Friday, June 5, 2015
The D.C. Circuit this week upheld a key authority of the EPA for enforcing the Clean Air Act against federalism and congressional authority challenges. The per curiam ruling rejected other challenges to EPA action, as well, and means that the case is dismissed. The ruling leaves intact the EPA's authority to designate geographic areas as noncompliant with the Clean Air Act and to take certain enforcement actions.
The federalism challenge in the case, Mississippi Commission on Environmental Quality v. EPA, sought to exploit the plurality's ruling in NFIB, where the Court held that Obamacare's Medicaid expansion couldn't condition a state's entire Medicaid grant on the ACA's Medicaid expansion. But the court rejected that argument, easily distinguishing Medicaid expansion and the EPA's actions here, as described below.
The case tested EPA's authority to designate certain geographic areas as noncompliant with the Clean Air Act's National Ambient Air Quality Standards. A variety of plaintiffs lodged complaints, but only two, Wise County, Texas, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, raised constitutional claims. They argued that the EPA's designation of Wise County as a nonattainment area violated the Tenth Amendment and due process, and exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause.
The court rejected these arguments. The court ruled that the Clean Air Act "authorizes the EPA to promulgate and administer a federal implementation plan of its own if the State fails to submit an adequate state implementation plan." The court said that's not commandeering, because the federal government isn't requiring the state or state officers to implement the federal plan.
The court also ruled that the Clean Air Act's sanctions for noncompliance--re-direction of a portion of federal highway funds to federal programs that would improve air quality--were not unduly coercive under NFIB. That's because they don't come close to the size of a state's federal Medicaid grant, and because it wasn't a new program that came as a surprise to the states. Indeed, the condition has been on the books (and states have taken advantage of it) for decades.
The court said that the Clean Air Act's delegation of authority to the EPA to designate areas as noncompliant is well within Congress's Commerce Clause authority. The court said that dirty air blows across state lines, causing a substantial effect on interstate commerce, and that the activities in Wise County that led to the dirty air themselves have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
Finally, the court rejected a due process claim that the EPA administrator for Region 6 was biased. The court said that the administrator's past professional activities and statements did not rise to the level of an "unalterably closed mind" or an inability or unwillingness "to rationally consider arguments."
As mentioned, the court rejected other arguments against the EPA's authority, too, mostly under the APA.
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Florida Governor Rick Scott filed suit yesterday against the federal government arguing that its move to take away the state's Low Income Pool money compels the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act--all in violation of the anti-commandeering principle and the "gun to the head" principle in NFIB v. Sebelius.
We posted on Florida's LIP and the constitutional issues here. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities just put out a very helpful backgrounder here.
In short, LIP is a federal program that pays health-care providers for uncompensated care for the poor. Medicaid, and the ACA's Medicaid expansion, pays directly for health care for that same population.
The lawsuit argues that the federal government threatened to take away the state's LIP money unless the state expands Medicaid under the ACA--and that this amounts to unconstitutional coercion in violation of federalism principles and the Tenth Amendment under NFIB.
But the case is a sham. The federal government doesn't appear to be strong-arming Florida into expanding Medicaid as much as it appears to prefer to spend money directly on health insurance for the poor instead of paying for uncompensated care for them. That's a policy choice that the federal government can make. States have no entitlement to LIP money, or to any particular federal approach to providing health care for the poor. And when the feds take away LIP funds, Florida's choice is clear: figure out a way to cover care for the poor, or don't.
Governor Scott claims that this isn't a real choice, because the state can't afford to let the poor go without health insurance. If that's right, he can implement his own program, or he can expand Medicaid. This hardly seems like compulsion.
The case is obviously politically, and not constitutionally, motivated, and probably has little chance of success on the merits. "Probably," because so many thought the same thing about NFIB, before the Court got a hold of it.
There's another commonality with NFIB: Governor Scott hired Paul Clement to represent him.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In a divided opinion in Korab v. Fink, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld the constitutionality of Hawai'i's health benefits for a certain class of "nonimmigrant aliens" against an equal protection challenge. The court reversed the preliminary injunction entered by the district judge.
There are several layers of complexity in the case. There is the immigration scheme, including a particular one involving specific nations; the health benefits schemes of both the federal government and the state; and the equal protection doctrine applicable to immigrant status fluctuating depending upon whether the government regulation is federal or state.
Judge Margaret McKeown's relatively brief majority opinion does an excellent job of unweaving and weaving these various strands of complexities in 22 pages. As she explains, in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Congress classified "aliens" into three categories for the purpose of federal benefits, including Medicaid: eligible aliens, ineligible aliens, and a third category which allowed state option. The "aliens" at issue are citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who, under the Compact of Free Association (“COFA”) with the United States, may enter the United States and establish residence as a “nonimmigrant. The "COFA aliens" are in the third category of state option. At one point, Hawai'i included coverage for the COFA "nonimmigrants," but with the advent of Basic Health Hawai'i, its 2010 program, the COFA "nonimmigrants" were excluded. It is the COFA "nonimmigrants" who challenge their exclusion from Basic Health Hawai'i on the basis of equal protection.
Given the federal and state interrelationships, the question of the level of scrutiny that should apply is pertinent. As Judge McKeown explains, "states must generally treat lawfully present aliens the same as citizens, and state classifications based on alienage are subject to strict scrutiny review." In contrast, she states, "federal statutes regulating alien classifications are subject to the easier-to-satisfy rational-basis review." What standard should apply to a "hybrid case" such as Basic Health Hawai‘i, in which a state is following a federal direction? Judge McKeown's majority concludes that rational-basis review applies to Basic Health Hawai'i "because Hawai‘i is merely following the federal direction set forth by Congress under the Welfare Reform Act."
Judge Bybee's concurring opinion, slightly longer than the majority opinion he joined, is an extended argument against equal protection doctrine's applicability in favor of a preemption doctrine.
Judge Richard Clifton, who was appointed to the bench from a private practice in Honolulu, argued that the higher level of scrutiny should be applied essentially because it is Hawai'i that is exercising its state power when in makes the choice.
I acknowledge there is something paradoxical and more than a little unfair in my conclusion that the State of Hawai‘i has discriminated against COFA Residents. The state responded to an option given to it by Congress, albeit an option that I don’t think Congress had the power to give. Hawai‘i provided full Medicaid benefits to COFA Residents for many years, entirely out of its own treasury, because the federal government declined to bear any part of that cost. Rather than terminate benefits completely in 2010, Hawai‘i offered the BHH program to COFA Residents, again from its own pocket. The right of COFA Residents to come to Hawai‘i in the first place derives from the Compacts of Free Association that were negotiated and entered into by the federal government. That a disproportionate share of COFA Residents, from Pacific island nations, come to Hawai‘i as compared to the other forty-nine states is hardly a surprise, given basic geography. The decision by the state not to keep paying the full expense of Medicaid benefits for those aliens is not really a surprise, either. In a larger sense, it is the federal government, not the State of Hawai‘i, that should be deemed responsible.
While Judge Clifton's remarks concluding his dissent focus on the paradox in his opinion, his observations also implicitly point to the paradox at the heart of the majority's decision given that the federal scheme gives the state choices - - - and it was the state that chose to exclude certain "nonimmigrants" from the South Pacific.
April 1, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Disability, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Neil H. Buchanan (GW) argues at the Jurist.org that the President should just pay the nation's bills if Congress fails to increase the debt ceiling.
Buchanan summarizes an argument that he and Michael Dorf made over three articles last year in the Columbia Law Review--one, two, and three--that the President should do the least constitutional damage if ever faced with a trilemma involving taxing, spending, and a debt ceiling that don't add up.
Buchanan and Dorf argue that Congress would create this trilemma if it failed to increase the debt limit: Congress would have authorized a particular level of taxation; Congress would have authorized a higher level of spending; and Congress would have capped the debt limit at a level lower than authorized spending. All three are congressional acts that the President must enforce, but if the President enforces any two, he necessarily violates the third.
So: what to do?
Buchanan and Dorf argue that the constitution requires the President to take the action (1) that exercises as little legislative power as possible and (2) in a way that allows Congress to later enact legislation that can undo his actions, if it so desires.
Those two criteria mean that the President should, even must, violate the debt limit. That's because violating the debt limit (but complying with the taxing and spending measures passed by Congress) is the choice that's least legislative in nature, and the one that Congress can later undo (by enacting taxing and spending measures that add up).
Buchanan explains why this solution is novel--but also why it's right:
Bizarrely, the shared assumption among Republicans and Democrats alike has been that the president must simply default on the government's spending obligations, if he is ever faced with a trilemma. . . .
The reason that is so bizarre is that it simply presumes that duly-enacted spending laws can be ignored by the president. They cannot. We are not taking about choosing to increase or decrease future levels of spending, after all. We are, instead, contemplating having the president refuse to honor legal claims for payment from the federal government, choosing not to pay the government's legal obligations, in full, on the date that they are due.
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.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Emily J. Martin, Vice-President and General Counsel at the National Women's Law Center, published an American Constitution Society Issue Brief that argues that the Supreme Court's ruling last summer on the ACA's Medicaid expansion in Nat'l Fed. of Ind. Business v. Sebelius does not threaten Title IX.
Recall that the Court ruled in NFIB that Congress exceeded its authority in enacting the Medicaid expansion component of the ACA. The Medicaid expansion provision provided generous federal financial assistance for states that expanded their Medicaid programs to reach those up to 133% of the federal poverty level. Some states balked, arguing that this was way too heavy-handed, given the size of Medicaid and their reliance on it. In other words, states argued that Congress couldn't force them to choose between expanding their Medicaid programs and foregoing all federal Medicaid funding.
The Supreme Court agreed. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for a plurality that Medicaid expansion was a new program, not just an addition to the existing Medicaid program, and that the sheer size of Medicaid--and the threat of its entire loss--made the ACA's Medicaid expansion unduly coercive on the states. At the same time, the plurality wrote that Congress could condition receipt of incremental and additional Medicaid funds under the ACA on a state's expansion of Medicaid.
Some thought that this approach to Congress's spending power threatened other federal spending programs, in particular Title IX. Title IX prohibits public and private educational institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex. Some suggested that under NFIB, Title IX, like Medicaid expansion, might be unduly coercive, because it might require an educational institution to forego all federal funding if it discriminates against women.
Martin says this is wrong. She writes that NFIB doesn't even apply Title IX and private educational institutions: NFIB's approach--and the Spending Clause approach generally--is concerned about coercion of states, not private actors. As to states, she argues that unlike the ACA's Medicaid expansion, Title IX operates to limit the termination of federal funds "to the particular program . . . in which . . . noncompliance has been so found." 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1682. In short, noncompliant state institutions wouldn't stand to lose their entire federal educational budget (as they could stand to lose their entire Medicaid budget under the ACA); instead, they'd lose only that portion tied to the sex discrimination.
Martin says that Title IX is protected from NFIB for another reason: Congress also had authority to enact Title IX under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. She argues that this belt on top of the Spending Clause's suspenders ensures that Title IX is well within congressional authority.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
A sharply divided Supreme Court today upheld key provisions in the Affordable Care Act (the "ACA," or Obamacare). The upshot is that five Justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) held that universal coverage (or the individual mandate) is upheld, and that a three-Justice plurality (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer and Kagan) held Medicaid expansion is upheld in a somewhat weaker form. A different five Justices (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito) held that the commerce clause did not support universal coverage (but for different reasons).
The ruling means that universal coverage stands, and Medicaid expansion stands, although in a somewhat weaker form.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority; by issue:
Taxing Clause. A five-Justice majority held that Congress could enact the universal coverage provision (also called the individual mandate) under the taxing authority. Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, wrote that the tax penalty for failing to purchase health insurance was a valid tax.
First, for most Americans the amount due will be far less than the price of insurance, and, by statute, it can never be more. It may often be a reasonable financial decision to make the payment rather than purchase insurance, unlike the "prohibitory" financial punishment in Drexel Furniture. Second, the individual mandate contains no scienter requirement. Third, the payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation--except that the Service is not allowed to use those means most suggestive of a punitive sanction, such as criminal prosecution.
Op. at 35-36. The majority was untroubled that the tax penalty could be a "tax" for taxing authority purposes, but a non-"tax" for Anti-Injunction Act purposes: Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress itself enacted the AIA and could therefore itself draft around it (which it did here); but Congress's taxing authority may support congressional action whether or not Congress calls its action a "tax."
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented, arguing that universal coverage exceeded the taxing power.
Commerce Clause. A five-Justice majority concluded that the Commerce Clause did not support congressional authority to enact universal coverage, but for two different reasons. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for himself alone, wrote that universal coverage amounted to regulating before entrance into the market for health services--i.e., regulating someone who's "inactive." (And Chief Justice Roberts didn't buy the government's claim that the maarket for health insurance was integrally connected to the market for health care.) Chief Justice Roberts wrote that universal coverage was unprecedented and unsupported by the Court's cases. (Chief Justice Roberts justified reaching the issue--even though the case could be (and was) decided on the taxing power alone--because, he said, the government designed universal coverage first as a regulation and only secondly (or alternatively) as a tax.)
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito took a harder line, arguing that Congress here went too far, because it first sought to create commerce, and then to regulate it.
Medicaid Expansion. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for himself and Justices Breyer and Kagan that Medicaid expansion as-is under the ACA--in which a state declining to participate in Medicaid expansion would stand to lose its entire pot of federal Medicaid money--was unduly coercive. But the same plurality held that Medicaid expansion could be saved by simply reading the statute to mean that a declining state could lose only the additional federal money that would have come with the expansion.
Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor wrote separately to argue that Medicaid expansion as-is under the ACA did not violate the Constitution.
Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented, writing that Medicaid expansion was flatly unconstitutional.
June 28, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
In case you missed it, here are President Obama's full comments on the ACA litigation in response to a reporter's question yesterday at a joint press conference, with President Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minister Harper of Canada:
With respect to health care, I'm actually--continue to be confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law. And the reason is because, in accordance with precedent out there, it's constitutional. That's not just my opinion, by the way; that's the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices that said this wasn't even a close call.
I think it's important--because I watched some of the commentary last week--to remind people that this is not an abstract argument. People's lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability of health care, their inability to get health care because of preexisting conditions.
The law that's already in place has already given 2.5 million young people health care that wouldn't otherwise have it. There are tends of thousands of adults with preexisting conditions who have health care right now because of this law. Parents don't have to worry about their children not being able to get health care because they can't be prevented from getting health care as a consequence of a preexisting condition. That's part of this law.
Millions of senior are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law. Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to their insurance companies and are getting preventive care because of this law.
So that's just the part that's already been implemented. That doesn't even speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it's fully implemented in 2014.
And I think it's important, and I think the American people understand, and I think the justices should understand, that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care. So there's not only a economic element to this, and a legal element to this, but there's a human element to this. And I hope that's not forgotten in this political debate.
Ultimately, I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint--that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I'm pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step. . . .
As I said, we are confident that this will be over--that this will be upheld. I'm confident that this will be upheld because it should be upheld. And, again, that's not just my opinion; that's the opinion of a whole lot of constitutional law professors and academics and judges and lawyers who have examined this law, even if they're not particularly sympathetic to this particular piece of legislation or my presidency.
April 3, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Federalism, News, Spending Clause, Supreme Court (US), Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Supreme Court yesterday seemed just as skeptical--and maybe even more so--of the Medicaid expansion as it was of the universal coverage, or individual mandate, on Tuesday. The line-up was similar, with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan appearing to favor the government, and Justices Scalia and Alito leaning against. (Justice Thomas was again silent, but his opposition to Medicaid expansion is all but certain.) The difference in yesterday's argument: Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy seemed even more strongly against Medicaid expansion than against the individual mandate.
The core issue in the case, of course, was coercion: Did the federal government coerce the states by conditions a states' entire pot of Medicaid funding on its acceptance of the expansion?
Chief Justice Roberts made some very strong statements against the government's position that expansion isn't coercion, especially worrying about federalism and "intrusion on the sovereign interests of the State." Transcript p. 59; see also Transcript p. 34. This latter question, the one on page 34, also suggests that the federal government "having attached the . . . strings, [states] shouldn't be surprised if the Federal Government isn't going to start pulling them." On balance, though, the Chief Justice seemed to lean against expansion.
Justice Kennedy seemed worried most about accountability--how citizens could sort out who to blame if they didn't like the policy. He recognized that there's no "workable" test based on accountability (p. 64), but he also seemed to want to find a place for accountability in the analysis. He was also concerned about "practical coercion" (my phrase), discussed immediately below.
In the end, there seemed one predominant theme among those who appeared to lean against the expansion: If the government can't conceive of a state declining to participate in the expansion--because the money's too sweet, because the program's too good, or because the individual mandate would have a hard time working without it--it seems like coercion. This kind of plain-spoken, practical coercion might just drive the case.
Others apparently favorable to the expansion argued that this practical coercion must mean that a program can be unconstitutionally coercive only because it's too good--a plainly absurd conclusion, and therefore not a reason to overturn the expansion.
Several other themes emerged:
Complete Funding. The federal government pays the lion's share of the expansion in the first few years--a point made early by Justice Kagan. To those favoring the government, this makes it look like a pure federal gift to the states for the purpose of expanding Medicaid. But Paul Clement, representing the states, argued that it was both the size of the Medicaid program and the expansion that makes this coercion: because of Medicaid's size, state's can't afford to lose it; because of the generosity of the expansion, states can't say no to it.
Related: There was concern among those apparently leaning against the expansion about why states could stand to lose all their Medicaid funding just because they don't agree to take funding for this incremental expansion. This issue relates to executive discretion, discussed below.
Related: Chief Justice Roberts seemed especially concerned that the federal government could later decrease the amount of its participation, after leading the states on with this nearly-completely-funded expansion, and leave states in an even more precarious situation--even more coercive.
Complete Overhaul. Justice Sotomayor asked if the federal government could simply scrap the whole program and start all over, why it couldn't add this incremental expansion. Clement said that nobody has a problem with certain existing Medicaid programs, and so it makes no sense to condition the whole program, including existing programs, on a state's willingness to sign on to the incremental expansion.
Politics. The politics played a minor role, but were there. Justice Ginsburg asked about the other half of states that may favor the expansion, and Justice Scalia helped point out that the states in this case--those opposing expansion--are headed by Republicans. In Clement's words: "There is a correlation." P. 21.
Spending Power. Clement tried to distinguish between congressional use of the spending power for objectives included in other portions of Article I, Section 8, and use of the spending power for ends outside of its Section 8 powers. It's not clear whether this position has enough traction to work its way into the Court's analysis, but it does revive a very old (but now well settled) debate over the scope of congressional spending power: Congressional spending power is most certainly not cabined by what it can do under other Article I, Section 8 powers. Clement's position seems to question that, even if only on the margins.
Taxes and Citizenship. Clement argued that the federal government is encroaching on state authority by taxing state citizens for a benefit that they don't want. The argument confuses state and federal citizenship, and didn't seem to get any traction with the Court. But Clement's related argument--that federal taxes to support Medicaid expansion crowd out states' ability to tax their citizens for other purposes--did get some attention among opponents of the expansion.
Executive Discretion. Justice Breyer raised the point that the Secretary is bound by the APA in revoking all Medicaid funds for a state that declines to participate in the expansion, and that such a decision would be subject to rationality, or the arbitrary and capricious test. This point gained traction as the argument moved forward, but the Justices seemed to divide over the implications: Justice Breyer argued that this means that the Secretary isn't unbound in revoking all funds, and others pointed to the history of the Secretary's modest exercise of this authority; opponents of the expansion argued that the authority to revoke all funds is still there in the statute. SG Verrilli, of course, couldn't give assurances about how the Secretary would use the discretion, but suggested that the Secretary wouldn't revoke all Medicaid funding.
Accountability. Justice Kennedy raised the point about accountability: How can citizens understand the lines of accountability for a program that's so strongly encouraged by the federal government? Accountability is surely a consideration, but it's not clear how much, if at all, it'll turn this case. Justice Kennedy also said that any test based on accountability is "unworkable," but he seemed to search for a way to consider accountability within the coercion framework.
Practical Coercion. Again, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito, and even Justice Kennedy at one point all pointed out, in only slightly different ways, that if the government can't conceive of a state saying no--because of the size of the program, or because how expansion fits with the individual mandate, or because Congress knew that states liked Medicaid so much and just assumed that all states would come on board--then that's coercion.
SG Verrilli wrapped up his argument with an appeal to liberty--the liberty of those who would be covered by Medicaid expansion to receive funded medical care. This was refreshing, but probably not anything that would persuade those who oppose the expansion based on the sovereignty of the states and federalism.
This case, like the universal coverage case, will likely turn on Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Kennedy or both. But here both seemed even more opposed to expansion than they were to universal coverage.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The Second Circuit's opinion earlier this month refused to grant en banc review to a panel decision that the so-called prostitution pledge for government AIDS/HIV funding is unconstitutional, Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., Pathfinder International, Global Health Council, InterAction v. United States Agency for International Development.
The denial of en banc review prompted a dissent authored by Judge Cabranes, and joined by Judges Raggi and Livingston, while Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote an opinion concurring in the denial of rehearing en banc.
At issue is a provision of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 (“Leadership Act”), 22 U.S.C. § 7601 et seq., providing:
No funds made available to carry out this chapter, or any amendment made by this chapter, may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking, except that this subsection shall not apply to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Health Organization, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative or to any United Nations agency.
22 U.S.C. §7631(f). Note that the exceptions were added in the 2004 amendments to the Act, meaning that the act's provision falls most heavily on smaller NGOs.
The crux of the disagreement is whether or not the compelled speech aspect of the required statement makes it distinguishable from Rust v. Sullivan. The Second Circuit panel found this was a vital distinction - - - and indeed, it is a matter that the Court in Rust emphasized. The dissenters, as well as the Sixth Circuit, found that any such distinction is erased by the unconstitutional conditions doctrine which allows the organization to choose whether or not to apply for funds in the first instance.
As Judge Rosemary Pooler noted in her concurring opinion from denial of rehearing en banc, the doctrine is in a complex state of disarray. For those who teach, study, or litigate in this area, reconciling Rust v. Sullivan with Legal Servs. Corp. v. Velazquez, 531 U.S. 533 (2001), can be challenging - - - unless one resorts to easy and cynical canards about the differences between doctors and lawyers, or the Court's solipsistic concern for its own role when conditions are imposed. The "anti-prostitution" pledge cases could be a great vehicle for exploring the complexities, either as a scholarly project or as a class exercise.
The Second Circuit and the Sixth Circuit opinions also provide a circuit conflict, perhaps teeing up the Second Circuit case for Supreme Court review.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The Supreme Court issued an order today alloting oral argument time in the challenges to the Affordable Care Act--six hours of argument altogether. Here's how the argument time will be shared:
March 26 and 27
- On the Minimum Coverage Provision, the Solicitor General gets 60 minutes; respondents Florida, et al. get 30 minutes; and respondents National Federation of Independent Business, et al. get 30 minutes.
- On the Anti-Injunction Act, the Court-appointed amicus gets 40 minutes; the Solicitor General gets 30 minutes; and the respondents get 20 minutes.
- On Medicaid expansion, the petitioners get 30 minutes; and the Solicitor General gets 30 minutes.
- On severability, the petitioners get 30 minutes; the Solicitor General gets 30 minutes; and the Court-appointed amicus gets 30 minutes.
February 21, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Federalism, News, Spending Clause, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Three parties--two sets of plaintiffs and the U.S. government--filed petitions today asking the Supreme Court to review the Eleventh Circuit ruling last month in State of Florida v. HHS striking down aspects of the Affordable Care Act. In seeking Court review of the three-judge panel decision, the parties are bypassing en banc review and taking the case directly to the Court.
Recall that the Eleventh Circuit ruled the so-called individual mandate unconstitutional, but also ruled it severable from the rest of the ACA. In particular, the court ruled that the individual mandate exceeded congressional authority under both the Commerce Clause and the Taxing Clause; that the individual mandate was severable from the rest of the ACA; and that Medicaid expansion did not unduly coerce the states and thus exceed congressional authority under the Spending Clause. The ruling gave both sides plenty to appeal.
And the petitions for cert. filed today reflect it. Thus the National Association of Independent Business and two private individuals, all plaintiffs in the case, took on the Eleventh Circuit's ruling on severability. (Recall that the district court ruled the individual mandate non-severable, in part because the government argued that it was an essential part of the overall ACA. And becuase it ruled that Congress lacked authority to enact the individual mandate, the district court also struck down the entire ACA. The Eleventh Circuit reversed.) These petitioners also say that the Eleventh Circuit's case is a better vehicle with which to evaluate the ACA, because it involves all the issues, but none of the problems, of the cases out of the other circuits. Thus, they say that the Sixth Circuit ruling in Thomas More, upholding the individual mandate, includes a contested standing issue and failed to address severability of the individual mandate (because the parties didn't argue it); the Fourth Circuit in Liberty University ruled that the plaintiffs' case was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, an erroneous and now "irrelevant" ruling, in their judgment.
The state plaintiffs in the case took on the Eleventh Circuit's ruling on the Tenth Amendment and federalism. They argue that the Eleventh Circuit erred in ruling that Medicaid expansion in the ACA isn't unduly coercive and that the Supreme Court should resolve whether the so-called employer mandate provisions are constitutional as applied to the states.
Finally, the government argued that Congress had authority to enact the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause and, alternatively, the Taxing Clause. It also asks the Court to address whether the Anti-Injunction Act bars the plaintiffs' suit.
The petitions today make it all the more likely that the Court will hear a challenge to the ACA this Term. And this case seems the most likely vehicle, for all the reasons argued by the NFIB: This case puts it all before the Court--Commerce Clause, Taxing Clause, severability, Tenth Amendment, federalism, and the AIA. Both sides want a ruling on the whole thing, and this is the right case.
[Image: Pieter Huys, A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly, Wikimedia Commons]
September 28, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Spending Clause, Supreme Court (US), Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The Second Circuit today in a 2-1 opinion held unconstitutional the so-called prostitution pledge for government AIDS/HIV funding unconstitutional in Alliance for Open Society International, Inc., Pathfinder International, Global Health Council, InterAction v. United States Agency for International Development.
The prostitution pledge - - - actually an anti-prostitution pledge - - - is in Section 7631(f) of the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 (“Leadership Act”), 22 U.S.C. § 7601 et seq. providing that no funds “made available to carry out this Act . . . may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution.” The Act also has a provision, unchallenged in this case, that prohibits funds made available to carry out the Act being used to “promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.” The case was returning to the Second Circuit after being remanded to the district court judge, and the Circuit opinion affirmed the district judge’s finding that Section 7631(f) was an unconstitutional condition on the receipt of funding. The panel easily found that the plaintiffs had standing.
The panel concluded that the provision, as construed and implemented by the Defendant/Appellant agencies, falls well beyond what the Supreme Court and this Court have upheld as permissible conditions on the receipt of government funds. The panel reasoned that Section 7631(f) does not merely require recipients of Leadership Act funds to refrain from certain conduct, “but goes substantially further and compels recipients to espouse the government’s viewpoint.”
The panel rejected the government agencies’ expansive argument that all government funding requirements are insulated from constitutional constraints. Instead, the panel carefully considered Regan v. Taxation With Representation, 461 U.S. 540 (1983), FCC v. League of Women Voters of California, 468 U.S. 364 (1984); Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991) and Services Corp. v. Velazquez, 531 U.S. 533 (2001), as well as the Second Circuit Velazquez and LSC-funding cases. In distinguishing these cases, the panel stated:
the Policy Requirement does not merely restrict recipients from engaging in certain expression (such as lobbying (Regan), editorializing (League of Women Voters), abortion-related speech (Rust), or welfare reform litigation (the LSC cases), but pushes considerably further and mandates that recipients affirmatively say something—that they are “opposed to the practice of prostitution,” 45 C.F.R. § 89.1. The Policy Requirement is viewpoint-based, and it compels recipients, as a condition of funding, to espouse the government’s position.
The panel further distinguished Rust by stating that "the Rust Court expressly observed that “[n]othing in [the challenged regulations] requires a doctor to represent as his own any opinion that he does not in fact hold.”" Rather," the grantee’s staff could remain “silen[t] with regard to abortion,” and, if asked about abortion, was “free to make clear that advice regarding abortion is simply beyond the scope of the program.”" Unlike under these regulations where the plaintiffs "must represent as their own an opinion—that they affirmatively oppose prostitution—that they might not categorically hold."
We do not mean to imply that the government may never require affirmative, viewpoint specific speech as a condition of participating in a federal program. To use an example supplied by Defendants, if the government were to fund a campaign urging children to “Just Say No” to drugs, we do not doubt that it could require grantees to state that they oppose drug use by children. But in that scenario, the government’s program is, in effect, its message. That is not so here. The stated purpose of the Leadership Act is to fight HIV/AIDS, as well as tuberculosis, and malaria. Defendants cannot now recast the Leadership Act’s global HIV/AIDS-prevention program as an anti-prostitution messaging campaign.
The panel also noted that the mandated viewpoint was not universal: "the targeted speech, concerning prostitution in the context of the international HIV/AIDS-prevention effort, is a subject of international debate," in which "the differences are both real and substantive." By requiring the espousal of the government's position, the program prohibited important political speech.
[image:Title page and frontispiece of Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies (1757 – 1795) - a directory of prostitutes in Georgian London, via]
Saturday, April 9, 2011
The passage of the Affordable Care Act in early 2010 has prompted a variety of constitutional challenges which we’ve covered extensively, including here and here. For ConLawProfs who like to frame their examinations around curent controversies, the Affordable Health Care Act provides an excellent opportunity.
A good background and refresher on federal power and federalism concerns is WVU College of Law Professor Gerald G. Ashdown 's article Federalism’s Floor, 80 Miss. L.J. 69, 74 (2010). Ashdown examines the Rehnquist Court’s movement toward limited federal power, and then attempts to explain why the federalism movement “seems to have bottomed out, or reached a floor on limiting the reach of federal power." In doing so, Ashdown frames his analysis with a discussion of several factors, including the “natural limits on the Court’s recent Commerce Clause, sovereign immunity, and Section 5 (of the Fourteenth Amendment) decisions; congressional use of the Spending Clause, and politics both outside and inside the Court.” Id.
First, Ashdown’s look at recent Commerce Clause cases brings his thesis into clearer focus. Most students of constitutional law are quite familiar with the decisions in United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison, cases which struck down federal enactments under a narrower application of the Commerce Clause. Students should be just as familiar with Gonzales v. Raich, a decision in which the court upheld the authority of Congress to regulate the intrastate production and use of marijuana under the aggregation theory of the Commerce Clause, best exemplified by the decision in Wickard v. Filburn. Ashdown writes that “Raich is a hard case, and although it did not necessarily produce bad law, it did produce weird, if not predictable, results—at least for federalism after Lopez and Morrison.” Id. at 77. Ultimately, Ashdown concludes that “[e]ven when the affecting commerce theory of Lopez and Morrison is relied upon, there seem to be practical and ideological barriers, illustrated by Raich, to limiting federal commerce authority. In other words, there are pragmatic barriers to further Court action restricting congressional power under the Commerce Clause.” Id. at 79-80.
Professor Ashdown turns next to the complex subject of sovereign immunity and the effect of Section 5 abrogation, writing that
[t]he combination of Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, which held that Congress could abrogate state sovereign immunity only under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and not under the Commerce Clause, and City of Boerne v. Flores, interpreting Section 5 narrowly to disallow Congress from protecting “rights” more broadly than those identified by the Supreme Court, seemed to place substantial limits on the reach of federal authority over the states. Taken together, these cases mean that Congress only has Section 5 power to regulate state government and that the federal enactment must be a “congruent and proportional” remedy to a constitutional violation identified by the Court.
Id. at 80. Despite these barriers to expanded federal power, a more recent decision in Nevada Dep’t of Human Resources v. Hibbs, upheld the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because the Act was a proportional and congruent remedy to the historical discrimination by states on the basis of gender. Next, Professor Ashdown surveys Spending Clause jurisprudence, beginning with the key case of South Dakota v. Dole, where the Court upheld the federal requirement that states accepting highway funds must enact twenty-one-year-old drinking age laws or suffer loss of funding. While it upheld the restriction, the Court took note of some limits on conditional spending. “The Court’s own spending jurisprudence thus provides another barrier to judicial tinkering with the federalism balance,” according to Ashdown. Id. at 93. Finally, Ashdown observes the effects of national political processes on some federalism issues that reach the courts. The federal partial-birth abortion ban illustrates Ashdown’s point. “The pro-life, conservative side that normally would align with restraints on federal power naturally supported the statute, and the pro-choice group who opposed the Act evidently was unwilling to challenge the use of federal authority, something liberals generally favor, . . . as social progressives would be extremely reluctant to give the federal courts . . . the opportunity to place further limits on federal commerce power.” Id. at 97-98. These “political checks,” Ashdown argues, operate in addition to judicial dynamics “as a practical floor on potential judicial inroads on federal power.” Id. at 98-99.
In the end, Ashdown observes that “the Supreme Court’s own jurisprudence has established a floor on shifting power to state governments,” and “[f]ederalism tends to get ignored in favor of first-order issues like abortion, gun control, and civil rights.” Id. at 103. Ashdown aptly foreshadows the litigation surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act - - - and possible "floor and ceiling" issues on forthcoming constitutional law exams.
with J. Zak Ritchie
[image: Inside the US Supreme Court building via]
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A "mini-symposium" on April 7, 2011, starting at 3pm, will feature a lecture on "One State's Challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act" by Maura Healey, Chief, Civil Rights Division, Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.
Healy (pictured right) will be speaking about Massachusetts' successful constitutional challenge to section 3 of DOMA; Judge Tauro found that section 3 "offends" the Tenth Amendment reasoning that marriage is a quintessential matter of state, and not federal, power.
Healy's talk will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Steve Sanders, and including:
- Thomas M. Fisher, Solicitor General, State of Indiana
- Dawn Johnsen, Walter W. Foskett Professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice
- Brian Powell, Rudy Professor of Sociology, Indiana University College of Arts & Sciences and co-author of Counted Out: Same-sex Relations and Americans' Definitions of the Family
- Deborah Widiss, Associate Professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
More information about the event and its webcast available here.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Judge Vinson (N.D. Fla.) ruled today in State of Florida v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services that the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act was unconstitutional--in its entirety. The ruling declared that the individual health insurance mandate exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Judge Vinson wrote that because the mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the Act, the whole thing was unconstitutional. We posted previously on the case--which was brought by governors or AGs in 26 states, two private citizens, and a business association--here and here.
In striking down the mandate, Judge Vinson ruled that the Commerce Clause only authorizes Congress to regulate activity, that failure to purchase health insurance is not an activity, and that there's nothing inherent or unique in the health care market or in the decision not to purchase health insurance that ties the failure to purchase health insurance to interstate commerce.
Judge Vinson emphasized throughout his analysis that the question--whether Congress can regulate a non-"activity"--was novel. This alone, he ruled, did not make it unconstitutional. But it seemed to put a heavy thumb on the scale in his analysis. (He didn't seem troubled that other congressional acts upheld under the Commerce Clause were also "novel" when they first came to the courts: wheat production for home use in Wickard v. Filburn and home production and use of marijuana in Gonzales v. Raich, just to name two. But he did write this about Wickard: "[B]efore Wickard was decided, it is likely that most people (including legal scholars and judges) would have thought it equally "ridiculous" to believe that Congress would one day seek (and be permitted) to regulate (as interstate commerce) the amount of wheat that a farmer grew on a small private farm for his personal consumption." Op. at 47, n. 20.)
He also emphasized the unbridled power that would result if Congress could require individuals to purchase health insurance: if Congress could do this, he wrote, Congress could do anything--require us to buy certain cars, to buy certain bread, and even to buy broccoli. These kinds of regulations exceed congressional authority, he wrote, because they run counter to the Framers' intent and to precedent and practice.
Judge Vinson was perhaps most emphatic in writing that the non-act of not purchasing health insurance had no effect on interstate commerce:
If impact on interstate commerce were to be expressed and calculated mathematically, the status of being uninsured would necessarily be represented by zero. Of course, any other figure multiplied by zero is also zero. Consequently, [even the aggregate] impact must be zero, and of no effect on interstate commerce.
Op. at 50. According to Judge Vinson, it would require "pil[ing] inference upon inference" to get from not insuring to the interstate economy, thus running afoul of the principle in U.S. v. Lopez.
Judge Vinson wrote separately about the Necessary and Proper Clause. He wrote that this Clause also failed to support the individual mandate, largely because the Commerce Clause didn't support the mandate:
The Necessary and Proper Clause cannot be utilized to "pass laws for the accomplishment of objects" that are not within Congress' enumerated powers. As the previous analysis of the defendants' Commerce Clause argument reveals, the individual mandate is neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution. To uphold that provision via application of the Necessary and Proper Clause would authorize Congress to reach and regulate far beyond the currently established "outer limits" of the Commerce Clause and effectively remove all limits on federal power.
Op. at 62.
Judge Vinson ruled that the Medicaid expansion portion of the Act did not violate the Spending Clause. He ruled that it clearly met the standards under South Dakota v. Dole and that it didn't unconstitutionally "coerce" the states. (The states argued that the expansion coerced them into continuing their participation in Medicaid, even as the cost of participating became unsustainable.)
But he nevertheless ruled the entire Act unconstitutional, because, he wrote, the individual mandate wasn't severable from the rest of the Act.
Judge Vinson's ruling is now the second federal district court ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. (Judge Henry Hudson (E.D. Va.) issued the first ruling last month.) There are also two federal court rulings upholding the constitutionality of the mandate.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez this week reminded state court chief justices and administrators of their obligation to provide "meaningful access" for individuals with limited English language proficiency.
The obligation comes from the conditional spending measures in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000d et seq., and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 3789d(c), both of which prohibit national origin discrimination by federal fund recipients, and E.O. 13166 (2000), which requires federal agencies to "work to ensure that recipients of Federal financial assistance . . . provide meaningful access to their [applicants with limited English proficiency]." The Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols in 1974 that failure to take measures to provide access to individuals with limited English proficiency is a form of national origin discrimination banned by Title VI.
Perez also delineated some of the ways in which state courts are failing to meet their obligations: limiting the types of proceedings for which interpreter services are provided; charging interpreter costs to a party; and restricting language services to the courtroom (and not court offices and other court personnel).
Congress and the president effectively banned all discrimination against individuals with limited English proficiency in state courts through conditional spending (because all state courts receive some federal funding and thus accept the non-discriminatory condition). Because state courts "contractually agreed" (quoting Lau v. Nichols) to the non-discrimination provisions as a condition of receiving federal funds, they are bound by them, notwithstanding state law to the contrary. (As Perez writes, "The federal requirement to provide language assistance . . . applies notwithstanding conflicting state or local laws or court rules.") As a conditional spending requirement, there is no Tenth Amendment problem. See South Dakota v. Dole (stating the requirements for federal conditional spending programs).
But Congress could also almost certainly achieve this result directly if it wished--by outlawing discrimination in state courts under its Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5, authority. The Supreme Court upheld just such a law in Tennessee v. Lane in 2004--Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlawed discrimination against individuals with disabilities in access to the state courts.
August 18, 2010 in Congressional Authority, Disability, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, August 14, 2010
The Social Security Act of 1935, spear-headed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, turns seventy-five today.
[image: President Roosevelt signing the Social Security Act, via].
But as Justice Cardozo said in 1937:
The Social Security Act (Act of August 14, 1935, c. 531, 49 Stat. 620, 42 U.S.C. c. 7, (Supp.)), is challenged once again.
Although the Court upheld the Act in the 1937 cases of Helvering v. Davis (which began with Cardozo's statement above) and in Steward Machine Company v. Collector of Internal Revenue Service, there are those who continue to argue it is unconstitutional, including Republican Congressperson John Shadegg.
In service of that conclusion, Shadegg has sponsored the Enumerated Powers bill, which provides:
Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The failure to comply with this section shall give rise to a point of order in either House of Congress. The availability of this point of order does not affect any other available relief.
Such a requirement does not seem problematic at first blush, although the Court could presumably find that Congress did not have power under the rational Congress articulated but nevertheless possessed authority pursuant to a different constitutional power.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Among Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan's written responses to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Friday was this exchange with Senator Cornyn on congressional power to enact legislation implementing a treaty:
[Question 4] Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416, 432 (1920), held that "[i]f a treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of a statute under Article I, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government."
[Question 4a.] In your view, can Congress and the President expand or evade the scope of Congress's Article I powers by entering into a treaty requiring an enforcing law that would otherwise be unconstitutional [as exceeding congressional authority under Article I]?
Response: Missouri v. Holland held that Congress may enact a statute implementing a treaty pursuant to its authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause, even if Congress does not otherwise have Article I authority to do so, provided the statute does not violate a constitutional prohibition.
The exchange brings to mind debates even today about whether Congress can "exceed its authority" by enacting legislation under the General Welfare Clause--that is, whether Congress can do under the General Welfare Clause what it can't do under, say, the Commerce Clause.
Of course it can. Madison and Hamilton waged this debate many years ago--Madison for the limited view, Hamilton for the expansive view--and the Court settled it in favor of Hamilton in 1936 in United States v. Butler.
The issue for the General Welfare Clause (and also for congressional authority to implement a treaty) is not whether the political branches can "expand or evade the scope of Congress's Article I powers," as Senator Cornyn suggests. Instead, the General Welfare Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause (to implement a treaty) are themselves independent congressional powers. That Congress could not achieve its goals under, say, the Commerce Clause just doesn't matter, because it can achieve them by other valid means.
It's a separate question, of course, whether Congress should achieve the goals at all. Senator Cornyn went on to ask about this--with respect to the Gun Free School Zones Act (overturned as exceeding the Commerce Clause in United States v. Lopez), the civil damages provision in the Violence Against Women Act (overturned as exceeding the Commerce Clause and Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in United States v. Morrison), and the individual health insurance mandate in the recent health care reform legislation (yet to reach the Supreme Court).
Could Congress achieve its policy goals in these areas by enacting a treaty and implementing it through legislation? Surely, every bit as much as it could under its spending power.
Whether it should is a question for Senator Cornyn, not Nominee Kagan.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
DOMA Unconstitutional: Massachusetts Federal District Judge Finds Section 3 of Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional
In two decisions today, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, United States District Judge Joseph Tauro held section 3 of the Defense of Mariage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
Section 3 of DOMA, 1 USC section 7, provides:
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
Thus, same-sex partners who are legally married pursuant to Massachusetts law are nevertheless not considered married for federal purposes.
In Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. US Dept of Health and Human Services, the Judge first found that the Commonwealth had standing to bring the lawsuit, noting that the federal "VA already informed the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services that the federal government is entitled to recapture millions of dollars in federal grants if the Commonwealth decides to entomb an otherwise ineligible same-sex spouse of a veteran," and that the "Commonwealth has amassed approximately $640,661 in additional tax liability and forsaken at least $2,224,018 in federal funding because DOMA bars HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from using federal funds to insure same-sex married couples." (Opinion at 21). The Judge then merged the Tenth Amendment and Spending Clause challenges - - - "two sides of the same coin" - - - although specifically discussing and applying the classic spending clause case of South Dakota v. Dole. The Judge found that DOMA "plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty—the ability to define the marital status of its citizens," and applied First Circuit precedent regarding the test for a Tenth Amendment analysis. (Opinion at 28). Further, Judge Tauro discussed the historical practice of marriage and family as being state, rather than federal matters, and noted:
That the Supreme Court, over the past century, has repeatedly offered family law as an example of a quintessential area of state concern, also persuades this court that marital status determinations are an attribute of state sovereignty. For instance, in [United States v. ] Morrison, the Supreme Court noted that an overly expansive view of the Commerce Clause could lead to federal legislation of “family law and other areas of traditional state regulation since the aggregate effect of marriage, divorce, and childrearing on the national economy is undoubtedly significant.” Similarly, in Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, the Supreme Court observed “that ‘[t]he whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United States.’”
Opinion at 32. Thus, the Judge concluded that by enacting and enforcing DOMA, the federal government "encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment." Opinion at 36.
In the companion case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, (opinion available above), the Judge considered the challenge of seven plaintiffs who had been in same-sex marriages in Massachusetts and were denied federal benefits, including survivors’ benefits. Judge Tauro outlined the plaintiffs arguments that the classification should merit strict scrutiny under equal protection clause doctrine, but held that the court “need not address these arguments, however, because DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster even under the highly deferential rational basis test,” because “there exists no fairly conceivable set of facts that could ground a rational relationship” between DOMA and a legitimate government objective, and that therefore DOMA violates the core constitutional principles of equal protection. Opinion at 21.
The Judge wrote that the Congressional House Report identifies four interests which Congress sought to advance through the enactment of DOMA: (1) encouraging responsible procreation and child-bearing, (2) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage, (3) defending traditional notions of morality, and (4) preserving scarce resources.
The Judge analyzed these interests finding them not legitimate, but not before noting that for "purposes of this litigation, the government has disavowed Congress’s stated justifications for the statute." Opinion at 23.
The Obama Administration's stance in defending DOMA has been watched closely; we discussed it here, and in the California litigation here. According to Judge Tauro, in essence, the government now argued that "the Constitution permitted Congress to enact DOMA as a means to preserve the 'status quo,' pending the resolution of a socially contentious debate taking place in the states over whether to sanction same-sex marriage." Opinion at 27. Judge Tauro also found that interest not legitimate, echoing some of the Tenth Amendment arguments in the companion case, Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS, regarding the federal governments role - - - or lack of role - - - in marriage and family law.
The Judge also found that the 'status quo' rationale was not rationally served by DOMA:
The states alone are empowered to determine who is eligible to marry and, as of 1996 [the year DOMA was passed] no state had extended such eligibility to same-sex couples. In 1996, therefore, it was indeed the status quo at the state level to restrict the definition of marriage to the union of one man and one
woman. But, the status quo at the federal level was to recognize, for federal purposes, any marriage declared valid according to state law. Thus, Congress’ enactment of a provision denying federal recognition to a particular category of valid state-sanctioned marriages was, in fact, a significant departure from the status quo at the federal level.
Opinion at 32. Explicitly accepting the Plaintiffs’ argument, Judge Tauro, reasoned that "DOMA seems to inject complexity into an otherwise straightforward administrative task by sundering the class of state sanctioned marriages into two, those that are valid for federal purposes and those that are not.” Opinion at 35. Regarding the rational relationship argument, the Judge concluded that DOMA was based on "irrational prejudice" and therefore violated the equal protection clause as applicable to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment.
Thus, this federal district judge finds DOMA's section 3 unconstitutional, a ruling that will have great import for Massachusetts same-sex married couples and the state of Massachusetts, and which could be used persuasively in other states such as Iowa which allow same-sex marriage.
Whether or not the Obama Administration will appeal the ruling will be closely watched.
July 8, 2010 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, News, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Spending Clause, State Constitutional Law, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)