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."
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
Friday, October 28, 2016
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:
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.
The 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.
[image via -cropped]
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.
Friday, October 14, 2016
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.
Recall 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.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
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, 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 , 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 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.
[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
In the continuing - - - yet seemingly concluding - - - saga of challenges to the constitutionality of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit's opinion today in Welch v. Brown revisited its August opinion upholding the law. Today's opinion announces that the Ninth Circuit will not rehear the case en banc - - - "no judge of the court" having requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc - - - and issues an amended opinion.
The change from the August opinion is slight, adding an example in the opinion's description of the challengers' argument in one paragraph:
Plaintiffs first argue that, under the Establishment Clause, SB 1172 excessively entangles the State with religion. Their argument rests on a misconception of the scope of SB 1172. For example, Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Welch may not “offer certain prayers or quote certain Scriptures to young people” even “while working as a minister for Skyline Church” within “the four walls of the church . . ., while engaging in those religious activities.” The premise of this Establishment Clause argument is mistaken, and the argument fails, because SB 1172 regulates conduct only within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.
[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].
With such a small revision, it would seem there was little contention about the case. Recall that Welch itself is a sequel to Pickup v. Brown, in which the Ninth Circuit declined en banc review (albeit more divisively), to other First Amendment challenges to the California statute. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit in King v. Christie rejected a challenge to New Jersey's similar SOCE-ban statute. The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in both Pickup and King, making prospects for a grant of certiorari in Welch v. Brown rather slim, especially for an eight Justice Court.
October 4, 2016 in Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
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?
In 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.
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
Judge Reeves also found that the law would have a discriminatory effect. Judge Reeves applied the lowest level of scrutiny, but found that even "under this generous standard, HB 1523 fails." He agreed with the State's contention that HB 1523 furthers its “legitimate governmental interest in protecting religious beliefs and expression and preventing citizens from being forced to act against those beliefs by their government" is a "legitimate governmental interest." But concluded that the interest is "not one with any rational relationship to HB 1523." Indeed, the court declared that "deprivation of equal protection of the laws is HB 1523’s very essence."
On the Establishment Clause claim, Judge Reeves rehearsed the history of the Clause before focusing on two conclusions: HB 1523 "establishes an official preference for certain religious beliefs over others" and "its broad religious exemption comes at the expense of other citizens."For this latter point, Judge Reeves interestingly relied on and distinguished the recent controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby construing RFRA to confer a religious conscience accommodation to closely-held corporations:
The difference is that the Hobby Lobby Court found that the religious accommodation in question would have “precisely zero” effect on women seeking contraceptive coverage, and emphasized that corporations do not “have free rein to take steps that impose disadvantages on others.” The critical lesson is that religious accommodations must be considered in the context of their impact on others.
Unlike Hobby Lobby, HB 1523 disadvantages recusing employees’ coworkers and results in LGBT citizens being personally and immediately confronted with a denial of service.
Judge Reeves opinion is careful and well-reasoned, but is nevertheless sure to be appealed by Mississippi officials unless they alter their litigation posture.
July 1, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
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.
The DOJ letter gives Governor McCrory until the close of business on May 9 to respond.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The Tenth Circuit has ruled that the Browns - - - of Sister Wives reality television fame - - - cannot challenge Utah's ban on polygamous cohabitation and marriage under Article III judicial power constraints. In its opinion in Brown v. Buhman, the unanimous three judge panel found that the matter was moot.
Recall that federal district judge Clark Waddoups finalized his conclusion from his previous opinion that Utah's anti-bigamy statute is partially unconstitutional. The statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101, provides:
- (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.
- (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree.
- (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.
[emphasis added]. Judge Waddoups concluded that the "the cohabitation prong does not survive rational basis review under the substantive due process analysis." This analysis implicitly imported a type of equal protection analysis, with the judge concluding:
Adultery, including adulterous cohabitation, is not prosecuted. Religious cohabitation, however, is subject to prosecution at the limitless discretion of local and State prosecutors, despite a general policy not to prosecute religiously motivated polygamy. The court finds no rational basis to distinguish between the two, not least with regard to the State interest in protecting the institution of marriage.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit panel held that the district judge should not have addressed the constitutional claims because the case was moot. Even assuming the Browns had standing when the complaint was filed, any credible threat of prosecution was made moot by a Utah County Attorney's Office (UCAO) 2012 policy which stated that "the UCAO will prosecute only those who (1) induce a partner to marry through misrepresentation or (2) are suspected of committing a collateral crime such as fraud or abuse." The opinion stated that nothing "in the record" suggested that Browns fit into this category and additionally, there was an affirmation from the defendant that "the UCAO had 'determined that no other prosecutable crimes related to the bigamy allegation have been or are being committed by the Browns in Utah County as of the date of this declaration. ' ”
The opinion found that the "voluntary cessation" exception to mootness was not applicable because that was intended to prevent gamesmanship: a government actor could simply reenact the challenged policy after the litigation is dismissed.
Yet the problem, of course, is that the statute remains "on the books" and the policy is simply not to enforce it except in limited cases. The court rejected all of the Browns' arguments that the UCAO statement did not moot the challenge to the constitutionality of the statute including a precedential one; the possibility that a new Utah County Attorney could enforce the statute; the failure of defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, to renounce the statute's constitutionality; and the tactical motives of the defendant, the present Utah County Attorney, in adopting the policy. The court stated:
The first point misreads the case law, the second is speculative, the third is minimally relevant, and the fourth may actually assure compliance with the UCAO Policy because any steps to reconsider would almost certainly provoke a new lawsuit against him. Such steps also would damage Mr. Buhman’s credibility as a public official and might even expose him to prosecution for perjury and contempt of federal court for violating his declaration. Assessing the veracity of the UCAO Policy must account for all relevant factors, which together show no credible threat of prosecution of the Browns.
Thus, like other criminal statutes that are said to have fallen into "desuetude," the statute seems immune from constitutional challenge.
In a very brief section, the court does note that the plaintiffs no longer live in Utah, but have moved to Nevada, another rationale supporting mootness. The Nevada move is discussed in the video below featuring some of the children involved.
April 12, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexuality, Standing, Television | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, March 28, 2016
The controversial North Carolina statute passed last week, known as HB2, 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," has been challenged in a Complaint filed this morning, Carcaño v. McCrory, in the Middle District of North Carolina. The plaintiffs are three individuals as well as the organizations ACLU North Carolina and Equality North Carolina.
As the Act's title and the complaint's description note, HB2 has two distinct aspects relating to LGBT issues.
First, it mandates that school boards and state agencies, including the university and community college systems, "shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility to be designated for and only used by persons based on their biological sex."
Second, in Part III of the bill, it will "supersede and preempt" any "ordinance, regulation, resolution, or policy adopted or imposed by a unit of local government or other political subdivision of the State that regulates or imposes any requirement upon an employer pertaining to the regulation of discriminatory practices in employment." The bill amended the state-wide policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of "sex" to read "biological sex," thus making the intent clear. As the complaint alleges, the city of Charlotte had passed a non-discrimination ordinance on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, prompting the legislative action.
(Interestingly, Part II of the bill supersedes and preempts local ordinances relating to wage and hour provisions.)
Not surprisingly, the first count of the Complaint challenges HB2 based on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It argues that HB2 violates the equality rights of transgendered persons and sexual orientation minorities and that such classifications should be evaluated under heightened scrutiny. It also contends that the North Carolina act was based on animus. Recall that in Romer v. Evans the United States Supreme Court held that Colorado's Amendment 2, which similarly banned all local laws that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, violated the Equal Protection Clause, reasoning that the animus of the law was not a legitimate government purpose. The Complaint here contains several expressions by legislators - - - for example,“You know, $42,000 is not going to cover the medical expenses when a pervert walks into a bathroom and my little girls are in there" - - - that would presumably go to animus.
The Complaint also alleges violations of substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. In Count II, the claim is a right to privacy for transgendered individuals. In Count III, the claim is a more novel one based on the right to refuse medical treatment:
- H.B. 2 forces transgender people to undergo medical procedures that may not be medically appropriate or available in order to access facilities consistent with their gender identity.
- Not all transgender individuals undergo gender confirmation surgery. For some, the surgery is not medically necessary, while for others it is medically impossible. For example, because medical treatment for gender dysphoria is individualized, hormone treatment may be sufficient to manage the distress associated with gender dysphoria for some individuals. Surgery may be medically necessary for others who do not have health insurance coverage for it and cannot afford to pay for the surgery out-of-pocket.
- Some states require proof of surgery before they will allow the gender marker on a birth certificate to be changed. For those born in North Carolina, state law requires proof of “sex reassignment surgery.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 130A-11B.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court recognized a substantive due process right to refuse medical treatment in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990).
The remaining counts, four and five, are statutory ones under Title IX, based on sex discrimination in educational facilities.
Given the constitutional precedents, it does seem as if North Carolina will have a difficult time defending the statute.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
In a 10 page opinion, Senior United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Juan Perez-Gimenez denied the joint motion for summary judgment in Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla regarding a challenge to Puerto Rico's same-sex marriage ban.
Recall that in October 2104, Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez had largely relied upon Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question" to find that there was no constitutional right to same-sex marriage. In the appeal to the First Circuit, the Solicitor General of Puerto Rico decided that it would not defend the same-sex marriage ban. And then the United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The First Circuit thus remanded Conde-Vidal v. Garcia-Padilla to Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez "for further consideration in light of Obergefell v. Hodges" and specifically stated "We agree with the parties' joint position that the ban is unconstitutional." The parties submitted a Joint Motion for Entry of Judgment with a proposed order.
In rejecting the parties' joint motion, Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez contended that because Puerto Rico was a "stranger to the proceedings" in Obergefell which involved same-sex marriage bans in the Sixth Circuit (Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee), it was not bound by the decision. This reasoning is similar to some of the arguments most recently raised by some Justices on the Supreme Court of Alabama.
Additionally - - - and perhaps with more legal grounding - - - he concluded that Obergefell does not apply to Puerto Rico because it is not a "state":
the fundamental right to marry, as recognized by the Supreme Court in Obergefell, has not been incorporated to the juridical reality of Puerto Rico.
The judge based this "juridical reality" on his conclusion that the doctrine of selective incorporation only applies to states and not Puerto Rico, or perhaps more correctly, that the Fourteenth Amendment itself is not applicable to Puerto Rico "insofar as it is not a federated state."
Additionally, Judge Perez-Gimenez asks "does the Constitution follow the flag?" and concludes that under The Insular Cases (1901), territorial incorporation of specific rights is questionable:
Notwithstanding the intense political, judicial and academic debate the island’s territorial status has generated over the years, the fact is that, to date, Puerto Rico remains an unincorporated territory subject to the plenary powers of Congress over the island under the Territorial Clause.More importantly, jurisprudence, tradition and logic teach us that Puerto Rico is not treated as the functional equivalent of a State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. As explained by the Supreme Court, “noting the inherent practical difficulties of enforcing all constitutional provisions ‘always and everywhere,’ the Court devised in the Insular Cases a doctrine that allowed it to use its power sparingly and where it would be most needed.” Boumedine v. Bush.
Thus, this court believes that the right to same-sex marriage in Puerto Rico requires: further judicial expression by the U.S. Supreme Court; or the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, see e.g. Pueblo v. Duarte, 109 D.P.R. 59 (1980)(following Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and declaring a woman’s right to have an abortion as part of the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment); incorporation through legislation enacted by Congress, in the exercise of the powers conferred by the Territorial Clause, see Const. amend. Art. IV, § 3; or by virtue of any act or statute adopted by the Puerto Rico Legislature that amends or repeals Article 68 [prohibiting same-sex marriage].
In staking out a position regarding Puerto Rico's status, Judge Perez-Gimenez's opinion reverberates with the two cases regarding Puerto Rico presently before the United States Supreme Court even as it looks back to his earlier opinion hostile to the right of same-sex marriage.
[updated: March 11, 2016: Further discussion of these issues available here].
March 9, 2016 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, March 7, 2016
United States Supreme Court Reverses Alabama Supreme Court's Denial of Full Faith and Credit to Lesbian "Second-Parent" Adoption
In a brief and straightforward per curiam opinion today in V.L. v. E.L., the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed the Alabama Supreme Court's denial of full faith and credit to a Georgia adoption involving a lesbian couple.
As we discussed last September when the Alabama Supreme Court's opinion was rendered, it relied in large part on the dissenting opinion of a Georgia Supreme Court in a different case to support its conclusion that the Georgia courts did not have proper "jurisdiction" over the adoption.
The United States Supreme Court stated that the Alabama Supreme Court's "analysis is not consistent with this Court's controlling precedent." It continued:
Indeed, the Alabama Supreme Court’s reasoning would give jurisdictional status to every requirement of the Georgia statutes, since Georgia law indicates those requirements are all mandatory and must be strictly construed. That result would comport neither with Georgia law nor with common sense.
As Justice Holmes observed more than a century ago, “it sometimes may be difficult to decide whether certain words in a statute are directed to jurisdiction or to merits.” Fauntleroyv. Lum, 210 U. S. 230, 234–235 (1908). In such cases, especially where the Full Faith and Credit Clause is concerned, a court must be “slow to read ambiguous words, as meaning to leave the judgment open to dispute, or as intended to do more than fix the rule by which the court should decide.” Id., at 235. That time-honored rule controls here. The Georgia judgment appears on its face to have been issued by a court with jurisdiction, and there is no established Georgia law to the contrary. It follows that the Alabama Supreme Court erred in refusing to grant that judgment full faith and credit.
That the parties to the case are lesbians - - - "two women who were in a relationship" - - - is made apparent by the United States Supreme Court. This fact most likely figured largely in the Alabama Supreme Court's original majority ruling given the well-known hostility of its controversial chief justice to sexual minority rights. However, given Friday's odd dismissal of the same-sex marriage litigation by the Alabama Supreme Court and today's United States Supreme Court definitive and unanimous reversal, it seems as if the opinions of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Greg Shaw (pictured below), who dissented in E.L. as well as the earlier same-sex marriage opinions, has been vindicated.
Friday, March 4, 2016
The Supreme Court of Alabama has issued its opinions- - - totaling 170 pages typescript - - - in Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute, Alabama Citizens Action Program, and John E. Enslen, in his official capacity as Judge of Probate for Elmore County dismissing all pending petitions and motions that seek relief from having to issue marriage licenses. And yet, the lengthy concurring opinions in the case contradict rather than support this dismissal.
Recall that in January, controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an Administrative Order forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect." Earlier, after an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Justice Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue. In a March 2015 opinion in this same case - - - Ex parte State of Alabama ex rel. Alabama Policy Institute - - - known as API, the court, without Justice Moore and over a dissent by Justice Shaw held that the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, art. I, § 36.03, Ala. Const. 1901, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, § 30-1-9, Ala. Code 1975, are constitutional. Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment. A few months later, the United States Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In today's opinions, Chief Justice Moore is center-stage and plays a confusing part.
First, he provides a "statement of nonrecusal." He discusses his own participation in various aspects of this continuing litigation and concludes he is not reviewing his own Administrative Order but instead "the effect of Obergefell."
Second, in his own "specially concurring" opinion, his ultimately conclusion is that Obergefell is incorrectly decided and that the Alabama Supreme Court is under no duty to obey it. He writes quite personally:
I took my first oath to support the Constitution of the United States in 1965 at the United States Military Academy on the banks of the Hudson River at West Point, New York. On this very site General George Washington defended the northwest territory against British invasion during the Revolutionary War. I repeated that oath many times during my military service in Western Europe, Vietnam, and locations in the continental United States. Following my military service and upon graduation from the University of Alabama School of Law, I again took an oath to "uphold and support" the United States Constitution. As a private practitioner, deputy district attorney, circuit judge, and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court on two separate occasions, I took that oath and have administered it to other Judges, Justices, Governors, and State and local officials. In both civilian and military life the oath of loyalty to the Constitution is of paramount importance. **** The oath I took as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West
Point stated, in part, "that I will at all times obey the legal orders of my superior officers, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice." 57 Bugle Notes, at 5 (1965) (emphasis added). Later, as a company commander in Vietnam, I knew the importance of following orders. The success or failure of a mission and the lives of others depended on strict adherence to the chain of command. The principle of obedience to superior orders is also crucial to the proper functioning of a court system. Nevertheless, the principle of obedience to superior officers is based on the premise that the order given is a lawful one.
He then discusses "Lt. William Calley, a unit commander at My Lai in Vietnam who was convicted of killing 22 innocent civilians," to support his "military analogy" that one should not simply "follow orders" when the orders are immoral.
Third, Chief Justice Moore's opinion is the major, if not majority opinion.
The opinion garnering the most Justices - - - three - - - is by Justice Stuart and is quite short, but speaks volumes. It reads in full:
Motions and petitions are dismissed without explanation by this Court for numerous reasons as a matter of routine. When a Justice issues a writing concurring in or dissenting from an order summarily dismissing a pending motion or petition the writing expresses the explanation for the vote of only the Justice who issues the writing and of any Justice who joins the writing. Attributing the reasoning and explanation in a special concurrence or a dissent to a Justice who did not issue or join the writing is erroneous and unjust.
Justice Greg Shaw also concurs specially, but his is the opinion that supports the conclusion. Justice Shaw had dissented from the March 2015 Order. He now concludes that given Obergefell, the March 2015 Order "no longer has a field of operation or any legal effect."
It is the accepted legal doctrine and the historic legal practice in the United States to follow the decisions of the Supreme Court as authoritative on the meaning of federal law and the federal Constitution. Arguments have been put forth suggesting that this doctrine and this practice are incorrect. Those arguments generally have not been accepted by the courts in this country. For example, in Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), the Supreme Court of the United States rejected the argument by certain state officials that they were not bound by that Court's decisions.
The idea that decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States are to be followed is not something new or strange. Thus, the members of this Court who would follow the Obergefell decision would not, as either Chief Justice Moore or Justice Parker suggests, be "bow[ing their] knee[s] to the self-established judicial despots of America," "blindly follow[ing] the unsubstantiated opinion of 'five lawyers,'" "'shrink[ing] from the discharge'" of duty, "betray[ing]" their oaths, "blatantly disregard[ing] the Constitution," standing "idly by to watch our liberties destroyed and our Constitution violated," participating in the "conversion of our republican form of government into an aristocracy of nine lawyers," or be adhering to a perceived "evil." They would, quite frankly, be doing what the vast majority of past and present judges and lawyers in this country have always assumed the Constitution requires, notwithstanding the unconvincing arguments found in the requests before us and in the specially concurring opinion of Chief Justice Moore. I charitably say the arguments are "unconvincing" because virtually no one has ever agreed with their rationales.
Justice Shaw certainly seems to have the better view and the citation of Cooper v. Aaron is exactly on point. But given the result, it does not seem as if the National Guard will be marching into Montgomery any time soon.
Could this part of the saga be concluded?
March 4, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (4)
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The Court heard oral arguments today in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstdet (previously Cole), the case being touted as the most important abortion rights case in many years. Recall that the Court granted certiorari to the Fifth Circuit's decision essentially upholding the bulk of the controversial HB2 statute passed in 2013 (despite the famous filibuster by Wendy Davis). A divided Supreme Court previously vacated the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.
The Fifth Circuit's most recent opinion, reversing the district judge, held that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, did not impose an "undue burden" on women and were thus constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Importantly, this is the decision that would stand should the Court split 4-4. The most likely scenario of such a split would be Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy on one side and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor on the other. The most likely scenario of a reversal of the Fifth Circuit and a finding that HB2's provisions are unconstitutional is generally considered to be Justice Kennedy joining the Justice Ginsburg group. Not surprisingly then, Justice Kennedy will be the focus of most any analysis of today's argument.
And indeed, Justice Kennedy took an active role in today's argument in which each of the advocates was accorded extra time in part because of the procedural issues involved regarding the challenge to HB2 as applied and what contentions may have been precluded by the previous facial challenge. While this issue did occupy the beginning of Stephanie Toti's argument on behalf of Whole Woman's Health, and questions regarding remand were raised - - - including by Justice Kennedy - - - it is unclear whether there is sufficient enthusiasm for deciding the case on procedural issues.
Instead, as Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing in support of Whole Woman's Health, phrased it, the question before the Court is whether the right to abortion "is going to retain real substance" and "whether the balance struck in Casey still holds." Justice Kennedy was in the majority in the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey authored by Justice O'Connor and which upheld the essential core of Roe v. Wade. Scott Keller, the Attorney General of Texas, not only accepted Casey in his argument but argued that it was the petitioners - - - Whole Women's Health - - - that were "trying to upset the balance that was struck in Casey."
The "balance" of Casey could be said to reside in the "undue burden" standard that the Court articulated, but today's argument displayed some of the ambiguities with that standard. On one view, which seemed to be the one Chief Justice Roberts was articulating, the statute has to pass "rational basis" and then it is measured again as to whether there is an undue burden. On the other view, the "undue burden" is measured with regard not only to the exercise of the right to an abortion but measured against the level of the state interests. Justice Breyer articulated this understanding, but importantly, in a colloquy with the Texas Attorney General after a question by Justice Alito, Justice Kennedy also seemed to adhere to this view:
JUSTICE ALITO: Would it not be the case that - - - would it not be the case - - - that a State could increase the the standard of care as high as it wants so long as there's not an an undue burden on the women seeking abortion? So, you know, if they could if they could increase the standard of care up to the very highest anywhere in the country and it wouldn't be a burden on the women, well, that would be a benefit to them. Would there be anything unconstitutional about that?
MR. KELLER: No. Provided that women do are able to make the ultimate decision to elect the procedure.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But doesn't that show that the undue burden test is weighed against what the State's interest is?
MR. KELLER: Justice Kennedy - - -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I mean, are they are these two completely discrete analytical categories, undue burden, and we don't look at the State’s interest?
On the question of the state's interest, Texas Attorney General Keller had a difficult time responding to the questions from Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Comparisons to dental procedures and colonoscopies prevailed, and on the issue of nonsurgical abortions requiring the taking of two pills which Texas law required be done at an ambulatory surgical facility, some Justices pressed especially hard. The "abortion is different" argument of Texas Attorney General Keller seemed especially unconvincing here.
The actual effect of the HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements on the closing of clinics was raised at numerous times, with Justice Kennedy interestingly interjecting the precise percentage - - - 20% - - - of the capacity of licensed facilities after the passage of HB2. Justice Ginsburg found it "odd" that Attorney General Keller pointed to the ability of women to go across state lines to New Mexico - - - which does not have similar restrictions - - - to support his contention that women were not substantially burdened.
The oral argument did little to upset the pre-argument predictions. Justice Alito was most hostile to the petitioners, and although Justice Thomas asked no questions today unlike Monday, his views on abortion do not seem in flux. Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor did not seem to find the arguments on behalf of Texas credible. While the Chief Justice has known to be surprising and could possibly craft a narrow opinion, Justice Kennedy is occupying the center. It does seem, however, as if that center tilts slightly back toward Casey and away from HB2.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
In her opinion in Jones v. County of Suffolk (NY) and Parents For Megan's Law, Judge Joanna Seybert found that the group was a state actor for constitutional purposes and that the complaint stated a valid Fourth Amendment claim.
The facts as alleged in the complaint illustrate the continuing constitutional issues with civil monitoring of persons convicted of sex offenses. Jones, convicted in 1992, is a low-risk sex offender subject to numerous requirements under the New York Sex Offender Registry Act (SORA). New York's Suffolk County (on Long Island), passed an additional act, the Community Protection Act, which Judge Seybert described as including "aggressive sex offender monitoring and verification." The county act authorized the county law enforcement agency to enter into a contract with the organization Parents for Megan's Law (PFML), a “victim’s advocacy organization that campaigns for increased punitive regulation of people registered for past sex offenses” and “has called for legislative changes that, among other things, would require people convicted of SORA offenses to live far away from population centers.” The contract requires PML to "use ex-law enforcement personnel" to "engage in proactive monitoring of registered sex offenders." And "proactive" would be one way to describe the actions of the PFML personnel who came to Jones' home several times, waited for him at the doorstep, asked for his driver's license and kept it for several minutes, questioned him about his employment, and warned that they would make further unannounced visits to his home and work.
In its motion to dismiss, PFML argued that it was a private entity not subject to constitutional constraints. Judge Seybert, relying on Second Circuit precedent, held that there was a "close nexus" and a "delegation of a public function," and thus PML was a state actor. This was not an ordinary contract, but one in which the police department directed the monitoring operations of the PFML. Important to her analysis, there was a letter from the county police department informing designated sex offenders that they would be required to provide identification to PML personnel, thus "creating the appearance of joint action" between the state and the organization.
The letter was also important to Judge Seybert's Fourth Amendment analysis. The judge distinguished the allegations here from Florida v. Jardines (2013), on which both parties relied, regarding the constitutionality of a so-called "knock and talk" by law enforcement:
Defendants assert that because PFML agents’ interactions with Jones can be classified as a “knock and talk,” no Fourth Amendment violation occurred. However, the allegations in the Complaint raise questions about whether a reasonable person in Jones’ position would feel free to terminate his interactions with PFML. The questioning here did not take place in an open field, or a Greyhound bus, but rather within Jones curtilage--an area afforded heightened Fourth Amendment protection. Moreover, in advance of the visits, Jones received a letter from the SCPD instructing him that he would be visited by PFML for the purpose of verifying his address and employment information. Although the letter stated that Jones would be “asked to provide them with personal identification” and “requested to provide employment information,” the letter begins by stating that “registered sex offenders are required to provide this information under [SORA].” Citizens do not often receive letters from the police announcing home visits by third-party groups. At the very least, the letter is ambiguous as to whether compliance was mandatory. Finally, the description of PFML agents’ conduct gives the distinct impression that compliance was not optional. The fact that the agents waited for fifteen minutes on Jones’ porch while he was in the shower, “followed [him] closely” as he walked to retrieve his driver’s license, and told Jones that “they may make subsequent, unannounced appearances at his job,” gives the encounter the appearance of a seizure of Jones’ person, rather than a consensual “knock and talk.”
Judge Seybert did dismiss the complaint's due process claim, which Jones argued were based on a right to familial association that had been injured by the PFML "visits" to his home. Judge Seybert reasoned that there was no "invasion of a liberty interest" that was "separate and apart" from the Fourth Amendment claim and thus an independent substantive due process claim could not proceed.
While there are other issues before the court - - - including whether a state (or county) can delegate its sex offender monitoring to a private group are also before the court as a matter of state law - - - the constitutional constraints governing the monitoring of designated sex offenders seems to be squarely presented.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Despite the United States Supreme Court's holding last Term in Obergefell v. Hodges holding that the Fourteenth Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the controversial Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore issued an " Adminstrative Order" forbidding probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses "contrary to the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act" since those laws "remain in full force and effect."
Today's administrative opinion is part of Moore's ongoing reaction to constitutional issues surrounding same-sex marriage. After an Alabama federal judge issued an opinion finding the denial of same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Judge Moore argued that the Alabama was not bound by the federal courts on the same-sex marriage issue. Recall that the United States Supreme Court declined to stay the federal judge's judgment. Despite these direct orders, seemingly Moore's current argument in today's Administrative Order is that Obergfell does not apply to Alabama but only the states involved in the Sixth Circuit opinion to which the Court granted certiorari.
Judge Moore's "interesting" construction of constitutional law is not limited to the precedential value of United States Supreme Court opinions. Several months ago - - - in a lesbian second-parent adoption case, E.L. - - - the Alabama Supreme held that Alabama need not accord full faith and credit to a Georgia decision because of a dissenting opinion. The United States Supreme Court stayed the decision in E.L. pending a decision on the petition for certiorari.
January 6, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, November 30, 2015
Seventh Circuit Finds Cook County Sheriff Violated First Amendment in "Backpage.com" Credit Card Case
Writing for a unanimous three judge panel, Judge Posner's opinion in Backpage.com LLC v. Dart, finds that the "campaign" by the Sheriff of Cook County, Tom Dart to "crush Backpage’s adult section— crush Backpage, period, it seems—by demanding that firms such as Visa and MasterCard prohibit the use of their credit cards to purchase any ads on Backpage, since the ads might be for illegal sex-related products or services, such as prostitution" violated the First Amendment.
The centerpiece was a letter from the sheriff, beginning “As the Sheriff of Cook County, a father and a caring citizen, I write to request that your institution immediately cease and desist from allowing your credit cards to be used to place ads on websites like Backpage.com.” The court finds it important that Dart is "sheriff first," and later observes:
Imagine a letter that was similar to Sheriff Dart’s but more temperate (no “demand,” no “compels,” no “sever [all] ties”) and sent to a credit card company by a person who was not a law-enforcement officer. The letter would be more likely to be discarded or filed away than to be acted on. For there is evidence that the credit card companies had received such complaints from private citizens, yet it was Dart’s letter that spurred them to take immediate action to cut off Back- page. For that was a letter from a government official containing legal threats and demands for quick action and insisting that an employee of the recipient be designated to answer phone calls or respond to other communications from the sheriff. It was within days of receiving the letter that the credit card companies broke with Backpage. The causality is obvious.
Judge Posner's opinion takes pains to point out that the sheriff is not "on solid ground" in suggesting that "everything in the adult section of Backpage’s website is criminal, violent, or exploitive. Fetishism? Phone sex? Performances by striptease artists? (Vulgar is not violent.)" (emphasis in original). Posner cites an article from xojane.com and wikipedia for information; he does not cite his own 1994 book Sex and Reason, though he might well have.
Posner rejected the conclusion of the district judge that the credit card companies were not coerced - - - what would one expect the corporate executives to say? - - - and likewise rejected the argument that the credit card companies were acting on new information brought to their attention by the sheriff. An email exchange between two credit card employees referencing "blackmail" is mentioned. Moreover, Posner rejected the argument that the sheriff had his own First Amendment right, as a citizen and even to engage in "government speech."
A government entity, including therefore the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, is entitled to say what it wants to say—but only within limits. It is not permitted to employ threats to squelch the free speech of private citizens.
Posner then expands on why the sheriff's speech was a threat, and, with a resort to a bit of "law and economics" explains why the credit card companies would 'knuckle under' with "such alacrity."
This is a major win for Backpages.com - - - and cannot be good news for the Cook County sheriff's office.