Thursday, October 3, 2013
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled today that a magistrate judge's order dismissing a party's motions because the party had been found guilty of contempt for for failing to pay child support violated the party's right to access the courts.
The case is notable because it invokes the Idaho Constitution's "Open Courts" provision--a common provision in state constitutions, but one that's relatively rarely litigated and has spawned a notoriously confused jurisprudence in the state courts. More: the court apparently reached out for the issue.
The case, State of Idaho Department of Health and Welfare v. Slane, involved a father's motions for child custody and modification of child support. The father had been previously judged in contempt of court for failing to pay court-ordered child support, and he was unable to purge the contempt when he filed his motions. A magistrate judge then dismissed the motions because of the father's inability to purge the contempt and pay back child support. A lower court upheld the magistrate's ruling.
The Idaho Supreme Court reversed for reasons dealing with the details of the contempt and the details of the magistrate's order. But then it added an alternative basis for its ruling: the magistrate's order violated the state constitutional open courts provision.
Article I, Section 18 of the Idaho Constitution says that "Courts of justice shall be open to every person, and a speedy remedy afforded for every injury of person, property or character, and right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, delay, or prejudice."
This kind of "open courts" provision is common in state constitutions. Open courts provisions first appeared in early state constitutions (borrowing from language in Magna Carta), and later state constitutional drafters appear to have simply lifted the text--sometimes modifying it slightly, but without any real thought about what it means.
That's led to a notoriously confused jurisprudence among state courts in interpreting state constitutional open courts provisions. In short, many states have an open courts provision, but courts across states can't seem to agree on exactly what "open courts" means.
So the Idaho Supreme Court's ruling is notable for dealing with open courts--for giving it some dimension and definition, at least in this context. But it's notable for a couple other reasons, too. For one, the court seems to have reached for the issue. Neither party seems to have argued it (based on the briefs, at least), and it's dicta. (The court could have hung its hat on its analysis of the details of the contempt and the magistrate's order, but it added this alternative reason for striking the magistrate's order.) Moreover, in ruling the way that it did, the court overruled three of its own opinions (from the mid-twentieth century) "to the extent that they are inconsistent with this opinion."
The upshot of all this is that the father gets his motions reinstated.
Friday, September 27, 2013
In a 55 page opinion today in Garden State Equality v. Dow, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs finding that NJ's same-sex marriage ban violated the state constitution. The judge held that New Jersey's civil union scheme, considered an acceptable remedy for any violation of the state's equal protection clause by the NJ Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris (2006), was no longer sufficient to satisfy state constitutional law given the United States Supreme Court's invalidation of DOMA last June in Windsor v. United States.
Judge Jacobson concluded:
Because plaintiffs, and all same-sex couplies in New jersey, cannot access many federal marital benefits as partners in civil unions, this court holds that New Jersey's denial of marriage to same-sex couples now violates Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris.
This is an interesting - - - but totally predictable - - - use of Windsor to undermine the very rationales of the state's highest court's determination that civil unions would satisfy equality concerns.
The judge admits that the doctrinal landscape is murky, but also that it is rapidly changing. For this judge, effectuating the holding of the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis v. Harris that the state constitution required same-sex couples to be able to obtain all the same rights and benefits available to opposite sex couples compels the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.
In only a very few other states would similar reasoning be applicable: Illinois, Hawai'i, and Colorado have civil union laws but not same-sex marriage. Other states having civil unions also allow same-sex marriages or are "converting" civil unions to marriages.
As for New Jersey, odds are the state will appeal, although political considerations might weigh heavily.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
The Sixth Circuit on Friday ruled in City of Pontiac Retired Employees Association v. Schimmel that the Michigan state legislature may have violated the state constitution in approving the state's emergency manager law for immediate effect. The court remanded the case to the district court for consideration of that claim. If the district court holds that the law violates the state constitution, and if that ruling is upheld on appeal, the actions of the emergency manager for the City of Pontiac will be void.
The 2-1 ruling is notable insofar as a federal appeals court took it upon itself to rule on a state constitutional claim not raised by the parties, relating to state legislative procedure--all to avoid the plaintiffs' federal constitutional claims. The next steps in the case, the remand to the district court and the appeal that will surely follow, will be important because those rulings could put in jeopardy any action by any state emergency manager under a state law giving emergency managers broad powers.
The case arose after the Michigan state legislature approved Public Act 4, authorizing an emergency manager to temporarily reject, modify, or terminate existing collective bargaining agreements. Pursuant to this power, the City of Pontiac's emergency manager, Louis Schimmel, modified the collective bargaining agreements and severance benefits, including pension benefits, of Pontiac's retired employees. The employees sued, arguing Schimmel and Pontiac violated their federal constitutional rights, including rights under the Contracts Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Bankruptcy Clause. They did not raise state law claims.
Still, there may have been state law problems with Schimmel's actions. First, the legislature approved Public Act 4 for immediate effect with less than a 2/3 vote, despite a state constitutional provision that requires a 2/3 vote for immediate effect. (Without a 2/3 vote, a legislative act takes effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session in which it was passed.) If the legislature enacted Public Act 4 in violation of the state constitution, Schimmel's actions pursuant to it are void.
Next, even if the state legislature complied with the state constitution, Public Act 4 may still be invalid. That's because Michigan voters rejected Public Act 4 in a citizen-initiated referendum in 2012. The legislature later enacted a law substantially similar to Public Act 4, but insulated from a voter referendum under the state constitution because it contains an appropriation provision. All this means that the emergency manager authority under Public Act 4 and its successor is questionable.
But the parties didn't raise or argue these state law issues. Instead, the Sixth Circuit did.
The Sixth Circuit dodged the plaintiffs' federal constitutional arguments (in the name of constitutional avoidance) and ruled that the lower court should consider the state law claims. In particular, the Sixth Circuit said that the state legislature's practice, across political parties, of approving laws for immediate effect even when they don't get the constitutionally required 2/3 vote may raise constitutional problems:
Apparently, a two-thirds vote occurs whenever the presiding officer says it occurs--irrespective of the actual vote. This authority is unchecked and often results in passing motions for immediate effect that could not receive the constitutionally required two-thirds vote. Apparently, the Michigan Legislature believes the Michigan Constitution can be ignored.
There's a state intermediate appellate court ruling that seems to say that this kind of action doesn't violate the state constitution. But there's no determinate state supreme court ruling on the issue.
For now, the case goes back to the district court for consideration of the state law issues raised by the Sixth Circuit.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
The super-size soda ban, a program advocated by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not constitutional according to the unanimous opinion from a state appellate court in New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The court affirmed a state trial court's decision that the NYC regulation prohibiting sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters and arenas that exceed 16 ounces was an unconstitutional exercise of power by a city agency, as well as arbitrary and capricious. A good discussion of the trial court's decision is here.
Essentially, the issue is whether NYC Health Code §81.53, known as the "portion cap rule" is within the power of the Department of Health. The short answer by the judicial branch: no.
In today's opinion, the court held that the NYC
Board of Health overstepped the boundaries of its lawfully delegated authority when it promulgated the Portion Cap Rule to curtail the consumption of soda drinks. It therefore violated the state principle of separation of powers. In light of the above, we need not reach petitioners' argument that the subject regulation was arbitrary and capricious. Before concluding, we must emphasize that nothing in this decision is intended to circumscribe DOHMH's legitimate powers. Nor is this decision intended to express an opinion on the wisdom of the soda consumption restrictions, provided that they are enacted by the government body with the authority to do so. Within the limits described above, health authorities may make rules and regulations for the protection of the public health and have great latitude and discretion in performing their duty to safeguard the public health.
Doctrinally, the decision is most pertinent to New York state constitutional law and administrative law scholars and practitioners. It has broader interest, however, to those interested in the powers of governments to enact regulations that (arguably) promote health.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
In a fifteen page opinion, federal district judge Timothy Black enjoined the application of Ohio's state DOMA provisions - - - both statutory and the state constitutional amendment - - - to a same-sex couple married out of state. In Obergefell v. Kasich, the judge adapted the reasoning of the United States Supreme Court's June opinion in Court's United States v. Windsor, declaring section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA unconstitutional. Judge Black's opinion is part of the aftermath of Windsor that we most recently discussed here.
Judge Black's opinion has a succinct discussion of equal protection doctrine and concludes,
Under Supreme Court jurisprudence, states are free to determine conditions for valid marriages, but these restrictions must be supported by legitimate state purposes because they infringe on important liberty interests around marriage and intimate relations.
In derogation of law, the Ohio scheme has unjustifiably created two tiers of couples: (1) opposite-sex married couples legally married in other states; and (2) same-sex married couples legally married in other states. This lack of equal protection of law is fatal.
Judge Black's opinion has a brief explicit mention of "animus," but the concept permeates the opinion. For example, he notes that before the state enacted its DOMA provisions:
Longstanding Ohio law has been clear: a marriage solemnized outside of Ohio is valid in Ohio if it is valid where solemnized. This legal approach is firmly rooted in the longstanding legal principle of “lex loci contractus” -- i.e., the law of the place of the contracting controls. Ohio has adopted this legal approach from its inception as a State.
Thus, for example, under Ohio law, as declared by the Supreme Court of Ohio in 1958, out-of-state marriages between first cousins are recognized by Ohio, even though Ohio law does not authorize marriages between first cousins.
To be sure, the injunction is a limited one applicable to sympathetic facts. One of the partners is a hospice patient and the relief requested regards the martial status and surviving spouse to be recorded on the death certificate. Yet Judge Black's reasoning is not limited and opens the door to rulings that Ohio's DOMA provisions limiting state recognition of marriages to only opposite-sex marriages fails constitutional scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause.
July 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Reversing a lower court, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state's financing of public schools in its opinion in State v. Lobato.The underlying problem at issue in the contentious case is exemplified by a chart that appears in one of the two dissenting opinions, demonstrating that "education funding in Colorado has been in steady decline" in recent decades:
The majority of the state supreme court concluded:
The public school financing system enacted by the General Assembly complies with the Colorado Constitution. It is rationally related to the constitutional mandate that the General Assembly provide a “thorough and uniform” system of public education. Colo. Const. art. IX, § 2 (the “Education Clause”). It also affords local school districts control over locally-raised funds and therefore over “instruction in the public schools.” Colo. Const. art. IX, § 15 (the “Local Control Clause”).
The meaning of "thorough and uniform" in the state constitution was discussed by the majority through reference to dictionary definitions and limited precedent. The court concluded it did not require equality, but only a rational relationship test. Under this test, the plaintiffs did not "establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the system fails to pass constitutional muster."
The majority's 26 page opinion was countered by more than 40 pages in the two dissenting opinions by Justices Bender and Hobbs (each joining in the other Justice's opinion). These opinions argue that the majority "abdicates this court’s responsibility to give meaningful effect" to the state constitution's education clause and failed to guarentee that students receive their constitutional right to education.
Like so many other constitutional challenges to state educational systems, this one revolves around vague state constitutional provisions and legislative choices that many view as underfunding education on a state-wide basis. Surely, this decision in Colorado will be contentious.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The Louisiana Supreme Court today ruled that the state's school voucher program violates the state constitution. In particular, the court ruled that the voucher program tapped the constitutionally protected per pupil state fund for public education and that the legislature passed the funding mechanism in violation of state constitutional procedural requirements.
The ruling deals a fatal blow to this funding mechanism for the state's voucher program. But the state could probably create a voucher program and fund it through a different budget mechanism (e.g., a regular line item, instead of the state's specifically reserved per pupil fund for public education). The ruling thus puts the ball back in the governor's and legislature's court--to create a new mechanism for the voucher program, and to come up with the money to fund it. (Here's Governor Jindal's statement in reaction to the ruling.) Even if this happens, the ruling underscores the constitutional protection for separately allocated per pupil fund for public education in the state.
The ruling, Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Lousiana, arose out of state constitutional challenges to the state's recently encacted voucher program. That program diverted state funds separately allocated for public education (under the "minimum foundation program," or MFP) to private schools "on behalf of each student awarded a scholarship" under the voucher program. The program came in two parts: Act 2 created the voucher program; and Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 99 approved the MFP line-item but diverted MFP funds to support Act 2 vouchers.
The court ruled that the provisions violated Louisiana Constitution Article VIII, Sec. 13(B), which requires the legislature to "fully fund the current cost to the state" of "a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools," and the "funds appropriated shall be equitably allocated to parish and city school systems." According to the court, Section 13(B) requires that MFP funds be used to support public education only, even if some of the students used to calculate the MFP base elected to go to private school. In short, when Section 13(B) says that MFP funds "shall" be allocated to public schools, it means they shall be allocated only to public schools--and can't be diverted to private schools.
The court also ruled that SCR 99 violated Article III, Sec. 2(A)(3)(a), which says (in relevant part):
No new matter intended to have the effect of law shall be introduced or received by either house after six o'clock in the evening of the twenty-third calendar day.
After some analysis of "the effect of law," the court concluded that SCR 99 violated this provision, because it was introduced in both houses after the twenty-third calendar day of the regular session. (The court ruled that it also violated a related provision, requiring a 2/3 vote after a certain date. Ultimately the court noted that in the House it didn't even get a "majority of the members elected," as required by Article III, Sec. 15(G).)
At the same time, the court ruled that the voucher package didn't violate the constitution's "one-object" rule, requiring each piece of legislation to deal with just one object. The court said the legislation was indeed quite lengthy, but still it all went to the same general object--promoting school choice.
Friday, May 3, 2013
The hunger strike amongst prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has led to force-feeding, a situation prompting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN to issue a statement reiterating the disapproval of Guantanamo and remind the United States that:
in cases involving people on hunger strikes, the duty of medical personnel to act ethically and the principle of respect for individuals’ autonomy, among other principles, must be respected. Under these principles, it is unjustifiable to engage in forced feeding of individuals contrary to their informed and voluntary refusal of such a measure. Moreover, hunger strikers should be protected from all forms of coercion, even more so when this is done through force and in some cases through physical violence. Health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike. Nor is it acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have voluntarily decided to go on a hunger strike.
New York's highest court, in its opinion in Bezio v. Dorsey regarding a state prisoner on a hunger strike reached an opposite conclusion. The court's majority stated:
The issue before us is whether Dorsey's rights were violated by a judicial order permitting the State to feed him by nasogastric tube after his health devolved to the point that his condition became life-threatening. We answer that question in the negative.
Yet the question of Dorsey's "rights" that were properly before the court occupied the bulk of the majority and dissenting opinions. The state Department of Corrections and Correctional Services (DOCCS) had originally sought the judicial order relating to Dorsey, a "serial hunger striker," which Dorsey resisted with pragmatic rather than constitutional arguments. But the state relied heavily on previous New York law - - - including a case involving Mark Chapman, the man convicted of murdering John Lennon - - - to support the constitutionality of forced-feeding.
Chief Judge Lippman, dissenting (and joined by Judge Rivera) argued that there were too many factual distinctions, including any finding that the prisoner or the institution was actually in danger.
As noted, DOCCS's own consulting psychiatrist stated flatly in his assessment that Mr. Dorsey was not suicidal. He was undoubtedly manipulative [as the doctor had stated], but all civil disobedience is manipulative. Manipulativeness, obviously, is not a sufficient predicate for forced feeding by the State.
While concluding that the issues are not properly before the court, and that the case is moot under state constitutional doctrine, the dissenting judges nevertheless concluded
The right to refuse treatment, we have held, is a kind of liberty interest within the protective ambit of the Due Process Clause of the State Constitution. While the right may be overcome in compelling circumstances justifying the state's resort to its police power and the state may thus intervene to prevent suicide, the individual's basic prerogative to make decisions affecting his or her own personal health and right to be left alone, i.e. to personal privacy, ordinarily will trump even the best intended state intervention.
For the majority of the court, however, the balance articulated in Turner v. Safley (1987) was easily resolved in favor of the legitimate penological interests of the prison, including the risk of a "significant destabilizing impact on the institution" by an inmate hunger strike, to allow force feeding an inmate.
May 3, 2013 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, International, Medical Decisions, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, April 1, 2013
In her opinion in American Atheists v. Port of Authority of NY and NJ Judge Deborah Batts of the Southern District of New York rejected a challenge to the plan to include a seventeen foot cross (pictured) in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
Judge Batts, however, did hold that the actions of the Memorial and Museum were subject to constitutional constraints. The defendants had argued that the "National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation" was not a state actor and thus the complaint against it, and the Port Authority, should be dismissed. Batts dispatched this argument with a rehearsal of the causal connections:
But for the Port Authority’s donation of the cross, but for the Port Authority granting the Foundation a property interest at the WTC Site, but for the Port Authority’s aid in constructing the Museum, and but for their continuing financial and operating relationship, the Foundation would not be able to include the artifact in the Museum.
She also found that the Foundation could be deemed a state actor because of its "pervasive entwinement" with the government.
The American Atheists were far less successful on their federal and state constitutionallaw arguments based on the Establishment Clause and Equal Protection.
In the more serious Establishment Clause challenge, Judge Batts concluded that the planned use of the cross passed the test of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). The placement of the cross in the museum's Historical Exhibition in the section, “Finding Meaning at Ground Zero,” part of the September 11 historical narrative, was not an endorsement of religion. Judge Batts found it important that
there will be numerous secular artifacts around the cross, as well symbol steel with depictions of a Star of David, a Maltese cross, the Twin Towers, and the Manhattan skyline, which will reinforce to the reasonable observer that they are perceiving a historical depiction of some people’s reaction to finding the cross at Ground Zero.
She disagreed that the size of the cross was determinative. First, the plaintiffs were mistaken that it was the largest object in the museum at seventeen feet; the "Last Column," also to be included, is thirty-seven feet tall. Second, she observed that the artifact’s size was a function of its size when it was found; "Defendants did not create the cross to be such an imposing figure."
As for the Equal Protection challenge, Judge Batts found that there was not even an allegation of intentional discrimination or animus, and that the Foundation's act would easily survive rational basis review. The Museum is merely telling the history surrounding September 11 and the cross, and its meaning for some, is part of that history. The museum has the choice whether or not to include atheistic symbols.
Because the cross is situated among other artifacts and it is in a museum, any appeal from Judge Batts' grant of summary judgment for the defendants would most likely be unsuccessful. It looks as if the September 11 Museum will include the seventeen foot cross.
Friday, March 22, 2013
A state judge ruled that a Lousiana statute that criminalizes gun possession by felons violated the state's new and enanced right to bear arms, according to the Times-Picayune. The judge ruled the criminal ban unconstitutional and dismissed the felon possession charge against the defendant in the case. The ruling will go directly to the state supreme court.
Louisiana voters last year overwhelmingly passed a proposed state constitutional amendment, Proposed Amendment 2, that made "the right to keep and bear arms . . . fundamental" and explicitly provided for strict scrutiny review of any restriction of that right. The amendment also did away with previous language that permitted the state to prohibit the carrying of a concealed weapon. Here's the Lousiana SOS backgrounder; here are the ballot measures.
Under the new amendment, courts faced with a restriction on "the right to keep and bear arms" must apply strict scrutiny review. According to Judge Darryl Derbigny, Louisiana's statute criminalizing felon possession of guns just didn't cut it.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
The opinion of a New York judge holding unconstitutional the NYC Department of Health regulation regarding soda sizes - - - popularly known as Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban - - - might be viewed as a triumph of conservative principles deployed to prevent government overreaching.
But over at Slate, Emily Bazelon provides a contrary view. Indeed, she writes that
Judge Tingling paid lip service to the principle that courts must defer to elected bodies, which include executive agencies, but really, he is just substituting his judgment for theirs.
She has a good analysis of the opinion, both the separation of powers issue and the "arbitrary and capricious" conclusion, but also situates the opinion within larger notions of "conservative judicial activism."
Worth a read, especially for those outside NYC who want more depth than the surfeit of news stories are providing.
Monday, March 11, 2013
The constitutional issues in the challenge to NYC Health Code §81.53 - - - the New York City Department of Health regulation prohibiting sugary drinks in restaurants, movie theaters and arenas to exceed 16 ounces - - - largely involve the power of a city agency to promulgate such a rule. Today, a state trial judge, Milton Tingling, issued an decision in New York Statewide Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce v. NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene enjoining §81.53 for violating the state separation of powers doctrine.
After a lengthy discussion of New York City Charters - - - beginning with the first charter in 1686 - - - Judge Tingling wrote:
To accept the respondents' interpretation of the authoriy granted to the Board [of Health] by the New York City Charter would leave its authority to define, create, mandate and enforce limited only by its own imagination. . . . The Portion Cap Rule, if upheld, would create an administrative Levianthan and violate the separation of powers doctrine. The Rule would not only violate the separation of powers doctrine, it would eviscerate it. Such an evisceration has the potential to be more troubling that sugar sweetened beverages.
The judge's conclusion that the regulation was therefor "arbitrary and capricious" followed from the lack of agency power.
The ruling is sure to be appealed from the supreme court - - - which in New York is the lowest and trial court - - - to an appellate court.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
A bill introduced in the Missouri legislature would criminalize the introduction of other legislation. HB 633 would amend the state statutes to provide:
Any member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony.
The bill is likely unconstitutional under its state constitution.
The Missouri state constitution, like the United States Constitution, Art. I §6, has a "speech or debate" clause that is generally construed to protect legislative action. Missouri Constitution Art. III §19, "legislative privileges," provides:
Senators and representatives shall, in all cases except treason, felony, or breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during the session of the general assembly, and for the fifteen days next before the commencement and after the termination of each session; and they shall not be questioned for any speech or debate in either house in any other place.
The Missouri bill seems to fall outside the general purpose of legislative privilege provisions that are intended to protect the legislature from overreaching by other branches. Nevertheless, the Missouri legislature's criminal provision would call legislators into courts to "be questioned" for their legislative acts.
[image: Missouri State Capitol via]
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Just a month after Michigan passed so-called "right-to-work" legislation--and became the 24th state to prohibit requiring employees to join a union or pay equivalent fees in a union shop--legislatures in Iowa and Virginia both upped the ante and took up provisions to amend their state constitutions to include right to work. (The Virginia measure now appears dead.)
These aren't the first states to move to constitutionalize right to work. Arizona has a state constitutional right-to-work provision:
Article XXV Right to Work. Right to work or employment without membership in labor organization.
No person shall be denied the opportunity to obtain or retain employment because of non-membership in a labor organization, nor shall the State or any subdivision thereof, or any corporation, individual or association of any kind enter into any agreement, written or oral, which excludes any person from employment or continuation of employment because of non-membership in a labor organization.
Article I, Section 6: Right to work.
The right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization. The right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively shall not be denied or abridged. Public employees shall not have the right to strike.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) is taking a different tack in relation to his state's constitution: he has asked the state supreme court to issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of the state's recently enacted right-to-work laws. The questions: whether the new right-to-work law for the public sector interferes with the Civil Service Commission's constitutional authority, thus nullifying the law as applied to the classified state civil service; and, if so, whether the laws violate equal protection (by treating the classified civil service differently than everyone else). There's another question: whether the new laws violate state constitutional provisions stating that a bill can't be amended to change its original purpose and that bills have to meet certain procedural requirements (including sitting in each house for at least five days, and read three times).
Snyder's move appears to be designed to short-circuit promised legal actions to halt or delay the implementation of the bills. Getting a favorable ruling from the state supreme court would allow Snyder to implement the laws immediately.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
It's easy to see how writing and publishing a memoir centering on one's former spouse, especially if the theme is how "Satan (through my ex) set out to destroy my life," might lead to a defamation action in state court by the former spouse. But as the Iowa Supreme Court demonstrated in its recent opinion in Bierman v. Weier, the entwinement of the First Amendment, the state constitution, and the tort issues are far from simple to resolve.
The opinion has an excellent discussion of First Amendment Supreme Court precedent on defamation and an interesting application of last term's decision in United States v. Alvarez, the "Stolen Valor case." The defendants argued that Alvarez should be construed to invalidate libel per se presumptions because it recognized a First Amendment right to make "factually false statements." As the court stated, however, the problem with this argument "is that both opinions making up the Alvarez majority specifically highlighted defamation as a traditional area where the law was constitutional because it did not punish statements merely because of their falsity." The Iowa Supreme Court also disregarded the applicability of Citizens United to arguments invalidating libel per se as a matter of state law.
This was not merely a matter of state common law, however, for the Iowa state constitution specifically addresses the issue of libel in Article I, section 7:
Every person may speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right. No law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech, or of the press. In all prosecutions or indictments for libel, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury, and if it appears to the jury that the matter charged as libelous was true, and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted.
The Iowa Supreme Court emphasized that the language supported the continuance of libel per se, especially given the text that made persons "responsible for the abuse of that right."
The continued constitutionality of libel per se left open the legal status of Author Solutions, Inc. (ASI), the self-publishing venture named as a defendant for its role in producing Scott Weier's book. The status of ASI as a media or nonmedia defendant was important under the state libel law that uses a "Gertz [v. Robert Welch] -inspired framework, which distinguishes media and nonmedia defendants and reserves libel per se for private plaintiffs and nonmedia defendants." In assessing whether ASI was a media defendant, the Iowa Supreme Court found that it was, interestingly citing New York Times v. Sullivan in support of this rationale:
"It is true that Scott [Weier] paid ASI to publish his book, rather than the other way around. But this fact alone does not change the analysis. Both our precedents and the United States Supreme Court’s have accorded the same protection to media defendants when they publish advertisements as when they publish content they have paid for."
Given the heightened standard of libel per se, the majority found that there was no malice on the part of ASI and reversed the lower court's denial of ASI's motion for summary judgment. Scott Weier was less successful: the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the district court and the plaintiffs' claims of libel, false light, and intentional emotional distress will be proceeding to trial, barring a settlement.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
"Throughout her career, Professor Rivera has worked to defend the legal rights of all New Yorkers and make our state a fairer, more just place to live," Governor Cuomo said. "As a Judge on the Court of Appeals, Professor Rivera's legal expertise and passion for social justice will serve all New Yorkers well, and I am proud to send her nomination to the Senate today."
Readers of the ConLawProf will recall our 2008 review of Rivera's article, An Equal Protection Standard For National Origin Subclassifications: The Context That Matters, 82 Wash. Law Review 897 (2007), examining classifications that rely on terms such as "Hispanic" and "Latino" and observing that such terms actually embrace a host of national origin classifications such as Puerto Rican, Dominican, Chilean, and Portuguese, even as she contends that this is not a reason to abandon equal protection analysis, but to delve deeper.
Rivera was also a participant in a public conversation "Translating Equality" with poet Kimiko Hahn and an author of the The Law Professors’ Report on U.S. Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor: On the Merits from the Hispanic Bar Association.
Congratulations Jenny Rivera!
Saturday, December 22, 2012
A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Barnes-Wallace v. City of San Diego that the City's lease to the Boy Scouts for property to use for youth recreational programs did not violate the California Constitution's No Aid Clause and the state and federal establishment clauses. The plaintiffs said that the Boy Scouts prohibit atheists, agnostics, and gays and lesbians from being members or volunteers and require members to affirm a belief in God, and that a City lease to the organization on favorable terms therefore violated state and federal constitutional prohibitions on government aid to religion. The ruling almost certainly ends this long-running case in favor of the City.
California's No Aid Clause prohibits the City from "mak[ing] an appropriation, or pay[ing] from any public fund whatever, or grant[ing] anything to or in aid of any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose . . . ." Cal. Const. art. XVI Sec. 5. The state Supreme Court has read into the Clause four requirements: (1) the government program must serve the public interest and provide no more than an incidental benefit to religion; (2) the program must be available to both secular and sectarian institutions on an equal basis; (3) the program must prohibit use of public funds for "religious projects"; and (4) the program must not impose any financial burden on the government.
The Ninth Circuit said the lease satisfied the four-part test. It said that the lease was for the Boy Scouts to run youth recreational activities, not for any religious purpose; that the City leased property to scores of secular organizations; that no City funds went to "religious projects"; and that the leases weren't a financial burden on the government. (The court said that even the favorable leases netted out to the City's benefit, because the Boy Scouts substantially improved and managed the leased property.)
The court said that both the California and federal establishment clauses turned on the Lemon test, and that the City's lease satisfied it. The court held that the purpose of the lease was secular (to provide facilities and services for youth activities); that a reasonable observer could not conclude that the City was engaged in religious indocrination, or was defining aid recipients by reference to religion; and that the City wasn't involved at all in the management of the leased properties.
December 22, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Establishment Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Ballot Measure 5 before Florida voters on November 6 would, if approved, alter Florida's constitution to provide more power to the legislature at the expense to the judiciary and exceutive.
Perhaps not suprisingly, the measure is sponsored by the Florida legislature.
The full text clarifies some of the details, but the summary is not necessarily enlightening:
Proposing a revision of Article V of the State Constitution relating to the judiciary. The State Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts. The constitution further provides that a rule of court may be repealed by a general law enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. This proposed constitutional revision eliminates the requirement that a general law repealing a court rule pass by a two-thirds vote of each house, thereby providing that the Legislature may repeal a rule of court by a general law approved by a majority vote of each house of the Legislature that expresses the policy behind the repeal. The court could readopt the rule in conformity with the public policy expressed by the Legislature, but if the Legislature determines that a rule has been readopted and repeals the readopted rule, this proposed revision prohibits the court from further readopting the repealed rule without the Legislature's prior approval. Under current law, rules of the judicial nominating commissions and the Judicial Qualifications Commission may be repealed by general law enacted by a majority vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. Under this proposed revision, a vote to repeal those rules is changed to repeal by general law enacted by a majority vote of the legislators present. Under current law, the Governor appoints a justice of the Supreme Court from a list of nominees provided by a judicial nominating commission, and appointments by the Governor are not subject to confirmation. This revision requires Senate confirmation of a justice of the Supreme Court before the appointee can take office. If the Senate votes not to confirm the appointment, the judicial nominating commission must reconvene and may not renominate any person whose prior appointment to fill the same vacancy was not confirmed by the Senate. For the purpose of confirmation, the Senate may meet at any time. If the Senate fails to vote on the appointment of a justice within 90 days, the justice will be deemed confirmed and will take office. The Judicial Qualifications Commission is an independent commission created by the State Constitution to investigate and prosecute before the Florida Supreme Court alleged misconduct by a justice or judge. Currently under the constitution, commission proceedings are confidential until formal charges are filed by the investigative panel of the commission. Once formal charges are filed, the formal charges and all further proceedings of the commission are public. Currently, the constitution authorizes the House of Representatives to impeach a justice or judge. Further, the Speaker of the House of Representatives may request, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission must make available, all information in the commission's possession for use in deciding whether to impeach a justice or judge. This proposed revision requires the commission to make all of its files available to the Speaker of the House of Representatives but provides that such files would remain confidential during any investigation by the House of Representatives and until such information is used in the pursuit of an impeachment of a justice or judge. This revision also removes the power of the Governor to request files of the Judicial Qualifications Commission to conform to a prior constitutional change. This revision also makes technical and clarifying additions and deletions relating to the selection of chief judges of a circuit and relating to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, and makes other nonsubstantive conforming and technical changes in the judicial article of the constitution.
The measure is seen by some as coupled with political efforts to vote against the "merit retention" of the three Florida Supreme Court justices- - - Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente (pictured) and Peggy Quince - - - arguably because "the Florida Supreme Court removed from the ballot a nonbinding amendment allowing Floridians to refuse to buy mandatory health insurance."
Another ballot initiative to watch on election day.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in Doe v. Maryland State Board of Elections that a ballot referendum challenging the Maryland Dream Act, a law that offers in-state tuition to Maryland colleges and universities to certain qualifying unauthorized aliens, can stay on the ballot in the upcoming elections.
The decision gives reasons for the court's earlier per curiam order also allowing the referendum on the ballot. The rulings mean that the Maryland Dream Act, a validly enacted state law, will go before Maryland voters in the upcoming election. (Here's a sample ballot. The referendum is Question 4, on page 2.)
At issue was the state constitutional appropriations exception to the referendum clause. The referendum clause says,
The people reserve to themselves power known as The Referendum, by petition to have submitted to the registered voters of the State, to approve or reject at the polls, any Act, or part of any Act of the General Assembly, if approved by the Governor, or, if passed by the General Assembly over the veto of the Governor.
Md. Const. art. XVI, Sec. 1(a). But the appropriations exception prohibits a referendum on certain appropriations questions:
No law making any appropriation for maintaining the State Government, or for maintaining or aiding any public institution, not exceeding the next previous appropriation for the same purpose, shall be subject to rejection or repeal under this Section.
Md. Const. art. XVI, Sec. 2. The appropriations exception is designed to insulate essential functions of the state, funded by "appropriations for maintaining the State Government," from the whims of voters.
The state Board of Elections approved a referendum challenging the Dream Act for the fall 2012 elections, and petitioners, unnamed and unauthorized aliens who sought in-state tuition under the Act, challenged it as violating the appropriations exception.
The court said that the Dream Act does, indeed, require additional appropriations, but that those appropriations were not the kinds of outlays that the appropriations exception had in mind. The Dream Act was neither a budget bill nor an appropriations bill; it's not a revenue-raising measure; and its primary purpose was to provide a benefit, not to spend money. (Spending money is only incidental.)
The court also rejected the claim that the Dream Act was in pari materia with the state Cade Funding Formula, a formula that ensures stable year-to-year funding of state colleges and universities and itself "mak[es] any appropriation . . . for maintaining or aiding any public institution," and thus shoehorned into the appropriations exception by way of Cade. The court said that the Dream Act and Cade (and any future budget bills) operate independently, so that Cade doesn't leverage the Dream Act into the appropriations exception.
The Dream Act now goes to Maryland voters.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Applying the Pennsylvania Constitutional provision that “no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” PA. CONST. art. 1, § 5, in its opinion in Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today remanded the question of the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new "Voter ID" law back to the trial judge.
In its 7 page ruling, the per curium majority stressed that the affected population involves "members of some of the most vulnerable segments of our society (the elderly, disabled members of our community, and the financially disadvantaged)." As the ruling makes clear, the statute's original plan - - - that persons needing voter ID could easily obtain it from the Pennsylvanian Department of Transportation, PennDOT - - - was unworkable given PennDOT's rigorous requirements. A bit less clearly, the opinion states:
Upon review, we find that the disconnect between what the Law prescribes and how it is being implemented has created a number of conceptual difficulties in addressing the legal issues raised. Initially, the focus on short-term implementation, which has become necessary given that critical terms of the statute have themselves become irrelevant, is in tension with the framing of Appellants’ challenge to the Law as a facial one (or one contesting the Law’s application across the widest range of circumstances). In this regard, however, we agree with Appellants’ essential position that if a statute violates constitutional norms in the short term, a facial challenge may be sustainable even though the statute might validly be enforced at some time in the future. Indeed, the most judicious remedy, in such a circumstance, is the entry of a preliminary injunction, which may moot further controversy as the constitutional impediments dissipate.
Absolutely clear, however, is the Supreme Court's remand to the Commonwealth Court and its vacating of that court's "predictive judgment" that there would be no voter dienfranchisement. Instead, the lower court must "consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards," and if not, issue a preliminary injunction against the voter ID law. The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to issue its opinion on or before October 2.
There were two vigorous dissents, both arguing that the Supreme Court should not remand the issue.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Todd stated that in her view, "the time for prediction is over":
Forty-nine days before a Presidential election, the question no longer is whether the Commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law, but whether it has constitutionally implemented it. Despite impending near-certain loss of voting rights, despite the Commonwealth's admitted inability thus far to fully implement Act 18 and its acceptance that, presently, “the Law is not being implemented according to its terms,” and despite the majority's concession that the “most judicious remedy” in such circumstances would be to grant an injunction, the majority nonetheless allows the Commonwealth to virtually ignore the election clock and try once again to defend its inexplicable need to rush this law into application by November 6, 2012.
And in a dissenting opinion as long as the per curium, and in which Todd joined, Justice McCaffery made clear that not only should the court decide the matter, but that there was "no doubt that the record, as it is, establishes the immediate and irreparable harm required for the injunction." McCaffery also had some especially pointed words about the political process:
While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political. That has been made abundantly clear by the House Majority Leader. Exhibit 42 at R.R. 2073a. I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution. That Constitution has made the right to vote a right verging on the sacred, and that right should never be trampled by partisan politics.
Thus, it seems that at least two of the six sitting Justices would immediately enjoin the voter ID law, and four are waiting for a lower court judge to make additional findings but lean towards an injunction. [UPDATED INFO: Recall that Justice Orie Melvin is not on the court at present; Order of Suspension here.
[image: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices via]