Friday, January 10, 2014

Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Susan B Anthony Fund v. Driehaus on Ohio's Prohibition of False Election Statements


The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Susan B Anthony Fund v. Driehaus raising an issue of ripeness as well as a First Amendment issue.

The background of the case involves "Obamacare," the pro-life/anti-choice Susan B Anthony (SBA) Fund, Congressperson Steve Driehaus (pictured)  and Ohio statutes that prohibit false statements in campaigns.   220px-Steve_Driehaus_official_photo

As the Sixth Circuit, explained, during the 2010 campaign, the SBA List wanted to put up a billboard in then-Congressman Driehaus's district criticizing his vote in favor of the Act. The planned billboard read: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." But the billboard never went up because the advertising company that owned the billboard space refused to put up the advertisement after Driehaus's counsel threatened legal action against it.

On October 4, 2010, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission against SBA List claiming that the advertisement violated two sections of Ohio's false-statement statute. The first states that "[n]o person, during the course of any campaign for nomination or election to public office or office of a political party, by means of campaign materials . . . shall knowingly and with intent to affect the outcome of such campaign . . . [m]ake a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official." Ohio Rev. Code § 3517.21(B)(9). The second section prohibits posting, publishing, circulating, distributing, or otherwise disseminating "a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate." Id . § 3517.21(B)(10).

The Sixth Circuit held that the claim was not ripe, reasoning that it could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review."  There was no hardship to SBA beacuse its speech was not chilled, according to the Sixth Circuit:  the only speech involved was the billboard and SBA List's president appeared on television and promised to "double down" to make sure its message flooded the congressperson's district. 

Thus, the Sixth Circuit did not reach the First Amendment issue regarding Ohio's prohibition of false speech.  On this issue, the Court's opinion holding unconstitutional the criminalization of false statements in the federal "Stolen Valor" Act in its 2012 opinion in United States v. Alvarez is sure to assume center stage.  The Court will have another chance to consider whether falsity should be categorically excluded from First Amendment protections of speech.

January 10, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Ripeness, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 6, 2014

US Supreme Court Stays Utah's Same-Sex Marriage Decision

The Court today issued a stay in Herbert v. Kitchen of Judge Shelby's decision that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstititional.

Here's the entire text:

The application for stay presented to Justice Sotomayor and by her referred to the Court is granted. The permanent injunction issued by the United States District Court for the District of Utah, case No. 2:13-cv-217, on December 20, 2013, is stayed pending final disposition of the appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Note that Justice Sotomayor as the Circuit Justice referred the decision to the full Court, an expected but not necessarily routine process.

The Tenth Circuit itself had denied the properly filed emergency motion for stay, concluding it was not warranted and specifically noting that of the four factors governing a stay pending appeal, two - - - the likelihood of success on appeal and the threat of irreparable harm if the stay is not granted - - - are "most critical, and they require more than a mere possibility of success and irreparable harm, respectively." 

The Tenth Circuit also directed expedited review.

The United States Supreme Court's stay thus halts the entering into of same-sex marriages which have been proceeding since the District Judge's order on December 20, but has no effect on the legality of the same-sex marriages entered into during that period. 

January 6, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Family, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Federal District Judge Upholds Most of New York's SAFE Act Against Second Amendment Challenge, Striking Some Provisions

In an opinion rendered on December 31, Judge William M. Skretny declared several provisions unconstitutional but upheld most of New York's SAFE Act in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Cumo

Judge Skretny, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District, sitting in Buffalo, applied intermediate scrutiny under the Second Amendment,  drawing on the "post- Heller rulings that have begun to settle the vast terra incognita left by the Supreme Court."  He concluded that the SAFE Act's definition and regulation of assault weapons and its ban on large-capacity magazines further the state’s important interest in public safety, and do not impermissibly infringe on Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights.  However, he concluded that the seven-round limit did not satisfy intermediate scrutiny both on the governmental interest and the means chosen.

The plaintiffs also challenged ten specific provisions of the SAFE Act as void for vagueness and thus violative of due process:

  • “conspicuously protruding” pistol grip
  • threaded barrel
  • magazine-capacity restrictions
  • five-round shotgun limit
  •  “can be readily restored or converted”
  • the “and if” clause of N.Y. Penal Law § 265.36 g muzzle “break”
  •  “version” of automatic weapon
  • manufactured weight
  • commercial transfer

 The judge found three unconstitutional - - - the “and if” clause of N.Y. Penal Law § 265.36, the references to muzzle “breaks” in N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(a)(vi), and the regulation with respect to pistols that are “versions” of automatic weapons in N.Y. Penal Law § 265.00(22)(c)(viii) - - - concluding that these provisions were vague and "must be stricken because they do not adequately inform an ordinary person as to what conduct is prohibited."

The opinion also rejects the dormant commerce clause challenge to the provision of the SAFE Act that effectively bans ammunition sales over the Internet and imposes a requirement that an ammunition transfer “must occur in person.”  The government had argued that the challenge was not ripe given that the section does not go into effect until January 15, 2014, but Judge Skretny decided the question was one of mere "prudential" ripeness and that the claim should be decided.  Applying well-established dormant commerce clause doctrine, the judge found first that the SAFE Act did not "discriminate" against out of state interests and moving to the "balancing test" under Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc. (1970), the "incidental effects on interstate commerce" were not "excessive in relation to a legitimate local public interest."

788px-Ted_Noten_Murdered_Innocence_2005

Judge Skretny's 57 page opinion is scholarly and closely reasoned with specific findings.  Yet the Second Amendment issues certainly reflect the fact that there are no established standard for judicial scrutiny of the regulations of the "right to bear arms.  Recall that the Fifth Circuit's use of intermediate scrutiny in NRA v. AFT (regarding a federal restriction applying to persons less than 21 years of age)  and in NRA v. McCraw (regarding Texas restrictions also applying to persons less that 21 years of age) are both being considered on petitions for writs of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court.   Sooner or later, some sort of analytic framework for deciding Second Amendment issues will be established by the Court.  Until then, federal judges are left to navigate what Judge Skretny called the "vast terra incognita" of Second Amendment doctrine.

[image via]

January 2, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), History, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Second Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Reconsidering the "Pen Register": Smith v. Maryland and the Constitutionality of NSA Surveillance

As we discussed earlier this month,  two federal district judges have reached opposite conclusions regarding the constitutionality of NSA surveillance as revealed by Edward Snowden.  In Klayman v. Obama, Judge Richard Leon granted a preliminary injunction against NSA surveillance of telephone metadata, while in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper,  Judge William J. Pauley granted a motion to dismiss in favor of the government, finding the same program constitutional.

POLARISBoth of these opinions have brought renewed attention to the 1979 “pen register” case - - - Smith v. Maryland - - - which involved the application of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” to a then new, and now outmoded, technology that could ascertain the number a phone was dialing.  As footnote 1 of Smith explained, “A pen register is a mechanical device that records the numbers dialed on a telephone by monitoring the electrical impulses caused when the dial on the telephone is released. It does not overhear oral communications and does not indicate whether calls are actually completed.”  It is "usually installed at a central telephone facility [and] records on a paper tape all numbers dialed from [the] line" to which it is attached.” 

In Smith, the Court looked to its “lodestar” 1967 decision in Katz v. United States (involving a telephone booth) and determined that there was no “search” under the Fourth Amendment because the person invoking the constitutional protection did not have a reasonable or legitimate expectation of privacy.  For the majority in Smith this lack of an expectation of privacy was based on  a consumer’s  understanding of telephone technology: telephone subscribers know that the telephone company receives their transmitted telephone number (that is how the call is completed) and can record that number (perhaps for a long distance charge).  And even if a consumer does not subjectively understand this, any expectation of privacy that such circumstances did not occur would not be legitimate.

Now Smith v. Maryland has become a “lodestar” decision of its own.  Judge Richard Leon's decision in Klayman extensively analyzed the opinion, eventually concluding that “the Smith pen register and the ongoing NSA Bulk Telephony Metadata Program have so many significant distinctions between them that I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones.”  To the contrary, Judge Pauley, granting the government's motion to dismiss in ACLU v. Clapper essentially used Smith as the opinion's guiding light.

But perhaps the choice is not as stark as whether Smith is steady in the Fourth Amendment skies.  Looking at Justice Blackmun’s opinion in Smith,  he illuminates the two prongs of Katz:

as Mr. Justice Harlan aptly noted in his Katz concurrence, normally embraces two discrete questions. The first is whether the individual, by his conduct, has "exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy,"  whether, in the words of the Katz majority, the individual has shown that "he seeks to preserve [something] as private." The second question is whether the individual's subjective expectation of privacy is "one that society is prepared to recognize as 'reasonable,' "—whether, in the words of the Katz majority, the individual's expectation, viewed objectively, is "justifiable" under the circumstances.5

[citations omitted].  Perhaps importantly, the passage ends with a footnote:

Situations can be imagined, of course, in which Katz' two-pronged inquiry would provide an inadequate index of Fourth Amendment protection. For example, if the Government were suddenly to announce on nationwide television that all homes henceforth would be subject to warrantless entry, individuals thereafter might not in fact entertain any actual expectation or privacy regarding their homes, papers, and effects. Similarly, if a refugee from a totalitarian country, unaware of this Nation's traditions, erroneously assumed that police were continuously monitoring his telephone conversations, a subjective expectation of privacy regarding the contents of his calls might be lacking as well. In such circumstances, where an individual's subjective expectations had been "conditioned" by influences alien to well-recognized Fourth Amendment freedoms, those subjective expectations obviously could play no meaningful role in ascertaining what the scope of Fourth Amendment protection was. In determining whether a "legitimate expectation of privacy" existed in such cases, a normative inquiry would be proper.

Law Prof Josh Blackman, over at his blog, has revealed the sources of this footnote - - - apparently necessary to address Justice Stevens’ concerns about a totalitarian regime that would make any expectation of privacy by individuals not reasonable or legitimate.  Josh Blackman reproduces the correspondence showing that Stevens asked for the footnote and got it, eliminating his need for a separate concurrence.  

Apparently, Justices Stewart, Marshall, and Brennan, who did dissent, had concerns that were not so simply assuaged.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to deliberate footnote 5 in light of the extent to which Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of surveillance have been greeted as confirmatory and predictable rather than as shocking and outrageous.   And perhaps footnote 5 might become as important as other constitutional footnotes as we (re)consider what the expectations of privacy in a constitutional democracy should be.

[image: time-lapsed image of Polaris, the North Star, via]

 

December 30, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, State Secrets, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Federal District Judges Dismisses ACLU Complaint Regarding Government Collection of Telephone Metadata

In a Memorandum and Order today, federal judge William J. Pauley for the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York, granted the government's motion to dismiss in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper.

352px-TelephoneHelloNellieThe judge rejected both the statutory and constitutional claims by the ACLU that the NSA's bulk telephony metadata collection program as revealed by Edward Snowden is unlawful.

The tone of the opinion is set by Judge Pauley's opening:

The September 11th terrorist attacks revealed, in the starkest terms, just how dangerous and interconnected the world is. While Americans depended on technology for the conveniences of modernity, al-Qaeda plotted in a seventh-century milieu to use that technology against us. It was a bold jujitsu. And it succeeded because conventional intelligence gathering could not detect diffuse filaments connecting al-Qaeda.

As to the constitutional claims, Judge Pauley specifically disagreed with Judge Leon's recent opinion in Klayman v. Obama regarding the expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.  For Judge Pauley, the "pen register" case of Smith v. Maryland, decided in 1979, has not been overruled and is still controlling:

Some ponder the ubiquity of cellular telephones and how subscribers’ relationships with their telephones have evolved since Smith. While people may “have an entirely different relationship with telephones than they did thirty-four years ago,” [citing Klayman], this Court observes that their relationship with their telecommunications providers has not changed and is just as frustrating. Telephones have far more versatility now than when Smith was decided, but this case only concerns their use as telephones. The fact that there are more calls placed does not undermine the Supreme Court’s finding that a person has no subjective expectation of privacy in telephony metadata. . . . .Because Smith controls, the NSA’s bulk telephony metadata collection program does not violate the Fourth Amendment.

For Judge Pauley, the ownership of the metadata is crucial - - - it belongs to Verizon - - - and when a person conveys information to a third party such as Verizon, a person forfeits any right of privacy.  The Fourth Amendment is no more implicated in this case as it would be if law enforcement accessed a DNA or fingerprint database.

The absence of any Fourth Amendment claim means that there is not a First Amendment claim.  Any burden on First Amendment rights from surveillance constitutional under the Fourth Amendment is incidental at best.

Judge Pauley's opinion stands in stark contrast to Judge Leon's opinion.  In addition to the Fourth Amendment claim, Judge Pauley deflects the responsibility of the judicial branch to resolve the issue.  Certainly, the judiciary should decide the law, but "the question of whether that [NSA surveillance] program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide."  Moreover, Judge Pauley states that the "natural tension between protecting the nation and preserving civil liberty is squarely presented by the Government’s bulk telephony metadata collection program," a balancing rejected by Judge Leon.  Given these substantial disagreements, the issue is certainly on its way to the Circuit Courts of Appeal, and possibly to the United States Supreme Court.

[image via]

 

December 27, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Executive Authority, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US), Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ohio Federal Judge Issues Permanent Injunction in Ohio Same-Sex Marriage Case

In an opinion today in Obergefell v. Kasich, federal Judge Timothy Black (pictured) Timothy_Black_District_Judgeof the Southern District of Ohio issued a permanent injunction against a particular enforcement of Ohio's limitation of marriage to opposite sex couples.

Recall that in July, less than a month after the United States Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor declaring DOMA unconstitutional, Judge Black enjoined Ohio's DOMA-type provisions (both statutory and in the state constitution) involving the recognition of a marriage that occurred out of state in an especially sympathetic situation involving a dying person.

In today's opinion, Judge Black - - - as he did in his previous opinion and as Judge Robert Shelby did in his opinion declaring Utah's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional - - - used Justice Scalia's dissent in Windsor as support:

In a vigorous dissent to the Windsor ruling, Justice Scalia predicted that the question whether states could refuse to recognize other states’ same-sex marriages would come quickly, and that the majority’s opinion spelled defeat for any state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages authorized by a co-equal state. As Justice Scalia predicted: “no one should be fooled [by this decision] ... the majority arms well any challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition ... it’s just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe [to drop].” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2710 (Scalia, J., dissenting).

The challenge before Judge Black is an as-applied-one relating to a specific couple, a death certificate, and an out of state marriage.

On the due process challenge, Judge Black concluded that "Ohio’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states violates the substantive due process rights of the parties to those marriages because it deprives them of their significant liberty interest in remaining married absent a sufficient articulated state interest for doing so or any due process procedural protection whatsoever."

On the equal protection challenge, Judge Black used a Carolene-type analysis to conclude that sexual orientation classifications merited heightened scrutiny.  However, he also decided that the Ohio marriage ban failed to satisfy even rational basis, both because animus was not a legitimate interest and because the non-animus legitimate interests asserted had no rational connection to Ohio's marriage recognition ban of same-sex couples. 

Although the final injunction is limited to this particular couple and relates to the death of one of the partners, its reasoning could undoubtedly apply in a facial challenge.

 

December 23, 2013 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oral Arguments in United States v. Apel: The Military Facility Protest Case as Raising First Amendment Issues

The Court heard oral arguments today in United States v. Apel, an application and First Amendment challenge to 18 U.S.C. § 1382 regarding trespassing on a military base, in light of a pre-existing order barring Apel from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  There is a dispute whether the property in question is actually part of the military base and the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction against Apel, as we discussed in our preview here.

Assistant Solicitor General Benjamin Horwich began by arguing that the statute clearly makes it a crime for a person to "reenter a military base after having been ordered not to do so by the commanding officer" and that the Ninth Circuit erred by adding a requirement that the defendant "must be found in a place that, as a matter of real property law, is within the exclusive possession of the United States."  Justice Ginsburg quickly noted that the Air Force manual and a JAG opinion had added those criteria, but Horwich argued those sources were advisory rather than binding.  The entirety of Horwich's initial argument was directed towards the characteristics of the properties in question, including a discussion of easements.

Indeed, only with Erwin Chemerinsky's argument on behalf of Apel is the subject of the First Amendment broached.  Chemerinsky begins his argument making the constitutional link:

This is a case about the right to peacefully protest on a fully open public road, in a designated protest zone. For decades, every lower Federal court, and, for that matter, the United States itself, interpreted 18 United States Code Section 1382 to apply only if there's exclusive Federal possession. Any other interpretation would raise grave First Amendment issues.

While the specter of unconstitutionality to direct statutory interpretation is not rare - - - think of the use of equal protection in the oral argument in last term's Baby Veronica case for example - - - Chemerinsky struggled to direct some Justices attention to the First Amendment.  When Chemerinksy echoed Justice Ginsburg's previous mention of  Flower v. United States (1972), Justice Kennedy injected that Flower was a First Amendment case and then repeated this observation, telling counsel to concentrate on the statutory argument.  Soon thereafter, Justice Kennedy admonished Chemerinsky ,"You're back on the First Amendment case."  And  then:

JUSTICE SCALIA: You keep sliding into the First Amendment issue, which is not the issue on which we granted certiorari. We're only interested in whether the statute applies.

MR. CHEMERINSKY: But, Your Honor, in interpreting the statute, it must be done so as to avoid constitutional doubts. That's why the First Amendment comes up. Also, of course, as this Court repeatedly has held, Respondent can raise any issue that was raised below to defend the judgment, which is also why the First Amendment is here.
But Your Honor -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: You can raise it, but we don't have to listen to it.

Arguments continued about easements, functional possession, and exclusive possession, and a question from Justice Breyer including the fact that he had "looked at the Google maps." 

Google maps
Google map image of Vanderberg AFB

But then a similar colloquy about the relevance of the First Amendment occurred:

MR. CHEMERINSKY: And this goes to Justice Kennedy's question earlier if we are talking about an easement. An easement that is created for a public road inherently has free speech rights attached to it. In fact, many lower court cases have always said an easement for a public road includes the right to use it for speech purposes. That is very different than an easement that exists for purposes of a utility.

JUSTICE SCALIA: It seems to me a First Amendment argument and not an argument that goes to the scope of Section 1382.

  MR. CHEMERINSKY:  No, Your Honor, because you need to interpret the statute to avoid the constitutional issues. If you interpret the statute to allow excluding speech on this public road easement in the designated protest zone, then interpreting the statute that way would raise grave First Amendment issues.

JUSTICE SCALIA: So you are saying we should read the statute to say it only applies when it doesn't violate the First Amendment. Of course we'd read it that way.

MR. CHEMERINSKY: Of course, you should read it that way.

JUSTICE SCALIA: But not because it has anything to do with the scope of authority of the government. It's what the government can do. I -- I don't know how to read that, that text, in such a way that it will avoid all First Amendment problems. There is no way to do that.

MR. CHEMERINSKY:  I disagree, Your Honor.  I think that the reason that every lower court and the United States government itself have read "military installation" as exclusive possession is that otherwise it would raise First Amendment problems.

It was on Horwich's rebuttal that the fact that there is a designated protest area, from which Apel's ban is at issue, became clarified.  Justice Kagan asked Horwich to explain the "history of this First Amendment area," to which he replied that it was pursuant to litigation settlement, although he was unable to answer Kagan's follow up question about the type of litigation.

On the whole, it's doubtful that the Court will render an opinion in Apel destined for First Amendment treatises or casebooks.  On the other hand, any opinion will surely be written in the shadow of First Amendment doctrine and theory.

December 4, 2013 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Oral Argument Preview: United States v. Apel and the First Amendment Right to Protest

Protesting near a military facility such as the Vanderberg Air Force Base in California can be fraught, but contours of the First Amendment as well as the actual property are before the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Apel, to be argued December 4.

Vandenberg2

The Ninth Circuit per curium opinion subject to the certiorari grant is very brief and does not address the constitutional issue:

Appellant John Apel, who was subject to a pre-existing order barring him from Vandenberg Air Force Base, was convicted of three counts of trespassing on the base in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1382. After his convictions became final in district court, we decided United States v. Parker, 651 F.3d 1180 (9th Cir. 2011). Parker held that because a stretch of highway running through Vandenberg AFB is subject to an easement "granted to the State of California, which later relinquished it to the County of Santa Barbara," the federal government lacks the exclusive right of possession of the area on which the trespass allegedly occurred; therefore, a conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 1382 cannot stand, regardless of an order barring a defendant from the base. 651 F.3d at 1184.

However, the Ninth Circuit does specifically "question the correctness of Parker," the case upon which it is relying.  In Parker, the defendant also raised First Amendment issues, but the panel decided the case on the powers of jurisdiction over the relevant strip of land.

Complicating matters is that the site where Apel was arrested is the fact that not only was Apel on a road that was under concurrent jurisdiction of federal, state, and county governments, but, according to his brief, was  also in the area "set aside" for public protests. 

Apel has been protesting near the Vanderburg Air Force for 14 years.  Here's some great reporting on the background of the case from Scott Fina at the Santa Barbara Independent. 

 

December 2, 2013 in First Amendment, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Dress: Protesting "Obamacare" Wearing a Guy Fawkes Mask

Fawkes maskWhile the Guy Fawkes mask is identified with the Occupy movement and with "Anonymous," it has reportedly been adopted by at least one protestor against health care reform - a Florida protestor who was also a police officer carrying a hand gun.

As we've previously discussed, First Amendment challenges to the criminalization of wearing a mask have not been very successful, but there are definitely valid constitutional arguments.  

For ConLaw Profs drafting exam questions, this could be an interesting issue, especially if it were integrated into the other challenges to the PPACA, such as the recent grant of certiorari in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood,  including Judge Rovner's hypotheticals.

More about the arrest and Florida statutory scheme is here. 

December 1, 2013 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

United States Supreme Court Grants Certiorari on Religious Claims of Secular For-Profit Corporation

As widely expected, United States Supreme Court has granted the petitions for writ of certiorari to the Tenth Circuit's divided en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius as well as to the Third Circuit's divided opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services.  

SCOTUS
Supreme Court Justices by Donkey Hotey

 

In lengthy opinions, the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby  essentially divided 5-3 over the issue of whether a corporation, even a for-profit secular corporation, has a right to free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.  The majority essentially concluded there was such a right and that the right was substantially burdened by the requirement of the PPACA that employer insurance plans include contraception coverage for employees. 

The majority of the Third Circuit panel opinion in Conestoga Wood Specialities Corporation, articulated the two possible theories under which a for-profit secular corporation might possess Free Exercise rights and rejected both.  First, the majority rejected the notion that the Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation could "directly" exercise religion in accord with Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n (2010), distinguishing free speech from free exercise of religion.  Second, the majority rejected the so-called "pass through" theory in which for-profit corporations can assert the free exercise rights of their owners, and concluded that the PPACA did not actually require the persons who are owners to "do" anything.

For ConLaw Profs, here are some useful links:  A discussion of the most recent circuit case, decided earlier in November by the Seventh Circuit, is here;  a digest of the previous circuit court cases and some discussion of the controversy is here, some interesting hypotheticals (good for teaching and exam purposes) as posed by Seventh Circuit Judge Rovner are here,  ConLawProf Marci Hamilton's discussion is here, a critique of the sincerity of claims in Eden Foods is here,  a discussion of the district judge's opinion in Hobby Lobby is here,  a discussion of the Tenth Circuit en banc opinion in Hobby Lobby is here, and the SCOTUSblog page with briefs is here.

[image: Supreme Court Justices by Donkey Hotey via]

~Ruthann Robson

November 26, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Gender, Religion, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Closely Divided United States Supreme Court Allows Enforcement of Restrictive Texas Abortion Law

In a 5-4 decision in Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas v. Abbott,  the United States Supreme Court has refused to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay  of the district judge's injunction against the enforcement of the abortion restriction law known as  Texas HB 2, that had been the subject of the well-publicized filibuster by state senator Wendy Davis.

The Court's Order was accompanied by two opinions.  In the first, a concurring opinion authored by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, the four factors for a stay are laid out:

(1) whether the State made a strong showing that it was likely to succeed on the merits,
(2) whether the State would have been irreparably injured absent a stay,
(3) whether issuance of a stay would substantially injure other parties, and
(4) where the public interest lay.

Justice Scalia's relatively brief opinion is primarily a refutation of the dissenting opinion, arguing that the

dissent would vacate the Court of Appeals’ stay without expressly rejecting that court’s analysis of any of the governing factors. And it would flout core principles of federalism by mandating postponement of a state law without asserting that the law is even probably un- constitutional. Reasonable minds can perhaps disagree about whether the Court of Appeals should have granted a stay in this case. But there is no doubt that the applicants have not carried their heavy burden of showing that doing so was a clear violation of accepted legal standards— which do not include a special “status quo” standard for laws affecting abortion.

The dissent, written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, argued that the Fifth Circuit's issuance of the stay was "demonstrably wrong" in its application of the standards for issuing a stay based on six reasons:

  • the district judge's order maintained the status quo that existed in Texas prior to the hospital admitting privileges requirement;
  • the Fifth Circuit's stay disrupted that status quo, so that a "significant number of women seeking abortions" will be affected and that the "longer a given facility remains closed, the less likely it is ever to reopen even if the admitting privileges requirement is ultimately held unconstitutional;"
  • the Fifth Circuit agreed to expedite its consideration, again favoring the status quo;
  • the balance of harms tilts in favor of the applicants;
  • the "underlying legal question—whether the new Texas statute is constitutional—is a difficult question" that at least four Members of this Court will wish to consider irrespective of the Fifth Circuit's ultimate decision;" and
  • there was not a significant public interest consideration.

Given the four Justices who joined the dissent, it is clear that the decision not to vacate the stay was 5-4, although Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts did not join Justice Scalia's concurring opinion.

The restrictive abortion statute passed by Texas has been deeply divisive and the Court's decision demonstrates that the members of the Court are likewise deeply divided.

 

November 19, 2013 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Gender, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

United States Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Oklahoma Abortion Case

The United States Supreme Court routinely rejects petitions for writs of certiorari, so today's denial in Pruitt v. Nova Health Systems is not especially noteworthy.  Nevertheless, given the Oklahoma Supreme Court's decision in 2012, which we discussed here, holding that Oklahoma's abortion law requiring an ultrasound was unconstitutional because of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), does seem meaningful. 

Its meaning is compounded by the Court's dismissal of the writ as improvidentally granted in Pruitt's companion case, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, in which the Court certified a question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding the interpretation of the abortion statute.

Thus, it seems as if the Court presently has no inclination to reconsider Casey.

800px-Panorama_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_Building_at_Dusk
 

 

 

November 12, 2013 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Oral Arguments in Town of Greece v Galloway: Can the Town Council Ask Those Attending to Bow Their Heads and Pray?

The Court today heard oral arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway regarding a New York town's practice of opening its council meetings with prayers, the large majority of which have been Christian. 

 

Head of Apollo
Head of Apollo,
Attributed to Kephistodotos the Elder
(active early 4th century B.C.)
Recall that the unanimous panel opinion of the Second Circuit held that the town meetings practice of legislative prayer since 1999 "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity" and violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.  The case has attracted much attention - - - a great PBS  video is here - - -  and in a move that surprised some, the Obama Administration filed a brief in support of the town.

 

Doctrinally, the arguments centered on an application of Marsh v. Chambers (1983), in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Nebraska legislature's employment of a chaplain to lead a legislative prayer.  The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice Burger, was seemingly not worried that the same chaplain had been employed for almost two decades, and relied upon the historical practice of legislative prayer.  Among the many references to Marsh in the argument and its reliance on history is this one with (ConLawProf) Douglas Laycock, representing the challengers to the prayer, after some laughter:

JUSTICE KENNEDY: I mean, I'm serious about this. This involves government very heavily in religion.

MR. LAYCOCK: Well, government became very heavily involved in religion when we decided there could be prayers to open legislative sessions. Marsh is the source of government involvement in religion. And now the question is how to manage the problems that arise from that.

JUSTICE ALITO: Well, Marsh is not the source of government involvement religion in this respect. The First Congress is the source.

MR. LAYCOCK: Fair enough. The tradition to which Marsh points.

JUSTICE ALITO: The First Congress that also adopted the First Amendment.

Yet another possible distinction from Marsh is the Town of Greece town council is a "hybrid" body which has administrative function and persons appearing before it who are seeking specific relief, as well as being local.  Justice Ginsburg complimented the Deputy Solicitor General, who argued as amicus curiae, supporting the Town of Greece, for being "quite candid" about this quality and stating that it would be proper to have "certain checks" in that setting.   But the nature of those checks preoccupied the arguments.   Does it matter how far the prayer and the "hearing" are separated in time?  Should there be guidelines for those giving the prayers - - - and how much does this involve (entangle) the government in religious matters?  Does it matter if the attendees are asked to show their hands if they personally feel in need of prayer?  (To which Justice Scalia interjected, "That's not a prayer.")   Additionally, there was little satisfaction with either the coercion or endorsement tests, and the (in)famous Lemon test made no appearance at all.

For some Justices, prayer as practiced in the Town of Greece council meetings seemed deeply troubling.  For example, Justice Kagan quickly interrupted Thomas Hungar, arguing on behalf of the town:

JUSTICE KAGAN: Mr. Hungar, I'm wondering what you would think of the following: Suppose that as we began this session of the Court, the Chief Justice had called a minister up to the front of the courtroom, facing the lawyers, maybe the parties, maybe the spectators. And the minister had asked everyone to stand and to bow their heads in prayer and the minister said the following: He said, we acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We draw strength from His resurrection. Blessed are you who has raised up the Lord Jesus. You who will raise us in our turn and put us by His side. The members of the Court who had stood responded amen, made the sign of the cross, and the Chief Justice then called your case.

During his rebuttal argument, Mr. Hungar's attempt to demonstrate the town was not sectarian in its prayer was less than successful for Justice Sotomayor:

MR. HUNGAR:  Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. 
First I would like to correct one factual misimpression, the assertion that only non-Christian prayer-givers delivered the prayer after 2008. It's not in the record, but the official web site of the Town of Greece shows that at least four non-Christian prayer-givers delivered prayers thereafter in 2009, '10, '11 and '13.

            JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR:  Counsel.

            MR. HUNGAR:  I'm sorry?

            JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR:  One a year.

            MR. HUNGAR:  I'm sorry, Your Honor?

            JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Four additional people after the suit was filed.

            MR. HUNGAR:  Yes, Your Honor.

            JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR:  One a year.

            MR. HUNGAR:  Approximately.

            JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR:  How often does the legislature meet?

            MR. HUNGAR:  Once a month.  
            And on the sectarian line  . . . . .

It was clear that several of the Justices found this as unacceptable as the Second Circuit had.  Yet how and where to draw the lines engendered little agreement.
 

November 6, 2013 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Court Hears Oral Arguments in Bond v. United States on Treaty Power and Chemical Weapons

The oral arguments in Bond v. United States today evoked both the use of chemical weapons in the ongoing conflict in Syria and the understandings of the farmers of the Constitution regarding the  power given to the Executive, with "Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."  The treaty at issue is the Chemical Weapons Convention, but also at issue is the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act.

Carol Anne Bond was convicted of a crime in violation of the Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229(a).  But the fact that she is not a "terrorist," but rather a venegful woman in a love triangle, has caused much consternation.  While the international arms-control agreement prohibits nation-states from producing, stockpiling, or using chemical weapons, Bond, a biologist, used her expertise to spread injurious chemicals on the property of her former best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by Bond’s husband.   Although Bond was prosecuted in state court, she continued her campaign against her former friend and she was eventually prosecuted in federal court.

772px-4308313563_502491392a_bAlabamaBombingGasIt's not the first time that Carol Anne Bond has been before the United States Supreme Court.  Recall that in 2011, the Court unanimously held that Bond could raise a Tenth Amendment claim in her prosecution, reversing the Third Circuit.

On remand, the Third Circuit rejected Bond's argument to  "set aside as inapplicable the landmark decision Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920), which is sometimes cited for the proposition that the Tenth Amendment has no bearing on Congress‟s ability to legislate in furtherance of the Treaty Power in Article II, § 2 of the Constitution."  Bond argued that "legal trends since the Supreme Court‟s 1920 decision in Holland make it clear that the Tenth Amendment should not be treated as irrelevant when examining the validity of treaty-implementing legislation."   The Third Circuit found that the Chemical Weapons Convention "falls comfortably within the Treaty Power's traditional subject matter limitation" and thus the implementing Act is "within the constitutional powers of the federal government under the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Treaty Power, unless it somehow goes beyond the Convention."  The Supreme Court (again) granted the petition for certiorari.

In a nutshell, Bond's prosecution under a federal law for what seems a state (local) crime raises issues of federalism not unlike the issues the Court has confronted regarding the power of Congress to criminalize guns in school zones (Lopez) or marijuana (Raich).  But the invocation of these cases at the beginning of Paul Clement's argument on behalf of Carol Anne Bond brought a clarification from Justice Scalia that the Court did not take the case to decide any Commerce Clause question.  Instead, the focus must be on the Treaty power and whether a treaty can alter constitutional structures, namely federalism.  

Later, Justice Alito returned to these cases as well as Section 5 (of the Fourteenth Amendment) to pose a question to the Solicitor General about the Treaty power as circumventing the Court's limitations, and interestingly demonstrating a familiarity with scholarly articles:

JUSTICE ALITO: Whenever -- when this Court has issued decisions in recent years holding that there are some limits on Congress's power, cases like Lopez and Morrison and City of Boerne, there have been legal commentators who have written articles saying that could be circumvented to -- through the use of the treaty power. Do you agree with that?

The Solicitor General eventually answered that it depended on "whether the treaty is a valid exercise of the treaty power."

The limiting construction of the statute proposed by Paul Clement - - - war-like use of the chemicals as includable within federal power - - - proved problematic at times.  The Solicitor General argued that this was "one of the very things we are trying to sort out right now in Syria under the Chemical Weapons Convention is where the line is between peaceful and warlike uses."  On the other hand, the lack of a line other than valid treaty also proved problematical. 

The Solicitor General often summoned originalist principles to support the primacy of a ratified treaty.  Justice Kagan in her questioning of Paul Clement suggested that all properly ratified treaties must be constitutional:

Because there's clearly a treaty power that does not have subject matter limitations. And, indeed, if you go back to the founding history, it's very clear that they thought about all kinds of subject matter limitations and James Madison and others decided, quite self-consciously, not to impose them. So where would you find that limitation in the Constitution?

MR. CLEMENT: I would find that limitation in the structural provisions of the Constitution and the enumerated powers of Congress. And I would say that it would be very -­

JUSTICE KAGAN: But this isn't an enumerated power. The enumerated power is the treaty power. So you have to find a constraint on the treaty power. Where does it come from?

MR. CLEMENT: Well, I think where that it would come from, again, is the structural provisions of the Constitution.

As to federalism being a limit, Chief Justice Roberts responded to the Solictor General's argument that the framers deemed the 2/3 ratification by the Senate was an important protection of the interests of the States by noting that at that time, the Senate was elected by State legislatures.
The tenor of the arguments, the echoes of Bond's previous unanimous success at the Supreme Court on the Tenth Amendment standing issue, and the Court's majority suspicion of federal power may mean another win for Carol Anne Bond before the United States Supreme Court.
[image via]

November 5, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Daily Video: After Shelby County v. Holder

The Court's decision last Term on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder is noteworthy for its impact (see our posts here and here).

Here's a terrific exploration in video form of the decision and its impact on Pasadena, Texas, by Kali Borkoski of SCOTUSBlog. 

 

This short clip would be an excellent in-class introduction to the issues - - - and could be updated depending on the outcome of the local election.

 

November 4, 2013 in Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Constitutionality of Solicitation for Sodomy Statute - As "Narrowly Construed"

The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the constitutionality of the state statute criminalizing the solicitation of sodomy, even as it narrowly construed it, and even as it reversed the conviction based upon insufficiency of the evidence.

HunsteinIn its 12 page opinion in Watson v. State, Justice Carol Hunstein (pictured right) writing for a unanimous court, reaffirmed two of the court's previous decisions:

  • Powell v. State (1998), limiting the construction of the sodomy statute pursuant to the "fundamental privacy rights under the Georgia Constitution" and
  • Howard v. State (2000), upholding the sodomy solicitation statute against a free speech challenge by  narrowly construing "the solitication of sodomy statute to only punish speech soliciting sodomy that is not protected by the Georgia Constitution's right to privacy."

 Thus, the rule the court articulates is that

an individual violates the solicitation of sodomy statute if he (1) solicits another individual (2) to perform or submit to a sexual act involving the sex organs of one and the mouth or anus of the other and (3) such sexual act is to be performed (a) in public; (b) in exchange for money or anything of commercial value; (c) by force; or (d) by or with an individual who is incapable of giving legal consent to sexual activity.

Under this redefined "scope of the statute," the court then finds that Watson's actions did not satisfy any of the possibilities required by the third element: it was not to take place in public, it was not commercial, was not by force (although Watson was a police officer) and was not to a person incapable of giving consent (although solicited person was 17, the age of consent in the state is 16).  In addition to reversing the conviction for solicitation of sodomy, the court reversed the conviction for violation of oath of office (of a police officer) that rested on the solicitation conviction.

While the Georgia Supreme Court's opinion is correct, redrafting a statute that remains "on the books" for prosecutors, defense counsel, and perhaps even judges who are less than diligent can result in a denial of justice.

The better course would have been to declare the solicitation of sodomy statute unconstitutional, requiring the legislature to do its job and pass a constitutional statute.  This was the option followed by the New York Court of Appeals - - - New York's highest court - - - when presented by a similar issue in 1983.  Having previously declared the state's sodomy statute unconstitutional in People v. Onofre (1980),  when the court was presented with a challenge to a prosecution under the solicitation of sodomy statute, the court in People v. Uplinger stated:

The object of the loitering statute is to punish conduct anticipatory to the act of consensual sodomy. Inasmuch as the conduct ultimately contemplated by the loitering statute may not be deemed criminal, we perceive no basis upon which the State may continue to punish loitering for that purpose. This statute, therefore, suffers the same deficiencies as did the consensual sodomy statute.

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Uplinger, and then dismissed certiorari as improvidently granted, in part because of the intertwining of state and federal constitutional issues and in part because there was not a challenge to the underlying decision that held sodomy unconstitutional, six years before Bowers v. Hardwick, the case in which the United States Supreme Court upheld Georgia's sodomy statute.

October 22, 2013 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oral Arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action on Michigan's Prop 2

Today's oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) raised a raft of interesting hypotheticals, including this question: Is the Michigan's state constitution's equal protection clause, which mirrors the federal one, itself unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Of course, the issue before the Court involves a different provision of Michigan's Constitution: Prop 2, adopted by voter referendum in 2006, and now Art I §26 of the state constitution. 

MichProp2The referendum occurred subsequent to the Court's upholding of Michigan University School of Law's affirmative action policy in Grutter v. Bollinger, even as the Court held unconstitutional the plan of the large undergraduate university as not sufficiently narrowly tailored.

Recall that the en banc Sixth Circuit majority in Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Regents of the University of Michigan relied upon the so-called "political process" aspect of the Equal Protection Clause which asks whether a majority may vote to amend its constitution to limit the rights of a minority to seek relief, relying on Washington v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 458 U.S. 457 (1982) and Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385 (1969).

The oral argument reflected a deep suspicion of the political process rationale, with the most serious questioning being directed at what the limits to such a doctrine might be.  Justice Alito returned to the issue several times, posing various hypotheticals about faculty admissions plans that might be overruled by a dean or president of the university.  Or maybe, he continued,

it's overruled by the regents. Maybe, if State laws allowed, it's -- it's overruled by an executive department of the State. Maybe it's overruled by the legislature through ordinary legislation. Maybe it's overruled through a constitutional amendment.  At what point does the political restructuring doctrine kick in?

Later in the rebuttal argument of the Petitioner, Justice Alito suggested an answer to his own question:

Seattle and this case both involve constitutional amendments. So why can't the law -- the law be drawn -- the line be drawn there? If you change the allocation of power in one of these less substantial ways, that's one thing; but when you require a constitutional amendment that's really a big deal.

Indeed, this was exactly the rationale of the en banc Sixth Circuit's majority opinion, as the opening passages to that opinion illustrated.

And Justice Kennedy, seemingly in his role as a "swing vote" - - - although Justice Kagan is recused - - - seemed to share the specific concerns of how to draw a line in the cases.

Justice Scalia certainly did not seem inclined to worry about drawing lines or allocations of power.  Indeed, he rejected the notion that Prop 2, now Article I §26 of the Michigan Constitution - - - despite its textual "on its face" use of a race - - - made a racial classification.  He chastised Mark Rosenblum, arguing on behalf of some of the respondents, for referring to Prop 2 as including a "facial racial classification":

JUSTICE SCALIA: It's not a racial classification. You should not refer to it that way.

MR. ROSENBAUM: It is a racial -­

JUSTICE SCALIA: It's the prohibition of racial classifications.

MR. ROSENBAUM: No, Your Honor.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Every prohibition of racial classification is itself a racial classification?

After further discussion, Justice Scalia asked,

In that sense, the 14th Amendment itself is a racial classification, right?

To which Rosenbaum replied that he was using the Fourteenth Amendment itself as measurement.  Yet this theme recurred, and had been part of the Petitioner's opening argument, including references to Michigan's equal protection clause.

Shanta3Scalia also outright dismissed an appeal to originalism.  When Shanta Driver (pictured right) on behalf of Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (and who is its National Chair), began her argument asking the Court to affirm the Sixth Circuit and "to bring the 14th Amendment back to its original purpose and meaning, which is to protect minority rights against a white majority, which did not occur in this case," Scalia interjected:

JUSTICE SCALIA: My goodness, I thought we've -- we've held that the 14th Amendment protects all 
races. I mean, that was the argument in the early years, that it protected only -- only the blacks. But I thought we rejected that. You -- you say now that we have to proceed as though its purpose is not to protect whites, only to protect minorities?

And Justice Roberts surfaced the position that affirmative action was actually a detriment to those it sought to benefit, echoing some of the arguments in Thomas's dissent in Fisher, such as the so-called "mismatch theory."

Thus, while the arguments sometimes sought to distance themselves from the affirmative action battles that the Court re-engaged last term in Fisher v. UT, certainly Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is another such battle, albeit on slightly different doctrinal terrain.  It seems unlikely that it will have a different ultimate outcome.

 

October 15, 2013 in Affirmative Action, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Dismissed: Madigan v. Levin The Age Discrimination Case in the United States Supreme Court

Cooltext1236906757Given the procedural problems in the case as we discussed after oral argument last Monday, not surprisingly the United States Supreme Court dismissed the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.

October 15, 2013 in Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Daily Video: Stephen Cobert Interviews Emily Bazelon on McCutcheon v. FEC

Worth a watch:

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Here's our take on today's oral arguments in the United States Supreme Court.

October 8, 2013 in Campaign Finance, First Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Age Discrimination in the Supreme Court: Oral Argument in Madigan v. Levin

The facts of Madigan v. Levin argued today seem simple: Levin, an attorney working for the state of Illinois as an assistant state attorney was terminated in 2006 when he was 61 years old, being replaced by a younger attorney.  At least two other older attorneys were also terminated, replaced by younger attorneys.  

FromVanityFairWhether these facts, and the further facts to be determined, would substantiate a claim of age discrimination is the question to be decided on the merits.  But before any consideration of the merits, there is the thorny question of the grounding of the claim.  Can it be the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, ADEA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621?  What about the Court's decision in Kimel v. Florida Board of Regents, holding that Congress had no power to abrogate a state's Eleventh Amendment immunity when it used its Fourteenth Amendment §5 power to pass ADEA?  And is Levin even an "employee" within the ADEA?  And what about GERA, the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991 (Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1991), which has also run into abrogation of state immunity problems?   Which is why, perhaps, Mr.Levin, even after exhausting his administrative remedies with the EEOC, sought to bring a claim under the Equal Protection Clause, using the jurisdictional statute 42 USC §1983.   But the state argued that Levin's constitutional claims were precluded by the comprehensive scheme Congress had enacted to address age discrimination, the ADEA.

Affirming the district judge, the Seventh Circuit held that the ADEA did not bar a constitutional claim, with extensive analysis of the legislative history, but also reasoning in part that as a practical matter, this would mean that employees of state employers would be left without a federal damages claim because of the reasoning of Kimel. The Seveneth Circuit then ruled that the individual defendants did not enjoy qualified immunity, age discrimination being "clearly established" as a right under the Equal Protection Clause, with age classifications being scrutinized under the rational basis standard.  The Seventh Circuit's opinion seemed well-reasoned, but it conflicted with the decisions of the other circuits - - - Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth - - - that had decided that ADEA precluded equal protection claims based on age.

But while the attorney for the state of Illinois, Michael Scordo, did have a chance to articulate his finely crafted opening issue statement, Justice Ginsburg asked the first question, and the complex case became even more complex:

Mr. Scodro, there's a preliminary question before we get to the question you presented, and that is: What authority did the Seventh Circuit have to deal with the question under the Age Discrimination Act? I mean, it was -- it went to the Seventh Circuit on interlocutory review.

The procedural problem - - - did the Seventh Circuit have jurisdiction and thus does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction - - - had been flagged by an amicus brief of Law Professors,  including Stephen Vladeck as counsel of record, who argued that

the Seventh Circuit lacked “pendent appellate jurisdiction” on an interlocutory qualified immunity appeal to decide the question on which certiorari was granted, i.e., whether the remedial scheme created by Congress in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., displaces age-discrimination suits by state employees under the Equal Protection Clause and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

As for the United States Supreme Court? The law professors brief argued:

To be sure, as this Court’s prior decisions attest, because the Seventh Circuit had jurisdiction over the qualified immunity issue, the Supreme Court still has the power to proceed to the merits notwithstanding the pendent jurisdictional defect below. But compelling reasons of prudence, practice, and policy all favor vacating the decision below and returning this case to the district court, rather than rewarding the Court of Appeals’ jurisdictional bootstrapping.

As Justice Scalia noted, most of the oral argument was taken up with these procedural matters - - - what he labeled the "other stuff" - - - with limited discussion of the merits.

But there was some discussion of the merits.  In a colloquy with Justices Alito and later Kagan, the problem with the Equal Protection Clause claim got some attention.  The attorney for Levin, Edward Theobald, was pressed on whether Levin could possibly prevail given the rational basis standard.  Here's a snippet:

JUSTICE ALITO: And what if the Illinois legislature passed a statute that said: Now, forget about the ADEA. There is no ADEA. There is no state anti-discrimination law involved here. All we are talking about is equal protection. And they passed a law that said: All attorneys working for the State of Illinois must retire at the age of 60, because everybody knows, you know, once a lawyer passes 60, there's nothing left.

MR. THEOBALD: We're all in trouble.

JUSTICE ALITO: Would that be -- would that survive a rational basis review?

MR. THEOBALD: I don't believe so.

Of course, the Justices would not be in trouble if Illinois passed such a law; they are not only federal employees, they have life tenure, a benefit that is not universally applauded.

And they also have the power not only to decide the case, but also to decide that they do not - - - or should not - - - have the power to do so.

[image from Vanity Fair, 1903, via]

 

October 7, 2013 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)