by further separating themselves from their peers.

As to the Equal Protection standard to be applied, Judge Hornak first discussed rational basis but decided that the intermediate scrutiny standard of United States v. Virginia (VMI) for sex classifications was applicable.  The selection of standard rested on the conclusion that "transgender status" is the "epitome of gender noncomformity" and discrimination based on transgender status is "akin to discrimination based on sex."  Additionally, the opinion recited factors determining whether a "new" classification deserves heightened scrutiny.    

In applying the standard, Judge Hornak found that the record did not establish facts that demonstrated there was an important government interest or exceedingly persuasive justification that was substantially related to those interests:

First, such an application of Resolution 2 would not appear to be necessary to quell any actual or incipient threat, disturbance or other disruption of school activities by the Plaintiffs. There is no record of any such thing. ****

Second, Resolution 2 would appear to do little to address any actual privacy concern of any student that is not already well addressed by the physical layout of the bathrooms. The District has stated that Resolution 2 is necessary to protect the privacy of students (presumably including the Plaintiffs), by which the District has stated it means the sanctity of excretory functions. The record simply does not reveal any actual risk (or even an actual risk of a risk) in such regards. ****

Third, Resolution 2 would not appear to have been necessary in order to fill some gap in the District’s code of student conduct or the positive law of Pennsylvania in order to proscribe unlawful malicious “peeping Torn” activity by anyone pretending to be transgender.” There is no evidence of such a gap. The existing disciplinary rules of the District and the laws of Pennsylvania would address such matters. And as noted above, there is no record evidence of an actual or threatened outbreak of other students falsely or deceptively declaring themselves to be “transgender” for the purpose of engaging in untoward and maliciously improper activities in the High School restrooms.”

Fourth, such application of Resolution 2 also would not appear to be supported by any actual need for students to routinely use the comers of the restrooms for changing into athletic gear from street clothes. 

Interestingly, this last consideration seems to have arisen from a "hypothetical matching a personal experience from his own school days" asserted by counsel for the school district.  (Evidence and Professional Responsibility Professors might take note of this).  Judge Hornak opined that perhaps that "reported anecdotal evidence can be treated" as being a "plausible historical recitation of life events," but there was no "record evidence" that this was the situation in the district.

While Judge Hornak found that the plaintiffs would prevail on the Equal Protection Clause claim, the judge did not find a likelihood of success on the Title IX claim in light of the pending Supreme Court case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., oral argument scheduled later this month. Section IV of the Judge Hornak's opinion, about 10 pages, coupled with the preliminary footnote regarding the recent Department of Education activities, is an excellent overview of the GG litigation including the pertinent issues. 

Judge Hornak's opinion is also an excellent reminder that whatever might happen in GG at the Supreme Court, there are remaining equal protection issues.  Recall that although the Fourth Circuit in GG centered on Title IX and the administrative law issues, Count I of the original complaint in GG is an equal protection claim.  

 

video: from Lambda Legal representing Evancho

 

February 28, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in First Amendment Rights of Sex Offenders to Access Social Media

The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Packingham v. North Carolina involving the constitutionality of a state statute, NCGS § 14-202.5, making it a felony for registered sex offenders to access certain commercial social networking sites.

In its opinion the Supreme Court of North Carolina, reversing the court of appeals, concluded that the statute was constitutional on its face and as applied to Packingham, a registered sex offender, who had a Facebook.com page.

The opinion for the majority by Justice Robert Edmunds,  found that the North Carolina statute was content-neutral.  The court reasoned that the "limitations imposed by the statute are not based upon speech contained in or posted on the site," but simply on the character of the site as one that is available for use by minors.  Thus the court applied "intermediate scrutiny" under United States v. O'Brien (1968), with the O'Brien factors. Perhaps most interesting is the court's analysis of the availability of  ample alternatives for expression:

[t]he Web offers numerous alternatives that provide the same or similar services that defendant could access without violating N.C.G.S. § 14-202.5. For example, defendant would not violate N.C.G.S. § 14-202.5 by accessing the Paula Deen Network, a commercial social networking Web site that allows registered users to swap recipes and discuss cooking techniques, because its Terms of Service require users to be at least eighteen years old to maintain a profile. Paula Deen Network Terms of Service, http://www.pauladeen.com/terms-of-service/ (last visited 5 November 2015) (“This website is designed for and targeted to Adults. It is intended solely and exclusively for those at least 18 years of age or older.”). Similarly, users may follow current events on WRAL.com, which requires users to be at least eighteen years old to register with the site and, as a result, is not prohibited. Capitol Broadcasting Company Terms of Use, http://www.capitolbroadcasting.com/terms-of-use/ (last visited 5 November 2015) (“[Y]ou must be at least 18 years old to register and to use the Services.”). A sex offender engaging in an on-line job search is free to use the commercial social networking Web site Glassdoor.com, which prohibits use by individuals under the age of eighteen. Glassdoor Terms of Use, http://www.glassdoor.com/about/terms.htm (last visited 5 November 2015) (“To access or use Glassdoor, you must be 18 years of age or older . . . .”). Finally, sex offenders permissibly may access Shutterfly to share photos, because that site limits its users to those eighteen and older. Shutterfly Terms of Use, http://shutterfly- inc.com/terms.html (last visited 5 November 2015) (“In order to create a member account with any of our Sites and Apps, you must be at least 18 years of age.”).

 On the as-applied challenge, the court similarly rejected Packingham's First Amendment claims, finding that the incidental burden on Packingham's speech was no greater than was essential to the furthering the government's interest in protecting children.  Similarly, the court concluded that the statute was not overbroad and that Packingham could not raise a vagueness challenge given that he was within the purview of the statute.


Facebook_imageThe dissenting opinion, authored by Justice Robin Hudson and joined by Justice Cheri Beasley, contended that O'Brien was not the correct standard because the statute "primarily targets expressive activity usually protected by the First Amendment," and should be more properly considered as content-based under Reed v. Town of Gilbert.  However, Justice Hudson argued that even under O'Brien, the statute burdened substantially more speech than necessary" because it sweeps too broadly in the sex offenders it includes and in the speech (activity) it prohibits, including social networking sites that allow minors (such as newspapers and Amazon). 

Other courts have ruled on the issue of sex offender bans from social media. Recall the Seventh Circuit's opinion finding Indiana's sex offender ban from social media unconstitutional.  And also recall the 2012 decision by a federal district judge finding Louisiana's broad prohibition unconstitutional under the First Amendment.  If one were to make a wager, it would seem that the North Carolina statute would similarly be declared unconstitutional.

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October 28, 2016 in First Amendment, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Glouster County School Board v. G.G.: Transgender School Case

The Court today has granted certiorari in Glouster County School Board v. G.G.  

As we previously discussed, while the constitutional issues are not in the foreground, it does involve important equality issues for transgender and gender nonconforming students as well as issues of Exceutive - - - or perhaps more properly, administrative agency - - - power.  

The Court's Order limits the grant to Questions 2 and 3, thus eliminating the issue of the viability of "Auer deference" from consideration.  The Questions presented in the certiorari petition are:

(1) Whether the court should retain the Auer v. Robbins doctrine despite the objections of multiple justices who have recently urged that it be reconsidered and overruled;

(2) whether, if Auer is retained, deference should extend to an unpublished agency letter that, among other things, does not carry the force of law and was adopted in the context of the very dispute in which deference is sought; and

(3) whether, with or without deference to the agency, the Department of Education's specific interpretation of Title IX and 34 C.F.R. § 106.33, which provides that a funding recipient providing sex-separated facilities must “generally treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity,” should be given effect.

 

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October 28, 2016 in Executive Authority, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ninth Circuit Upholds California's Disclosure Statute Regulating Crisis Pregnancy Centers

In its opinion in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Harris, the Ninth Circuit rejected a First Amendment challenge to the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act, the FACT Act. The FACT Act mandates that licensed pregnancy-related clinics, including crisis pregnancy centers that specifically discourage abortion and employ "deceptive advertising and counseling practices" related to the availability of abortion, disseminate a notice stating the availability of publicly-funded family-planning services that include contraception and abortion.  Additionally, the FACT Act requires unlicensed clinics provide notice that they are not licensed.

Bodleian_Libraries,_Ticket_of_Shanes_Castle,_announcing_Shanes_Castle_masqueradeRecall that mandatory disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers has previously been considered in Circuit opinions.  In The Evergreen Association, Inc. d/b/a Expectant Mother Care Pregnancy Centers v. City of New York, a divided panel of the Second Circuit in 2014 ruled that only one of the three major provisions of NYC's Local Law 17 seeking to mandate disclosures by pregnancy crisis centers was constitutional.  The en banc Fourth Circuit has also rules: First, in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, it reversed the granting of a preliminary injunction finding fault with the application of the summary judgment standard by the district judge, and second in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery County,  affirmed a finding that one of the mandated disclosures was constitutional and the other was not.

The Ninth Circuit opinion, authored by Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, rejected the argument that the mandated notice of other services available for pregnancy to be afforded by licensed facilities (the "Licensed Notice")  should be subject to strict scrutiny because "all" content-based regulations should be subject to strict scrutiny, notwithstanding  the United States Supreme Court's decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015).  Judge Nelson's opinion noted that abortion regulation and the practice of medicine have been subject to "reasonable regulation" even when speech is involved. Instead, the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel took as precedent its ruling in Pickup v. Brown regarding prohibition of sexual conversion therapy and the concept of "professional speech":

We now turn to the correct level of scrutiny to apply to the Licensed Notice and conclude that under our precedent in Pickup, intermediate scrutiny applies. Licensed Clinics are not engaging in a public dialogue when treating their clients, and they are not “constitutionally equivalent to soapbox orators and pamphleteers.” Pickup. Thus, it would be inappropriate to apply strict scrutiny. And, unlike in Pickup, the Licensed Notice does not regulate therapy, treatment, medication, or any other type of conduct. Instead, the Licensed Notice regulates the clinics’ speech in the context of medical treatment, counseling, or advertising.

Because the speech here falls at the midpoint of the Pickup continuum, it is not afforded the “greatest” First Amendment protection, nor the least.  It follows, therefore, that speech in the middle of the Pickup continuum should be subject to intermediate scrutiny.

 In applying intermediate scrutiny, Judge Nelson found that

California has a substantial interest in the health of its citizens, including ensuring that its citizens have access to and adequate information about constitutionally-protected medical services like abortion. The California Legislature determined that a substantial number of California citizens may not be aware of, or have access to, medical services relevant to pregnancy. * * * *

We conclude that the Licensed Notice is narrowly drawn to achieve California’s substantial interests. The Notice informs the reader only of the existence of publicly-funded family-planning services. It does not contain any more speech than necessary, nor does it encourage, suggest, or imply that women should use those state-funded services. The Licensed Notice is closely drawn to achieve California’s interests in safeguarding public health and fully informing Californians of the existence of publicly-funded medical services. And given that many of the choices facing pregnant women are time-sensitive, such as a woman’s right to have an abortion before viability, we find convincing the AG’s argument that because the Licensed Notice is disseminated directly to patients whenever they enter a clinic, it is an effective means of informing women about publicly-funded pregnancy services.

Additionally, the panel found that the Unlicensed Notice - - - the mandated disclosure that a facility is not licensed - - - survives every level of scrutiny, even strict scrutiny.

The Ninth Circuit panel opinion acknowledged that it was in agreement with the Second and Fourth Circuits on the Unlicensed Notice provision, but that the Second and Fourth Circuits had applied a higher level of scrutiny to similar mandated disclosures and found that they were not constitutional.

There is thus an arguable split amongst the circuits on the subject of mandated disclosures by so-called pregnancy crisis centers, with the Ninth Circuit's conceptualization of "professional speech" again ripe for a certiorari petition to the United States Supreme Court.

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October 14, 2016 in Abortion, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Is New York's Loitering for Prostitution Statute Unconstitutional?

In a nearly 100 page complaint filed in the federal court in D.H. v. City of New York, the plaintiffs argue that New York's Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, NY Penal Code § 240.37[2], is unconstitutional on its face and as applied.  Represented by The Legal Aid Society, the central constitutional claims are that the statute is unconstitutionally vague under the due process clause and that its enforcement violates First Amendment rights to expression, Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and Fourth Amendment rights.

The intersections and distinctions between vagueness under the Due Process Clause and overbreadth under the First Amendment were elucidated by the United States Supreme Court in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010) and the complaint in D.H. might serve as a textbook example of these issues.  Essentially, the complaint alleges that the NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] , does not provide people with adequate notice of the conduct they should avoid to preclude arrest and results in the inclusion of First Amendment protected speech, expressive conduct, and association.  Further, these lack of statutory guidelines have meant that law enforcement actions under the statute have been arbitrary as well as discriminatory on the basis of classifications involving race, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity.

In addition to the statutory arguments, plaintiffs allege that the NYPD guidelines and practices have failed to remedy the problems and have in fact exacerbated them.  One central allegation regards attire:

Furthermore, the purported guidance provided in the NYPD Patrol Guide is equally vague and otherwise flawed, thereby increasing arbitrary enforcement. For instance, the NYPD Patrol Guide instructs officers that an arrestee’s “clothing” is “pertinent” to the probable cause inquiry. At the same time, the NYPD Patrol Guide does not provide any objective criteria regarding what types of attire may or may not have probative value for purposes of establishing probable cause, thus encouraging officers to make arrests based on individual, subjective opinions regarding what clothing someone who might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” would wear.    In pre-printed affidavits provided by prosecutors (also referred to as supporting depositions), which prompt the arresting officer to describe “revealing” or “provocative” clothing, officers often respond by citing a wide range of innocuous attire, such as “jeans,” a “black pea coat” or a pair of leggings.

[¶ 54].  The "black pea coat" as grounds supporting a solicitation for prostitution charge attracted attention in 2013 when a judge dismissed a charge which was based on the defendant "wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes."  

The unconstitutional inequality in the application of NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] is analogous to the equal protection problems in New York City's practice of stop and frisk.  Recall that a federal judge found NYC's practices violated equal protection in her opinion in Floyd v. City of New York, later stayed - - - and thereafter clarified - - - by the Second Circuit, followed by the City's new administration agreeing with the decision and abandoning the appeals.  One of the complaint's pendent state law claims is a violation of the city's own prohibition of bias-based profiling, NYC Admin. Code §14-151 (passed in 2013 by City Council overriding the then-mayor's veto).

Loitering statutes in general, and more specifically loitering (and even soliciting) for "criminal sex" statutes, whether that sex is criminalized because it is commercial, public, or "unnatural" (as in previous sodomy prohibitions), have always been constitutionally problematic.  And the use of dress or appearance to establish "probable cause" or to constitute elements of a crime are constitutionally suspect. It will be interesting to see whether or not the City defends the action, and if it does, how vigorously.

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 [image: Moulin Rouge by Toulouse Latrec via]

 

 

October 5, 2016 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Race, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Sexual Conversion Ban Case

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

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

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

[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sixth Circuit Holds Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act is Unconstitutional Ex Post Facto Law

In its opinion in Doe v. Snyder, the Sixth Circuit has concluded that the 2006 and 2011 amendments of Michigan's Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA), as retroactively applied to plaintiffs violate the Ex Post Facto Clause, United States Constitution, Art. I §10, cl. 1.

The Ex Post Facto Clause only applies to retroactive punishment, and the opinion notes that under the United States Supreme Court's Smith v. Doe (2003), upholding Alaska's SORA, the test is "quite fixed": "an ostensibly civil and regulatory law, such as SORA, does not violate the Ex Post Facto clause unless the plaintiff can show 'by the clearest proof' that 'what has been denominated a civil remedy' is, in fact, 'a criminal penalty.'"

Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the unanimous panel, applied the Smith v. Doe test for determining whether a statute that does not have a punitive intent nevertheless has actual punitive effects, including five factors:

  • Does the law inflict what has been regarded in our history and traditions as punishment?
  • Does it impose an affirmative disability or restraint?
  • Does it promote the traditional aims of punishment?
  • Does it have a rational connection to a non-punitive purpose?
  • Is it excessive with respect to this purpose?

Grand Rapids mapIn considering the history factor, the court relied on an amicus brief from law professors and discussed the relationship of SORA to ancient punishments of banishment.  To this end, the court reproduced a map for Grand Rapids Michigan, illustrating (in blue) where persons under SORA were now prohibited from living, working, or traveling.  

The map also figured into the court's conclusions regarding the other factors, including the rational relationship.  Indeed, the court found that SORA may actually increase recidivism rates and that "Tellingly, nothing the parties have pointed to in the record suggests that the residential restrictions have any beneficial effect on recidivism rates."

There were other constitutional challenges to SORA, but the court seemingly found the Ex Post Facto argument most determinative. The court's originalist theoretical perspective on the Ex Post Facto Clause is  striking:

Indeed, the fact that sex offenders are so widely feared and disdained by the general public implicates the core counter- majoritarian principle embodied in the Ex Post Facto clause. As the founders rightly perceived, as dangerous as it may be not to punish someone, it is far more dangerous to permit the government under guise of civil regulation to punish people without prior notice. Such lawmaking has “been, in all ages, [a] favorite and most formidable instrument[] of tyranny.” The Federalist No. 84, supra at 444 (Alexander Hamilton). It is, as Justice Chase argued, incompatible with both the words of the Constitution and the underlying first principles of “our free republican governments.” Calder, 3 U.S. at 388–89; accord The Federalist No. 44, supra at 232 (James Madison) (“[E]x post facto laws . . . are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation.”).

 Thus, while the court acknowledged that the Smith v. Doe test was a difficult one to meet, "difficult is not the same as impossible" and Smith v. Doe should not "be understood to write a blank check to states to do whatever they please in this arena." Most likely, Michigan will disagree and seek United States Supreme Court review to ask the Court to clarify its understanding.

 

 

 

August 25, 2016 in Criminal Procedure, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Alaska Supreme Court Holds Parental Notification Law Violates State Constitution's Equal Protection Clause

In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. State of Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court held unconstitutional the 2010 voter-enacted Parental Notification Law which required 48-hour advance parental notice before a physician may terminate a minor’s pregnancy, but importantly not before a physician could provide other care.  The court's majority opinion, authored by Justice Daniel Winfree, found that the Parental Notification Law violates the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee by unjustifiably burdening the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than applying equally to all pregnant minors.

Although explicitly under the state constitution, the court's equal protection analysis is a familiar one and executed with great precision.  The court first identifies the classification - - - pregnant minors seeking termination and pregnant minors seeking to carry to term - - - and then identifies the level of scrutiny; because the right at stake is the fundamental one of reproductive choice is strict scrutiny. Applying the level of scrutiny, the court then examined the state's interests and the means chosen to effectuate those interests.

The court noted that to "justify differently burdening fundamental privacy rights, the State’s interests in doing so must be compelling," and that the State asserts two main interests as justifying the Notification Law’s disparate treatment of pregnant minors: (1) “aiding parents to fulfill their parental responsibilities” and (2) “protecting minors from their immaturity.” The court accepted that these were compelling interests, even as it refined the immaturity interest because "immaturity in and of itself is not a harm."  Instead, the court defined the interest in “protecting minors from their immaturity”  as "protecting minors from specific pitfalls and dangers to which their immaturity makes them especially susceptible" which in this case would be risks to mental and physical health and from sexual abuse.

The problem arose - - - as it so often does in equal protection - - - with the "fit" between the state's chosen means to effectuate its interests.  As to the parental responsibility interest:

We conclude that vindicating the State’s compelling interest in encouraging parental involvement in minors’ pregnancy-related decisions does not support the Notification Law’s disparate treatment of the two classes of pregnant minors. Parents do have an “important ‘guiding role’ to play in the upbringing of their children.” We have said that “it is the right and duty, privilege and burden, of all parents to involve themselves in their children’s lives; to provide their children with emotional, physical, and material support; and to instill in their children ‘moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship.’ ” But as the State acknowledged at oral argument, this must be true for all pregnant minors’ parents, not just those whose daughters are considering termination.

[footnotes omitted; emphasis added].  Similarly, regarding the minor's immaturity, the court concluded that the statute suffered from being

under-inclusive because the governmental interests asserted in this case are implicated for all pregnant minors — as they face reproductive choices and as they live with their decisions — and the asserted justifications for disparate treatment based upon a minor’s actual reproductive choice are unconvincing.

One of the complicating legal issues of the case was the effect of a previous decision regarding a parental consent law, which the concurring opinion argued precluded an equal protection analysis.  Instead, the concurring opinion argued that the 2010 statute was unconstitutional under the state constitution's privacy provision.

One of the five Justices of the Alaska Supreme Court dissented, arguing that the 2010 Parental Notification law violated neither equal protection nor privacy and was thus constitutional.

As the majority opinion notes, other states have similarly found state constitutional infirmities with parental notification laws. The Alaska opinion, however, is particularly well-reasoned and applicable to many state constitutions.

Alaska skies
Alaska Skies mural in Alaska Supreme Court via

 

 

 

July 22, 2016 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Agency Power, Executive Power, and Gender Equality in School Bathrooms

While the constitutional issues are not front and center in the controversies and litigation over gender identity and school bathroom access, the disputes certainly implicate constitutional issues of equal protection, federalism, unconstitutional conditions, and executive/agency as well as judicial powers.

A Virginia school board has filed a stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari to the Fourth Circuit's opinion in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board.  In G.G., a divided panel, reversing the senior district judge, concluded that Title IX's ban on sex discrimination,  20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity. (The senior district judge had not reached the Equal Protection claim, so it was not before the Fourth Circuit.)  In construing Title IX, the Fourth Circuit relied upon a January 7, 2015 opinion letter from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, with a similar conclusion.  The Fourth Circuit accorded deference to the agency interpretation of Title IX under Auer v. Robbins (1997), because the relevant regulation was ambiguous - - - perhaps not in the plain meaning, but in its application:

Although the regulation may refer unambiguously to males and females, it is silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms. We conclude that the regulation is susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading— determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia—and the Department’s interpretation—determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity. [citation omitted].  It is not clear to us how the regulation would apply in a number of situations—even under the Board’s own “biological gender” formulation. For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.

The Fourth Circuit panel rejected G.G.'s request to have the case reassigned to another district judge, but did reverse, vacate, and remand the district court's order dismissing the complaint.  The Fourth Circuit panel, in an unpublished opinion on July 12, denied the school board's motion for a stay pending appeal, again with one dissent. 

The stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari argues that the Fourth Circuit's opinion in an "extreme example" of judicial deference to an administrative agency and is the "perfect vehicle" for the Court's reconsideration of Auer v. Robbins (1997).  The motion notes that several Justices have signaled such a reconsideration might be warranted, notably the late Justice Scalia, as well as Alito and Thomas, and Chief Justice Roberts.  The application also argues that the DOE and DOJ have "seized momentum" and issued further instructions (citing a May 13 DOE  "Dear Colleagues" Letter) which would further solidify Auer deference, making action by the Court necessary.

Meanwhile, thirteen states have filed a complaint and application for preliminary injunction in Texas, based on the same letter:

On May 13, 2016, following years of incremental preambles (“guidances,” “interpretations,” and the like), Defendants informed the nation’s schools that they must immediately allow students to use the bathrooms, locker rooms and showers of the student’s choosing, or risk losing Title IX-linked funding. And employers that refuse to permit employees to utilize the intimate areas of their choice face legal liability under Title VII. These new mandates, putting the federal government in the unprecedented position of policing public school property and facilities, inter alia, run roughshod over clear lines of authority, local policies, and unambiguous federal law.

The central challenge is failure to conform with the Administrative Procedure Act, including notice and comment for rule-making.  However, the complaint also alleges that the federal government defendants "violated the Spending Clause" by engaging in "unconstitutional coercion" by "economic dragooning."  The complaint relies on that portion of the "Obamacare" case, NFIB v. Sebelius, in which a plurality found constitutional issues with the medicaid expansion program.
This portion of the complaint is less than 2 pages (in a 39 page document) and is cursory at best, although perhaps these arguments have the potential to be developed.
 
In short, it seems issues of gender-identity will be the subject of much litigation, perhaps even at the United States Supreme Court, in the next few years.
 
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July 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Sexuality, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Mississippi Law Seeking to Protect LGBT Discrimination

In a 60 page opinion in Barber v. Bryant, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves (pictured below) found Mississippi HB 1523, set to become effective July 1, constitutionally problematical under both the Establishment Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, and thus preliminary enjoined its enforcement.

The bill, Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act," sought to insulate the specific "sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions" that:
(a)  Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
(b)  Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and
(c)  Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual's immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.

Judge Reeves characterized HB 1523 as a predictable overreaction to the Court's same-sex marriage opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges a year ago.  In discussing the debates around the HB 152 and its texts, Judge Reeves also noted that the challenges to HB 1523 were also predictable, providing his rationale for consolidating the four cases.

Judge Reeves then considered standing of the various plaintiffs as well as Eleventh Amendment immunity, followed by the established preliminary injunction standards which have at their heart the "substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

On the Equal Protection claim, Judge Reeves relied on Romer v. Evans, and found that the legislative history established animus in intent:

The title, text, and history of HB 1523 indicate that the bill was the State’s attempt to put LGBT citizens back in their place after Obergefell. The majority of Mississippians were granted special rights to not serve LGBT citizens, and were immunized from the consequences of their actions. LGBT Mississippians, in turn, were “put in a solitary class with respect to transactions and relations in both the private and governmental spheres” to symbolize their second-class status.

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Judge Carlton Reeves via

Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect.  Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed  with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest."  But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523."  Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."

On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:

The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.

Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.

[citations omitted].

 Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.

 

July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Update: DOJ Sends Letter to North Carolina re: Anti-LGBT HB2

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent a letter to North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (pictured below) advising him that both he and the state of North Carolina are in violation of Title VII because of the controversial HB2 statute.  The letter focuses on Title VII, but also informs the Govern that the DOJ has also sent a letter to the North Carolina Department of Safety and the University of North Carolina similarly notifying them that they have engaged in violations of Title VII, as well as Title IX and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

Recall that the law, entitled "An Act to provide for single-sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities in schools and public agencies and to create statewide consistency in regulation of employment and public accommodations," was challenged in late March, a week after it was enacted, on various grounds, including the Equal Protection Clause.

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The DOJ letter gives Governor McCrory until the close of business on May 9 to respond.

 

May 4, 2016 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tenth Circuit: Utah's Ban on Polygamous Cohabitation and Marriage Stands

The Tenth Circuit has ruled that the Browns - - - of Sister Wives reality television fame - - - cannot challenge Utah's ban on polygamous cohabitation and marriage under Article III judicial power constraints.  In its opinion in Brown v. Buhman, the unanimous three judge panel found that the matter was moot. 

Recall that federal district judge Clark Waddoups finalized his conclusion from his previous opinion that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional. The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:

  •             (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
  •             (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
  •             (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

 [emphasis added].  Judge Waddoups concluded that the "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis."  This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:

Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit panel held that the district judge should not have addressed the constitutional claims because the case was moot.  Even assuming the Browns had standing when the complaint was filed, any credible threat of prosecution was made moot by a Utah County Attorney's Office (UCAO) 2012 policy which stated that "the UCAO will prosecute only those who (1) induce a partner to marry through misrepresentation or (2) are suspected of committing a collateral crime such as fraud or abuse."  The opinion stated that nothing "in the record" suggested that Browns fit into this category and additionally, there was an affirmation from the defendant that "the UCAO had 'determined that no other prosecutable crimes related to the bigamy allegation have been or are being committed by the Browns in Utah County as of the date of this declaration. ' ”

The opinion found that the "voluntary cessation" exception to mootness was not applicable because that was intended to prevent gamesmanship: a government actor could simply reenact the challenged policy after the litigation is dismissed. 

Yet the problem, of course, is that the statute remains "on the books" and the policy is simply not to enforce it except in limited cases.  The court rejected all of the Browns' arguments that the UCAO statement did not moot the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute including a precedential one; the possibility that a new Utah County Attorney could enforce the statute; the failure of defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, to renounce the statute's constitutionality; and the tactical motives of the defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, in adopting the policy.  The court stated:

The first point misreads the case law, the second is speculative, the third is minimally relevant, and the fourth may actually assure compliance with the UCAO Policy because any steps to reconsider would almost certainly provoke a new lawsuit against him. Such steps also would damage Mr. Buhman’s credibility as a public official and might even expose him to prosecution for perjury and contempt of federal court for violating his declaration. Assessing the veracity of the UCAO Policy must account for all relevant factors, which together show no credible threat of prosecution of the Browns.

Thus, like other criminal statutes that are said to have fallen into "desuetude," the statute seems immune from constitutional challenge.

In a very brief section, the court does note that the plaintiffs no longer live in Utah, but have moved to Nevada, another rationale supporting mootness.  The Nevada move is discussed in the video below featuring some of the children involved.

 

 

 

 

April 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexuality, Standing, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)