Tuesday, August 6, 2013
In its opinion in D.B. v. Kopp, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of an equal protection "class of one" claim against Grant County (Wisconsin) and certain officials because they "overzealously
The mother of the five year old twins was the adult who discovered the interaction and who "reported the incident to her sister-in-law, who happened to be the regional supervisor in charge of the state agency that administers family and children’s services." The father of the twins was a public official in the town. D.B. alleges that he was singled out, "charged" with sexual assault although the twins admitted their actions were the same, and that D.B. was "subjected to an overbearing investigation and unjustified court proceedings based on improper political favoritism."
In rejecting the claim, the Seventh Circuit found that the fact that the twins' mother witnessed D.B.'s actions was sufficient to support the state's actions. It reasoned that while
political connections may also plausibly explain why D.B. was targeted for investigation and the twins were not. But the test for rationality does not ask whether the benign justification was the actual justification. All it takes to defeat the plaintiffs’ claim is a conceivable rational basis for the difference in treatment.
(emphasis in original). The opinion added that:
We are not suggesting that this was a well-administered investigation, or a wise exercise of prosecutorial discretion, for that matter. Our decision today should not be understood as an endorsement of this use of state power, which strikes us (assuming the allegations are true) as a troubling overreaction to a situation that could and should have been handled informally. It’s easy to understand why the twins’ mother would be alarmed and upset, but it’s also reasonable to expect that the response by Grant County officials would be measured and proportionate. As the district court aptly put it, accusing a six-year-old boy of first-degree sexual assault shows “poor judgment at best.” But poor judgment does not violate the Constitution.
Surely, there might be cases in which "poor judgment" would "violate the Constitution," but the court finds this is not one of those cases.
[corrected: Seventh Circuit]
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
The Fourth Circuit en banc today issued its opinion in Greater Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, Incorporated v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore reversing the district court's granting of a preliminary injunction against the ordinance requiring a limited-service pregnancy center "provide its clients and potential clients with a disclaimer substantially to the effect that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services." Essentially, the city's concern is that certain pregnancy centers can be mistaken (or even masquerade as) reproductive medical centers but only offer specific counseling that women not terminate their pregnancies.
The challengers argued that the ordinance was facially unconstitutional under the First Amendment and the district judge granted summary judgment in their favor. For the en banc majority, however, "the summary judgment decision was laden with error, in that the court denied the defendants essential discovery and otherwise disregarded basic rules of civil procedure."
The majority opinion, authored by Judge King, in which Chief Judge Traxler and Judges Motz, Duncan, Keenan, Wynn, Floyd, and Thacker joined, stressed that its conclusion was procedural and that it did not express a view on the ultimate merits. Nevertheless, as in most cases, the merits and procedural issues are intertwined. For example, one of the crucial issues here is whether the speech being regulated is commercial or not. As the majority stated,
The district court’s denial of discovery and failure to adhere to the summary judgment standard marred its assessment of, inter alia, the City’s contention that the Ordinance targets misleading commercial speech and thus is subject to rational basis (rather than strict) scrutiny. While the strict scrutiny standard generally applies to content-based regulations, including compelled speech, see Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 641-42 (1994), less-demanding standards apply where the speech at issue is commercial. Disclosure requirements aimed at misleading commercial speech need only survive rational basis scrutiny, by being “reasonably related to the State’s interest in preventing deception of consumers.” Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court, 471 U.S. 626, 651 (1985) (explaining that, “because disclosure requirements trench much more narrowly on an advertiser’s interests than do flat prohibitions on speech, warnings or disclaimers might be appropriately required in order to dissipate the possibility of consumer confusion or deception” (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted)); accord Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz, P.A. v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1324, 1339-40 (2010).
There are two dissenting opinions. The first, by Judge Wilkinson, derides the majority for failing to acknowledge "the dangers of state-compelled speech." He notes that the Supreme Court "only recently reiterated" the importance of the doctrine in Agency for Int’l Development v. Alliance for Open Society Int’l, Inc., the prostitution pledge case. Wilkinson accuses the majority of being enchanted with "extended procedures" and argues that it only authorizes a "fishing expedition" against the plaintiffs. The second dissent, authored by Judge Niemeyer, and joined by Judges Shedd, and Agee, as well as Wilkinson, contends that the ordinance governs noncommercial speech, mandates specific speech, and should be subject to strict scrutiny.
The judges did agree - - - amongst themselves and with the district judge - - - that St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Congregation Incorporated and Archbishop William E. Lori lacked standing to be co-plaintiffs, but this issue is a divisive one. Indeed, there is an overdue Second Circuit panel opinion in the appeal of a district judge's conclusion that NYC's similar Local Law 17 was unconstitutional.
Moreover, the First Amendment challenges to pregnancy center "disclosures" as compelled speech mirror the First Amendment challenges to abortion provider "disclosures" as compelled speech, as in statutes from Kansas and South Dakota. The government's interest in preventing "misleading" speech or in providing full disclosure is exceedingly similar in both situations.
For scholars (including student scholars) looking for a terrific topic combining the First Amendment and reproductive rights, theses cases offer much.
Kansas' new abortion law that took effect July 1 - - - running 70 pages and known as Kansas HB 2253 - - - has already been the subject of a constitutional challenge. HB 2253 seeks to restrict abortion and other reproductive services in numerous ways in accord with the legislative finding that "the life of each human being begins at fertilization." The Complaint filed by the local Planned Parenthood organization, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid- Missouri, Inc. (CHPPKM) specifically challenges two provisions of the law on First Amendment grounds.
Planned Parenthood v. Rounds. Even though there was some "uncertainty" as to the reliability of the studies purporting to show a link between abortion and suicide ideation - - - including the very meaning of the word "risk" - - - the majority in Rounds found that the provision survived by giving great deference to South Dakota. One question will be whether the Tenth Circuit will be as deferential as the majority in its sister circuit or be as rigorous as the dissenting judges in Rounds.
Second, the complaint challenges the provision that compels CHPPKM "to place on the homepage of its public website both a hyperlink to a government website that contains the government’s viewpoint on abortion, and a scripted message of endorsement of the content on the government’s website, even where CHPPKM disagrees with the message." In light of last month's decision by the United States Supreme Court in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., - - - the prostitution pledge case - - - invalidating a requirement that organizations that received direct funding could not be compelled to espouse views that were not their own, this claim seems on firm First Amendment footing. The distinction is a factual one - - - the hyperlink - - - although interestingly CHPPKM contends in its complaint this further complicates the matter because it cannot be expected to constantly monitor the government site. Certainly, however, much of the language and reasoning in Chief Justice Roberts' majority opinion for the Court solidifies compelled speech doctrine. And interestingly, compelled speech doctrine is being argued by anti-abortion organizations to challenge laws requiring "pregnancy crisis centers" to disclose the fact that they are not medical facilities. ( For example, a district judge held NYC's Local Law 17 unconstitutional in 2011; an opinion from the Second Circuit has been anticipated since oral argument over a year ago). UPDATE: The Fourth Circuit's en banc opinion July 3 on a Baltimore ordinance.
A popular discussion of the controversy, including some of my own thoughts, is available on "KC Currents" broadcast by KCUR, a local NPR station.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Tenth Circuit Recognizes For-Profit Corporations as Having Religious Freedom and Free Exercise Rights
In the contentious and closely-watched case of Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius, the Tenth Circuit has rendered its opinion concluding that a for-profit corporation has free exercise of religion rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment.
Hobby Lobby challenges the constitutionality of the so-called "contraception mandate" under the Affordable Care Act that require health insurance plans to provide contraception coverage to employees. We've previously discussed the issue and the circuit split here.
The federal district judge had rejected Hobby Lobby's claim, noting that it was a for-profit completely secular company - - - it is a corporation operating 514 arts and crafts stores in 41 states. The federal district judge also denied the injunction as to the for-profit corporation Mardel, a Christian supply and bookstore chain, and to the family owning both the corporations through a management trust. Hobby Lobby sought extraordinary relief from the United States Supreme Court after a Tenth Circuit panel declined to issue a stay; Justice Sotomayor in her role as Tenth Circuit Justice then rejected the claim, ruling that the privately held corporations did not "satisfy the demanding standard for the extraordinary relief they seek."
The Tenth Circuit granted the request for initial en banc review - - - thus, there is no Tenth Circuit panel opinion - - - and issued a lengthy set of opinions from the eight judges, one judge being recused. The majority opinion on pages 8-9 details the rationales of the individual judges. But the essential division is 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under RFRA and the First Amendment. The majority concluded there was such a right and that the corporations demonstrated a likelihood of success for prevailing on the merits.
Judge Timothy Tymkovich's more than 65 page opinion for the majority concluded that
Hobby Lobby and Mardel are entitled to bring claims under RFRA, have established a likelihood of success that their rights under this statute are substantially burdened by the contraceptive-coverage requirement, and have established an irreparable harm. But we remand the case to the district court for further proceedings on two of the remaining factors governing the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction.
Only a plurality of judges would have resolved the other two preliminary injunction factors - - - balance of equities and public interest - - - in Hobby Lobby and Mardel’s favor, thus the remand.
The majority, however, held
as a matter of statutory interpretation that Congress did not exclude for-profit corporations from RFRA’s protections. Such corporations can be “persons” exercising religion for purposes of the statute. Second, as a matter of constitutional law, Free Exercise rights may extend to some for-profit organizations.
(emphasis added). The opinion often conflates RFRA (which recall, is only applicable as to federal laws) and First Amendment. However, in specifically considering First Amendment doctrine, the majority's argument derived from two strands. First, it noted that individuals may incorporate for religious purposes and keep their Free Exercise rights - - - such as churches, citing Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 525 (1993) (holding that a “not-for-profit corporation organized under Florida law” prevailed on its Free Exercise claim). Second, it then noted that "unincorporated individuals may pursue profit while keeping their Free Exercise rights," citing United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982) (considering a Free Exercise claim of an Amish employer); Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961) (plurality opinion) (considering a Free Exercise claim by Jewish merchants operating for-profit).
It then characterized the government's argument as being that these "Free Exercise rights somehow disappear" when "individuals incorporate and fail to satisfy Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3)." The majority found this distinction to be one that cannot be supported by First Amendment doctrine. It did, however, implicitly limit the facts under which for-profit corporations could be found to have free exercise rights:
The government nonetheless raises the specter of future cases in which, for example, a large publicly traded corporation tries to assert religious rights under RFRA. That would certainly seem to raise difficult questions of how to determine the corporation’s sincerity of belief. But that is not an issue here. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are not publicly traded corporations; they are closely held family businesses with an explicit Christian mission as defined in their governing principles. The Greens, moreover, have associated through Hobby Lobby and Mardel with the intent to provide goods and services while adhering to Christian standards as they see them, and they have made business decisions according to those standards. And the Greens are unanimous in their belief that the contraceptive-coverage requirement violates the religious values they attempt to follow in operating Hobby Lobby and Mardel. It is hard to compare them to a large, publicly traded corporation, and the difference seems obvious.
Thus, the majority stated that it did not share any concerns that its holding would prevent courts from distinguishing businesses that are not eligible for RFRA’s - - - and presumably the First Amendment's - - - protections.
While the analysis of substantial burden that follows is important, it is the holding that a secular for-profit corporation has a sincerely held religious belief that entitles it to assert a free exercise claim is the centerpiece of the controversy.
Indeed, Chief Judge Briscoe, joined by Judge Lucero, call the majority's opinion on this point
nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law, as well as the law of corporations. But whatever one might think of the majority’s views, the fact remains that they are wholly unsupported by the language of the Free Exercise Clause or the Supreme Court’s free exercise jurisprudence, and are thus, at best, “considerations for the legislative choice.”
The ability of for-profit corporations to have Free Exercise rights under the First Amendment - - - along with their Free Speech rights as articulated in the still-controversial Citizens United v. FEC, decided in 2010 and liberally cited in Hobby Lobby - - - is highly contested. This may certainly be going (back) to the United States Supreme Court.
June 28, 2013 in Campaign Finance, Congressional Authority, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
The Court decided both cases presenting the issue of the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage.
In the DOMA - - - Defense of Marriage Act - - - case, the Court's 5-4 opinion by Justice Kennedy in United States v. Windsor, argued in March, affirmed the Second Circuit's finding that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.
In its relatively brief opinion (26 pages), the majority first found that BLAG, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, had sufficient status to confer standing, or at least the case provided "sufficient adversarial presentation for the Court to decide to get to the merits." Recall that BLAG formed to defend the statute after the Obama Administration decided not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA in February, 2011 and that the Court appointed ConLawProf Vicki Jackson to brief and argue BLAG's standing. Dissenting, Justice Scalia argued that the standing and merits decisions by the Court "both spring from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society," not referencing his position in yesterday's decision in Shelby County v. Holder holding a different act of Congress unconstitutional.
On the merits and holding section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, Kennedy articulates the federalism rationales so central to the First Circuit's holding that DOMA was unconstitutional.
The opinion then reaches the equal protection issue (under the Fifth Amendment given that DOMA is a federal statute) and concludes:
The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.
Importantly, the decision seems to be applying rational basis review, although it does little to provide a clear analytic framework or solve problematics of rational basis review. Indeed, it introduces a notion of "careful consideration" which is certainly not strict scrutiny, but likewise eschews the intermediate scrutiny favored by the Second Circuit's decision in Windsor and seems to apply to the "animus" aspect of rational basis with "bite."
In the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, also argued in March, and also reltively brief at 17 pages, the Court's opinion by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by - - - Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan - - - held that there was no standing for the "proponents" to appeal and thus vacates the Ninth Circuit panel opinion that held Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit, in a careful opinion, had affirmed the opinion of Judge Vaughn Walker who presided over an extensive trial in federal district court, after which he held Prop 8 made a sexual orientation classification that does not satisfy the rational basis standard and thus violates the Equal Protection Clause. (Recall that Judge Walker's own sexuality became an issue in the case, but both a district judge and the Ninth Circuit rejected claims of bias). Although the case attracted much scholarly attention, many commentators believed that standing was problematic.
The Court concluded:
We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.
The dissenting Justices - - - Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor - - - credited the California Supreme Court's opinion on standing (answering the certified query from the Ninth Circuit) and Kennedy's dissenting opinion noted that the initiative process made the "proponents" not mere private parties:
In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century.
The dissenters also noted the "irony" in the majority's position: "A prime purpose of justiciability is to ensure vigorous advocacy, yet the Court insists upon litigation conducted by state officials whose preference is to lose the case."
The familiar liberal/conservative split of Justices is not apparent in Perry, since the issue os resolved on standing, but dominates Windsor. Yet in both cases, sharp disagreements about the democratic process are apparent.
June 26, 2013 in Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
opinion by Justice Alito, a majority of the Court construed the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA, as not violated by the adoption of "Baby Veronica" by a white couple although her father is Native American. The majority stated that it assumed that the biological father qualified as a "parent" under ICWA, but that the involuntary termination of his rights, if any, met ICWA. The majority opinion is relatively brief (19 pages), but there are multiple opinions: a concurring opinion by Thomas, a concurring opinion by Breyer, a dissenting opinion by Scalia, and a lengthy dissenting opinion by Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg and Kagan, and partially by Scalia.
From the perspective of constitutional law, the case is noteworthy for its application of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance and equal protection. At the end of the majority opinion, Justice Alito refers to the problem, noting that ICWA "was enacted to help preserve the cultural identity and heritage of Indian tribes, but" under the interpretation of the South Carolina Supreme Court that is being reversed, ICWA "would put certain vulnerable children at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor—even a remote one— was an Indian." Thus,
a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother—perhaps contributing to the mother’s decision to put the child up for adoption—and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests. If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA. Such an interpretation would raise equal protection concerns . . . .
The majority was thus seemingly convinced by the argument on behalf of the adoptive parents that such an interpretation of ICWA would be "basically relegating the child, the child to a piece of property with a sign that says, "Indian, keep off. Do not disturb." "
Sotomayor's opinion for the four dissenting Justices makes clear that the "majority does not rely on the theory pressed by petitioners and the guardian ad litem that the canon of constitutional avoidance compels the conclusion that ICWA is inapplicable here," but observes that the "majority nevertheless offers the suggestion that a contrary result would create an equal protection problem." Sotomayor's opinion also seeks to call the majority to account for the tenor of the opinion:
The majority’s repeated, analytically unnecessary references to the fact that Baby Girl is 3/256 Cherokee by ancestry do nothing to elucidate its intima tion that the statute may violate the Equal Protection Clause as applied here. See ante, at 1, 6; see also ante, at 16 (stating that ICWA “would put certain vulnerablechildren at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor—even a remote one—was an Indian” (emphasis added)). I see no ground for this Court to second-guess the membership requirements of federally recognized Indian tribes, which are independent political entities.
She later states,
The majority’s treatment of this issue, in the end, does no more than create a lingering mood of disapprobation of the criteria for membership adopted by the Cherokee Nation that, in turn, make Baby Girl an “Indian child” under the statute. Its hints at lurking constitutional problems are, by its own account, irrelevant to its statutory analysis, and accordingly need not detain us any longer.
It is Justice Thomas' concurring opinion, however, that most expansively engages with the doctrine of "constitutional avoidance," but his concern is not equal protection. Instead, Thomas' 12 page opinion is devoted to the question of Congressional power: "The threshold question, then, is whether the Constitution grants Congress power to override state custody law whenever an Indian is involved." For Thomas, ICWA's grounding in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I, §8, cl. 3, and “other constitutional authority” that give Congress with “plenary power over Indian affairs,” is constitutionally suspect.
Thomas balances the lack of Congressional authority with federalism concerns, and part of his rationale rests upon family law as being within the province of the states. It will be interesting to see how this concern is articulated in tomorrow's anticipated decision in United States v. Windsor involving the constitutionality of the federal "Defense of Marriage Act."
[image: Badolier bag of the Ojibwa via]
Thursday, June 20, 2013
The United States Supreme Court today decided United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., involving a First Amendment challenge to a provision of federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work. It held the provision unconstitutional and affirmed the Second Circuit opinion, which the Circuit had refused to review en banc, and which conflicted with a Sixth Circuit opinion.
The Court's opinion, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, is relatively brief - - - a mere 15 pages - - - first acknowledges that the provision in the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 would clearly violate the First Amendment's compelled speech doctrine if it were a direct regulation of speech. In terms of an attached condition to spending - - - the unconstitutional conditions doctrine - - - Roberts explained that
the relevant distinction that has emerged from our cases is between conditions that define the limits ofthe government spending program—those that specify the activities Congress wants to subsidize—and conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself.
He elaborated on this distinction by contrasting Regan v. Taxation With Representation of Washington, decided in 1983 and upholding a requirement that nonprofit organizations seeking tax-exempt status under 26 U. S. C. §501(c)(3) not engage in substantial efforts to influence legislation, with FCC v. League of Women Voters of California, decided in 1984, holding unconstitutional a condition on federal financial assistance to noncommercial broadcast television and radio stations that prohibited all editorializing, including with private funds.
The opinion then both distinguished and relied upon Rust v. Sullivan, an opinion that was central to oral argument and the briefs. The Court noted that the Government's only positive precedent was Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, but held that it was essentially inapposite. Instead, although the lines could be difficult to draw, the Court held that
the Policy Requirement goes beyond preventing recipients from using private funds in a way that would undermine the federal program. It requires them to pledge allegiance to the Government’s policy of eradicating prostitution.
The opinion closed by reciting West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette's famous quote:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
If some will not be surprised about Roberts' position given his expressions at oral argument, even fewer will be surprised by Justice Scalia. Dissenting, Justice Scalia - - - never a fan of unconstitutional conditions doctrine - - - joined by Justice Thomas finds Barnette a "distraction" from the real issues. He criticizes the majority's distinction between central and not, but also finds that there is no coercion. He analogizes to "King Cnut’s commanding of the tides" to conclude there is "no compulsion at all," simply "the reasonable price of admission to a limited government-spending program that each organization remains free to accept or reject." Of course, the majority, by considering whether or not a condition is central, essentially held that the price of admission was simply not "reasonable." But for Scalia, requiring an "ideological commitment" as a condition to government funding should be acceptable, and the "real evil" of the opinion is a type of floodgates argument: "One can expect, in the future, frequent challenges to the denial of government funding for relevant ideological reasons." More broadly, he extends his argument beyond funding, stating that while one may be a Communist or anarchist, members of the legislature, judiciary, and executive are bound by the Constitution to take an oath affirming it, Art. VI, cl. 3.
Friday, May 31, 2013
While for many Conlawprofs Loving v. Virginia is the "face" of love and marriage across racial divides, looking both backward and forward from the 1967 case can add depth to teaching and scholarship about the issue. (And if it seems not to be an issue any longer, a quick look at the "controversy" caused by a cereal advertisement featuring an interracial couple and their child is worth considering).
Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig's new book, According to Our Hearts: Rhinelander v. Rhinelander and the Law of the Multiracial Family, just published by Yale University Press, provides that depth.
Her exploration focuses on Rhinelander v. Rhinelander, a case that did not involve a constitutional issue, except to the extent that racial categorizations always implicate issues of constitutionalism and equality. As Onwuachi-Willig describes in a piece in the UC Davis Law Review,
Alice Beatrice Jones was a working-class woman, who met Leonard Kip Rhinelander, a wealthy white male descendant of the Huguenots and heir to millions of dollars, in the fall of 1921. . . . [They married in a private ceremony and] Just two weeks later, on November 26, 1924, Leonard filed for annulment of his marriage to Alice. He argued that Alice had lied to him about her race. Leonard claimed that Alice had committed fraud that made their marriage void by telling him that she was white and by failing to inform him that she was of “colored blood.”
Rather than litigate her whiteness as many expected, she argued that he knew her racial status.
The trial of the Rhinelanders proved to be shocking on many fronts. It involved racy love letters, tales of pre-marital lust and sex, and the exhibition of Alice’s breasts, legs, and arms in the courtroom to prove that Leonard, who had seen her naked before marriage, would have known that she was colored at the time of their nuptials. What was most scandalous about the Rhinelander case, however, was the trial’s end. The jury returned a verdict for Alice, determining that Leonard knew her racial background before marriage yet married her anyway.
Onwuachi-Willig's book also provides contemporary arguments that current law fails to protect interracial couples, especially given the privileges that continue to be accorded on the basis of marriage.
As we wait for both Fisher v. UT and the same-sex marriage cases of Perry and Windsor, or as we contemplate their meanings once the opinions are rendered, Onwuachi-Willig's book is an important and pleasurable read.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The Constitutional Court of Colombia issued a series of opinions beginning in 1995, analyzed in a 2004 law review article by Kate Haas, Who Will Make Room for the Intersexed?, that recognize a constitutional right of children, albeit limited, with regard to the surgery. A ground-breaking symposium issue of Cardozo Journal of Law & Gender in 2005 engages with many of the legal issues and proposed solutions, often recognizing the limits of constitutional remedies in the United States given that the surgeries are usually the result of private action.
But a complaint filed this week, M.C. v. Aaronson, by the Southern Poverty Center claims a violation of both substantive and procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by South Carolina doctors who performed genital surgery on a child in state custody (foster care). M.C., now 8 years old, brings the case through his adoptive parents.
The substantive due process claim is a relatively obvious one, building on established United States Supreme Court cases finding a right to be free of coerced medical procedures including Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health (1990). The right is a bit muddled, however, given that the highly discredited 1927 case of Buck v. Bell has never been actually overruled; the declaration that castration was as unconstitutional penalty for a crime in Skinner v. Oklahoma rested on equal protection grounds.
The procedural due process claim is more novel, contending that the minor was entitled to a pre-deprivation hearing before the surgery. Such a hearing would presumably be of the type that Erin Lloyd recommended for all minors (whether in state custody or not) in her article From the Hospital to the Courtroom: A Statutory Proposal for Recognizing and Protecting the Legal Rights of Intersex Children in the Cardozo Journal of Gender and Law Symposium issue.
An accompanying lawsuit filed in state court alleges medical malpractice and failure to obtain informed consent, raising the same underlying facts and many of the same issues, but under state law.
Southern Poverty Center has produced a video featuring the parents and outlining the facts of the case:
This is definitely a case to watch.
May 16, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Procedural Due Process, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Over at the Best Practices Policy Project, "dedicated to supporting organizations and advocates working with sex workers, people in the sex trade," two City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law students, Kat Thomas and Lauren Parnes, provide their perspectives on Monday's Supreme Court oral argument United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc. which we discussed here.
Because they were in the courtroom, they were able to add the fact that several of the Justices - - - including Chief Justice Roberts - - - nodded in agreement with this point made by David Bowker, Counsel for Alliance for Open Society:
on the government’s theory, the government can give you — can give anyone in the country a dollar in Medicare funds and say, okay, now that you’ve taken a dollar of our money, we want you to profess your agreement with the Affordable Care Act, and we want you to never say anything inconsistent with that in your private speech. That is — that is wildly inconsistent with the First Amendment. That’s exactly what’s happening here. The only difference is the subject of prostitution. That’s what makes it less palatable.
The palatableness of the subject matter for the Justices and counsel alike is further explored by Thomas and Parnes. Worth a read.
Monday, April 22, 2013
The Court heard oral arguments today, sans Justice Kagan, in United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., involving a First Amendment challenge to a provision of federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work.
In other words, a NGO must have a "prostitution pledge" - - - actually, an anti-prostitution pledge - - - as a condition of receiving funds, unless it is one of the "grandfathered" NGOs. The question is whether this pledge is compelled speech and whether any compelled speech is sufficient to distinguish the situation from Rust v. Sullivan. The Second Circuit had held the provision unconstitutional.
Arguing as Deputy Solicitor General in support of the provision's constitutionality, Sri Srinivasan stressed that the Congressional requirement was "germane" to the government's goal in "partnering" with private organizations. Justice Scalia, in addition to finding the term "partnering" a "terrible verb," seemed to voice sentiments consistent with his previous conclusions in funding cases that the government can choose to spend its money as it wished. Interestingly, Justice Alito was more troubled, as he expressed in his first comment and question to the Deputy Solicitor General:
JUSTICE ALITO: I'm not aware of any case in which this Court has held that it is permissible for Congress to condition Federal funding on the recipient's expression of agreement with ideas with which the recipient disagrees. I'm not aware of any case in which that kind of compelled speech has been permitted. And I would be interested in -- and it seems to me like quite a -- a dangerous proposition. I would be interested in whatever limitations you think there might be on that rule, which seems to be the general rule that you're advocating. Other than the requirement of germaneness, is there anything else.
Alito soon thereafter posed an example mentioned in an amicus brief about the ability of government funding schools, and again, Srinivasan repeated the requirement of "germaneness." Later, Alito mentioned another example, mixing advocacy of guns and receiving health care, and Srinivasan again answered similarly.
Justice Ginsburg's concerns were similar, with an addition of the question of the recipients as foreign NGOs as a distinguishing feature from precedent as well as a practical issue.
David Bowker, arguing for Alliance for Open Society and other organizations, attempted to distinguish a funding criteria from mandated speech once the fnding decision had been made, although this led into a discussion of viewpoint discrimination rather than compelled speech. Later, Bowker brought it back to the distinction based upon Rust v. Sullivan, in a colloquy with Justice Sotomayor:
MR. BOWKER: And what Rust says, and I – I think we fall back on Rust, which we think is just on all fours with where we are here, and that is what the government cannot do -- and I think this answers your question -- is outside the government program the government cannot control private speech. And it was critical in that case -- Justice Rehnquist, at pages 196 and 197, said, "The doctors there and the public health organizations there are free to engage in their own private speech and their own activities, and they are not required to endorse any viewpoint they don't, in fact, hold." And here -
It was not until the Government's rebutal that one of the oddest features of the statute was raised, when Sotomayor stated,
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I would have less problem accepting your message if there weren't four major organizations who were exempted from the policy requirement . . .
There seems to be a bit of selection on the government in terms of who it wants to work with. It would seem to me that if you really wanted to protect the U.S., you wouldn't exempt anybody from this.
In his last moments of argument, Srinivasan, responding to Justice Ginsburg, argued that the exemptions made "good sense" given that three of the four have members that are sovereign entities. Unfortunately, the rationale supporting that fourth entity was not explored.
The hypotheticals and examples raised by the Justices in oral argument showed some concern about just how far Congress could extend a provision similar to the one about prostitution in the Leadership Act. The distinction between funding and compelled speech doctrines was often obscured, making the outcome uncertain. More certain is that Justice Kagan's perspective will be sorely missed.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Integral to the same-sex marriage cases of Perry and Windsor argued before the Court last month is the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas. Although the Court's opinion specifically excluded marriage in its caveat paragraph, the declaration that sodomy laws were unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause is generally considered a linchpin of recognizing any constitutional right to same-sex marriage under the Equal Protection Clause.
Professor Marc Spindelman (pictured) reviews Professor Dale Carpenter's book Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas in a trenchant essay entitled Tyrone Gardner's Lawrence v. Texas appearing in Michigan Law Review. Spindelman acknowledges the contribution of the book even as he uses it as a springboard to reach different conclusions about the potential of the case to achieve equality or civil rights. Spindelman focuses on Tyrone Gardner, who along with John Geddes Lawrence was arrested for sodomy, as a lens for exploring the reach of Lawrence v. Texas.
Refering to Gardner, Spindeleman asks, "How could Lawrence v. Texas, this great victory for lesbian and gay civil rights, have done and meant so very little to the life of one of the two men most central to it?" Spindelman's answers explore the status-quo bias and moral conservatism of Lawrence, connecting the case to affirmative action decisions as well as to the "Obamacare" case, Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius.
Every ConLawProf teaching Lawrence v. Texas would do well to read Spindelman's essay.
April 18, 2013 in Books, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, History, Race, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, April 15, 2013
The oral arguments in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, on certiorari to the South Carolina Supreme Court will be held on April 16. The case, also known as “Baby Veronica,” is an emotional struggle over custody of a small child.On one view, the Court’s task is a relatively simple one of statutory interpretation, including the definition of “parent” in the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA. The petitioners, the adoptive couple, articulate the questions presented as:
(1) Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.
(2) Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.
The questions presented by the respondent birth father, a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, and by the respondent Cherokee Nation, and by the United States as amicus curiae supporting the respondent, all likewise focus on ICWA, albeit with a different persuasive cadence. These articulations stress the positive acts of the biological father. For example, as the biological father phrases the parenting definition question:
Whether an Indian child’s biological father who has expressly acknowledged that he is the child’s father and has established that he is the father through DNA testing is the child’s “parent” within the meaning [of ICWA].
The Brief of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent father and tribe has a similar issue statement, asking whether the state courts properly applied ICWA
to award custody of an Indian child to her biological father over an adoptive couple, where the father acknowledged and established his paternity and no remedial measures had been taken to avoid termination of his parental rights.
However, the case is not merely one of statutory interpretation, but raises important, if not always obvious, constitutional issues.
First, Congressional intervention in child welfare must rely on a particularly enumerated power of Congress, the usual one being the Spending Clause. For Native Americans, however, Congressional power is often labeled “plenary,” although it is grounded most specifically in the Indian Commerce Clause, Art. I §3 cl. 8. ICWA was intended to prevent the removal of Native children from their parents - - - as well as their tribes - - - a history that many of the amicus briefs discuss in depth.
Second, and relatedly, this Congressional power over Native children raises federalism issues, especially given that child custody and adoption are generally within the state’s police powers. In the case of Baby Veronica, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the trial judge’s application of ICWA to deny the adoption and award custody to the Native father. Yet the very existence of ICWA arguably intrudes upon state police powers.
Third, and most stealthily, the case may present issues of due process and equal protection. In the brief on behalf of Baby Veronica through her Guardian ad Litem authored by Paul Clement, the arguably “erroneous interpretation” of ICWA “raises serious constitutional issues.” In this argument, the best interests of the child standard - - - the usual touchstone in child adoption and custody - - - aspires to a constitutional right of the child. Moreover, the state court’s decision violated the baby’s equal protection and due process rights.
For example, the brief analogizes to the equal protection case of Palmore v. Sidoti:
In Palmore, this Court struck down the use of racial classifications to remove a child from an appropriate custody placement. This case is no different. Baby Girl’s Indian blood quantum was the sole reason the lower court ordered her removed from the loving, stable home she had lived in since birth and placed with a biological father whose failure to timely care for her extinguished any parental rights he might otherwise have had under state law or the Constitution.
Less successfully, the brief attempts to articulate a liberty interest of the child:
And “to the extent parents and families have fundamental liberty interests in preserving such intimate relationships, so, too, do children have these interests, and so, too, must their interests be balanced in the equation.” Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 88 (2000) (Stevens, J., dissenting).
Yet ultimately, the brief argues that there is an (unconstitutional) racial classification if ICWA is applied too broadly. Clement argues that ICWA should be interpreted to limit "its application to adoption and custody proceedings involving children who are either domiciled on a reservation or have some other tribal connection beyond biology."
These limitations are crucial to preserving the Act’s constitutionality, ensuring that the Act’s differential treatment of Indians operates only to promote tribal sovereignty and the unique interests of Indians as tribal citizens, and not as invidious racial discrimination that arbitrarily trumps Baby Girl’s liberty interests. [ICWA's] definition of parent, properly interpreted, avoids these difficulties by declining to give an unwed Indian father rights based on biology alone that no non-Indian unwed father enjoys.
Moreover, ICWA's constitutional interpretation rests upon limiting its "application to children in the pre-existing custody of an Indian parent or other circumstances in which there is a distinct connection to tribal interests."
Clement - - who so recently represented BLAG supporting the constitutionality of DOMA in United States v. Windsor - - - here has quite a different view of equality and federal power.
While it is unlikely that these constitutional arguments assume center stage, they may infuse the statutory interpretation of ICWA so squarely before the Court.
[image circa 1890 via]
April 15, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, History, Interpretation, Race, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, April 8, 2013
Greenhouse has this reminder about federalism and family law:
There is much that’s questionable about this assertion of implicitly boundless state authority over family affairs. A famous pair of Supreme Court decisions from the 1920s armed parents with rights under the Due Process Clause to educate their children as they see fit, in resistance to state laws. Pierce v. Society of Sisters gave parents the right to choose private or religious schools despite an Oregon law that required public school education for all. Meyer v. Nebraska struck down a state law that barred the teaching of modern foreign language (the law’s post-World War I target was German.)
Nor is this ancient history. In 2000, the court struck down a state law in Washington that gave grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren over the parents’ objection. Justice O’Connor wrote the court’s opinion, Troxel v. Granville, which was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist.
Substitute “marriage” for “criminal procedure” and you time-travel into last week’s argument. But you will listen in vain for the voice of Justice William O. Douglas, who brushed away concerns about what he dismissively called “this federalism” to ask: “Has any member of this court come out and said in so many terms it’s the constitutional right of a state to provide a system whereby people get unfair trials?”
As usual, Linda Greenhouse is worth a read, for ConLaw Profs and ConLaw students.
April 8, 2013 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, March 29, 2013
a law prof, hits precisely the right tones for those already acquainted with the material. Here's a bit from Milan's "truncated transcript":
SOTOMAYOR: So let me ask a real question. If marriage is a fundamental right, is the state ever allowed to limit it?
KENNEDY: Enough about gays and lesbians. Can we talk about me for a minute? Because I feel a little uncomfortable with this discussion. In fact, I’m kind of feeling like taking my swing-voting ball and going home. Who wants to dig the case?
[note: dig=acronym for Dismissed as Improvidently Granted]
OLSON: Uh. Kinda staggered here. You want to dig the case? We…we spent weeks preparing for this, the entire country is watching, millions of people could have their lives changed, and you want to dig the case?
KENNEDY: I’m just saying. Oh, Olson, you’re all out of time. Nice ending note, though.
Worth a read in its entirety.
[h/t Darren Rosenblum]
Thursday, March 28, 2013
In the oral argument for United States v. Windsor challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Chief Justice Roberts expressed skepticism that gays and lesbians were politically powerless, announcing to Roberta Kaplan, representing Edith Windsor, "As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case."
ConLawProf Darren Hutchinson (pictured) provides an indepth examination, context, and prescient critique of Roberts' remark in his new article, Not Without Political Power': Gays and Lesbians, Equal Protection, and the Suspect Class Doctrine, available in draft on ssrn. Hutchinson argues that the political powerlessness factor used to evaluate claims for heightened scrutiny under equal protection doctrine is "especially undertheorized and contradictory."
Hutchinson's article is a tour de force of precedent deploying rhetoric of political powerlessness. Of course, Hutchinson highlights Justice Scalia's well-known dissent in Romer v. Evans, the Colorado Amendment 2 case, noting that not only is it based on stereotypes but it "sounds exactly like a political document against gay and lesbian rights." But Hutchinson does suggest that there is indeed a role for politics, however at a much more sophisticated level. Rather than jettison any inquiry into political powerlessness as some scholars have argued, Hutchinson contends that a much more robust understanding of politics is necessary.
Ultimately, Hutchinson concludes that the present scholarly and judicial discourse
fails adequately to discuss the multiple factors that cause political vulnerability among gays and lesbians. While some gays and lesbians possess power, most of them do not. Poverty, gender, race, geography, and disability influence the ability of gays and lesbians to exercise political power.
Instead, he suggests that political science scholarship inform legal scholarship and judicial opinions, and that antisubordination legal scholarship inform wider discussions of equal protection. Certainly, Hutchinson's article should inform anyone considering political powerlessness in the context of same-sex marriage and equal protection.
March 28, 2013 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Profiles in Con Law Teaching, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
The first of the two closely-watched same sex marriage cases to be argued before the United States this morning prompted much tweeting and predictions, as well as the promised early release of the audio by the Supreme Court itself.
As the oral arguments today made clear, at issue before the Court today in Hollingsworth v. Perry is the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, held unconstitutional by a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit in Perry v. Brown.
The Standing Issue:
The first question during oral argument was from Chief Justice Roberts and directed the attention of Hollingsworth's counsel, Charles Cooper, to the "jurisdictional" issue - - - the question of whether Hollingsworth has standing. Recall that the original challenge to Proposition 8 named Governor Schwarzenegger, and later substituted Governor Brown, as defendants, but both governors and the State of California refused to defend the constitutionality of the voter initiative. Recall also that the California Supreme Court had answered a certified query about the interests of proponents of a Proposition under California law, but today's the questions from the bench stressed Article III of the United States Constitution.
Roberts' query was repeated to Theodore Olsen, arguing for the challengers to Proposition 8, and to Solicitor General Verrilli, who noted that the United States, as amicus, did not have a "formal position" on standing, but essentially echoed Justice Ginsburg's first question to Cooper, regarding whether the proponents of Proposition 8 had any "propriety interest" in the law distinct from other California citizens once the law had been passed.
On the Merits:
A central query on the merits is the level of scrutiny under equal protection doctrine that should be applied. Justice Kennedy asked Cooper whether it could be treated as a gender classification and stated "It's a difficult question that I've been trying to wrestle with it." Yet Cooper's argument in many ways deflects the level of scrutiny inquiry and Justice Kagan expressed it thusly:
Mr. Cooper, could I just understand your argument. In reading the briefs, it seems as though your principal argument is that same-sex and opposite -- opposite-sex couples are not similarly situated because opposite-sex couples can procreate, same-sex couples cannot, and the State's principal interest in marriage is in regulating procreation. Is that basically correct?
Mr. Cooper agreed, and continued his argument, although Justice Scalia later tried to assist him:
JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Cooper, let me -- let me give you one -- one concrete thing. I don't know why you don't mention some concrete things. If you redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, you must -- you must permit adoption by same-sex couples, and there's - there's considerable disagreement among -- among sociologists as to what the consequences of raising a child in a -- in a single-sex family, whether that is harmful to the child or not. Some States do not -- do not permit adoption by same-sex couples for that reason.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: California -- no, California does.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I don't think we know the answer to that. Do you know the answer to that, whether it -- whether it harms or helps the child?
But given that Justice Kennedy is widely viewed as the "swing vote," his comments deserve special attention. During Cooper's argument, Kennedy focused on the children of same-sex couples in California:
JUSTICE KENNEDY: I -- I think there's - there's substantial -- that there's substance to the point that sociological information is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more. On the other hand, there is an immediate legal injury or legal -- what could be a legal injury, and that's the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California, according to the Red Brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?
But at other times, Kennedy expressed other concerns. During Theordore Olsen's argument, Kennedy stated
JUSTICE KENNEDY: The problem -- the problem with the case is that you're really asking, particularly because of the sociological evidence you cite, for us to go into uncharted waters, and you can play with that metaphor, there's a wonderful destination, it is a cliff. Whatever that was.
And soon thereafter, in perhaps what could be a possible avoidance of all the issues,
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But you're -- you're doing so in a -- in a case where the opinion is very narrow. Basically that once the State goes halfway, it has to go all the way or 70 percent of the way, and you're doing so in a case where there's a substantial question on - on standing. I just wonder if -- if the case was properly granted.
MR. OLSON: Oh, the case was certainly properly granted, Your Honor. I mean, there was a full trial of all of these issues. There was a 12-day trial, the judge insisted on evidence on all of these questions. This -- this is a -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: But that's not the issue the Ninth Circuit decided.
Could the Supreme Court merely declare that its grant of certiorari was "improvidently granted." It certainly wouldn't be the first time (or second) in very recent history. But in such a high profile case, it might further erode respect for the Court.
March 26, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, March 25, 2013
The critique of marriage as a legal institution may seem a bit churlish as the same-sex marriage cases go to the United States Supreme Court this week. It may seem as if there is universal agreement that marriage is "good" and the only question is whether governments can exclude same-sex couples from this "good."
Yet there is certainly a different way to conceptualize the issue. In Not the Marrying Kind, U.K. Law Professor Nicola Barker engages the issues from several perspectives. Importantly, her discussions do not portray the lesbian or larger LGBT communities as monolithically desiring marriage, but rather as critically engaged in questions of formal equality. She is scrupulous about presenting the complexities of opinions, theories, and strategies across several continents. Barker's book is a treat even readers who have been following these developments for years or are suffering from same-sex marriage fatigue.
I review Barker's book, as well as several other books on same-sex and opposite-sex marriage in an essay "Is Marriage Good for Women?" in this month's Women's Review of Books.
Barker's book is the best of the lot and essential reading for anyone seriously engaged in thinking about same-sex marriage.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Divided Fourth Circuit Panel Declares Virginia's Sodomy Law Unconstitutional: A Decade After Lawrence v. Texas
William Scott MacDonald was arrested more than a year after Lawrence v. Texas (2003), for solicitation to violate Virginia's (anti-)sodomy law, Va. Stat §18.2-361(A): "If any person . . . carnally knows any male or female person by the anus or by or with the mouth, or voluntarily submits to such carnal knowledge, he or she shall be guilty of a [felony.]" He was eventually sentenced to ten years, with nine years suspended, and thereafter compelled to register as a sex offender. His life, as Adam Liptak reported in 2011, has not been easy.
The present case does not involve minors. It does not involve persons who might be injured or coerced or who are situated in relationships where consent might not easily be refused. It does not involve public conduct or prostitution. It does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.
In MacDonald's situation, the solicitation - - - all parties agree no sex actually occurred - - - was found to be of a 17 year old woman. (Interestingly, the 47 year old MacDonald had originally contacted law enforcement alleging that the young woman had sexually assaulted him; he was also convicted of the misdemeanor of making a false report.) The prosecution thus successfully argued that Lawrence v. Texas was inapposite since the Virginia statute - - - as applied - - - was constitutional. This argument succeeded even though the the age limit in the solicitation statute was 15, not 18.
The Commonwealth of Virginia was similarly successful in its arguments in state courts on direct appeal and postconviction relief. MacDonald thereafter sought federal habeas relief, with the district judge rejecting the constitutional arguments.
The Fourth Circuit's opinion yesterday in MacDonald v. Moose belatedly provides relief for MacDonald. The panel majority wrote that "we are constrained" to find an entitlement to habeas corpus relief on the ground that the Virginia anti-sodomy provision "facially violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." The Fourth Circuit's opinion seems at times quite deferential to Virginia, but at two points the opinion sharpens its rhetoric.
First, the panel points to an inconsistency in Virginia's treatment of MacDonald:
The Commonwealth’s efforts to diminish the pertinence of Lawrence in connection with MacDonald’s challenge to the anti-sodomy provision — an enactment in no way dissimilar to the Texas and Georgia statutes deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — runs counter to Martin v. Ziherl, 607 S.E.2d 367 (Va. 2005). In that case, the Supreme Court of Virginia evaluated the constitutionality of a state statute having nothing to do with sodomy, but instead outlawing ordinary sexual intercourse between unmarried persons. The state supreme court nonetheless acknowledged that Lawrence was sufficiently applicable to require the statute’s invalidation.
Second, in a footnote the panel majority expressed its disagreement with the dissent in terms that questioned Virginia's prosecutorial choices:
The dissent’s finely honed distinction that, unlike Lawrence and Bow- ers, this "case" involves minors, is made possible solely by the Commonwealth’s decision to institute prosecution of a man who loathsomely solicited an underage female to commit an act that is not, at the moment, a crime in Virginia. The Commonwealth may as well have charged Mac- Donald for telephoning Ms. Johnson on the night in question, or for persuading her to meet him at the Home Depot parking lot. The legal arm of the Commonwealth cannot simply wave a magic wand and decree by fiat conduct as criminal, in usurpation of the powers properly reserved to the elected representatives of the people.
Monday, March 11, 2013
Debuting on line today is volume 37:1 of the NYU Review of Law & Social Change, a symposium issue dedicated to Perry v. Brown, now Hollingsworth v. Perry that is scheduled to be heard by the United States Supreme Court in 15 days.
According to the Introduction, the Symposium editors sought to present the issue as a "time capsule," filled with "leading and emerging voices in the LGBTQ movement" as well as other scholars, "reflecting on Perry before the Court has its final say, before anyone gets the benefit of 20/20 hindsight." The comments were "first drafted before the Court had even granted certiorari" on the premise that Perry was already an important case.
The Symposium participants were asked to address three queries. Here are the questions and the participants:
The Symposium will also be available as a print issue, but meanwhile having its full contents available before the arguments makes it more valuable as a daily - - - or weekly - - - read.