Thursday, January 30, 2014
The Fourth Circuit ruled this week in Montgomery County, Maryland v. Federal National Mortgage Association that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac enjoy statutory immunity certain state and local taxes--and that this congressionally granted immunity is not unconstitutional.
The ruling is a rejection of some of the more aggressive states'-rights theories that we've heard in other contexts. It underscores federal supremacy, even in the area of state and local taxes. It's not a surprising ruling, but the court's flat rejection of certain of the plaintiffs' states-rights arguments is notable.
The case arose out of Fannie's and Freddie's refusal to pay state and local transfer and recording taxes on foreclosed properties that they sought to sell. Fannie and Freddie cited their federal statutory exemption, which exempts Fannie and Freddie generally from state and local taxes, "except that any real property of [either entity] shall be subject to State, territorial, county, municipal, or local taxation to the same extent as other real property is taxed."
The court distinguished between property taxes (not exempt under the statute) and transfer taxes (exempt) and ruled that Fannie and Freddie were exempt under the plain language.
But that's not the interesting part. The court also ruled that Congress had authority to grant the exemption, and that it didn't run afoul of federalism principles.
The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that Fannie's and Freddie's property sales were local in nature, and therefore outside Congress's Commerce Clause authority. "In this case, the overall statutory schemes establishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are clearly directed at the regulation of interstate economic activity." The court also rejected the novel contention that the sweep of congressional authority here should be judged under a strict scrutiny standard (and not traditional rational basis review), because the exemption intruded into an area of state sovereignty. "The Counties' analogy to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments fails because there is not independent constitutional protection for the States' right to tax."
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' contentions that the exemption violated federalism principles. The court said that the exemption didn't commandeer states or state officials, that it didn't violate the Tenth Amendment (because Congress acted within its Commerce Clause authority), and that Congress can exempt non-government entities like Fannie and Freddie.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, have set off a new wave of challenges to the Act, according to today's NYT. Among these: the religious challenges to the contraception mandate; cases challenging President Obama's extension of the employer mandate deadline; and challenges to the IRS rule providing a subsidy to purchasers of health insurance on the federal exchange.
As to that last one: plaintiffs in a spate of cases argue that Section 1401(a) of the ACA provides that purchasers of health insurance on a state exchange, but not the federal exchange, get a federal subsidy; yet the IRS issued a rule that extends the federal subsidy (in the form of a tax credit) to purchasers on the federal exchange. This, they say, violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the Tenth Amendment.
Why the Tenth Amendment? Opponents say that under the ACA an employer who declines to extend coverage has to pay a penalty if and when the federal government gives the employer's employees a subsidy for purchasing health insurance on a state exchange. Opponents say that the IRS rule extends this federal subsidy, and also the employer penalty, when the employer's employees purchase health insurance on the federal exchange. According to opponents, that undermines the state's policy decision not to open a state exchange in the first place. Or, as Indiana put it in paragraph 10 of its complaint in State of Indiana v. IRS:
[The IRS rule] contravenes the text of the ACA, thwarts Indiana's ability to execute State policy sparing employers from Employer Mandate penalties, induces Plaintiffs to reduce the hours of certain employees, including part-time and intermittent employees, to avoid having to provide all such employees with minimum essential coverage, and requires Plaintiffs to file onerous reports with the IRS detailing insurance coverage decisions. It thereby violates both the Administrative Procedure Act and the Tenth Amendment, and the Court should permanently enjoin Defendants from putting it into effect.
Later, in paragraph 17, it says:
In light of the IRS Rule, the State will be forced to reduce the hours of several part-time or intermittent employees in order to avoid the "assessable payment" or employer penalty of the ACA.
According to the Notice of Final Rulemaking, the IRS considered and rejected claims that the ACA itself limits subsidies to purchasers on state exchanges when it took comments on the proposed rule. The IRS said:
The statutory language of section 36B and other provisions of the Affordable Care Act support the interpretation that credits are available to taxpayers who obtain coverage through a State Exchange, regional Exchange, subsidiary Exchange, and the Federally-facilitated Exchange. Moreover, the relevant legislative history does not demonstrate that Congress intended to limit the premium tax credit to State Exchanges.
Friday, August 23, 2013
The United States Department of Justice sued the State of Texas in federal court seeking to halt the state's voter ID law and to subject the state to ongoing court monitoring under the Voting Rights Act.
The case comes in response to the Texas Attorney General's announcement that the state would move to implement its restrictive voter ID law. The law, SB 14, was denied preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by a three-judge federal court. But the Supreme Court struck Section 5 this summer in Shelby County v. Holder, and vacated the lower federal court's denial of preclearance of SB 14 (and a federal court's denial of preclearance in another case, involving Texas redistricting plans), leaving Texas open to enforce SB 14. (Our coverage of Shelby County is here.) The state AG announced within hours of the Shelby County ruling that the state would move to enforce it. Now the Justice Department has sued to stop it.
DOJ argues that SB 14 violates Section 2 of the VRA both because it was enacted with a discriminatory intent and because it would have a discriminatory effect on the state's Hispanic population. DOJ seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and continuing federal court monitoring of the state through a preclearance requirement under the "opt-in" provision in Section 3(c) of the VRA. (AG Holder previously announced that he'd seek an opt-in preclearance requirement for Texas in the redistricting case.)
Texas AG Greg Abbott responded to the suit in a press release and gave a glimpse of his defense--the Tenth Amendment.
Just two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal preapproval of state election laws. The Court emphasized that the Tenth Amendment empowers states--not the federal government--to regulate elections. The Obama administration continues to ignore the Tenth Amendment and repeated Supreme Court decisions upholding states' authority to enforce voter identification and redistricting laws.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
The Cato Institute hosted a discussion last week featuring Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, Judge Alex Kozinski, and Roger Pilon on Bond v. United States, the case involving federal prosecution of a defendant for spreading harmful chemicals on the property of her best friend, after learning that the friend was pregnant by her husband. Our most recent post is here. (Prosecution is under the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, enacted to enforce the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a valid U.S. treaty.)
Cato's discussion is titled Can a Treaty Increase the Power of Congress? That's also the way Cato framed the issue in its amicus brief. Bond, however, in seeking cert., asked somewhat more subtle questions: whether the Court whether structural limits in the Constitution restricted congressional authority to enact legislation, and whether the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act might be interpreted so as to avoid this question. Catos' brief in the case is here; Rosenkranz's related HLR article is here.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Kansas thumbed its nose at the federal government and its current and future gun laws recently in SB 102, the Second Amendment Protection Act, which declares federal gun laws unenforceable in the state.
In particular, SB 102 says that the state legislature "declared" that firearms and accessories "manufactured commercially or privately and owned in Kansas and that remain within the borders of Kansas . . . have not traveled in interstate commerce" and therefore are not subject to federal regulation, including any federal registration requirement, under the Commerce Clause. In short, the law seeks to insulate firearms and accessories that are made and kept only within the state from federal regulation under the Commerce Clause. This reading of the Clause would deny the federal government authority to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce--a well settled congressional authority. (The law also says that component parts imported from other states don't transform an otherwise Kansas-made firearm into an item in interstate commerce.) To that extent, the law seems well tailored to test this long-standing aspect of congressional Commerce Clause authority--the power to regulate intrastate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. If so, that's unlikely to go anywhere. (Even in last summer's ACA/individual-mandate case, the Court gave no indication that it would wholly reconsider Congress's power to regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.)
More, SB 102 outlaws enforcement of federal law--even by federal law enforcement. Enforcement of federal law is a felony in Kansas, but the legislature gave federal law enforcement officials this gift: Kansas won't arrest or detain them prior to, or during the pendancy of, any trial for a violation. In other words, the charge, trial, and conviction are all just part of the political theater surrounding this obviously invalid law.
(In addition to the substantive portions of the law, SB 102 also includes the usual statements for this kind of law--statements about the Tenth Amendment (in support of a robust idea of states' rights) and the Second Amendment (as an absolute bar to any gun regulation). It also has a section on the Ninth Amendment.)
Attorney General Eric Holder shot back, reminding the state of the Supremacy Clause, and concluding that "the United States will take all appropriate action, including litigation if necessary, to prevent the State of Kansas from interfering with the activities of federal officials enforcing federal law."
Governor Brownback responded, arguing that the measure enjoyed wide bi-partisan support in the state. He said that this meant that "[t]he people of Kansas have clearly expressed their sovereign will. It is my hope that upon further review, you will see their right to do so."
Monday, January 21, 2013
The Court granted certiorari Friday in Bond v. United States - - - again.
Recall that the first time the Court heard Carol Anne Bond's case, it held that she did indeed have standing to assert a Tenth Amendment argument against her charge for violating 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), enacted by Congress to implement the United States’ treaty obligations under an international arms-control agreement, the Chemical Weapons Convention, that 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.
On remand, the Third Circuit held 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." While the Circuit did find the prosecution of Bond puzzling, there was also much puzzlement over the statement in Missouri v. Holland that “[i]f [a] treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute [implementing that treaty] under Article 1, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government."
It seems the Supreme Court is ready to clarify - - - or attempt to - - - Missouri v. Holland's famous statement.
[image of Methyldichloroarsine via]
Monday, November 26, 2012
The Supreme Court today reopened one of the cases challenging the federal Affordable Care Act and sent it back for further proceedings at the Fourth Circuit. The move means that the lower court, and possibly the Supreme Court, will have another crack at certain issues that the Supreme Court dodged this summer in its ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit rejected a challenge to the ACA by several individuals and Liberty University in September 2011, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act barred the claim. The Supreme Court declined to review that case, Liberty University v. Geithner. But today the Court reopened the case, vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling, and sent the case back for further proceedings in light of the Court's ruling in NFIB.
The plaintiffs in the case originally challenged the universal coverage provision (the so-called "individual mandate," requiring individuals to acquire health insurance or to pay a tax penalty) and the employer mandate (requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for their employees), arguing that they exceeded Congress's taxing and commerce powers and violated the Tenth Amendment, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes (the Direct Tax Clause), and the Religion Clauses and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (among others). (As to the Religion Clauses, the plaintiffs argued that the requirements would cause them to support insurance companies that paid for abortions, a practice that they claimed ran against their religions.)
The district court ruled against the plaintiffs on all counts and dismissed the case. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the case under the AIA and didn't reach the merits.
The Supreme Court ruled in NFIB that the AIA did not bar the Court from ruling on the tax question, that Congress validly enacted the universal coverage provision under its Article I, Section 8 power "to lay and collect Taxes," and that it didn't violate the Direct Tax Clause. Thus after NFIB these issues appear to remain open on remand:
- Whether the mandates violate the Religion Clauses or the RFRA;
- Whether the employer mandate violates the taxing authority or the Direct Tax Clause;
- Whether the mandates violate equal protection;
- Whether the mandate violates free speech and associational rights.
As to the Religion Clauses, the district court ruled that the ACA's religious exemptions to universal coverage were permissible accommodations (and thus didn't violate the Establishment Clause) and that the ACA didn't require the plaintiffs to pay for abortions (and thus didn't violate the Free Exercise Clause or the RFRA).
As to the employer mandate: It's hard to see how the Supreme Court's tax analysis of the individual mandate in NFIB wouldn't apply with equal force to the employer mandate.
If the district court was right on the First Amendment and equal protection claims (as it seems), and if the Supreme Court's tax analysis applies with equal force to the employer mandate, this case doesn't seem to have much of a future.
But then again, that's what many of us said about NFIB.
November 26, 2012 in Abortion, Association, Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Religion, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, November 9, 2012
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear the Shelby County challenge to the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act as reauthorized in 2006. The preclearance provision, Section 5, is the centerpiece of the VRA; it requires covered jurisdictions--those with a particularly ugly history of discrimination in voting--to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge federal court in D.C. before making any changes to their voting laws. The Court criticized Section 5 just three-and-a-half years ago in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder for not keeping up with improvements in covered jurisdictions and for intruding on the states. The Court wrote that Section 5 raised "serious constitutional questions," but declined to rule on its constitutionality. Thus Section 5 survived Northwest Austin--but just barely.
The cert. grant in the Shelby County case asks whether Section 5 is unconstitutional in light of Congress's reauthorization of it using pre-existing Section 4(b) coverage. Section 4(b) sets a formula for which states and counties are covered jurisdictions and therefore must obtain preclearance before changing their voting laws. The two sections go hand-in-hand, and a ruling overturning Section 5 would render Section 4(b) null. But a ruling overturning only Section 4(b) could leave Section 5 in place. Such a ruling would require Congress to go back and determine the covered jurisdictions more carefully--something some say it failed to do when it reauthorized the VRA in 2006 (and hasn't done since).
The way the Court poses the question presented leaves this possibility open--and it's the more restrained option for a Court inclined to overturn something in the 2006 reauthorization. But it seems highly unlikely. Section 5 is almost certainly the real target, whatever the coverage formula in Section 4(b). Here's the QP:
Whether Congress' decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.
The QP's references to the Tenth Amendment and Article IV ensure that the case will center on federalism concerns. Northwest Austin said as much, with its language suggesting that Section 5 unduly intrudes on the states.
The Court took no action on another Section 5 challenge, Nix. Petitioners in that case filed their cert. petition at the same time that the Shelby County petitioners filed, in late July.
November 9, 2012 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 25, 2012
The Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated opinion in Arizona v. United States on the constitutionality of controversial state immigration statute SB 1070. The over all issue, recall, is whether the state law is preempted by the federal statutory immigration law and thus invalid under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, Article VI.
The majority - - - Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor - - - affirmed in part and reversed in part the Ninth Circuit opinion upholding the district court's preliminary injunction against specific provisions of SB 1070.
The Courthad granted the petition for writ of certiorari on four provisions:
- Section 2(B): requires every Arizona law enforcement officer to verify the immigration status of every person stopped, arrested, or detained if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is in the country unlawfully;
- Section 3: criminalizes the failure to carry an “alien registration document;'"
- Section 5(C): criminalizes undocumented immigrants applying for employment or being employed;
- Section 6: authorizes warrantless arrests if based upon probable cause that a person has committed a deportable crime.
The majority held that Sections 3, 5(C), and 6 of S. B. 1070 are preempted by federal law, but that the controversial 2(B) was not.
On Section 3, the Court applied complete field preemption, holding that even complementary state regulation unconstitutionally intrudes.
On Section 5(C) and 6, the Court held that the state provisions operated as obstacles to the federal statutory scheme.
Upholding Section 2, the Court essentially held that without state courts having an opportunity to further construe the provision, the record was too incomplete to determine whether or not the provision conflicted with federal law.
Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito each wrote separate dissents. Justice Elana Kagan did not participate.
The Opinion of the Court is relatively brief at 25 pages. For an opinion by Justice Kennedy (dare I say), it is unusually well-structured. The discussion of pre-emption principles is setting out express preemption, then pervasive field preemption and conflict (obstacle) preemption, including the Court's most recent preemption opinion, Whiting, which it will later distinguish (and which was joked about as decisively precedential by Justice Roberts at oral argument, who interestingly joins Kennedy's opinion).
Then it considers each provision, providing some but not overwhelming detail, regarding the conflict. Most controversially (and lengthily), the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s conclusion that Section 2(B) was preempted, focusing both on the mandatory status checks (– colloquially known as the “show me your papers” provision – ) and the possibility of prolonged detention. However, the majority stated that Section 2(b) could be read to avoid the concerns of conflict and offered some hypos:
To take one example, a person might be stopped for jaywalking in Tucson and be unable to produce identification. The first sentence of §2(B) instructs officers to make a “reasonable” attempt to verify his immigration status with ICE if there is reasonable suspicion that his presence in the United States is unlawful. The state courts may conclude that, unless the person continues to be suspected of some crime for which he may be detained by state officers, it would not be reasonable to prolong the stop for the immigration inquiry. [citations omitted].
To take another example, a person might be held pending release on a charge of driving under the influence of alcohol. As this goes beyond a mere stop, the arrestee (unlike the jaywalker) would appear to be subject to the categorical requirement in the second sentence of §2(B) that “[a]ny person who is arrested shall have the person’s immigration status determined before [he] is released.” State courts may read this as an instruction to initiate a status check every time someone is arrested, or in some subset of those cases, rather than as a command to hold the person until the check is complete no matter the circumstances. Even if the law is read as an instruction to complete a check while the person is in custody, moreover, it is not clear at this stage and on this record that the verification process would result in prolonged detention.
For some, these "could be read" passages suggest that only upon a narrow construction would Section 2(B) be upheld.
Not surprisingly dissenting, Justice Scalia would have upheld SB1070, and stressed the historical precedent that would allow states as sovereigns to exclude all aliens from their states. His use of history here will most likely be criticized by some legal historians of the Early Republic. In a statement sure to provoke more controversy, he referred to President Obama’s statement regarding young non-citizens, saying “The President said at a news conference that the new program is “the right thing to do” in light of Congress’s failure to pass the Administra tion’s proposed revision of the Immigration Act. Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the Court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of the Immigration Act that the President declines to enforce boggles the mind.” He closed by repeating Paul Clement’s claim that “Arizona bears the brunt of the country’s illegal immigration problem.”
Thomas' briefly opined that even "assuming the existence of some tension" between SB1070 and the federal scheme, it did not merit preemption. Alito's much longer opinion agreed with the Court that 2(B) was not preempted, and interestingly agreed that Section 3 (colloquially known as the carry your papers provision) was preempted. He "part[ed] ways" on §5(C) and §6, arguing that Congress was not sufficiently clear on its desire to preempt a provision regarding employment and that §6 "adds virtually nothing to the authority that Arizona law enforcement officers already exercise."
Thursday, May 31, 2012
In today's unanimous panel opinion in Massachusetts v. HHS, consolidated with Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, the First Circuit upheld federal District Judge Tauro's companion opinions that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. (April's oral argument can be heard here).
The First Circuit opined that the issue is difficult not only because of what it called the Justice Department's "about face" but because it
couples issues of equal protection and federalism with the need to assess the rationale for a congressional statute passed with minimal hearings and lacking in formal findings. In addition, Supreme Court precedent offers some help to each side, but the rationale in several cases is open to interpretation. We have done our best to discern the direction of these precedents, but only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case.
The panel relied upon Moreno, Cleburne, and Romer v. Evans, each of which "rested on the case-specific nature of the discrepant treatment, the burden imposed, and the infirmities of the justifications offered," to ultimately employ a heightened rational basis of equal protection review.
As to federalism, the panel noted that "DOMA intrudes extensively into a realm that has from the start of the nation been primarily confided to state regulation--domestic relations and the definition and incidents of lawful marriage--which is a leading instance of the states' exercise of their broad police-power authority over morality and culture." Although certainly the federal government does have an interest in marriage (given how many federal laws rely on the definition), nevertheless "Congress' effort to put a thumb on the scales and influence a state's decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws does bear on how the justifications are assessed."
The First Circuit thus stops short of finding that DOMA is inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment, but deploys federalism to evaluate the government interests under equal protection.
The four interests expressed in the House Committee Report were
- (1) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage;
- (2) defending traditional notions of morality;
- (3) protecting state sovereignty and democratic self-governance; and
- (4) preserving scarce government resources.
The First Circuit rejected all these interests as inadequate, including the preservation of government resources that it found to be factually dubious, and also rejected the "child rearing" and "temporary measure" rationales advanced in litigation, as not supported by the legislation.
Thus, the panel concluded:
the rationales offered do not provide adequate support for section 3 of DOMA. Several of the reasons given do not match the statute and several others are diminished by specific holdings in Supreme Court decisions more or less directly on point. If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress' will, this statute fails that test.
Surely BLAG - - - the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives, an organization defending DOMA funded by taxpayers - - - will petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, although perhaps first for en banc review.
Friday, May 4, 2012
Last June, in an unanimous opinion in Bond v. United States, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Third Circuit and found that Carol Anne Bond had standing to argue that the statute exceeded Congressional power and was inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment.
In an opinion today on remand, the Third Circuit reached the merits and again ruled against Bond. Recall that Bond was convicted for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 229(a), the Chemical Weapons Convention Implementation Act, enacted by Congress to implement the United States’ treaty obligations under an international arms-control agreement that 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.
Bond urged the Third Circuit 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." Bond did argue that the Act exceeded the Convention, but the panel found this argument without merit. However, the panel did remark that Bond's prosecution seems a questionable exercise of prosecutorial discretion," stating in footnote 20:
The decision to use the Act – a statute designed to implement a chemical weapons treaty – to deal with a jilted spouse's revenge on her rival is, to be polite, a puzzling use of the federal government's power.
Concurring, Judge Rendell also remarked on the odd "fact pattern":
No one would question a prosecution under the Act if the defendant were a deranged person who scattered potassium dichromate and 10-chloro-10H-phenoxarsine, the chemicals which Ms. Bond used, on the seats of the New York subway cars. While that defendant could be punished under state law, applying the Act there would not offend our sensibilities.
But he added, "The judgment call to prosecute Ms. Bond under a chemical weapons statute rather than allowing state authorities to process the case is one that we question. But we see that every day in drug cases. Perhaps lured by the perception of easier convictions and tougher sentences, prosecutors opt to proceed federally."
Obviously, however, this "puzzling" or pragmatic use of federal law has cost the federal government much time, money, and energy in litigating this case.
Judge Ambro, however, was not so worried about the prosecution of Bond, but wrote separately "to urge the Supreme Court to provide a clarifying explanation of its statement in Missouri v. Holland that “[i]f [a] treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of the statute [implementing that treaty] under Article 1, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government." This "most important sentence in this most important case about the constitutional law of foreign affairs" can be read as providing a "blank check" to Congress.
[image: colored chemicals via]
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
On appeal from two opinions from Federal District Judge Tauro holding Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, the First Circuit heard arguments today in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.
A partial audio recording of the argument is available here (the first 18 minutes is missing).
Arguing to reverse Judge Tauro's opinions and defending DOMA was BLAG - the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives - who took up the case when the Obama DOJ decided that DOMA section 3 violates the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The equal protection arguments are central, including the level of scrutiny that should apply to the category of "sexual orientation," what government interests should be considered (the ones at the time of passage or the ones offered in the present litigation), and the possibility of animus, especially given the name of the act.
In addition to equal protection, the Tenth Amendment also figured prominently in the arguments. This has caused at least one commentator to note that Paul Clement's argument on behalf of BLAG was exactly the opposite of his argument last week that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. Moreover, while DOMA and the anti-immigration initiative, SB1070, in Arizona v. US are certainly reconciliable with regard to the federalism issue, Clement's argument on behalf of Arizona before the United States Supreme Court later this month will most certainly contradict his DOMA stance.
Meanwhile, Immigration Equality has filed a complaint in the Eastern District of New York arguing that DOMA section 3 is unconstitutional on the basis of equal protection regarding both sexual orientation and sex, and should not be enforced in the immigration context.
As for the DOMA argument in the First Circuit, there is a suggestion that the case should go to the en banc court. However, for now the case is before Judges Lynch, Torruella, and Boudin, pending a panel decision.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
The Supreme Court yesterday seemed just as skeptical--and maybe even more so--of the Medicaid expansion as it was of the universal coverage, or individual mandate, on Tuesday. The line-up was similar, with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan appearing to favor the government, and Justices Scalia and Alito leaning against. (Justice Thomas was again silent, but his opposition to Medicaid expansion is all but certain.) The difference in yesterday's argument: Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy seemed even more strongly against Medicaid expansion than against the individual mandate.
The core issue in the case, of course, was coercion: Did the federal government coerce the states by conditions a states' entire pot of Medicaid funding on its acceptance of the expansion?
Chief Justice Roberts made some very strong statements against the government's position that expansion isn't coercion, especially worrying about federalism and "intrusion on the sovereign interests of the State." Transcript p. 59; see also Transcript p. 34. This latter question, the one on page 34, also suggests that the federal government "having attached the . . . strings, [states] shouldn't be surprised if the Federal Government isn't going to start pulling them." On balance, though, the Chief Justice seemed to lean against expansion.
Justice Kennedy seemed worried most about accountability--how citizens could sort out who to blame if they didn't like the policy. He recognized that there's no "workable" test based on accountability (p. 64), but he also seemed to want to find a place for accountability in the analysis. He was also concerned about "practical coercion" (my phrase), discussed immediately below.
In the end, there seemed one predominant theme among those who appeared to lean against the expansion: If the government can't conceive of a state declining to participate in the expansion--because the money's too sweet, because the program's too good, or because the individual mandate would have a hard time working without it--it seems like coercion. This kind of plain-spoken, practical coercion might just drive the case.
Others apparently favorable to the expansion argued that this practical coercion must mean that a program can be unconstitutionally coercive only because it's too good--a plainly absurd conclusion, and therefore not a reason to overturn the expansion.
Several other themes emerged:
Complete Funding. The federal government pays the lion's share of the expansion in the first few years--a point made early by Justice Kagan. To those favoring the government, this makes it look like a pure federal gift to the states for the purpose of expanding Medicaid. But Paul Clement, representing the states, argued that it was both the size of the Medicaid program and the expansion that makes this coercion: because of Medicaid's size, state's can't afford to lose it; because of the generosity of the expansion, states can't say no to it.
Related: There was concern among those apparently leaning against the expansion about why states could stand to lose all their Medicaid funding just because they don't agree to take funding for this incremental expansion. This issue relates to executive discretion, discussed below.
Related: Chief Justice Roberts seemed especially concerned that the federal government could later decrease the amount of its participation, after leading the states on with this nearly-completely-funded expansion, and leave states in an even more precarious situation--even more coercive.
Complete Overhaul. Justice Sotomayor asked if the federal government could simply scrap the whole program and start all over, why it couldn't add this incremental expansion. Clement said that nobody has a problem with certain existing Medicaid programs, and so it makes no sense to condition the whole program, including existing programs, on a state's willingness to sign on to the incremental expansion.
Politics. The politics played a minor role, but were there. Justice Ginsburg asked about the other half of states that may favor the expansion, and Justice Scalia helped point out that the states in this case--those opposing expansion--are headed by Republicans. In Clement's words: "There is a correlation." P. 21.
Spending Power. Clement tried to distinguish between congressional use of the spending power for objectives included in other portions of Article I, Section 8, and use of the spending power for ends outside of its Section 8 powers. It's not clear whether this position has enough traction to work its way into the Court's analysis, but it does revive a very old (but now well settled) debate over the scope of congressional spending power: Congressional spending power is most certainly not cabined by what it can do under other Article I, Section 8 powers. Clement's position seems to question that, even if only on the margins.
Taxes and Citizenship. Clement argued that the federal government is encroaching on state authority by taxing state citizens for a benefit that they don't want. The argument confuses state and federal citizenship, and didn't seem to get any traction with the Court. But Clement's related argument--that federal taxes to support Medicaid expansion crowd out states' ability to tax their citizens for other purposes--did get some attention among opponents of the expansion.
Executive Discretion. Justice Breyer raised the point that the Secretary is bound by the APA in revoking all Medicaid funds for a state that declines to participate in the expansion, and that such a decision would be subject to rationality, or the arbitrary and capricious test. This point gained traction as the argument moved forward, but the Justices seemed to divide over the implications: Justice Breyer argued that this means that the Secretary isn't unbound in revoking all funds, and others pointed to the history of the Secretary's modest exercise of this authority; opponents of the expansion argued that the authority to revoke all funds is still there in the statute. SG Verrilli, of course, couldn't give assurances about how the Secretary would use the discretion, but suggested that the Secretary wouldn't revoke all Medicaid funding.
Accountability. Justice Kennedy raised the point about accountability: How can citizens understand the lines of accountability for a program that's so strongly encouraged by the federal government? Accountability is surely a consideration, but it's not clear how much, if at all, it'll turn this case. Justice Kennedy also said that any test based on accountability is "unworkable," but he seemed to search for a way to consider accountability within the coercion framework.
Practical Coercion. Again, Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia, Justice Alito, and even Justice Kennedy at one point all pointed out, in only slightly different ways, that if the government can't conceive of a state saying no--because of the size of the program, or because how expansion fits with the individual mandate, or because Congress knew that states liked Medicaid so much and just assumed that all states would come on board--then that's coercion.
SG Verrilli wrapped up his argument with an appeal to liberty--the liberty of those who would be covered by Medicaid expansion to receive funded medical care. This was refreshing, but probably not anything that would persuade those who oppose the expansion based on the sovereignty of the states and federalism.
This case, like the universal coverage case, will likely turn on Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Kennedy or both. But here both seemed even more opposed to expansion than they were to universal coverage.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Today is Bill of Rights Day, marking the 220th anniversary of the adoption of the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights.
In his Presidential Proclamation last week, Obama stated:
On December 15, 1791, the United States adopted the Bill of Rights, enshrining in our Constitution the protection of our inalienable freedoms, from the right to speak our minds and worship as we please to the guarantee of equal justice under the law. For 220 years, these fundamental liberties have shaped our national character and stirred the souls of all who dream of a freer, more just world. As we mark this milestone, we renew our commitment to preserving our universal rights and perfecting our Union.
Introduced in the First Congress in 1789, the Bill of Rights was born out of compromise. The promise of enumerated rights enabled the ratification of the Constitution without fear that a more centralized government would encroach on American freedoms. In adopting the first ten Amendments, our Founders put forth an ideal that continues to define our Nation -- that we can have both liberty and security, that we need not sacrifice the rights of man for the rule of law.
Throughout our country's history, generations have risen to uphold the principles outlined in our Bill of Rights and advance equality for all Americans. The liberties we enjoy today are possible only because of these brave patriots, from the service members who have defended our freedom to the citizens who have braved billy clubs and fire hoses in the hope of extending America's promise across lines of color and creed. On Bill of Rights Day, we celebrate this proud legacy and resolve to pass to our children an America worthy of our Founders' vision.
Some would argue, however, that the Bill of Rights does not enshrine "the guarantee of equal justice under the law" in the Constitution, given that the concept of individual equality does not appear in the Constitution until the Fourteenth Amendment passed after the Civil War. The Fourteenth Amendment also introduced the word "male" into the Constitution, in section 2 regarding voting, although section 1 uses the word "persons."
The "Bill of Rights" as ratified does primarily focus on "rights," but the original Resolution of Congress consisting of twelve amendments did not concern rights. Instead, they concerned Congress itself:
Article the first . . . After the first enumeration required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which, the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.
Article the second . . . No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.
The latter became the 27th Amendment, ratified more than two centuries later in 1992.
- Amendment 1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- Amendment 2. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
- Amendment 3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
- Amendment 4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
- Amendment 5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
- Amendment 6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
- Amendment 7. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
- Amendment 8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
- Amendment 9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
- Amendment 10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
[image from National Archives via]
December 15, 2011 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, History, Interpretation, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Religion, Second Amendment, Seventh Amendment, Sixth Amendment, Speech, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth (D.D.C.) ruled on Monday in Gordon v. Holder that the tax requirement in the federal Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act, or PACT, likely violates due process, but not the Tenth Amendment. Judge Lamberth also ruled that the PACT's ban on mailing cigarettes through the U.S. mail does not violate equal protection or due process.
Plaintiff Gordon owns and runs a cigarette retail business. He previously took orders by mail and through the internet; since 2010, he takes only phone orders and walk-ins. He challenged two provisions of the PACT: its ban on mailing cigarettes through the U.S. mail; and its requirement that remote cigarette sellers pay applicable state and local sales taxes in advance.
Judge Lamberth ruled that Gordon's claim that the tax provision violates due process is likely to succeed. Judge Lamberth concluded that Gordon didn't have sufficient contacts with some states where he sold cigarettes to satisfy the "minimum connection" test in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (and borrowed from International Shoe Co. v. Washington). Without the minimum connection, the tax provision likely violates due process.
But Judge Lamberth rejected Gordon's other claims. Judge Lamberth wrote that the PACT's ban on sales of cigarettes through the U.S. mail satisifed rational basis review, and that the PACT's tax provision didn't commandeer states or their officers. (Nothing in PACT compels states to adopt or to change their taxes. Instead, the PACT simply compels cigarette retailers to comply with applicable state taxes.)
Judge Lamberth thus issued a preliminary injunction against the tax provision on due process grounds, but denied a preliminary injunction on Gordon's other claims.
December 7, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, October 27, 2011
DOMA - - - the Defense of Marriage Act - - - already suffering from legislative efforts at repeal and seriously questionable constitutional status, including the Obama DOJ's decision not to defend its constitutionality, has been challenged again.
In a Complaint filed today, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network representing several plaintiffs, challenged the constitutionality of DOMA in conjunction with several other statutes that govern benefits for military servicemembers. The Complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the same district in which Judge Tauro found DOMA unconstitutional in companion cases in July 2010.
Paragraph 67 of the Complaint distills the argument:
The current military family benefits regimes of Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38, particularly as modified by DOMA, fail to address the modern military. These laws were crafted at a time when gays and lesbians were precluded from openly serving in the military, and when same-sex marriages were not legal in the United States. While Congress may have assumed that Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38 effectively covered all military spouses in the past, that is not the current reality. The military is a reflection of our society as a whole. Now that same-sex marriages are legal, and gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military, service members -- such as the Plaintiffs -- with same-sex spouses do serve in the ranks. To maintain the uniformity of benefits that Congress believed it was creating in Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38, the definition of "spouse" must include these same-sex spouses as well.
The Constitutional grounds include Equal Protection, the Tenth Amendment, the fundamental constitutional right to marry (without a specific constitutional text), and Bill of Attainder.
Most unique is the Bill of Attainder argument, based on Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution which states that "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed." The Complaint alleges that the "Bill of Attainder clause prohibits as unconstitutional any law that legislative determines guilt and inflicts punishment upon an identifiable individual without provision of the protections of a judicial trial." The argument is that as a result of DOMA's application to federal military benefits,
the federal government imposes a disability upon a clearly identifiable class of persons involved in legally-recognized same-sex marriages, including Plaintiffs, for no purpose other than to punish them. Plaintiffs were denied federal military benefits that they would otherwise be entitled to if not for their membership in this clearly identifiable class. Thus, through DOMA, Plaintiffs have been subjected to an unconstitutional Bill of Attainder.
The defense of DOMA is expensive: the original contract awarded by House Speaker John Boehner to Bush-era Solicitor General Paul Clement and capped at $500,000 was reportedly raised to three times that amount - - - $1.5 million dollars - - - earlier this month. This newest lawsuit may occasion even higher costs.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
United States District Judge Susan Bolton, who entered a preliminary injunction against portions of Arizona's controversial SB1070 in July 2010, dismissed the counterclaims filed by Arizona and Governor Jan Brewer in a 22 page Order late Friday.
Arizona's Count One, failure and refusal to achieve and maintain “operational control” of the Arizona-Mexico borde, Count Three, abdication of statutory responsibilities (enforcement of the federal immigration laws), and Count Four, declaratory relief regarding State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (“SCAAP”) reimbursement obligations were each denominated as "statutory claims."
The constitutional counterclaims - - - Count One, the failure and refusal to protect Arizona from invasion and domestic violence under Article IV, Section 4 and Count Five, declaratory relief under the Tenth Amendment - - - were analyzed as subject to issue preclusion given Bolton's previous order, but the Judge also further considered the claims. As to the "invasion and domestic violence" counterclaim, Judge Bolton found that the claim was nonjusticiable because it was a political question and cited the "six factors" from Baker v. Carr (1962):
 a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department;
 a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it;
 the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion;
 the impossibility of a court’s undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government;
 an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made;
 the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question.
Bolton emphasized the lack of "judicially discoverable and manageable standards" for determining what constituted an invasion and domestic violence.
Regarding the Tenth Amendment counterclaim, Judge Bolton found that Arizona was not being "comandeered" :
Arizona does not point to any federal immigration policy that mandates or compels
Arizona to take any action. The complained of expenditures arise entirely from Arizona’s
own policy choices and independent constitutional obligations and are not incurred as a result
of any federal mandate. These state costs do not give rise to a claim under the Tenth
While the ruling was not unexpected, it further focuses attention on the petition for writ of certiorari filed by Arizona and Jan Brewer, seeking review of the Ninth Circuit opinion which upheld Judge Bolton's preliminary injunction against SB1070.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Three parties--two sets of plaintiffs and the U.S. government--filed petitions today asking the Supreme Court to review the Eleventh Circuit ruling last month in State of Florida v. HHS striking down aspects of the Affordable Care Act. In seeking Court review of the three-judge panel decision, the parties are bypassing en banc review and taking the case directly to the Court.
Recall that the Eleventh Circuit ruled the so-called individual mandate unconstitutional, but also ruled it severable from the rest of the ACA. In particular, the court ruled that the individual mandate exceeded congressional authority under both the Commerce Clause and the Taxing Clause; that the individual mandate was severable from the rest of the ACA; and that Medicaid expansion did not unduly coerce the states and thus exceed congressional authority under the Spending Clause. The ruling gave both sides plenty to appeal.
And the petitions for cert. filed today reflect it. Thus the National Association of Independent Business and two private individuals, all plaintiffs in the case, took on the Eleventh Circuit's ruling on severability. (Recall that the district court ruled the individual mandate non-severable, in part because the government argued that it was an essential part of the overall ACA. And becuase it ruled that Congress lacked authority to enact the individual mandate, the district court also struck down the entire ACA. The Eleventh Circuit reversed.) These petitioners also say that the Eleventh Circuit's case is a better vehicle with which to evaluate the ACA, because it involves all the issues, but none of the problems, of the cases out of the other circuits. Thus, they say that the Sixth Circuit ruling in Thomas More, upholding the individual mandate, includes a contested standing issue and failed to address severability of the individual mandate (because the parties didn't argue it); the Fourth Circuit in Liberty University ruled that the plaintiffs' case was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, an erroneous and now "irrelevant" ruling, in their judgment.
The state plaintiffs in the case took on the Eleventh Circuit's ruling on the Tenth Amendment and federalism. They argue that the Eleventh Circuit erred in ruling that Medicaid expansion in the ACA isn't unduly coercive and that the Supreme Court should resolve whether the so-called employer mandate provisions are constitutional as applied to the states.
Finally, the government argued that Congress had authority to enact the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause and, alternatively, the Taxing Clause. It also asks the Court to address whether the Anti-Injunction Act bars the plaintiffs' suit.
The petitions today make it all the more likely that the Court will hear a challenge to the ACA this Term. And this case seems the most likely vehicle, for all the reasons argued by the NFIB: This case puts it all before the Court--Commerce Clause, Taxing Clause, severability, Tenth Amendment, federalism, and the AIA. Both sides want a ruling on the whole thing, and this is the right case.
[Image: Pieter Huys, A Surgeon Extracting the Stone of Folly, Wikimedia Commons]
September 28, 2011 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Spending Clause, Supreme Court (US), Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, August 7, 2011
SCOTUSblog is hosting an on-line symposium on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. From the symposium description:
Last week the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal group, filed a petition for certiorari in which it asked the Court to review a Sixth Circuit decision, which rejected the group's claim that a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 is unconstitutional. With similar challenges currently pending in the Fourth and Eleventh Circuits, it seems likely that the Court will take up the constitutionality of the Act at some point in the future--perhaps even during the upcoming Term. During the next two weeks, SCOTUSblog will host an online symposium on the Act and the Court: when and whether the Court is likely to review the Act, and how it might rule if it does.
Posts so far are here; here's a list of contributors:
- Jonathan Adler, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
- Cory Andrews, Washington Legal Foundation
- Erwin Chemerinsky, University of California – Irvine School of Law
- Richard Epstein, University of Chicago Law School
- Charles Fried, Harvard Law School
- Abbe R. Gluck and Gillian Metzger, Columbia Law School
- Mark Hall, Wake Forest University School of Law
- Dawn Johnsen, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
- Bradley Joondeph, Santa Clara University School of Law
- Orin Kerr, The George Washington University Law School
- David Kopel, Independence Institute
- John Kroger, Attorney General of Oregon
- Robert Levy, Cato Institute
- Stephen Presser, Northwestern University
- Elizabeth Price Foley, Florida International University College of Law
- David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, Baker Hostetler
- Robert Schapiro, Emory University School of Law
- Steven Schwinn, John Marshall Law School
- Ilya Shapiro, Cato Institute
- Ilya Somin, George Mason University School of Law
- Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law School
- Adam Winkler, University of California Los Angeles School of Law
- Elizabeth Wydra, Constitutional Accountability Center
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Last November, Edith Windsor filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York as the survivor of a same-sex couple married in Canada. Windor seeks a refund of estate taxes paid because the marriage was not recognized by the federal government and argues that the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, section 3 is an unconstitutional denial of equal protection.
Today, the Attorney General of New York filed an amicus brief supporting Windsor. With same-sex marriage now legal in New York (although a challenge was filed yesterday), the state has a substantial interest in the effect of DOMA. The state joins Windor's equal protection arguments, but also raises a Tenth Amendment argument:
Although plaintiff has not raised a Tenth Amendment claim in her complaint, principles of federalism should inform this Court’s review of her equal-protection claim as well. Federalism protects not merely the interests of state governments, but also individual liberty: “By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power.” Bond v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2355, 2364 (2011). The power of Congress is at its lowest when it seeks to discourage States from enacting statutes, like the Marriage Equality Act, that are at the core of the States’ sovereignty. In analyzing the validity of the Gun-Free School Zones Act under the Commerce Clause, Justice Kennedy instructed that “[A]t the least we must inquire whether the exercise of national power seeks to intrude upon an area of traditional state concern.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 580 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring). So too here, the analysis of the statute must take into account that it intrudes on an area of traditional state concern.
The brief then cites the Massachusetts DOMA distict court opinion, Massachusetts v. US, presently on appeal.
While the Obama Administration is not defending DOMA - - - itself having decided DOMA is unconstitutional - - - it is noteworthy that at this point, New York is only filing an amicus brief and not filing a complaint of its own unlike Massachusetts.
The New York Attorney General's brief is disconcerting in one respect. It argues,
Because New York has consistently expressed and implemented its commitment to equal treatment for same-sex couples, New York has a strong interest in ensuring that the “protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations, and benefits,” ch. 95, § 2, 2011 N.Y. Laws at __, accorded to them under federal law by virtue of marriage are equal to those accorded to different-sex married couples.
Yet some might argue that New York's "commitment" to equality for same-sex couples has been less than total. The state's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, reversed lower courts and rejected a claim that limiting marriage to opposite sex couples was unconstitutional in Hernandez v. Robles in 2006. Hernandez v. Robles applied rational basis scrutiny and in much criticized passage reasoned that the legislature could "rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability" and that because heterosexual relationships lead to children and that because "such relationships are all too often casual or temporary," the legislature "could find that an important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born" and it could thus " choose to offer an inducement—in the form of marriage and its attendant benefits—to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other." The court reasoned that this inducement rationale "does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples" who can become "parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse." Thus,
The Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more. This is one reason why the Legislature could rationally offer the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples only.
Perhaps it is understandable why the New York Attorney General would not want to mention Hernandez v. Robles - - - the brief does not cite it - - - but it does belie New York's "consistent" support for same-sex marriage.