Friday, July 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska skies
Alaska Skies mural in Alaska Supreme Court via




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

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Charged with Judicial Misconduct Based on Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

The continuing saga of the controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Roy S. Moore, has taken another turn with a complaint against him filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, in the special Court of the Judiciary. [While the entire complaint is almost 300 pages, more than 250 pages are devoted to the 17 appendixes of supporting documents including opinions and letters].

As the complaint notes, this is not the first time that Justice Roy Moore has been before the Court of the Judiciary: the court removed him from office in 2003 for violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for failure to obey an injunction from a federal district court.  (He was re-elected in 2013.) While that earlier controversy revolved around the placement of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, the present one concerns Justice Moore's actions on same-sex marriage.  As the complaint summarizes it, Chief Justice Moore's pertinent conduct "involves the interplay of four cases":

 The complaint gives a good chronology of the various events which have been contentious.  As we previously noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a judicial ethics complaint after Chief Justice Moore penned a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order on same-sex marriage.

One of the more interesting aspects of the ethics charges is this:

On January 6, 2016—despite the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, despite the United States District Court's injunction against all Alabama probate judges that specifically enjoined them from obeying any contrary order of the Alabama Supreme Court, and despite the Eleventh Circuit's October 20, 2015 order recognizing the abrogation of API by Obergefell—Chief Justice Moore, under the guise of his administrative authority as Chief Justice, unilaterally issued an Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty under API to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples.   His Administrative Order states in part:

IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT: Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.

[paragraph 38].  In paragraph 3, the complaint stated "Significant to the context of this matter is that the vast majority of probate judges in this state are not licensed to practice law."  However, the probate judges would be bound by the Canons of Judicial Ethics; the complaint alleges that Moore "flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority as chief administrative officer of Alabama's judicial branch by "ordering or appearing to order" the probate judges not to obey the federal district court's injunction and thus ordering the probate judges to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics "knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office."

Thus, it is not only Moore's own refusal to abide by federal interpretations of the United States Constitution, but his ordering of subordinates to do so that are included in the six specific charges against him, all of which involve alleged violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which, broadly stated are:

  • Canon 1.     A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  • Canon 2.     A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities.
  • Canon 3.     A judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently.

Chief Justice Moore has reportedly been suspended, pending the decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which is composed of judges, lawyers, and lay persons, and has the power to remove the Justice.  Interestingly, appeal from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary is to Supreme Court of Alabama.



video via

May 7, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

California Appellate Court Finds State Teacher Tenure Statute Constitutional

In its opinion in Vergara v. California today, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District of California reversed the conclusion of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education. California's so-called teacher tenure statutes challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including the permanent employment statute (§44929.21(b)); dismissal statutes (§§ 4493444938(b)(l) and (2) and 44944); and a seniority statute, "Last In First Out" or "LIFO" statute (§44955).

In a nutshell, the appellate court found:

Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.

Reading Lesson at a Dame School, by Elias Martin (1739–1818) via

The appellate court implied that the trial judge had misconstrued his constitutional task:

With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.

The appellate court's 36 page opinion contains a careful rehearsal of the evidence before the trial judge as well as a discussion of his opinion.  In its own analysis, the appellate court considered the plaintiffs' original contentions that:

the challenged statutes create an oversupply of grossly ineffective teachers because (i) the tenure statute’s probationary period is too short, preventing the identification of grossly ineffective teachers before the mandated deadline for reelection; (ii) when grossly ineffective tenured teachers are identified, it is functionally impossible to terminate them under the overly burdensome and complicated dismissal statutes; and (iii) when reductions-in-force are required, the statute requires the termination of junior, competent teachers while more senior, grossly ineffective teachers keep their jobs only because they have seniority. Plaintiffs argued, and the trial court agreed, that two distinct classes of students—Group 1 (an “unlucky subset” of students within the population of students at large) and Group 2 (poor and minority students)—were denied equal protection because the challenged statutes led members of these groups to be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.

The unanimous panel found that there was no "identifiable class" for equal protection purposes:  the group of "unlucky students" who are allegedly harmed by being assigned to grossly ineffective teachers have only one defining characteristic - - - they are assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.  As for the second group - - - identified as poor and minority students - - - the appellate court found that there was insufficient causation for a facial constitutional violation: "the statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth."  While it is possible, the appellate court noted, that the plaintiffs could have shown that the implementation of the statutes inevitably resulted in "consequential assignment of disproportionately high numbers of grossly inefficient teachers to schools predominantly serving low-income and minority students," the plaintiffs here did not make such a showing.

While the appellate court recognized there were "deplorable staffing decisions made by some local administrators," this was not sufficient to support a facial challenge to teacher tenure statutes. 

The appellate decision is much better reasoned than the trial judge's opinion, which derided the "uber due process" provided by the statutes and did not elaborate on the facts and evidence.  It is likely to stand.

April 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Split Rulings for Illinois Public Employees

The Illinois Supreme Court today issued two opinions on state constitutional provisions as they relate to public employees' compensation. One went for the employees; the other went for the state.

In the first, Jones v. Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, the court ruled that the state's effort to cut back on promised annuity payment increases under public-sector union contracts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause. The case involved Public Act 98-641, which would have, among other things, cut the flat annual annuity increases under the contract in order to bring the funds back to solvency. Union members sued, arguing that the provision violated the state constitution's Pension Protection Clause, which says: "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

The court agreed. It said that the Clause means what it says--"shall not be diminished" really means "shall not be diminished"--and that Public Act 98-641 therefore violates it. The court rejected the state's arguments that the Act, when read as a whole, actually provides a net benefit to members and that the Act was part of a bargained-for exchange supported by consideration.

While Jones is a win for public employees, the other case, State of Illinois v. AFSCME, most certainly is not. In AFSCME, the state legislature failed to fund a promised 2-percent raise for certain government employees, even though that raise itself was a concession by those employees, who were entitled to a 4-percent raise under their contract. (In order to meet the state's fiscal crisis, the union and state agreed to a 2-percent raise on schedule, and a later, additional 2-percent raise, for a total of 4 percent--the contractual amount.) AFSCME took the case to an arbitrator and won, but the court reversed. The court said that the state constitutional Appropriations Clause overrode the agreement. That Clause reads: "The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State." Moreover, an Illinois statute qualifies all public-sector collective bargaining with this language: "Subject to the appropriation power of [the legislature] . . . ." The court said that the Appropriations Clause and Illinois law together mean that the legislature can effectively override a promised contractual raise by failing to fund it.

Justice Kilbride dissented on this point. He argued that the legislature's failure to fund the 2-percent raise constituted a violation of the state constitution's Contract Clause.

March 24, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 22, 2016

Kansas Appellate Court Affirms Finding That Kansas's "Dismemberment Abortion Act" is Unconstitutional under State Constitution

The Kansas Court of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court, has found that the Kansas Constitution includes a due process right applicable to abortion and that the Kansas Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act (SB95) violates that right in its opinion by Judge Steve Leben in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt.

Before the discussion of the constitutionality of the Act, there were some preliminary - - - and unusual - - - issues, including some noteworthy matters of procedure. Unusually, the Court of Appeals heard the case en banc rather in a panel of three.  And presumably also unusual, the judges were "equally divided, seven voting to affirm the district court and seven voting to reverse."  Thus, the trial court's ruling granting a preliminary injunction against the Act was affirmed. 

Judges of the Kansas Court of Appeals via

Additionally, there were some state constitutional law issues.  Importantly, the plaintiffs' argument that the Act is unconstitutional rests solely on the state constitution.  As the Leben opinion stated, this was a case of first impression and a  "plaintiff has the procedural right to choose the legal theories he or she will pursue; we cannot force the plaintiffs here to choose another legal avenue.")  But the Kansas State Constitution does not include a due process clause - - - or even the words "due process" - - - unlike the United States Constitution's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, in which the right to an abortion has been anchored.  Instead, plaintiffs argued, and the court found, that §1 and §2 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights include a due process right despite their explicit language:

§ 1. Equal rights. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

§ 2. Political power; privileges. All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and are instituted for their equal protection and benefit. No special privileges or immunities shall ever be granted by the legislature, which may not be altered, revoked or repealed by the same body; and this power shall be exercised by no other tribunal or agency.

Judge Leben's finding was based in large part on previous decisions of the Kansas Supreme Court.  Where the dissent differed was not on the matter of due process as a general matter but on the specific inclusion of "abortion."  Indeed, as Judge Leben's opinion admitted "What the Kansas Supreme Court has not yet done is apply substantive-due-process principles in a case involving personal or fundamental rights, like the right to contraception, the right to marry, or the right to abortion."  But as Judge Leben's opinion noted, "the Kansas Supreme Court has explicitly recognized a substantive-due- process right under the Kansas Constitution and has applied a substantive-due-process legal standard equivalent to the one applicable under the Fourteenth Amendment at the time of these Kansas decisions."  This past practice was an embrace of the present, and Judge Leben's opinion interestingly quotes the Court's recent opinion by Justice Kennedy Obergefell  as well as opinions from the Kansas Supreme Court.  Judge Leben nicely sums up the position:

The rights of Kansas women in 2016 are not limited to those specifically intended by the men who drafted our state's constitution in 1859.

Having decided that the Kansas constitutional text merits a co-extensive interpretation with the federal constitution, Judge Leben's opinion for the Kansas Court of Appeal does not rest on "adequate and independent state grounds" under Michigan v. LongJudge Gordon Atcheson's extensive and scholarly concurring opinion makes the case that §1 of the Kansas Bill of Rights provides "entirely separate constitutional protection without direct federal counterpart" for abortion and that such protection is greater under the Kansas state constitution than under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under the co-extensive interpretation, Judge Leben's opinion thus confronted the constitutionality of the Kansas Act under the substantive due process "undue burden" standard.  This entailed an application of the disparate Carhart cases: Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) and Gonzales v. Carhart (2007).  In Stenberg, the Court concluded Nebraska's so-called "partial-birth abortion" statute was unconstitutional; in Gonzales, the Court concluded that the federal so-called "partial-birth abortion" statute was constitutional.

The Judge Leben opinion distinguished Gonzales:

But the circumstances here are quite unlike Gonzales. There, the Court considered a ban on an uncommon procedure and noted that the most common and generally safest abortion method remained available. Here, the State has done the opposite, banning the most common, safest procedure and leaving only uncommon and often unstudied options available.

Interestingly, Judge Atcheson's concurring opinion responded to the Justice Kennedy's language in Gonzales and the language of the Kansas Act:

The State's remaining argument rests on the unaesthetic description of a D &E abortion contained in Senate Bill 95 and in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). But aesthetics really cannot justify legislative limitations on safe medical procedures. The lack of justification is even more pronounced when the procedure is integral to a woman's constitutional right to self-determination and reproductive freedom. The government cannot impose upon an essential right because some exercise of the right may be unaesthetic or even repulsive to some people. That's all the more true when those people needn't see or participate in the protected activity.

The dissenting opinion concludes that there is "nothing in the text or history of §§1 and 2 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights to lead this court to conclude that these provisions were intended to guarantee a right to abortion."

This matter is surely going to the Kansas Supreme Court, as Judge Leben's opinion for the Kansas Court of Appeals acknowledged.  Rendered on the 43rd anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade and as the Court prepares to consider its first abortion case in 8 years, Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the Kansas Court of Appeals evenly split decision exemplifies how divided opinion on this issue can be.

January 22, 2016 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, International, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Daily Read: Taunya Banks on MLK and Education

On this Martin Luther King Day, the 2016 Presidential Proclamation  includes attention to the continuing quest for educational equality:

Today, we celebrate the long arc of progress for which Dr. King and so many other leaders fought to bend toward a brighter day.  It is our mission to fulfill his vision of a Nation devoted to rejecting bigotry in all its forms; to rising above cynicism and the belief that we cannot change; and to cherishing dignity and opportunity not only for our own daughters and sons, but also for our neighbors' children.

We have made great advances since Dr. King's time, yet injustice remains in many corners of our country.  In too many communities, the cycle of poverty persists and students attend schools without adequate resources -- some that serve as a pipeline to prison for young people of color.  Children still go to bed hungry, and the sick go without sufficient treatment in neighborhoods across America.  To put up blinders to these realities or to intimate that they are inherent to a Nation as large and diverse as ours would do a disservice to those who fought so hard to ensure ours was a country dedicated to the proposition that all people are created equal.

It's worth (re)reading Professor Taunya Lovell Banks' 2013 article, The Unfinished Journey - Education, Equality and Martin Luther King, Jr. Revisited, 58 Villanova Law Review 471, available on ssrn, arguing that educational equality includes economic equality. 

LAW-BanksDelivered as a MLK Day Lecture at Villanova, Professor Banks remarks have continued resonance as the United States Supreme Court deliberates Fisher II regarding affirmative action in higher education:

As our experience with Brown [v. Board of Education] has taught us, law is an imperfect vehicle for bringing about massive social change. In 1963, Dr. King, in his often quoted Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote about the “interrelatedness of all communities and states.” The same year he wrote in his book Strength to Love that: “True integration will be achieved by true neighbors who are willingly obedient to unenforceable obligations.” I contend that we as Americans have an unenforceable obligation to provide quality education for all of our children and not handicap some children so that others can become more competitive. We must do this by public will, not solely through law.
As I said earlier, our efforts to bring about educational equality should be multi-directional, and lawyers have a role to play. As part of this battle some lawyers and academics must recommit to convincing state courts to define more broadly their guarantees of a free public education. We must convince state courts that education is a fundamental right. Others must work with state legislatures to get them to commit, in words and funds, to the achievement of a twenty-first century notion of educational equality. More importantly, we all must work to get Americans throughout the nation to recommit to a strong public education system throughout the country.

[footnotes omitted; emphasis added]. 


January 18, 2016 in Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Race, Scholarship, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 15, 2016

New York State Appellate Court Rejects First Amendment Claim in Same-Sex Wedding Discrimination Case

In its opinion in Gifford v. McCarthy, an appellate court in New York upheld the decision of the State Division of Human Rights that the owners of Liberty Ridge Farm, a wedding venue, were guilty of an unlawful discriminatory practice based upon sexual orientation when they refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding.  Writing for the unanimous five judge panel, Presiding Justice Karen Peters concluded that the venue was clearly a place of public accommodation within the anti-discrimination law and that discrimination based upon sexual orientation clearly occurred. 

16yr-logo-2015-revOn the constitutional issues, Justice Peters found the arguments under both the First Amendment and New York's similar provisions without merit.  Regarding the First Amendment Free Exercise of religion claim, Justice Peters concluded that "the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a 'valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his [or her] religion prescribes (or proscribes)," citing  Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v Smith (1990). She noted that the "fact that some religious organizations and educational facilities are exempt from the [state] statute's public accommodation provision does not, as petitioners claim, demonstrate that it is not neutral or generally applicable." 

Applying New York's Free Exercise provision under which the infringement is balanced against the state interests, and Justice Peters wrote:

While we recognize that the burden placed on the Giffords' right to freely exercise their religion is not inconsequential, it cannot be overlooked that SDHR's determination does not require them to participate in the marriage of a same-sex couple. Indeed, the Giffords are free to adhere to and profess their religious beliefs that same-sex couples should not marry, but they must permit same-sex couples to marry on the premises if they choose to allow opposite-sex couples to do so. To be weighed against the Giffords' interests in adhering to the tenets of their faith is New York's long-recognized, substantial interest in eradicating discrimination."

Thus the court rejected the free exercise claims.  Similarly, the court rejected the free speech claims of compelled speech and free association.  On compelled speech, Justice Peters' opinion for the court concluded that the provision of a wedding venue was not expressive: 

Despite the Giffords' assertion that their direct participation in same-sex wedding ceremonies would "broadcast to all who pass by the Farm" their support for same-sex marriage, reasonable observers would not perceive the Giffords' provision of a venue and services for a same-sex wedding ceremony as an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Like all other owners of public accommodations who provide services to the general public, the Giffords must comply with the statutory mandate prohibiting discrimination against customers on the basis of sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic. Under such circumstances, there is no real likelihood that the Giffords would be perceived as endorsing the values or lifestyle of the individuals renting their facilities as opposed to merely complying with anti-discrimination laws.

The court also held that Liberty Farms was not an "expressive association" but a business with the "purpose of making a profit through service contracts with customers." However, the court added that even if Liberty Ridge were to be deemed an expressive enterprise, "a customer's association with a business for the limited purposes of obtaining goods and services – as opposed to becoming part of the business itself – does not trigger" expressive association.

In upholding the application of the anti-discrimination law against First Amendment challenges, the New York appellate opinion joins other courts that have reached the same conclusion: the New Mexico courts in Elane Photography to which the United States Supreme Court denied certiorar and the Colorado courts in Masterpiece Cakeshop.  The UK Supreme Court's decision in Bull v. Hall is also consistent with this trend.  Nevertheless, the issue is far from settled and more decisions likely.

UPDATE:  The owners of Liberty Ridge will reportedly not appeal.

January 15, 2016 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Family, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The California Legislature Can Ask What Californians Think About Citizens United

The California Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that the California legislature had authority to put on the general election ballot the nonbinding, advisory question whether Congress should propose, and the legislature ratify, a federal constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

The court said that the measure fell within the state legislative authority:

We conclude: (1) as a matter of state law, the Legislature has authority to conduct investigations by reasonable means to inform the exercise of its other powers; (2) among those other powers are the power to petition for national constitutional conventions, ratify federal constitutional amendments, and call on Congress and other states to exercise their own federal article V powers; (3) although neither constitutional text nor judicial precedent provide definitive answers to the question, long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process; (4) nothing in the state Constitution prohibits the use of advisory questions to inform the Legislature's exercise of its article V-related powers; and (5) applying deferential review, Proposition 49 is reasonably related to the exercise of those powers and thus constitutional.

Still, there are no actual plans to put the measure on the 2016 ballot--at least not yet. The legislature previously directed that the measure go on the 2014 ballot; that decision was before the court. Now that 2014 is over, you might think the case was moot. But if so, you'd be wrong: the court said it should address the question, notwithstanding the lack of plans to put the measure on the ballot, because the legislature might direct that the measure go on a future ballot (apparently in the spirit of capable-of-repetition-but-evading-review).

January 6, 2016 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ninth Circuit Rejects Franchisers' Constitutional Challenges to Seattle's $15 Minimum Wage

Affirming the district judge's denial of a preliminary injunction, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in International Franchise Ass'n v. City of Seattle rejected all of the constitutional challenges to a Seattle provision that deemed franchises included in the definition of "large employers" and thus subject to the new $15 minimum wage.  Recall that the complaint challenged  the provision under the (dormant) commerce clause, equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, preemption under the Lanham Act (trademarks), and state constitutional provisions.

Photo by Steve Rhodes via

The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel's opinion found that there was not a likelihood of success on any of the constitutional claims, devoting most of its analysis to dormant commerce clause doctrine.  The panel first rejected the argument that the franchise regulation expressly discriminated against franchises as interstate commerce and was thus not "facially neutral." The panel also rejected the argument that the Seattle provision had a discriminatory purpose, noting that while there was some evidence that some persons involved in considering the issue were critical of franchise employment practices, even the strongest evidence of this (in an email), did not show that even this person "intended to burden out-of-state firms or interfere with the wheels of interstate commerce," and "[m]ore importantly, they also do not show that City officials wished to discriminate against out-of- state entities, bolster in-state firms, or burden interstate commerce."  Lastly, the panel rejected the argument that the Seattle provision discriminatory effects, agreeing with the district judge that the United States Supreme Court's decisions on dormant commerce clause can be "difficult to reconcile" and noting:

 We lack Supreme Court authority assessing whether a regulation affecting franchises ipso facto has the effect of discriminating against interstate commerce. Nor has the Supreme Court addressed whether franchises are instrumentalities of interstate commerce that cannot be subjected to disparate regulatory burdens. While regulations that expressly classify based on business structure or impose disparate burdens on franchises present interesting questions, our review is limited to considering whether the district court applied improper legal principles or clearly erred in reviewing the record.

 The footnote to this paragraph includes an extensive citation to lower courts that have considered the issue of whether measures that affect national chains violate the dormant Commerce Clause.  The Ninth Circuit panel concluded:

[T]he evidence that the ordinance will burden interstate commerce is not substantial. It does not show that interstate firms will be excluded from the market, earn less revenue or profit, lose customers, or close or reduce stores. Nor does it show that new franchisees will not enter the market or that franchisors will suffer adverse effects.

The Ninth Circuit panel dispatched the Equal Protection Clause claim much more expeditiously.  The Ninth Circuit applied the lowest form of rational basis scrutiny  - - - citing F.C.C. v. Beach Commc’ns, Inc. (1993) sometimes called "anything goes" rational basis - - - and finding there was a legitimate purpose (without animus) and the law was reasonably related to that purpose.

The court's discussion of the First Amendment claim was similarly brief, not surprising given that the court found the Speech Clause's threshold requirement of "speech"  was absent: "Seattle’s minimum wage ordinance is plainly an economic regulation that does not target speech or expressive conduct."

Additionally, the court agreed with the district judge that there was no preemption under the Lanham Act and no violation of the Washington State Constitution.

The Ninth Circuit panel did disagree with the district judge regarding some minor aspects of the non-likelihood to prevail on the merits preliminary injunction factors.  But on the whole, the opinion is a strong rebuke to the constitutional challenges to the Seattle laws.

Given the stakes (and the attorneys for the franchisers) a petition for certiorari is a distinct possibility.  Meanwhile, as we suggested when the case was filed, for ConLawProfs looking for a good exam review or exam problem, International Franchise Ass'n v. Seattle has much potential.

September 28, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Dormant Commerce Clause, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Food and Drink, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Connecticut Supremes Strike Extra-Judicial Regulation of Attorneys in Debt-Relief Business

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that state regulation of attorneys who offer certain debt-relief services to clients violates state constitutional separation of powers principles. The ruling is quite limited, however, and does not extend to attorneys who set up a sham shop as a cover for a distinct debt-relief operation. (The ruling keeps the regulatory scheme on the books; it simply says that it can't apply to certain actual attorneys doing actual legal work.)

The ruling means that Connecticut attorneys who are really practicing law (but also providing debt-relief services) cannot be regulated outside the judiciary, but attorneys who are simply providing cover for debt-relief operations (without really practicing law) can be.

The case tested a Connecticut law that authorizes the state Banking Commissioner to license and regulate persons engaged in the debt negotiation business. Attorneys in this line of work are not exempt, except those who are "admitted to the practice of law in [Connecticut] who [engage] or [offer] to engage in debt negotiation as an ancillary matter to such [attorneys'] representation of a client . . . ."

A Connecticut law firm that enters into retainer agreements for legal services and an attorney-client relationship with clients, but also provides debt-relief counseling, challenged the licensing and regulation scheme on the ground that it's the courts, not the legislature, that regulate an attorney's law practice in Connecticut. The firm claimed that the Commissioner's attempts to regulate it intruded into the role of the judiciary and thus violated state constitutional separation of powers.

The court agreed. (Like many states, Connecticut has an explicit clause on separation of powers. Connecticut's says, "The powers of government shall be divided into three distinct departments, and each of them confided to a separate magistracy, to wit, those which are legislative, to one; those which are executive, to another; and those which are judicial, to another. . . .")

The court also emphasized, however, that a presumption that an attorney is practicing law (and not subject to Commissioner regulation) can be overcome where "the Connecticut attorney has failed to (1) exercise meaningful oversight over debt negotiation staff, (2) provide any genuine legal advice or other legal services, and/or (3) maintain a bona fide attorney-client relationship with the client." The court also reminded the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel of its "duty to regulate lawyers when they are acting as debt negotiators," and urged it "to monitor vigilantly their activities and fees in this area of practice."

September 11, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Washington Supreme Court Finds Charter School Initiative Unconstitutional

Late Friday before the long Labor Day weekend, the Washington Supreme Court found Initiative 1240, known as the Charter School Act (codified at chapter 28A.7 10 RCW) unconstitutional in its divided opinion,  League of Women Voters of Washington v. State of Washington, affirming a King County Superior Court decision.

The Washington Supreme Court majority found that the Charter School Act violated Article IX §2 of the state constitution which provides:

PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.

In essence because the charter schools were decidedly not "common schools" as that phrase has been defined under state law since 1909 and because the funding for charter schools was from the "common school fund," the Charter School Act's funding provision violated the state constitution.  The court, in its opinion by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen (pictured center front below), rejected the state's argument that notwithstanding the constitutional provision funding should follow the student. 

  Washington Supreme Court

The dissenting and concurring opinion by Justice Mary E. Fairhurst,  joined by Justices Steven C. González and Sheryl Gordon McCloud, agreed that charter schools are not "common schools," but disagreed that the Charter School Act required charter schools to be funded by monies intended for common schools. 

The court's majority eschewed a political interpretation of the case:

Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools. Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that  system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution.

Nevertheless, the case will most certainly be interpreted in political terms.  Proponents of charter schools will undoubtedly continue their efforts.  Importantly, however, the case is not reviewable by the United States Supreme Court since it rests exclusively on a matter of state law.  The funding of charter schools from sources not meant for public education  - - - which the dissenting Justices believed a reality - - - could be clarified.  And the possibility of an amendment of the state constitution, of course, remains an option. 

September 7, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Family, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Missouri Court Upholds Ban on Felon Gun Possession

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled this week that the state's ban on felon gun possession did not violate the state constitutional right to bear arms. The ruling is notable, because it applied strict scrutiny, but nevertheless upheld the gun possession restriction.

The Missouri Constitution, article I, section 23, read as follows (at the time of the defendant's conviction for possessing a gun in violation of the state's ban on felon possession):

That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person, and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questions; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.

But the provision was amended during the appeal. The amended provision added "ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal functioning of such arms" to the right to keep and bear arms; it added "family" to the list of things that a citizen can bear arms to protect; it struck the limitation on concealed carry; and it added language strengthening the right (explicitly subjecting it to strict scrutiny), but permitting restrictions on felons and individuals adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others because of a "mental disorder or mental infirmity."

Still, the court said that the previous provision applied, because the defendant was convicted before the amendment took force.

The court held that under article I, section 23, strict scrutiny applied to restrictions on gun possession. But the state's ban on felon possession satisfied even that highest level of constitutional review:

The State has a compelling interest in ensuring public safety and reducing firearm-related crime. Prohibiting felons from possessing firearms is narrowly tailored to that interest because "[i]t is well-established that felons are more likely to commit crimes than are other law abiding citizens."

The ruling means that there are possession restrictions that satisfy strict scrutiny under Missouri state con law--at least the old Missouri state con law. It's not clear how far this might extend, however, given that the new version of article I, section 23, goes to lengths to specify that strict scrutiny applies to possession restrictions and lists just two specific exceptions.

August 19, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Second Amendment, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oklahoma Supreme Court Declares Ten Commandments Monument at State Capitol Unconstitutional Under State Constitution

In a relatively brief opinion today in Prescott v. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, Oklahoma's highest court found that a Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma Capitol grounds violated the state constitution, Article 2, Section 5, which provides:

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.

  While the monument was a gift and no public funds were expended to acquire the monument, the court agreed that its placement on the Capitol grounds constituted the use of public property for the benefit of religion, emphasizing that the constitutional provision included the words “directly or indirectly.”

The court noted that the Legislature and Governor authorized the monument relying on the United States Supreme Court’s decision Van Orden v. Perry (2005), but noted that Van Orden was decided under the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  Here, the Oklahoma Supreme Court interpreted the broader and more precise language of the Oklahoma state constitution.  The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s opinion contained the requisite language insulating it from United States Supreme Court review under the adequate and independent state grounds doctrine so important to federalism:

“Our opinion rests solely on the Oklahoma Constitution with no regard for federal jurisprudence. See Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 1040-41 (1983).”

Two justices dissented, without opinion. 

image Ten Commandments Austin, Texas, via


June 30, 2015 in Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Governor Looks to Constitutional Amendment to Undo Court Ruling on Pensions

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is looking to amend the state constitution to give the state more flexibility in cutting state worker pensions, according to the Herald & Review. Rauner's idea came in reaction to the state supreme court ruling last week holding that state efforts to cut state pensions violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

Still, an amendment is unlikely to occur, at least anytime soon. The Illinois Constitution requires a 3/5 vote of state lawmakers in both houses. But the Democratic-controlled state legislature is unlikely to approve any pension amendment at all, much less by this kind of super-majority. Even if the state legislature approved a measure, it'd need to be approved by 3/5 of the voters voting on the measure, or a majority voting in the election.

This is just the latest effort of Governor Rauner to re-make constitutions. Recall that he earlier issued an executive order cutting public-sector union fair-share fees, and filed a preemptive suit against the unions seeking to get mandatory public sector fair share fees declared unconstitutional. This bold move anticipates that the Supreme Court is ready to overturn Abood--a First Amendment mainstay that says that states can require fair share in the interests of preventing free riders and promoting labor peace. Given the Court's recent rulings, Rauner is probably right that Abood is on the chopping block. Still, his very aggressive suit is designed only to hasten Abood's demise.

May 13, 2015 in Comparative Constitutionalism, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Illinois Has a Pension Protection Clause, and it Really Means What it Says

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state's efforts to cut public pensions violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

The case means that the state can't balance its budget on the backs of state workers who are members of a public retirement system. It also means that the state supreme court takes the state constitutional Pension Clause seriously.

The case arose after the state legislature, and former Governor Quinn signed, Senate Bill 1 in late 2013. Senate Bill 1, which became Public Act 98-599, cut state workers' public pension benefits in several ways. State workers sued, arguing, among other things that the cuts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause.

The Pension Protection Clause says that "[m]embership in any pension or retirement system of the State *** shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired." The Clause was added in the 1970 constitution in order to protect state workers from pension cuts in a system that had been (and since has been) chronically underfunded.

The Illinois high court's ruling says that the Clause means what it says. In fact, the court said exactly that: "We held in [Kanerva v. Weems] that the clause means precisely what it says." And this means that "once an individual begins work and becomes a member of a public retirement system, any subsequent changes to the Pension Code that would diminish the benefits conferred by membership in the retirement system cannot be applied to that individual." The court called the question "easily resolved."

The court also rejected the state's argument that its fiscal situation is so dire that it has to dip into public pension funds by using its "reserved sovereign powers." The court said that things might be bad, but they've been bad before, and will be bad again. It's no reason to violate the Pension Protection Clause. The court also said that other provisions of the 1970 constitution contained limitations or suspension provisions; not so the Public Pension Clause.

May 8, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Contract Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 23, 2015

NJ Trial Judge Overturns Christie's Pension Cuts

A New Jersey trial judge today ruled that Governor Chris Christie's cut to the state's public pension system violated the state and federal contracts clauses. Along the way, the judge also ruled that the state's contractual obligation to fund its public pension system did not violate the state constitutional Debt Limitations Clause and Appropriations Clause, and did not impermissibly infringe on the governor's line-item veto power. Oh, and she also ruled that the trial court had jurisdiction over the case, and that it didn't present a political question.

In a case that "implicate[s] the fragile balance at the heart of the legislative process . . . where political, constitutional, and judicial forces appear to collide," this ruling has a little something for everyone.

As a result of earlier litigation, the state has a statutory obligation to fund its public pension system. And the statute is written to create a contract right on the part of public employees--so that any decision not to fully fund the system immediately implicates the state and federal contract clauses. So when Governor Christie wielded his line-item veto pen to cut the state contribution out of the legislature's appropriation bill (because of unexpectedly low revenues), the plaintiffs were waiting in the wings with their contracts clause claims. And the judge agreed with them. That part of the ruling is unremarkable.

But the Governor's creative defenses--and the court's rejection of them--demand some attention. The governor argued that the statutory obligation to fund the public pension system violated the state constitutional Debt Limitations Clause (which limits state borrowing burdens) and the Appropriations Clause. Moreover, Governor Christie said that the statutory obligation intruded upon his executive power to veto legislation. The court reviewed the text, history, and cases on the relevant state constitutional provisions and concluded that they did not override the state's statutory obligation to fund its public pension system.

The ruling means that the state has to find $1.57 billion to fund the system. Governor Christie will likely appeal.

February 23, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Contract Clause, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Philly DA Sues to Stop Death Penalty Reprieve

Philadelphia DA Seth Williams filed suit in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to stop Governor Tom Wolf from implementing his death penalty moratorium and reprieve for a certain condemned prisoner. DA Williams argues that Wolf exceeded his state constitutional authority in issuing these, because the governor has no power to issue a moratorium, and because the reprieve is really only a moratorium, beyond the scope of gubernatorial power.

On January 13, 2015, former Governor Tom Corbett issues a warrant scheduling Terrance Williams's execution for March 4. (Defendant Williams was convicted of first-degree murder, robbery, and conspiracy and sentenced to death.) Then on January 20, 2015, new Governor Tom Wolf, who said during his campaign that he'd issue a moratorium on the death penalty, did so. The moratorium runs "until the [bipartisan Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission] has produced its recommendation and all concerns [with the death penalty] are addressed satisfactorily."

Pursuant to the moratorium, Wolf also issued a reprieve for Defendant Williams, again, "until I have received and reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, and any recommendations contained therein are satisfactorily addressed."

DA Williams then filed this emergency case in the state high court, arguing that Wolf's actions exceeded his authority and violated the Pennsylvania constitutional Take Care Clause.

Here's the state constitutional reprieve power, in Article IV, Sec. 9(a):

In all criminal cases except impeachment the Governor shall have the power to remit fines and forfeitures, to grant reprieves, commutation of sentences and pardons; but no pardon shall be granted, nor sentence commuted, except on the recommendation in writing of a majority of the Board of Pardons, and, in the case of a sentence of death or life imprisonment, on the unanimous recommendation in writing of the Board of Pardons, after full hearing in open session, upon due public notice.

Under this provision, Wolf's reprieve isn't subject to approval by the Board of Pardons. But DA Williams argues that it's not really a reprieve, because it's not temporary. (It ceases when the Commission issues its report and all concerns are addressed--maybe never.) Instead, DA Williams says it's a permanent moratorium, that the governor has no authority to issue a permanent moratorium, and that the actions violate the state constitutional Take Care Clause.

If DA Williams is successful, the suit could stop Wolf's moratorium, and even his reprieve, resetting Defendant Williams's execution for March 4. If he's not successful, however, this could  mark the beginning of the end of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.

February 19, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Massachusetts Extends Right to Counsel in Private Guardianship

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a parent in a private guardianship proceeding is entitled to counsel as a matter of due process. (The court previously ruled that a parent in a private adoption proceeding enjoyed that same right.) The case provides a categorical right to counsel under Massachusetts law, and thus stands in contrast to the case-by-case approach to a parent's federal due process right to counsel in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services.

The case, Guardianship of V.V., involved a guardianship proceeding between a minor's mother and great-grandmother. The mother was not initially represented by counsel when the lower courts awarded guardianship to the great-grandmother, although the mother obtained a lawyer later in the proceedings.

By the time the Supreme Judicial Court had a chance to rule, the case had become moot. That's because the minor was back with the mother. (The court said that the case was not moot on account of the mother obtaining a lawyer later in the proceeding. The court said the point was that the mother didn't have an attorney at the initial guardianship proceeding.) Still, the court said that the issue was capable of repetition but evading review--that it was an issue sure to come up again, and, because of the quick turn-around in guardianship cases, likely to evade appellate review.

The court held that the weighty interests and due process considerations in guardianship proceedings meant that parties to a guardianship proceeding had a categorical right to counsel. The court also noted that the state, by statute, provided counsel to parties to a guardianship proceeding where the state is a party, and that the same interests are at stake in a private guardianship proceeding.

February 10, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Nebraska Supremes Uphold Keystone Law

The Nebraska Supreme Court today upheld the state law delegating authority to the governor to approve the Keystone pipeline and to use eminent domain to access land along the pipeline route. The ruling does not affect fight in Washington, however, where today the House passed a bill to approve the pipeline, and where President Obama promised to veto it.

The Nebraska case arose out of a Nebraska law that delegated to the governor the power to approve the pipeline. (The former governor did so.) Taxpayers sued, arguing that the law violated the state constitution.

Four (of seven) judges agreed. They said that the law violated a state constitutional provision that reserves to the Public Service Commission this kind of decision. That provision says,

There shall be a Public Service Commission . . . . The powers and duties of such commission shall include the regulation of rates, service and general control of common carriers as the Legislature may provide by law. But, in the absence of specific legislation, the commission shall exercise the powers and perform the duties enumerated in this provision.

The four judges wrote that "we have held that the PSC has 'independent legislative, judicial, and executive or administrative powers' over common carriers, which powers are plenary and self-executing." Moreover, "specific legislation" means "specific restrictions," not "general legislation to divest the PSC of its jurisdiction and transfer its powers to another governmental entity besides the legislature." Thus the legislative delegation over Keystone to the governor improperly intruded upon the power of the PSC under the state constitution.

But under another state constitutional provision, four judges aren't enough to rule a law unconstitutional. The state constitution requires a super-majority of five (of seven) judges to rule a law unconstitutional. So even though a majority held the delegation unconstitutional, it's not. That means the law stays in place, the delegation is good, and the governor's action approving Keystone is untouched.

Before ruling on the merits, the court also ruled on taxpayer standing. The same four judges that argued that the delegation was unconstitutional also held that taxpayers had standing. (The other three argued that there was no standing, and that the standing decision also required a super-majority.) The court invoked its "great public concern" exception to the general rule against taxpayer standing. Under that exception, the court can take up a taxpayer case when it involves an issue of "the Legislature's obedience to the fundamental distribution of power in this state": "when a taxpayer claims that the Legislature enacted a Law that undermines the fundamental limitations on government powers under the Nebraska Constitution, this court has full power and the responsibility to address the public rights raised by a challenge to that act." The "great public concern" exception gives the Nebraska courts more leeway in taking up taxpayer cases than the Supreme Court's standing rules under Article III.


January 9, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, News, Separation of Powers, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Montana Supremes Grant Right to Counsel in Private Adoption, Termination Cases

The Montana Supreme Court ruled in In the Matter of the Adoption of AWS and KRS that state constitutionaly equal protection guaranteed the right to counsel for an indigent mother in a private termination-of-parental rights proceeding.

The ruling means that poor parents in Montana now have a constitutional right to an appointed attorney to represent them in private cases (like adoptions) involving the termination of their parental rights.

The ruling also illustrates how state constitutional rights can be more generous than federal constitutional rights. (Under Lassiter v. Dep't of Social Services, there is no categorical constitutional right to counsel in a termination proceeding under the Fourteenth Amendment.)

The Supreme Court applied Montana state constitutional equal protection, which the court said "provides even more individual protection than the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

The court noted that parents subject to state-initiated termination of parental rights (as in an abuse-and-neglect proceeding) have a state statutory right to counsel, but that parents subject to private termination of parental rights (as in an adoption, as in this case) don't. Because the underlying right--the right to parent--is fundamental, the court applied strict scrutiny to the distinction.

The court said that the only reason for not providing counsel in the private termination case was money. And that's not a sufficiently important state interest under strict scrutiny. So the indigent parent in a private termination case gets an attorney, too, as a matter of state constitutional equal protection.

The court suggested that an attorney in a state-initiated termination proceeding might be constitutionally compelled, or at least the issue raises a serious constitutional question, under the Montana constitution. (Under the Fourteenth Amendment and Lassiter v. Dep't of Social Services, there is no categorical constitutional right to counsel, and the answer depends on a Mathews v. Eldridge balancing.) This means that the state legislature can't solve the equal protection problem by taking away the statutory right to counsel for parents in a state-initiated termination proceeding; instead, it has to ratchet-up the rights of parents in a private termination proceeding.

For more information on civil right to counsel, or Civil Gideon, check out the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, an outstanding organization that is the clearinghouse for the excellent work in this area.

December 10, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)