Friday, December 8, 2017
Adding to its docket on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, the Court agreed to hear the merits of Benisek v. Lamone, regarding Maryland's redistricting law, decided by a three judge court in August 2017.
Recall that the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford on October 3, 2017. In Gill, arising in Wisconsin, the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is best analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause or under the First Amendment inflected the oral arguments.
The three judge court opinion in Benisek deciding on the application of a preliminary injunction was divided. A majority of the found that the case essentially rejected the challengers' arguments, seemingly finding that the claims were not justiable and that they did not have merit, but ultimately resting on a decision that the matter should be not be decided pending the outcome in Gill v. Whitford and thus denying the motion for preliminary injunction. In an extensive dissenting opinion, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer makes a compelling argument that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District by the Democratic leadership diluted the votes of Republicans. Judge Niemeyer advanced a First Amendment standard to redressing unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering as:
(1) “those responsible for the map redrew the lines of his district with the specific intent to impose a burden on him and similarly situated citizens because of how they voted or the political party with which they were affiliated,”
(2) “the challenged map diluted the votes of the targeted citizens to such a degree that it resulted in a tangible and concrete adverse effect,” and
(3) “the mapmakers’ intent to burden a particular group of voters by reason of their views” was a but-for cause of the “adverse impact.”
Applying that standard, Judge Niemeyer would have found it clearly violated by the Sixth District.
While both the majority and Judge Niemeyer's dissent agree that partisan gerrymandering is "noxious" and destructive, the panel clearly divides on what the judiciary can or should do. For Niemeyer, judicial abdication "would have the most troubling consequences":
If there were no limits on the government’s ability to draw district lines for political purposes, a state might well abandon geographical districts altogether so as to minimize the disfavored party’s effectiveness. In Maryland, where roughly 60% of the voters are Democrats and 40% Republicans, the Democrats could create eight safe congressional districts by assigning to each district six Democrats for every four Republicans, regardless of the voters’ geographical location. In a similar vein, a Republican government faced with these same voters could create a map in which two districts consisted entirely of Democrats, leaving six that would be 53% Republican. Such a paradigm would be strange by any standard. A congressman elected in such a system could have constituents in Baltimore City, others in Garrett County, and yet others in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., preventing him from representing any of his constituents effectively. Similarly, members of a single household could be assigned to different congressional districts, and neighbors would be denied the ability to mobilize politically. Such partisan gerrymandering, at its extreme, would disrupt the “very essence of districting,” which “is to produce a different ... result than would be reached with elections at large, in which the winning party would take 100% of the legislative seats.” [citing Gaffney v. Cummings (1973)].
The role that Benisek will play as an addition to Gill v. Whitford in the Court's consideration of partisan gerrymandering is unclear, but several differences between the cases might be worth noting. First, Benisek centers the First Amendment analysis rather than the Equal Protection Clause or a combination. Second, Benisek involves one district within the state rather than the state as a whole. And third, the redistricting in Maryland involved in Benisek is the Democratic party in power, while the redistricting in Wisconsin in Gill v. Whitford is the Republican party in power. What, if any, difference these differences may ultimately make - - - and whether the Court will render the decisions of these cases close together - - - remains to be determined.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The Court heard oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission with extensive arguments from the attorney for the cakeshop (Kristen Waggoner), the Solicitor General, the Colorado Solicitor General, and the attorney for the would-be customers (David Cole).
As predictable, the oral argument was filled with the expansiveness or limits of any doctrine that would permit the cakemaker to refuse to bake a cake for the same-sex wedding reception. Early on, Justices Ginsburg and Kagan asked Waggoner about florists and invitation designers, who Waggoner stated would be engaging in speech, but said "absolutely not" for the hair stylist. Drawing the line - - - what about the chef? the sandwich artist? - - - preoccupied this initial portion of the argument. However, another limitation that permeated the case was whether the cakemaker's refusal could apply to racial or other identities as well as sexual orientation, or perhaps, whether it was based on identity at all. For Kennedy, the issue could be that "there's basically an ability to boycott gay marriage."
Also for Kennedy, however, the question is whether Colorado had been "tolerant" or "respectful" of the cakemaker's religious beliefs. This invocation of the Free Exercise Clause was given heft by a statement by one of the Commissioners of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as quoted by Kennedy that "freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric." Kennedy asks the Colorado Solicitor General to "disavow or disapprove" of that statement. Kennedy characterizes the statement as expressing a hostility to religion and later lectures the Colorado attorney:
Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it's mutual.
It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs.
In Waggoner's rebuttal, Justice Sotomayor proffered a different view:
Counsel, the problem is that America's reaction to mixed marriages and to race didn't change on its own. It changed because we had public accommodation laws that forced people to do things that many claimed were against their expressive rights and against their religious rights.
It's not denigrating someone by saying, as I mentioned earlier, to say: If you choose to participate in our community in a public way, your choice, you can choose to sell cakes or not. You can choose to sell cupcakes or not, whatever it is you choose to sell, you have to sell it to everyone who knocks on your door, if you open your door to everyone.
While it's always perilous to predict the outcome of a decision based n oral argument, if Justice Kennedy is the deciding vote, his attention to the religious aspects of the challenge could make the free speech argument less consequential.
Monday, December 4, 2017
Preview of Masterpiece Cakeshop Argument on First Amendment Challenge to Anti-Discrimination Statute
Set for oral argument Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the high visibility case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission can be seen as a clash of constitutional principles of individual conscience vs. equality, or as a federalism case, or as part of the backlash to LGBTQ rights, or as part of the rise of religiously-motivated challenges to secular laws.
Recall that a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses. In the state proceedings, the Colorado Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test. A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a lengthy opinion, rejecting the First Amendment claims.
On the First Amendment speech claim, the initial hurdle for the cakemaker is establishing that the cake constitutes speech. The cakemaker argues that he is a "cake artist." The Court has held that symbolic speech needs to convey a particularized and understood message, Spence v. Washington (1974), but that includes the "unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schonberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll," Hurley v. Irish American Gay Group of Boston (1995). The cakemaker has also argued that the cake itself is so central to the wedding as to be a participant. Thus, the cakemaker as business owner should be able to refuse to make cakes for events with which he disagrees otherwise his speech is being compelled, akin to the landmark flag salute case of West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette (1943).
On the religious claim, the cakemaker essentially argues that the Colorado anti-discrimination law is not a law of neutral and general applicability because it includes sexual orientation as a protected ground and therefore targets (certain) religions, and thus strict scrutiny applies.
On both claims, the oral arguments will most likely include explorations of the slippery slopes. If the cake is art, then what about restaurant dinners? Photography? Bed and breakfasts? If the cake is akin to a participant in the wedding celebration, then would the rule extend to birthdays? And can the exemption for individual conscience be limited to sexual orientation? What about race? Ethnicity or national origin? Gender?
There are a little less than 50 amicus briefs on each side. The Court has allowed the Solicitor General of the United States to participate in oral argument on the side of the cakemaker, and for the respondents (the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the original would-be customers) to both participate.
The case has attracted extensive commentary (here's a good round-up by Edith Roberts on SCOTUSBlog) and there is certainly much more to come.
Monday, November 13, 2017
SCOTUS Grants Certiorari on First Amendment Challenge to California's Regulation of "Crisis Pregnancy Centers"
The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra to the Ninth Circuit's opinion upholding the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act). The California law requires that licensed pregnancy-related clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, must disseminate a notice stating the existence of publicly- funded family-planning services, including contraception and abortion, and requires that unlicensed clinics disseminate a notice stating that they are not licensed by the State of California. The California legislature had found that the approximately 200 CPCs in California employ “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices [that] often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women from making fully-informed, time-sensitive decisions about critical health care.”
Recall that affirming the district judge, the unanimous Ninth Circuit panel rejected both the free speech and free exercise of religion claims advanced by NIFLA in seeking a preliminary injunction. After finding that the challenge was justiciable as ripe, the panel opinion, authored by Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, first considered the free speech challenge which is at the center of the case. The panel concluded that the California statute's requirement of disclosure of state-funded services merited intermediate scrutiny under the First Amendment, which it survived, and that the unlicensed disclosure requirement survived any level of scrutiny. The Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that the FACT Act was viewpoint-discrimination subject to strict scrutiny. The Ninth Circuit did agree with the challengers that the disclosure requirement was content-based, but held that not all content-based regulations merit strict scrutiny under Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015). The court looked back to Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), noting that it did not announce a standard for abortion-related disclosure and applied Ninth Circuit precedent of Pickup v. Brown (2013) in which the court upheld a California statute banning conversion therapy under a "professional speech" intermediate standard of scrutiny. The panel upheld the statute applying intermediate scrutiny.
The Ninth Circuit ruling is at odds with other opinions, including, as the opinion noted, the Second Circuit in Evergreen Ass’n, Inc. v. City of N.Y.(2014) and the Fourth Circuit en banc in Centro Tepeyac v. Montgomery Cty. (2013) applied strict scrutiny and held similar provisions unconstitutional because there were other means available to inform pregnant women, including advertising campaigns. Thus, it is this circuit split that will inform the United States Supreme Court arguments.
The Supreme Court's decision should resolve the debate concerning state regulation of crisis pregnancy centers but could also be much broader concerning so-called professional speech.
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
In a report for Pro Publica, Ryan Gabrielson discusses the underlying truth claims in some recent United States Supreme Court opinions and finds them inaccurate.
Perhaps most worrisome is from Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court in the 2013 closely divided case declaring a provision of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, Shelby County v. Holder. Gabrielson writes that Chief Justice Roberts
called the “extraordinary and unprecedented” requirements of the Voting Rights Act outdated and unfair.
To illustrate his point, Roberts constructed a chart and published it in the body of the opinion. It compared voter registration rates for whites and blacks from 1965 and 2004 in the six southern states subject to special oversight. Roberts assembled his chart from data in congressional reports produced when lawmakers last renewed the act. The data displayed clearly that registration gaps between blacks and whites had shrunk dramatically.
But some of the numbers Roberts included in his chart were wrong.
Additionally, Gabrielson notes that Roberts's chart "did not use generally accepted definitions of race."
Roberts, whose recent dismissal of statistical reality in the oral argument in another voting case, Gill v. Whitford, attracted attention, is not the only Justice to be highlighted in the Pro Publica article and not only for nonlegal matters. Justice Kennedy, writing in another closely divided case, United States v. Windsor, also in 2013, inaccurately discussed the number of states that prohibited marriage between cousins. Kennedy wrote:
“most States permit first cousins to marry, but a handful — such as Iowa and Washington ... prohibit the practice.” Kennedy listed only the two states’ marriage statutes as sources.
The primary elements of his statement are false. Half the states prohibit marriages between first cousins, Iowa and Washington among them.
Whether or not such inaccuracies are central to judicial reasoning is certainly debatable. Whether or such inaccuracies sully judicial reputation is less so.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
In an open letter to Chief Justice Roberts, the President of the American Sociological Association, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, responded to the Roberts's comment during the Gill v. Whitford oral argument that social science data regarding partisan gerrymandering was "sociological gobbledygook."
After noting that during the oral argument "Justices Kagan and Sotomayor subsequently expressed concern about your statement and spoke to the value of social science measures," President Bonilla-Silva continued:
In an era when facts are often dismissed as “fake news,” we are particularly concerned about a person of your stature suggesting to the public that scientific measurement is not valid or reliable and that expertise should not be trusted. What you call “gobbledygook” is rigorous and empirical. The following are just a few examples of the contributions of sociological research to American society that our members offered in response to your comment:
- Clear evidence that separate is not equal
- Early algorithms for detecting credit card fraud
- Mapped connections between racism and physiologic stress response
- Network analysis to identify and thwart terror structures and capture terrorists
- Pay grades and reward systems that improve retention among enlisted soldiers
- Modern public opinion polling
- Evidence of gender discrimination in the workplace
- Understanding of the family factors that impact outcomes for children
- Guidance for police in defusing high-risk encounters
- Strategies for combatting the public health challenge of drug abuse
Should you be interested in enhancing your education in this area, we would be glad to put together a group of nationally and internationally renowned sociologists to meet with you and your staff. Given the important ways in which sociological data can and has informed thoughtful decision-making from the bench, such time would be well spent.
Indeed, during the oral argument Chief Justice Roberts did comment that his "goobledygook" perspective might be attributable to "simply my educational background."
There has not yet been a reported response from the Chief Justice.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
In oral arguments today in Gill v. Whitford, the United States Supreme Court confronted the constitutionality of gerrymandering on the basis of political party.
Recall that in an extensive opinion the three-judge court concluded that Wisconsin's "gerrymandering" of districts was unconstitutional, rejecting the notion that the Equal Protection Clause's application "must be limited to situations where the dilution is based on classifications such as race and population." Instead, the three-judge court ruled that the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, together, "prohibit a redistricting scheme which (1) is intended to place a severe impediment on the effectiveness of the votes of individual citizens on the basis of their political affiliation, (2) has that effect, and (3) cannot be justified on other, legitimate legislative grounds."
The question of whether the issue was one of Equal Protection or First Amendment permeated the oral argument, in part because of the standing hurdle, with Justice Kennedy posing the initial question asking the attorney for Wisconsin (and Gill) to assume that the Court had "decided that this is a First Amendment issue, not an equal protection issue." Later Justice Kennedy asked the attorney for the Wisconsin State Senate as amici curiae who had been allotted time in oral argument the question in a more straightforward manner: "Is there an equal protection violation or First Amendment violation?" assuming standing. In the argument for the challengers to the state redistricting scheme, the attorney for the appellees Paul Smith seemed to lean toward the First Amendment regarding standing, but also stated there was not "anything unusual about using the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment to regulate the abusive management of state elections by state government."
How a court would regulate (or even determine) whether state government's regulation was "abusive" is one of the central questions, no matter the doctrinal frame. Are there manageable judicial standards? Does the "efficiency gap" [EG] provide those standards? Justice Breyer sought to provide a framework early in the argument:
So I'd have step one. The judge says,Was there one party control of the redistricting? If the answer to that is no, say there was a bipartisan commission, end of case. Okay?
Step two, is there partisan asymmetry? In other words, does the map treat the political parties differently? And a good evidence of that is a party that got 48 percent of the vote got a majority of the legislature. Other evidence of that is what they call the EG, which is not quite so complicated as the opposition makes it think. Okay? In other words, you look to see.
Question 3, is -- is there going to be persistent asymmetry over a range of votes? That is to say one party, A, gets 48 percent, 49 percent, 50 percent, 51, that's sort of the S-curve shows you that, you know, whether there is or is not. And there has to be some.
And if there is, you say is this an extreme outlier in respect to asymmetry? And then, if all those -- the test flunks all those things, you say is there any justification, was there any other motive, was there any other justification?
Now, I suspect that that's manageable.
Justice Gorsuch returned to Breyer's standards later in the argument, essentially asking counsel for the challengers what the limiting principle would be so that every district would not be subject to litigation.
Justice Kagan also sought a limiting principle, especially since the redistricting map at issue was so problematical. Yet Justice Kagan contended that the science of the redistricting was a science - - - and settled and understandable - - - although Chief Justice Roberts referred to the EG as "sociological gobbledygook." The Chief Justice also noted that the EG "doesn't sound like language in the Constitution," and that the "intelligent man on the street" would view the Court as being political - - - "the Supreme Court preferred the Democrats over the Republicans" - - - which would cause "serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this Court."
For Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, the central concern seemed to be protecting what Ginsburg called "the precious right to vote" and what Sotomayor criticized as "stacking the deck," asking about the political value of gerrymandering at all. Justice Sotomayor also described the repeated map-making and redrawing of districts until the Wisconsin map was as partisan as it could possibly be. She asked the attorney for Wisconsin why the legislators didn't use one of the earlier maps. He answered: "Because there was no constitutional requirement that they do so." She responded: "That's the point."
As always, it is unclear from oral argument what the Court might do, but there did seem to be recognition of the problem of gerrymandering and the possibility of manageable standards with a limiting principle for many of the Justices.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
In its opinion in McLaughlin v. McLaughlin (Jones), the Arizona Supreme Court interpreted the United States Constitution to require that the statutory presumption of parentage applies to a woman in a same-sex marriage in the same way as would to a man in a different-sex marriage.
The Arizona Supreme Court relied on the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges as well as the Court's per curiam opinion a few months ago in Pavan v. Smith, reversing the Arkansas Supreme Court's divided decision to deny a same-sex parent's name be listed on the child's birth certificate. The Arizona Supreme Court in McLaughlin, echoing Pavan, quoted Obergefell as constitutionally requiring same-sex married couples be afforded the “constellation of benefits the States have linked to marriage.”
The majority opinion of the Arizona Supreme Court, authored by Chief Justice Scott Bales, rejected the interpretation of Obergefell advanced by Kimberly McLaughlin, the biological mother, that "Obergefell does not require extending statutory benefits linked to marriage to include same-sex couples; rather, it only invalidates laws prohibiting same-sex marriage." Instead, Chief Justice Bales wrote that that such a "constricted reading is precluded by Obergefell itself ad the Supreme Court's recent decision in Pavan v. Smith." Moreover, as in Pavan, the statute itself did not rest on biology but sought to sideline it. The marital presumption assigns paternity based on marriage to the birth mother, not biological relationship to the child. Thus, any differential treatment cannot be justified and the statute was unconstitutional as applied.
As a remedy, Judge Bales' opinion concluded that the extension of the presumption rather than striking the presumption was proper, relying on yet distinguishing the Court's recent decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana. It was on this issue that one Justice dissented, contending that the court was rewriting the statute. Two other Justices wrote separately to concur on the remedy issue, noting that the majority must follow the United States Supreme Court and "circumstances require us to drive a remedial square peg into a statutory round hole," but "nothing in the majority opinion prevents the legislature from fashioning a broader or more suitable solution by amending or revoking" the statute.
Perhaps the Arizona legislature will see fit to abolish the marital presumption for all children?
September 20, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
In an exceedingly brief Order signed only by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the United States Supreme Court in Abbott v. Perez, stated:
UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,
IT IS ORDERED that the order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, case No. SA-11-CV-360, entered August 15, 2017, is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Tuesday, September 5, 2017, by 3 p.m., and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.
Recall that the three-judge court, after an extensive opinion, ultimately directed the Texas Attorney General to provide a "written advisory within three business days stating whether the Legislature intends to take up redistricting in an effort to cure these violations and, if so, when the matter will be considered."
As we discussed, the extensive opinion by the three judge court found constitutional violations, including intentional discrimination, but also rejected several of the challengers' claims.
[image: Caricature of Associate Justice Alito by Donkey Hotey via ]
Thursday, August 17, 2017
As reported, the newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, appointed by President Trump is scheduled to deliver a talk at the “Defending Freedom Luncheon,” hosted by the nonprofit Fund for American Studies, an invitation-only event to be held at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.
It's not the conservative Fund for American Studies sponsorship that is attracting attention, but the venue of the private Trump Hotel. As the emoluments clauses challenges to Trump's alleged intermingling of his office and his personal profits proceed, it is possible that the issue will reach the United States Supreme Court, including facts about functions at the Trump Hotel in D.C.
As we've previously discussed, the Judicial Code of Conduct does not apply to Supreme Court Justices. And even if it did, it is unclear that the appearance at the hotel - - - without a link to a specific pending case before the Court at this time - - - would be encompassed or if the only remedy would be subsequent recusal from that case.
Nevertheless, given the controversy surrounding the nomination of Gorusch, this may not be the best look for a Justice intending to eschew continuing controversy.
[caricature of Justice Neil Gorsuch by Donkey Hotey via]
Monday, June 26, 2017
In a brief per curiam opinion in Pavan v. Smith, the Court reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court's closely divided opinion regarding same-sex parents being listed on a child's birth certificate. Recall that Arkansas' Supreme Court's majority opinion found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite. The Court, like the dissenting justices in the Arkansas opinion, concluded that Obergefell was determinative. The Court's per curiam opinion stated that the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion "denied to married same-sex couples access to the 'constellation of benefits that the State has linked to marriage,'" quoting Obergefell.
Importantly, the Court noted, that "when a married woman in Arkansas conceives a child by means of artificial insemination, the State will—indeed, must—list the name of her male spouse on the child’s birth certificate."
Arkansas has thus chosen to make its birth certificates more than a mere marker of biological relationships: The State uses those certificates to give married parents a form of legal recognition that is not available to unmarried parents. Having made that choice, Arkansas may not, consistent with Obergefell, deny married same-sex couples that recognition.
Thus, the Court's opinion in Pavan makes it clear that Obergefell applies not merely to marriage, but also to situations in which the marital relationship affects children.
In a per curiam opinion in the so-called "travel ban" or "Muslim ban" cases, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project and Trump v. Hawai'i, the Court has granted the federal government's petitions for certiorari and granted the stay applications in part. The Fourth Circuit en banc and the Ninth Circuit had both found that the challengers to the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), known as EO-2.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit en banc in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project affirmed the injunction against EO-2 based on the Establishment Clause. As the Supreme Court's opinion phrases it, the Fourth Circuit
majority concluded that the primary purpose of §2(c) was religious, in violation of the First Amendment: A reasonable observer familiar with all the circumstances—including the predominantly Muslim character of the designated countries and statements made by President Trump during his Presidential campaign—would conclude that §2(c) was motivated principally by a desire to exclude Muslims from the United States, not by considerations relating to national security. Having reached this conclusion, the court upheld the preliminary injunction prohibiting enforcement of §2(c) [of EO-2] against any foreign national seeking to enter this country.
Recall also that the Ninth Circuit unanimous panel similarly affirmed a district judge's injunction against EO-2, but on the grounds that EO-2 likely exceeded the president's statutory authority, thus only implicitly reaching the constitutional issue.
In today's opinion from the Court, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari in both cases, consolidated the cases, and set them for the October 2017 Term, as well as directing briefing on the issues of mootness.
Importantly, the Court narrowed the injunctive relief imposed by the appellate courts. As to §2(c) of EO-2, which suspended entry in the United States, the Court found the injunction balanced the equities incorrectly as to "foreign nationals abroad who have no connection to the United States at all." Thus, "§2(c) may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of EO–2."
Similarly, as to §6(b) refugee cap enjoined by the Ninth Circuit, the Court found that refugees who lack connection to the United States should not be covered. However, EO §6 "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship" with the United States.
In discussing §2(c), the Court provided examples of the narrowed injunction:
The facts of these cases illustrate the sort of relationship that qualifies. For individuals, a close familial relation- ship is required. A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member, like Doe’s wife or Dr. Elshikh’s mother-in-law, clearly has such a relationship. As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading EO–2. The students from the designated countries who have been admit- ted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience. Not so someone who enters into a relationship sim- ply to avoid §2(c): For example, a nonprofit group devoted to immigration issues may not contact foreign nationals from the designated countries, add them to client lists, and then secure their entry by claiming injury from their exclusion.
The Court's decision may give both "sides" a basis for claiming victory, but of course the decision is a temporary one and awaits a full decision on the merits.
June 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)
SCOTUS in Trinity Lutheran Finds Missouri's Denial of Funding to Church Playground Violates First Amendment
In its opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision, a so-called Blaine Amendment, prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations.
Recall that at the oral arguments, most Justices seemed skeptical of Missouri's argument. However, recall that the Eighth Circuit had concluded that Trinity Church sought an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church." The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology." For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.
In the Trinity Lutheran opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court characterized the Missouri policy as one that "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character." Relying on the Free Exercise precedent it had discussed, it concluded that if such cases "make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny." The Court added that "Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government program without disavowing its religious character."
Yet the question of subsidy or funding caused some consternation amongst the Justices who joined the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court. Footnote 3, which provides in full "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination" is joined only by a plurality - - - Justices Thomas and Gorsuch explicitly exempted this footnote. In two brief concurring opinions, one by Thomas joined by Gorsuch and one by Gorsuch joined by Thomas, the continued vitality of Locke v. Davey is questioned.
In the Court's opinion, Locke v. Davey is distinguished because "Davey was not denied a state-funded scholarship of who he was but because of what he proposed to do - to use the funds to prepare for the ministry." (emphasis in original). For Gorsuch, this status-use distinction is not sufficient.
Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and almost twice as long as the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court, is rich with originalist history as well a discussion of Locke v. Davey and a citation to the 38 state constitutional provisions similar to the Missouri one. For Sotomayor,
Missouri has recognized the simple truth that, even absent an Establishment Clause violation, the transfer of public funds to houses of worship raises concerns that sit exactly between the Religion Clauses. To avoid those concerns, and only those concerns, it has prohibited such funding. In doing so, it made the same choice made by the earliest States centuries ago and many other States in the years since. The Constitution permits this choice.
Sotomayor points to the possible ramifications of the opinion, including the troublesome footnote 3:
The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and perhaps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.
It dies seem that Trinity Lutheran opens the floodgates for claims by religious entities that they are being "discriminated" against whenever there are secular provisions for funding.
The United States Supreme Court, after a longer than usual period, granted certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case in which a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, essentially asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses.
Recall the Colorado ALJ firmly rejected the arguments of the cakeshop owners reasoning that to accept its position would be to "allow a business that served all races to nonetheless refuse to serve an interracial couple because of the business owner’s bias against interracial marriage." The ALJ rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test.
A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a 66 page opinion.
Interestingly, the Court in 2014 denied certiorari to a similar case, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer.
The petitioner argues an intersection of doctrines including compelled speech and free exercise, arguing that the Colorado public accommodations non-discrimination law offers a "stark choice" to those who "earn a living through artistic means: Either use your talents to create expression that conflicts with your religious beliefs about marriage, or suffer punishment under Colorado’s public accommodation law."
Monday, June 19, 2017
In its opinion in Matal v. Tam, formerly Lee v. Tam, the United States Supreme Court has concluded that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. Recall that the underlying controversy involves the denial of trademark registration to a band called "The Slants" on the ground that the mark would be disparaging. Recall also that the en banc Federal Circuit held that the disparagement provision in Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), barring the the Patent and Trademark Office from registering scandalous, immoral, or disparaging marks, was unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment. The en banc majority found that the disparagement provision constituted viewpoint discrimination and failed strict scrutiny.
While all eight Justices participating in the decision agreed that the Federal Circuit should be affirmed, and all Justices agreed that the provision was subject to strict scrutiny as a viewpoint regulation, there was some disagreement regarding the applicability of other First Amendment doctrines as was apparent in oral argument.
Writing for the Court in most respects, Justice Alito's opinion concludes that the trademark disparagement provision applies to marks that disparage members of a racial or ethnic group (there was a statutory argument by Tam that this was not true) and is thus subject to the First Amendment. Justice Alito then proceeded to address three government arguments
- that the trademarks are government speech and thus not subject to the First Amendment;
- that trademarks are a form of government subsidy;
- that trademarks should be subject to a new "government program" doctrine.
As to the first discussion on government speech, all the Justices joined Alito's opinion. However, as to the second and third arguments made by the government, only Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas and Breyer joined. In the concurring opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, Kennedy writes that the "viewpoint discrimination rationale renders unnecessary any extended treatment of other questions."
The issue of whether First Amendment viewpoint discrimination doctrine applies to commercial speech has unanimous assent, with Alito's explanation for four Justices being a bit more extensive than Kennedy's explanation for four Justices, with the supplement of Thomas' additional concurrence to state that commercial speech should not be a separate First Amendment doctrine in cases content regulations.
The essence of the case is that the disparagement provision is viewpoint discrimination subject to strict scrutiny that it does not survive. For Justice Alito (in a plurality portion of the opinion), the matter is resolved thusly:
the disparagement clause is not “narrowly drawn” to drive out trademarks that support invidious discrimination. The clause reaches any trademark that disparages any person, group, or institution. It applies to trademarks like the following: “Down with racists,” “Down with sexists,” “Down with homophobes.” It is not an anti-discrimination clause; it is a happy-talk clause. In this way, it goes much further than is necessary to serve the interest asserted.
[emphasis in original]
From the perspective of the other four Justices, Kennedy phrases the problem a bit differently in addressing the government's arguments that the disparagement clause was not actually a viewpoint discrimination. Kennedy ends by stating
A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.
Is this a distinction without a difference? Doctrinally, it makes little difference. But it does convey a difference in the mood of the Court.
In the United States Supreme Court unanimous decision in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Court found that the state statute, NCGS § 14-202.5, making it a felony for registered sex offenders to access commercial social networking sites, violated the First Amendment. This outcome was predictable given the then-eight Justices' skepticism during the oral arguments in February. Recall that Packingham was convicted of the North Carolina felony for his Facebook page on which he wrote " Thank you Jesus. God is good" regarding a result on his parking ticket.
The Court's majority opinion by Justice Kennedy, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a mere 10 pages. The Court not only stresses the breadth of the North Carolina statute, but highlights the role of the Internet in "our modern society and culture" as vital to the First Amendment:
A fundamental principle of the First Amendment is that all persons have access to places where they can speak and listen, and then, after reflection, speak and listen once more. The Court has sought to protect the right to speak in this spatial context. . . .
While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places (in a spatial sense)for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the “vast democratic forums of the Internet” in general, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 868 (1997), and social media in particular. Seven in ten American adults use at least one Internet social networking service. . . .
While we now may be coming to the realization that the Cyber Age is a revolution of historic proportions, we cannot appreciate yet its full dimensions and vast potential to alter how we think, express ourselves, and define who we want to be. The forces and directions of the Internet are so new, so protean, and sofar reaching that courts must be conscious that what they say today might be obsolete tomorrow.
This case is one of the first this Court has taken to address the relationship between the First Amendment and the modern Internet. As a result, the Court must exercise extreme caution before suggesting that the First Amendment provides scant protection for access to vast networks in that medium.
For the Court majority, even assuming the North Carolina statute was content neutral and should be analyzed under intermediate scrutiny, the statute "enacts a prohibition unprecedented in the scope of First Amendment speech it burdens." The Court noted that the present statute applies to all social networking sites including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, and that a state could possibly enact a more specific provision, such as prohibiting contacting a minor on social media.
In sum, to foreclose access to social media altogether is to prevent the user from engaging in the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights. It is unsettling to suggest that only a limited set of websites can be used even by persons who have completed their sentences. Even convicted criminals—and in some instances especially convicted criminals—might receive legitimate benefits from these means for access to the world of ideas, in particular if they seek to reform and to pursue lawful and rewarding lives.
While Justice Alito's opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas, agrees with the outcome, Alito criticizes Kennedy's opinion for the Court as not being sufficiently circumspect and cautious, and for engaging in "loose rhetoric." For Alito, the problem with the North Carolina statute is likewise its breadth: "its wide sweep precludes access to a large number of websites that are most unlikely to facilitate the commission of a sex crime against a child." Among Alito's examples are Amazon.com, the Washington Post website, and WebMD. Yet Alito's opinion, just slightly longer than Kennedy's for the Court, found it important to argue that the entirety of the internet or even social media sites are "the 21st century equivalent of public streets and parks." In support of this, Alito argues that the internet offers an "unprecedented degree of anonymity."
Yet Alito's concurring opinion does not essentially disagree with the Court's finding that it would be possible for a state to craft a sufficiently narrow statute. The disagreement, however, may be in the room for states to maneuver in drafting such a criminal statute.
Monday, June 12, 2017
In its per curiam unanimous opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump, the Ninth Circuit panel affirmed the finding of standing and held that the President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780) (known as EO2, the revised travel ban or "Muslim Ban 2.0) most likely conflicts with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the injunction against EO2.
The oral argument about a month ago raised both the statutory and constitutional issues, but recall that District Judge Derrick Watson's opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump centered on the Establishment Clause claim. For the Ninth Circuit, however, the statutory claim took precedence. The Ninth Circuit noted that "the district court decided an important and controversial constitutional claim without first expressing its views on Plaintiffs’ statutory claims, including their INA-based claim," although the " INA claim was squarely before the district court." The Ninth Circuit referred to the "admonition that “courts should be extremely careful not to issue unnecessary constitutional rulings,”and concluded that because "Plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on the merits of that claim," the court "need not" and does not "reach the Establishment Clause claim to resolve this appeal."
On the constitutional ramifications of finding EO2 exceeded the president's power under the statute, the court invoked the famous "Steel Seizure Case" framework by Justice Jackson:
Finally, we note that in considering the President’s authority, we are
cognizant of Justice Jackson’s tripartite framework in Youngstown Sheet & Tube
Co. v. Sawyer. See 343 U.S. 579, 635–38 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring).
Section 1182(f) ordinarily places the President’s authority at its maximum. “When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate.” Id. at 635. However, given the express will procedure for refugee admissions to this country, and § 1182(a)(3)(B)’s criteria for determining terrorism-related inadmissibility, the President took measures that were incompatible with the expressed will of Congress, placing his power “at its lowest ebb.” Id. at 637. In this zone, “Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.” Id. at 638.
But, as the court continued, there would be a different state of affairs if Congress acted:
We have based our decision holding the entry ban unlawful on statutory considerations, and nothing said herein precludes Congress and the President from reaching a new understanding and confirming it by statute. If there were such consensus between Congress and the President, then we would view Presidential power at its maximum, and not in the weakened state based on conflict with statutory law. See id. at 635–38.
In two respects, the Ninth Circuit narrowed the injunction. First, it vacated the preliminary injunction "to the extent it enjoins internal review procedures that do not burden individuals outside of the executive branch of the federal government." Second, like the Fourth Circuit en banc opinion in International Refugee Assistant Project v. Trump, it held that the injunction should not be entered against the president as defendant. But the essential effect of the opinion affirms the injunction against EO2.
Thus, the controversial presidential travel ban Executive Orders have been challenged in courts and found invalid. EO1 was enjoined and eventually withdrawn. This Ninth Circuit opinion on EO2 on statutory grounds, joins the Fourth Circuit en banc opinion in International Refugee Assistant Project v. Trump finding EO2 most likely unconstitutional on Establishment Clause. The DOJ has sought review by the Supreme Court on the Fourth Circuit ruling; most likely the DOJ will similarly seek review of this Ninth Circuit ruling.
In its opinion in Sessions v. Morales-Santana, the United States Supreme Court has held that the differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child violated equal protection as included in the Fifth Amendment's protections. Recall that the Second Circuit had held there was an equal protection violation and had subjected the the statutory scheme to intermediate heightened scrutiny under United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), rejecting the government's argument that essentially all citizenship statutes should be subject to mere rational basis review. The Supreme Court opinion in Morales-Santana, authored by Justice Ginsburg (who also wrote VMI), was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justices Thomas and Alito briefly dissented.
But while the Court's opinion affirms the Second Circuit's constitutional conclusion, it nevertheless holds that Morales-Santana is not entitled to relief, reversing the Second Circuit on that point.
The Court first rehearses the complicated statutory scheme and facts. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, codified at 8 U.S.C. § 1409(c), was the one in effect when Morales-Santana was born in 1962 outside the US to unwed parents. His parents married each other in 1970 and he was admitted to the US as a lawful permanent resident in 1975. In 2000, Morales-Santana was placed in removal proceedings after a conviction for various felonies and applied for withholding based on derivative citizenship from his father. Derivative citizenship, which occurs at the moment of birth, is bestowed on a child born abroad to an unwed citizen mother and non‐citizen father has citizenship at birth so long as the mother was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of at least one year at some point prior to the child’s birth. By contrast, a child born abroad to an unwed citizen father and non‐citizen mother has citizenship at birth only if the father was present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth for a period or periods totaling at least ten years, with at least five of those years occurring after the age of fourteen. Morales-Santana's father, born in Puerto Rico in 1900, met the one year requirement but not the ten year requirement at the time of his son's birth. Both parties agreed that had Morales‐Santana’s mother, rather than his father, been a citizen continuously present in Puerto Rico until 20 days prior to her nineteenth birthday, she would have satisfied the requirements to confer derivative citizenship on her child. It is this gender‐based difference in treatment that Morales‐Santana claims violated his father’s right to equal protection.
The Court finds that the Morales-Santana has standing to raise the differential as applied to his parents and that the difference between unwed mothers and unwed fathers is "of the same genre of classifications" as the one in landmark sex equality cases, thus "heightened scrutiny is in order." The Court finds that there is no exceedingly persuasive justification and notes that the statutory scheme dates "from an era when the lawbooks of our Nation were rife with overbroad generalizations about the way men and women are." The Court also concluded that previous immigration cases, such as Nguyen v. INS, (2001) which upheld gender discrimination regarding establishment of paternity were not controlling. The Court rejected the government's rationale of "risk-of-statelessness" for the children as being "an assumption without foundation."
Despite the Court's resounding conclusion that the provision violates equal protection, the Court declines to extend the shorter unwed mother residency period to the unwed father. Instead, the "right of equal treatment" here should be a withdrawal of benefits from the favored class (women) rather than an extension of benefits to the disfavored class (men). The Court states that any choice between the methods of achieving equal treatment "is governed by the legislature's intent, as revealed by the statute at hand." Thus, although the general approach is extension of benefits, because the statutory general rule was the longer one, the exception for favorable treatment is the one that should be stricken.
Thus, this is one of those relatively rare equal protection cases in which the challenger wins the battle to have the provision declared unconstitutional, but loses the war because equal treatment becomes the harsher rule.
In Loving v. Virginia, decided June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that the Virginia statute criminalizing marriage between White and (most)non-White persons violated the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case has become an iconic one, not only because it explicitly states that the Virginia law was "obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy," but also because it identifies the "freedom to marry" as "one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."
Creighton Law Review hosted a symposium for the 50th anniversary of the case and the issue is just published.
Among the terrific articles is one that considers the Hollywood film, released last year, as well as the previous documentary. In the important contribution Filmic Contributions to the Long Arc of the Law: Loving and the Narrative Individualization of Systemic Injustice, Alanna Doherty argues that the film, and to a lesser extent the documentary "repackages the Lovings’ historic civil rights struggle against wider systemic oppression as a personal victory won by triumphant individuals through the power of love." This individualization through narrative, she argues, obscures the collective and civil rights struggle that is the ground of the action the film portrays. Likewise, the "White Supremacy" of the state is attributed to a few rogue individuals. Doherty argues that such individualization is not only limited, but also accounts for the post-Loving developments in equality doctrine regarding affirmative action:
Both Loving (the film) and Fisher [v. University of Texas at Austin] (the case) present their stories of individualized racial harm at the cost of avoiding meaningful recognition of systemic injustice. While in Loving this may seem positive due to the nature of the decision, and although in Fisher the court ultimately upheld the admissions policy, harmful ideological work is still being done to our socio-legal consciousness. In Fisher, the Court set injurious legal precedent in how it evaluates affirmative action programs—under intense scrutiny and with such little deference that fewer, if any, will pass constitutional muster. And because law is an embodiment of social practices interacting with cultural conceptions in noetic space, a trend in cinematic and legal narratives to shirk responsibility for holding oppressive institutions accountable only furthers a reciprocity with cultural ideology that moves the law away from helping those most vulnerable under it.
And yet, even as Loving (the film) is subject to critique as being limited, sentimental, and nostalgic, Doherty ultimately contends that the film has legal relevance given our fraught political landscape:
perhaps the cultural and legal imagining that needs to be done in the noetic space of 2017 is one grounded in the inspiring recognition of triumphant small-scale love. Maybe what Loving truly contributes to such a tumultuous cultural moment is the notion that not only must we continue to commit to fights we should not have to fight, but that if we want to take care of each other even when the law fails us, we must decide to keep loving.
June 12, 2017 in Affirmative Action, Conferences, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Film, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Race, Scholarship, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2)
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Seventh Circuit Affirms Preliminary Injunction Against School District in Transgender Sex-Segregated Restroom Case
In its opinion in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, Judge Ann Williams begins for the unanimous panel including Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Illana Rovner, by stating that the issue would seem to be a "simple request: to use the boys' restroom while at school," but the school district believed it was "not so simple because Ash is a transgender boy."
The Seventh Circuit decision to affirm the preliminary injunction directing the school district allowing the plaintiff, a transgender student, Ash (also known as Ashton), to use the boy's restroom rests both on Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. As a preliminary issue, the court found that pendent jurisdiction of the district court's order denying the school district's motion to dismiss was not appropriate.
On the likelihood to succeed on the merits of Title IX, the court considered companion Title VII doctrine in the circuit, including the doctrine of sex-stereotyping. The fact that Congress has not added transgender status to Title IX (or Title VII) was not determinative. Instead,
Ash can demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim because he has alleged that the School District has denied him access to the boys’ restroom because he is transgender. A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non‐conformance, which in turn violates Title IX. The School District’s policy also subjects Ash, as a transgender student, to different rules, sanctions, and treatment than non‐transgender students, in violation of Title IX. Providing a gender‐neutral alternative is not sufficient to relieve the School District from liability, as it is the policy itself which violates the Act. Further, based on the record here, these gender‐neutral alternatives were not true alternatives because of their distant location to Ash’s classrooms and the increased stigmatization they caused Ash. Rather, the School District only continued to treat Ash differently when it provided him with access to these gender‐neutral bathrooms because he was the only student given access.
And, while the School District repeatedly asserts that Ash may not “unilaterally declare” his gender, this argument misrepresents Ash’s claims and dismisses his transgender status. This is not a case where a student has merely announced that he is a different gender. Rather, Ash has a medically diagnosed and documented condition. Since his diagnosis, he has consistently lived in accordance with his gender identity. This law suit demonstrates that the decision to do so was not without cost or pain.
On the Equal Protection Clause claim, the court found that "the School District's policy cannot be stated without referencing sex" and thus the correct level of scrutiny should be the heightened one for sex classifications, citing United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996). The court rejected the District's asserted interest of protecting the "privacy rights" of all the other students as too abstract and conjectural to be genuine. Moreover, the court faulted the representation at oral argument regarding the necessity for a birth certificate by first noting that this was not in the policy itself, and later returning to the issue regarding passports. Perhaps more importantly, the court also critiqued the notion of documents to prove sex designations:
Further, it is unclear that the sex marker on a birth certificate can even be used as a true proxy for an individual’s biological sex. The marker does not take into account an individual’s chromosomal makeup, which is also a key component of one’s biological sex. Therefore, one’s birth certificate could reflect a male sex, while the individual’s chromosomal makeup reflects another. It is also unclear what would happen if an individual is born with the external genitalia of two sexes, or genitalia that is ambiguous in nature. In those cases, it is clear that the marker on the birth certificate would not adequately account for or reflect one’s biological sex, which would have to be determined by considering more than what was listed on the paper.
Thus, court found the School District did not satisfy the equal protection standard of United States v. Virginia.
Recall that the district judge in Evancho v. Pine-Richland School District reached a similar conclusion on the Equal Protection Clause in February, and the constitutional claim seems to have more traction given the Title IX claim's uncertainty after the Court's dismissal and remand of G.G. v. Glouster County School Board.