Thursday, July 3, 2014
In its opinion in People v. Marquan M, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court), found that Albany Local Law 11 (2010) criminalizing cyberbullying was unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
The local law for Albany County criminalized cyberbullying against any "minor or person" (with "person" interestingly defined as including corporations) with cyberbullying defined as:
any act of communicating or causing a communication to be sent by mechanical or electronic means, including posting statements on the internet or through a computer or email network, disseminating embarrassing or sexually explicit photographs; disseminating private, personal, false or sexual information, or sending hate mail, with no legitimate private, personal, or public purpose, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, abuse, taunt, intimidate, torment, humiliate, or otherwise inflict significant emotional harm on another person.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge Victoria Graffeo for four additional judges over a two-judge dissent, found that the law was overbroad under the First Amendment: "the provision would criminalize a broad spectrum of speech outside the popular understanding of cyberbullying, including, for example: an email disclosing private information about a corporation or a telephone conversation meant to annoy an adult."
The defendant and his actions here - - - a 15 year old who used Facebook to anonymously post "photographs of high-school classmates and other adolescents, with detailed descriptions of their alleged sexual practices and predilections, sexual partners and other types of personal information," with "vulgar and offensive" "descriptive captions" - - - were within the "cyberbullying" that the Local Law intended to proscribe. But even Albany County agreed that the local law was overbroad. However, the County argued that the severability clause of the local law should be employed to excise the word "person" so that the only covered victims were minors. But the court found that even that would not "cure all of the law's constitutional ills." The dissenters would have engaged in saving constructions.
In ruling that a local law intended to criminalize as a misdemeanor cyberbullying did not survive the First Amendment because it was overbroad, New York's highest court left open the possibility that a prohibition of cyberbullying could be more narrowly crafted to survive First Amendment review: "the First Amendment does not give defendant the right to engage in these activities."
However, the court's opinion offers little guidance about how such a law or policy should be drafted. New York's Dignity for All Students Act as amended in 2012 places the responsibility for developing "policies and procedures intended to create a school environment that is free from harassment, bullying and discrimination" on school boards. While Albany's law was a general criminal statute, school boards will undoubtedly be considering Marquan M. as they review their current "cyberbullying" prohibitions in light of the First Amendment. They may also be recalling the Third Circuit's unhelpful intervention in a pair of "My Space" cases in which principals were arguably "bullied.
And undoubtedly, those interested in cyberbullying in and out of schools will be watching the "true threats on Facebook case," Elonis v. United States, to be heard by the United States Supreme Court next Term.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Divided Supreme Court Recognizes Right of Closely Held Corporations Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties under RFRA to Avoid "Contraceptive Mandate"
On this last day of the 2013-2014 Term, the Court delivered its long-awaited opinion in "Hobby Lobby" - - now Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. consolidated with Conestoga Woods Specialties Corp. v. Burwell - - - on the question of whether corporations (or their owner/shareholders) be able to interpose a religious objection under RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to a federal requirement that employers provide health insurance to employees that includes contraceptive coverage? Here's our primer on the issues for more detail. Recall that the Tenth Circuit en banc in Hobby Lobby ruled for the corporation, while the Third Circuit panel in Conestoga Woods ruled for the government, and several other courts entered the fray with disparate results.
The oral arguments in March were contentious and so too are the opinions in this 5-4 decision.
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Alito, holds that closely-held corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are "persons" within the meaning of RFRA and thus are entitled to raise a claim. The Court looks at Congressional intent in RFRA, its own precedent allowing RFRA claims by nonprofit corporations, and policy issues about the difficulty of determining the "beliefs" of a corporation, and held that closely held corporation that make a profit are "persons" within RFRA.
The Court then held that the challenged HHS regulations ("the contraceptive mandate") did substantially burden the business owners religious beliefs because they believe if they comply with the mandate they will be "facilitating abortions" and if they do not comply, they will face substantial fines. The Court rejected the argument that the link between the insurance coverage paid by an employer and an employee being reimbursed by the insurance company for obtaining contraception was too attenuated.
Given this finding, under RFRA, the Court applies "strict scrutiny," but interestingly assumes that the government satisfies the "compelling government interest" prong. However, the Court finds that the HHS mandate is not the "least restrictive means" to accomplish its goal: the system already in place for accommodating the religious beliefs of nonprofit entities granted exemptions under the regulations and statute.
Justice Kennedy writes a brief concurring opinion. As we discussed, Kennedy was focused on as the "Justice to watch" and he stresses that the existence of government accommodation already in existence.
The "principal dissent" (as the Court's opinion often characterizes it) is by Justice Ginsburg, joined by Sotomayor in full, and by Breyer and Kagan (except to a section regarding the construction of RFRA as applying to corporate persons). The dissent begins by labeling the majority's decision as one of "startling breadth" that allows corporations to "opt out" of "any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs." Justice Ginsburg argues there is a slippery slope in the majority's least restrictive means analysis, despite the majority's attempt to cabin it:
And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection? Because the Court cannot easily answer that question, it proposes something else: Extension to commercial enterprises of the accommodation already afforded to nonprofit religion-based organizations. “At a minimum,” according to the Court, such an approach would not “impinge on [Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s] religious belief.” I have already discussed the “special solicitude” generally accorded nonprofit religion-based organizations that exist to serve a community of believers, solicitude never before accorded to commercial enterprises comprising employees of diverse faiths.
Ultimately, the Court hedges on its proposal to align for- profit enterprises with nonprofit religion-based organizations. “We do not decide today whether [the] approach [the opinion advances] complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims.” Counsel for Hobby Lobby was similarly noncommittal.
[citations and footnotes omitted].
Whether or not the Court's opinion is narrow or broad might depend more on one's political outlook and one's view of the Court as "chipping away" or as "careful crafting."
However, recall that RFRA - - - the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - - - is a statute passed by Congress that changed the standard of review the Court had announced be accorded religious claims; many now believe that Congress will be called upon to change RFRA, including perhaps the definition of "person" to exclude for-profit corporations, or to repeal RFRA in its entirety.
June 30, 2014 in Abortion, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Family, First Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
In his decision today in Baskin v. Bogan, United States District Judge Richard Young permanently enjoined Indiana officials from enforcing its requirement that marriage requires a female and a male, and its ban on the recognition of same sex marriages legally valid in other states, Indiana Code Section 31-11-1-1 (subsections a & b).
After resolving problems of the proper defendant and quickly disposing of the argument that Baker v. Nelson's summary finding by the Supreme Court in 1972 has meaningful precedential value, Judge Young's opinion proceeds along three separate tracks.
First, Judge Young finds that marriage is a fundamental right and therefore the statutory ban on same-sex marriage should be subject to strict scrutiny. Judge Young concluded that the scope of the fundamental right is not limited, quoting Judge Black's opinion in Henry v. Himes that the United States Supreme Court has not limited this fundamental right in its pertinent cases; the Court "consistently describes a general ‘fundamental right to marry’ rather than ‘the right to interracial marriage,’ ‘the right to inmate marriage,’ or ‘the right of people owing child support to marry.’" Applying strict scrutiny, Judge Young articulates the state's proffered interest "in conferring the special benefit of civil marriage to only one man and one woman is justified by its interest in encouraging the couple to stay together for the sake of any unintended children that their sexual union may create," but declines to asess it and assumes that it is "sufficiently important interest." However, Judge Young finds that the state has not demonstrated that the statute is “closely tailored” to that interest, but instead is "both over- and under-inclusive."
Second, Judge Young analyzes the statute on the basis of equal protection, rejecting the argument that the statute makes a gender classification and concluding that it makes a sexual orientation classification. While Judge Young contends that while it might be time to "reconsider" whether sexual orientation classifications should be analyzed under rational basis scrutiny, the "court will leave that decision to the Seventh Circuit, where this case will surely be headed." Applying rational basis scrutiny, however, Judge Young concludes that there is no rational relationship to the interests proffered by the state.
Third, Judge Young independently analyzes subsection b of the statute, applying to recognition. The judge notes that the "parties agree that out-of-state, same-sex marriages are treated differently than out-of-state, opposite-sex marriages," and thus "the question is whether that difference violates the Equal Protection Clause." Again, applying rational basis scrutiny, Judge Young concludes:
Defendants proffer that the state refuses to recognize same-sex marriages because it conflicts with the State’s philosophy of marriage – that is that marriage is to ameliorate the consequences of unintended children. Recognizing the valid same-sex marriages performed in other states, however, has no link whatsoever to whether opposite-sex couples have children or stay together for those children. Thus, there is no rational basis to refuse recognition and void out-of-state, same-sex marriages.
Judge Young's opinion is economical (at 36 pages), well-structured, and well-supported with relevant citations. Judge Young did not issue a stay of his opinion. One assumes that such a decision may be sought from the Seventh Circuit.
June 25, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Full Faith and Credit Clause, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Unanimous Supreme Court in Lane v. Franks: First Amendment Protects Public Employee's Subpoenaed Testimony
In an unanimous opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, with an exceedingly brief concurring opinion by Justice Thomas, joined by Scalia and Alito, the Court held in Lane v. Franks that the First Amendment "protects a public employee who provided truthful sworn testimony, compelled by subpoena, outside the course of his ordinary job responsibilities." However the Court held that the defendant sued in his personal capacity had qualified immunity because such a holding was not "beyond debate."
Recall from our previous discussions of the case including the certiorari grant, the law professors amicus brief, and oral argument that the underlying facts are extremely sympathetic to Edward Lane, the public employee who uncovered gross corruption of an elected state legislator and was later subpoenaed to testify in the federal criminal prosecution. Indeed, even the Attorney General for the state contended at oral argument that the Eleventh Circuit was incorrect to conclude that the employee's speech was not within the strictures of the Court's most recent public employee First Amendment case, Garcetti v. Ceballos.
On the issue of qualified immunity, however, the Court affirmed the Eleventh Circuit, finding that although the Eleventh Circuit was clearly wrong on the merits, the First Amendment right was not sufficiently "clearly established" at the time Lane was terminated by the college president.
My longer analysis of today's opinion is at SCOTUSBlog here.
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
At the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. and live-streaming today at noon (EST), there's a discussion featuring Shaun McCutcheon - - - millionaire, plaintiff, and now author of Outsider Inside the Supreme Court: A Decisive First Amendment Battle- - - and Professor Ron Collins - - - First Amendment scholar and author of When Money Speaks: The McCutcheon Decision, Campaign Finance Laws, and the First Amendment.
They will be joining others to discuss the Court's decision this Term in McCutcheon v. FEC and the future of campaign finance under the First Amendment.
More information here.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
Over a dissent from Justice Scalia, joined by Thomas, the United States Supreme Court decided not to review the closely watched Elmbrook School District v. Doe. The case was relisted by the Court at least ten times before the petition for certiorari was finally denied.
Recall as we discussed almost two years ago, the Seventh Circuit en banc found a First Amendment Establishment Clause violation when two high schools held their graduation ceremonies in a church. Justice Scalia's dissent contended that because the Seventh Circuit's opinion is now "fundamentally inconsistent" with a "number of points" "made clear" by Town of Greece v. Galloway - - - this Term's controversial 5-4 decision upholding town council's prayer - - - "the Court ought, at a minimum, to grant certiorari, vacate the judgment, and remand for reconsideration (GVR)."
Yet Scalia's dissent might be most noteworthy for its casual evisceration of the Establishment Clause:
Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion. Religion, they believe, is a personal matter; if it must be given external manifestation, that should not occur in public places where others may be offended. I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky. And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.
My own aversion cannot be imposed by law because of the First Amendment. See Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U. S. 781, 790 (1989); Erznoznik v. Jacksonville, 422 U. S. 205, 210–211 (1975). Certain of this Court’s cases, however, have allowed the aversion to religious displays to be enforced directly through the First Amendment, at least in public facilities and with respect to public ceremonies—this despite the fact that the First Amendment explicitly favors religion and is, so to speak, agnostic about music.
(emphasis in original).
However, with the denial of certiorari in Elmbrook School District, the line between adult activities such as legislative meetings and "school" activities such as graduations persists in Establishment Clause doctrine.
Monday, June 16, 2014
The United States Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Elonis v. United States, a case regarding a criminal conviction for threats against his estranged wife and others posted on Facebook.
The question presented in the certiorari question is:
Whether, consistent with the First Amendment and Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343 (2003), conviction of threatening another person requires proof of the defendant’s subjective intent to threaten, as required by the Ninth Circuit and the supreme courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont; or whether it is enough to show that a “reasonable person” would regard the statement as threatening, as held by other federal courts of appeals and state courts of last resort.
However, in its Order today, the Court stated:
In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: "Whether, as a matter of statutory interpretation, conviction of threatening another person under 18 U. S. C. §875(c) requires proof of the defendant's subjective intent to threaten."
The Third Circuit panel opinion unanimously upheld the conviction of Anthony Elonis under 18 U. S. C. §875(c), rejecting his contention that the statute requires subjective proof of his intent to threaten, rather than objective proof. There is a split in circuits on whether subjective intent is required to make the statute constitutional after the Court's decision in Virginia v. Black in which the Court declared a Virginia statute provided that cross-burning was "prima facie evidence" of a intent to intimidate.
The doctrine of "true threats" has long been a fraught one. As in other oft-called categorical exclusions from the First Amendment, the operative legal query is definitional: if the speech is a "true threat," the speech is not protected; if it is not a "true threat," then it is protected speech.
At times, this inquiry becomes grammatical. For example, the Third Circuit found that a particular posting that Elonis claimed was conditional and therefore could not be a "true threat," could have reasonably been found by a jury to be a true threat. The Third Circuit extensively quotes the facebook postings of Elonis, but we shall not repeat them here given language some might find objectionable. It will be interesting to see what language choices the Justices make.
The Court's grant of certiorari may - - - or may not - - - indicate that some Justices found that Elonis's facebook postings failed to rise to the level of true threats. Undoubtedly, however, this case will be watched not only by those interested in "free speech on the internet" but also by those interested in "intimate partner violence."
Unanimous Supreme Court Returns Susan B Anthony List v. Driehaus for Decision on Election Law Merits
The Court's unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements, reversed the Sixth Circuit's determination that the case was not ripe. Recall that Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List, but the Sixth Circuit held the SB List 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."
As we discussed after oral argument, the Justices seemed inclined to find the courts had Article III power to hear the case, although there was some doctrinal fuzziness whether the case should be analyzed as one of "standing" or one of "ripeness." Footnote 5 of the opinion by Justice Thomas for the Court resolves the question firmly in favor of standing:
The doctrines of standing and ripeness “originate” from the same Article III limitation. DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 335 (2006). As the parties acknowledge, the Article III standing and ripeness issues in this case “boil down to the same question.” Med- Immune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U. S. 118, 128, n. 8 (2007); see Brief for Petitioners 28; Brief for Respondents 22. Consistent with our practice in cases like Virginia v. American Booksellers Assn., Inc., 484 U. S. 383, 392 (1988), and Babbitt v. Farm Workers, 442 U. S. 289, 299, n. 11 (1979), we use the term “standing” in this opinion.
The Court reiterated the established criteria: (1) an "injury in fact" (2) a sufficient “causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,” and (3) a likelihood that the injury “will be redressed by a favorable decision," noting that the hurdle for the organization of Susan B. Anthony List was the "injury in fact" requirement. To establish "injury in fact," the organization had to demonstrate the threat of future prosecution by the election board was sufficiently "concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical,’” and "certainly impending,” or there is a “‘substantial risk’ that the harm will occur.”
The shadow of the First Amendment was apparent in the Court's reasoning: "The burdens that [Election] Commission proceedings can impose on electoral speech are of particular concern here."
The Court's relatively short and unanimous opinion breaks no new ground. It draws on establishing standing precedent which it applies in a relatively straightforward manner, and then quickly dispatches the "prudential" rationale for rejecting jurisdiction.
However, it's worth considering as a contrast a case uncited by the Court - - - Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983) - - - in which a deeply divided Court decided that Adolph Lyons did not have standing to challenge the City of Los Angeles police department's sometimes fatal practice of administering a "chokehold" to persons it stopped for traffic violations. As Justice Marshall wrote in the dissenting opinion (joined by Justices Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens):
Since no one can show that he will be choked in the future, no one — not even a person who, like Lyons, has almost been choked to death — has standing to challenge the continuation of the policy. The city is free to continue the policy indefinitely as long as it is willing to pay damages for the injuries and deaths that result. I dissent from this unprecedented and unwarranted approach to standing.
Perhaps Susan B. Anthony List demonstrates that Justice Marshall's view has proven to be correct and that Lyons can now be disregarded. Or perhaps, studies such as this and this are correct that the status of Susan B. Anthony List as an anti-abortion organization and the status of Adolph Lyons as an African-America male confronting law enforcement are just as important as doctrine.
Friday, June 13, 2014
Reversing the federal district court, the Fifth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Richards upholding the Animal Crush Video Protection Act of 2010 against a First Amendment challenge. At 14 pages, the opinion authored by Judge Stephen Higginson is workmanlike but ultimately fails to satisfy the concerns raised by the statute.
Recall that the 2010 Act, 18 U.S.C. § 48 (2010), is the Congressional revision of the crush porn statute the United States Supreme Court found unconstitutional in United States v. Stevens. In Stevens, the eight Justice majority found that the statute criminalizing portrayals of animal cruelty was of "alarming breadth" and could operate to criminalize popular hunting television programs. When Congress passed an amended statute, it included a provision that the portrayal "is obscene" and specific exclusions for hunting and slaughter.
Unlike the criminal defendant in Stevens (who was prosecuted for dog-fight videos), the defendants in Richards were charged with producing "crush porn" in which there is the depiction of cruelty to a small animal in an arguably sexual manner.
The First Amendment challenge to the statute contended that the "obscene" prong of the statute did not incorporate the necessary Miller v. California test for obscenity. Under Miller, this requires "sexual conduct," but Congressional history seemed debatable on this requirement. Disagreeing with the district judge, however, the Fifth Circuit panel concluded it should not look to "variable and debatable legislative history to render unconstitutional a statute that incorporates a legal term of art with distinct constitutional meaning." Thus, it held that "§48 incorporates Miller obscenity and thus by its terms proscribes only unprotected speech."
The Fifth Circuit rejected the argument that §48 proscribes only a certain type of obscenity in contravention of what some would call the "categorical approach" employed by the Court in the hate speech case of R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. After describing this argument, the Fifth Circuit veered into the much-disparaged "secondary effects" doctrine to conclude that
even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the creators and distributors of animal crush videos, like Richards and Justice, intend to advance a distinct message, perhaps about barbarism, § 48 is justified with reference not to the content of such a message but rather to its secondary effects—wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.
The panel thus concludes that "Section 48 thus is narrow and tailored to target unprotected speech that requires the wanton torture and killing of animals." In doing so, the opinion noted that "a long history and substantial consensus, as seen in state and federal legislation, are indicative" of a compelling or substantial interest - - - and cited for this proposition New York v. Ferber. Ferber, upholding the constitutionality of criminalizing child pornography, is of course the very case Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in United States v. Stevens distinguished; the Court rejected the analogy between child porn and (animal)crush porn.
The Fifth Circuit en banc should take another look at United States v. Richards and the First Amendment contours of the "crush porn" statute without reference to "secondary effects."
Monday, June 2, 2014
On her second trip to the United States Supreme Court, Carol Anne Bond prevailed again.
Recall that Carol Anne Bond was convicted of a crime in violation of the Chemical Weapons Implementation Act, 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), passed to implement a treaty , the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the fact that she is not a "terrorist," but rather a "vengeful" participant 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.
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."
Today's opinion in Bond v. United States again reverses the Third Circuit. The focus in oral argument was on the Treaty power and whether a treaty can alter constitutional structures, namely federalism. And while today's decision is unanimous, there are multiple concurring opinions.
The opinion for the Court, authored by Chief Justice Roberts, and joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, is a relatively brief 21 pages and notes that the Bond's case is "unusual" and thus the "analysis is appropriately limited." For the Court,
the global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon. There is no reason to suppose that Congress—in implementing the Convention on Chemical Weapons—thought otherwise.
Essentially, the Court practices constitutional avoidance by construing the statute narrowly; there is no need to confront Holland v. Missouri's holding regarding the constitutional parameters of Congress's treaty power.
Indeed, the Court only mentions Holland in its discussion of the Third Circuit's holding and Bond's arguments; it notes that notwithstanding that "debate" there is a "well-established principle" of constitutional avoidance and includes a citation to Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 347 (1936) (Brandeis, J., concurring). Because "Bond argues that section 229 does not cover her conduct" it considers "that argument first," and finds it decides the issue.
In a nutshell, the Court concludes that the federal prosecutors exceeded the power the statute gave them - - - and thus there is no need to decide whether Congress exceeded the power the Constitution's treaty and necessary and proper powers gave it.
Justice Scalia, concurring and joined by Thomas, would conclude that the statute clearly covers Bond's Act and therefore is unconstitutional. Justice Thomas writes a separate concurrence, joined by Scalia and in part by Alito, writes separately to "suggest that the Treaty Power is itself a limited federal power." And in a very brief opinion, Alito argues that the "insofar as the Convention may be read to obligate the United States to enact domestic legislation criminalizing conduct of the sort at issue in this case, which typically is the sort of conduct regulated by the States, the Convention exceeds the scope of the treaty power" and thus the statute "lies outside Congress’ reach unless supported by some other power enumerated in the Constitution."
So, while the opinion is "unanimous," the three Justices considered to be the most conservative and perhaps most hostile to international law, would have limited Congress' power to implement treaties made pursuant to Article II §2 allowing the executive to "make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur."
And for ConLawProfs, it demonstrates the relevance of the "Ashwander doctrine" as a part of constitutional law courses.
June 2, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Criminal Procedure, Executive Authority, Federalism, International, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in the closely watched case of Risen v. United States (13-1009).
Recall our analysis of the sharply divided Fourth Circuit panel opinion in United States v. Sterling, with James Risen as Intervernor, that declared there was no First Amendment right - - - or common law privilege - - - for a reporter to resist a subpoena to reveal the identity of a source.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Unanimous Supreme Court in Wood v. Moss: Secret Service Agents Have Qualified Immunity in First Amendment Challenge
In a relatively brief opinion in Wood v. Moss, Justice Ginsburg, writing for a unanimous Court, reversed the Ninth Circuit and held that Secret Service officers had qualified immunity in a First Amendment challenge based on viewpoint discrimination against anti-Bush demonstrators.
Recall that the challenge in Wood v. Moss involved an allegation that the Secret Service removed anti-Bush protestors to a location farther from the then-President while he ate dinner while allowing pro-Bush demonstrators to remain in their location.
The Court decided that any viewpoint discrimination was not the "sole" reason for the change in location and thus the agents had qualified immunity. The Court agreed with the agents that the map provided by the protesters, and included in the Court's opinion [image at right]
undermines the protesters’ allegations of viewpoint discrimination as the sole reason for the agents’ directions. The map corroborates that, because of their location, the protesters posed a potential security risk to the President, while the supporters, because of their location, did not.
The Court rejected the protestors arguments, including the White House Manual that stated that protestors should be designated to zones "preferably not in view of the event site" and that Secret Service agents have engaged in viewpoint discrimination in the past. Here, however, the Court stressed that "this case is scarcely one in which the agents acted 'without a valid security reason.'" Emphasis in original, quoting from Brief.
While reaffirming that a Bivens action "extends to First Amendment claims" - - - a question at oral argument - - - the Court nevertheless noted that individual government officials cannot be held liable in a Bivens suit unless they themselves acted unconstitutionally:
We therefore decline to infer from alleged instances of misconduct on the part of particular agents an unwritten policy of the Secret Service to suppress disfavored expression, and then to attribute that supposed policy to all field- level operatives.
Under the Court's rationale, future Bivens claimants of First Amendment viewpoint discrimination must demonstrate that the viewpoint discrimination is the sole reason for the action by these particular (and presumably "bad apple") Secret Service agents.
While not one of the Court's more prominent First Amendment cases this Term, Wood v. Moss is important. It further narrows the space for claiming First Amendment violations by Secret Service officers - - - especially combined with the 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards (holding that Secret Service agents had qualified immunity and rejecting the claim of retaliatory arrest for a man exercising First Amendment rights at a Dick Cheney shopping mall appearance). However, it does preserve some room for claimants to proceed (and perhaps even prevail) on a First Amendment Bivens action against individual Secret Service officers engaged in viewpoint discrimination.
Friday, May 23, 2014
Lithwick highlights the Supreme Court's recent decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway upholding the constitutionality of Christian prayers at a town board meeting and the upcoming decision in Hobby Lobby on the claims of a for-profit corporation to an exemption from the federal requirement that employer insurance coverage include contraception benefits.
She is very complimentary of the biography:
In Bruce Allen Murphy, Scalia has met a timely and unintimidated biographer ready to probe. A professor of civil rights at Lafayette College, Murphy refuses to be daunted by the silence that surrounds most discussions about religion and the Court. In his view, understanding one of the most dazzling and polarizing jurists on the Supreme Court entails, above all, examining the inevitably murky relationship between judicial decision making and religious devotion.
Indeed, she writes
Murphy does not shrink from adjudicating Scalia’s dueling public claims: that separating faith from public life is impossible and, at the same time, that he himself has done just that on the Court.
From Lithwick's review, A Court of One is a must-read this summer. But Lithwick's review is also a must-read; she conjectures that "Murphy misses the moral of his own story."
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
If the defining issue of the United States is inequality, how is the nation's highest Court addressing that issue?
According to Michele Gilman's new article, A Court for the One Percent: How the Supreme Court Contributes to Economic Inequality, forthcoming in the Utah Law Review and available on ssrn, the Court is decidely part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Gilman's article is valuable because it traverses several different doctrinal areas. Obviously, she discusses Citizens United. But - - - refreshingly - - - she argues that "Citizens United is just one piece of a larger problem." She contends that this problem did not begin with the Roberts' Court, as her discussions of Harris v. McCrae, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, and Dandridge v. Williams illustrate. Ultimately, she suggests that the Court stands in the way of addressing inequality because the legislative and policy suggestions that have worked in other "affluent democracies" will be deemed unconstitutional in the United States:
We currently have a Court majority that is not only unsympathetic to inequality arguments, but also seemingly oblivious to (or skeptical of) the connection between government policies and market outcomes. The Court has ruled that it is up to the legislative branch, rather than the Courts, to remedy economic inequality. Yet, the Court has doomed legislative enactments that would ameliorate inequality, such as desegregation plans, campaign finance reforms, and consumer protection laws. Conversely, when legislatures enact policies that tend to worsen economic inequality or magnify its effects, the Court defers, such as school financing laws and voter identification requirements. In short, the Court’s rulings consistently sustain policies that create or maintain economic inequality.
Gilman has some explanations for this state of affairs, but, more importantly, she proposes a proactive five point plan of change. This important article is worth a read.
Monday, May 5, 2014
In a sharply divided opinion today in Town of Greece v. Galloway, the United States Supreme Court has decided that religious prayers at the beginning of a town board meeting do not violate the Establishment Clause.
Recall that the Second Circuit had concluded that the Town of Greece's practice of prayer since 1999 "impermissibly affiliated the town with a single creed, Christianity." At oral argument, the discussion 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, and the question of whether the "town board" a "hybrid" body making adjudicative findings as well as engaging in legislative acts. Recall also that the Obama administration filed an amicus brief in support of the Town of Greece.
Writing for the majority - - - except for Part II-B in which Justices Scalia and Thomas did not join - - - Justice Kennedy concluded that there was no Establishment Clause violation based upon Marsh v. Chambers. First, the majority opinion held that Marsh v. Chambers does not require nonsectarian or ecumenical prayer. Instead, it is acceptable that while a
number of the prayers did invoke the name of Jesus, the Heavenly Father, or the Holy Spirit, but they also invoked universal themes, as by celebrating the changing of the seasons or calling for a “spirit of cooperation” among town leaders.
Absent a pattern of prayers that over time denigrate, proselytize, or betray an impermissi ble government purpose, a challenge based solely on the content of a prayer will not likely establish a constitutional violation. Marsh, indeed, requires an inquiry into the prayer opportunity as a whole, rather than into the contents of a single prayer.
In the plurality section, Justice Kennedy rejected the relevance of the "intimate setting of a town board meeting" to a finding that the prayer "coerces participation by nondaherents." Rather, the principle audience for the prayers "is not, indeed, the public but lawmakers themselves." The analysis, Kennedy writes, "would be different if town board members directed the public to participate in the prayers, singled out dissidents for opprobrium, or indicated that their decisions might be influenced by a person's acquiescence in the prayer opportunity."
Justices Thomas and Scalia did not join Part II-B; they essentially reject the coercion test ("peer pressure, unpleasant as it may be, is not coercion"). Justice Thomas also (as he has done in the past) rejects the incorporation of the Establishment Clause to the states, and certainly to a municipality.
In the major dissent authored by Justice Kagan - - - joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer (who also authored a separate dissent) and Sotomayor - - -the emphasis is on the factual record. Kagan distinguishes Marsh v. Chambers and argues the situation in the Town of Greece is outside its "protective ambit."
the chaplain of the month stands with his back to the Town Board; his real audience is the group he is facing— the 10 or so members of the public, perhaps including children. And he typically addresses those people, as even the majority observes, as though he is “directing [his] congregation.” He almost always begins with some version of “Let us all pray to gether.” Often, he calls on everyone to stand and bow their heads, and he may ask them to recite a common prayer with him. He refers, constantly, to a collective “we”—to “our” savior, for example, to the presence of the Holy Spirit in “our” lives, or to “our brother the Lord Jesus Christ.” In essence, the chaplain leads, as the first part of a town meeting, a highly intimate (albeit relatively brief) prayer service, with the public serving as his congregation.
Further, Justice Kagan writes, "no one can fairly read the prayers from Greece’s Town meetings as anything other than explicitly Christian—constantly and exclusively so." Because of these practices, she concludes, the Town of Greece has "betrayed" the "promise" of the First Amendment: "full and equal membership in the polity for members of every religious group."
The Supreme Court's divided opinion illustrates that religion in the town square - - - or the town board meeting - - - remains divisive.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
Grading, marking, and giving feedback on student exams, papers, and projects can be wearing, which perhaps explains why professors can succumb to the temptation to bemoan student "bloopers" and mistakes.
But at the end of this semester, a mistake in Justice Scalia's dissent in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation provides some perspective.
From the original opinion, here's the passage in Justice Scalia's dissent:
[Section] D. Plus Ça Change:
EPA’s Continuing Quest for Cost-Benefit Authority
The majority agrees with EPA’s assessment that “[u]sing costs in the Transport Rule calculus . . . makes good sense.” Ante, at 26. Its opinion declares that “[e]liminating those amounts that can cost-effectively be reduced is an efficient and equitable solution to the allocation problem the Good Neighbor Provision requires the Agency to address.” Ibid. Efficient, probably. Equitable? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. See Brief for Industry Respondents 35–36. But the point is that whether efficiency should have a dominant or subordinate role is not for EPA or this Court to determine.
This is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U. S. 457 (2001), confronted EPA’s contention that it could consider costs in setting NAAQS. The provision at issue there, like this one, did not expressly bar cost-based decisionmaking—and unlike this one, it even contained words that were arguably ambiguous in the relevant respect. . . .
And from the current opinion, here's the corrected passage:
[Section] D. Our Precedent
The majority agrees with EPA’s assessment that “[u]sing costs in the Transport Rule calculus . . . makes good sense.” Ante, at 26. Its opinion declares that “[e]liminating those amounts that can cost-effectively be reduced is an efficient and equitable solution to the allocation problem the Good Neighbor Provision requires the Agency to address.” Ibid. Efficient, probably. Equitable? Perhaps so, but perhaps not. See Brief for Industry Respondents 35–36. But the point is that whether efficiency should have a dominant or subordinate role is for Congress, not this Court, to determine.
This is not the first time parties have sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation. Whitman v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 531 U.S. 457 (2001), confronted the contention that EPA should consider costs in setting NAAQS. The provision at issue there, like this one, did not expressly bar cost-based decisionmaking—and unlike this one, it even contained words that were arguably ambiguous in the relevant respect.
Justice Scalia misidentified the party that argued on behalf of considering costs in Whitman v. American Trucking - - - an opinion that Justice Scalia authored in 2001 - - - and reversed it. Indeed, the EPA opposed considering costs in Whitman v. American Trucking.
Why the mistake? Blame law clerks or sloppiness. Recite "to err is human." Or perhaps the mistake simply fit with the dissent's "shadow argument" (the EPA has been on a quest to expand its authority, as conveyed in the subtitle to the section) and so the actual fact became misremembered or overlooked.
But whatever the possible explanations, it's a good reminder for professors as we read "mistakes" by students who are, afterall, students, and do not have law clerks, proofreaders, years of experience, the highest position in the legal field, or the ability to correct mistakes after the final version of the exam or paper is submitted.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The argument in Lane v. Franks in the Supreme Court sounded like the argument was occurring in the Eleventh Circuit. But the Eleventh Circuit resolved the case on its nonargument calendar; that's precisely the problem.
Here's my discussion over at SCOTUSBlog.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
The Court's opinion in Schuette v. BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary), clearly upheld Michigan's Proposal 2, enacted as Article I §26 of the Michigan Constitution barring affirmative action in state universities and subdivisions. The plurality opinion for the Court was authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Chief Justice Roberts also authored a brief concurring opinion. Justice Scalia's concurring opinion was joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Breyer also wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Sotomayor's impassioned dissent was joined by Justice Ginsburg. Justice Kagan was recused.
The state constitutional amendment was a reaction to the Court's opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), upholding the University of Michigan Law School's use of diversity in admissions. But since Grutter, the Court has been decidely less friendly to affirmative action, as in Fisher v. University of Texas.
Recall that the en banc Sixth Circuit majority had 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). At oral arguments, the Justices had seemed hostile to that theory.
Justice Kennedy's plurality opinion for the Court carefully rehearses the cases, but it is probably his rhetoric that is most noteworthy:
This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this Court’s precedents for the Judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.
As for Justice Scalia's opinion, it admits that the "relentless logic of Hunter and Seattle would point to a similar conclusion in this case" as the Sixth Circuit understood. However, both Hunter and Seattle should be overruled. Justice Breyer, concurring, would distinguish Hunter and Seattle because Schuette "does not involve a reordering of the political process; it does not in fact involve the movement of decisionmaking from one political level to another."
It is Justice Sotomayor's dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg, that displays the most heft. At more than 50 pages and almost as lengthy as all the other opinions combined, Sotomayor's opinion is an extended discussion of equal protection doctrine and theory, as well as the function of judicial review. In her last section, she also addresses the "substantive policy" of affirmative action and the difference it makes.
The stark division among the Justices is clear. Sotomayor writes that "race matters." Scalia reiterates that the constitution is "color-blind." Roberts implies that racial "preferences do more harm than good." And Kennedy invokes a First Amendment right to debate race:
Here Michigan voters acted in concert and statewide to seek consensus and adopt a policy on a difficult subject against a historical background of race in America that has been a source of tragedy and persisting injustice. That history demands that we continue to learn, to listen, and to remain open to new approaches if we are to aspire always to a constitutional order in which all persons are treated with fairness and equal dignity. . . . The respondents in this case insist that a difficult question of public policy must be taken from the reach of the voters, and thus removed from the realm of public discussion, dialogue, and debate in an election campaign. Quite in addition to the serious First Amendment implications of that position with respect to any particular election, it is inconsistent with the underlying premises of a responsible, functioning democracy. One of those premises is that a democracy has the capacity—and the duty—to learn from its past mistakes; to discover and confront persisting biases; and by respectful, rationale deliberation to rise above those flaws and injustices. . . . It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds. The process of public discourse and political debate should not be foreclosed even if there is a risk that during a public campaign there will be those, on both sides, who seek to use racial division and discord to their own political advantage. An informed public can, and must, rise above this. The idea of democracy is that it can, and must, mature. Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people. These First Amendment dynamics would be disserved if this Court were to say that the question here at issue is beyond the capacity of the voters to debate and then to determine.
Given this passage, perhaps it is not surprisingly that Justice Kennedy does not cite Romer v. Evans - - - which he authored in 1996 - - - in today's plurality opinion in Schuette. In Romer v. Evans, Kennedy had this to say about Colorado's Amendment 2, which prohibited the enactment of anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation:
It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort. Central both to the idea of the rule of law and to our own Constitution's guarantee of equal protection is the principle that government and each of its parts remain open on impartial terms to all who seek its assistance. . . . A law declaring that in general it shall be more difficult for one group of citizens than for all others to seek aid from the government is itself a denial of equal protection of the laws in the most literal sense.
The Court heard oral arguments today in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements. As we explained when the Court granted certiorari in January, the case centers Article III. The Sixth Circuit determined that the case was not ripe because although Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List because 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." It could also not show its speech was chilled; indeed representatives from the organization stated they would double-down.
This is not to say that the First Amendment was entirely absent from today's arguments. Arguing for Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion organization, Michael Carvin referred to the Ohio Election Commission as a "ministry of truth," a characterization later echoed by Justice Scalia. During Eric Murphy’s argument, on behalf of the State of Ohio, there were references to United States v. Alvarez in which the Court found the “Stolen Valor” statute unconstitutional, with Justice Alito (who first mentioned the case) as well as Justices Scalia and Sotomayor participating in that discussion.
But Article III concerns, the subject of the grant of certiorari, dominated. But which Article III concerns specifically? As Justice Ginsburg asked: "Do you think this is a matter of standing or ripeness?" Michael Carvin's reply deflects the doctrinal distinctions and seeks to go to the heart of his argument:
In all candor, Justice Ginsburg, I can't figure out the difference between standing and ripeness in this context. No question that we are being subject to something. I think the question is whether or not the threat is sufficiently immediate.
Analogies abounded. Justice Sotomayor asked why the injury in this case wasn't as "speculative" as in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA decided in early 2013 in which the Court denied standing to Amnesty International to challege domestic surveillance under FISA? On the other hand, the challengers in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project did have standing, based on a credible threat of prosecution" based upon 150 prior prosecutions. But, as the Deputy Solicitor General noted in answer to a query from Chief Justice Roberts and quoting from Ohio's brief, under the Ohio statute between 2001 and 2010 there were "a little bit over 500" proceedings based on the state false statements law.
The context of an election was discussed at several junctures. Another election cycle is approaching and election cycles themselves are short periods of intense action and when they conclude the issues can be moot.
Despite the references to Younger v. Harris, federalism was more anemic than robust. The notion that the state supreme court should be given an opportunity to construe the false statement law provoked laughter, with Chief Justice Roberts remark "Well, that will speed things up" as a catalyst.
If the oral argument is any indication, it seems that the federal courts will have a chance to consider the merits of the First Amendment challenge to the Ohio statute.
Monday, April 7, 2014
Recall that in November 2013 we posted "UK Supreme Court Confronts Clash Between Freedom of Religion and Gay Equality: Is the Issue Coming to The US Supreme Court Soon?"
The answer is "no," at least if "soon" means the case discussed in that post, Elane Photography v. Willock, a decision from the New Mexico Supreme Court in favor of a same-sex couple against a wedding photographer. The petition concentrated on the First Amendment speech rights of the photographer rather than religious rights; the Court denied certiorari today.
Meanwhile, Lady Brenda Hale, a Justice on the UK Supreme Court, appeared at a Comparative and Administrative Law Conference last month at Yale and spoke on the topic of "Religion and Sexual Orientation: The clash of equality rights," posting her written remarks on the UK Supreme Court site. Justice Hall considered the Bull case which we discussed as well as cases from Canada and the EU, all presenting the same basic issue: should religious persons be exempt from anti-discrimination laws? Justice Lady Hale offers some interesting observations: "it is fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without." She also discusses direct and indirect discrimination and reiterates a point she made in the Bull case itself:
Both homosexuals and Christians were subject to the same laws requiring them not to discriminate in the running of their businesses. So if homosexual hotel keepers had refused a room to an opposite sex or Christian couple, they too would have been acting unlawfully.
This leads her to proclaim:
If you go into the market place you cannot pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.
This may be an indication of how Lady Brenda Hale would rule in Hobby Lobby so recently argued before the United States Supreme Court, assuming the English Parliament would enact a statute similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Another difference: The arguments before the UK Supreme Court are televised live.
April 7, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Current Affairs, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, International, Religion, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)