Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kosovo Con Court Rules Against President

The Constitutional Court of the Republic of Kosovo ruled last week in Naim Rrustemi and 31 Other Deputies of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo v. His Excellency Fatmir Sejdiu that President Fatmir Sejdiu committed a "serious violation" of the Constitution of Kosovo for simultaneously serving as President of the Republic and President of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), a political party.  Sejdiu promptly resigned as President of Kosovo.

Article 88 of the Kovoso Constitution, titled "Incompatibility," reads as follows:

1.  The President shall not exercise any other public function.

2.  After election, the President cannot exercise any political party functions.

Thirty-two deputies of the Assembly of Kosovo lodged a referral with the Constitutional Court claiming that Sejdiu violated Article 88(2) because he continued to serve as President of the LDK.  (Article 113 of the Constitution authorizes 30 or more deputies to bring such a question to the court.)  Sejdiu argued that his position as President of the LDK was in name only--that while he held the title, he didn't exercise the power.  (In Sejdiu's words, he "froze" his party functions.)

The Constitutional Court didn't buy it.  The court ruled that Sejdiu and the party sought to benefit each other from their association, violating both the letter and the spirit of Article 88(2).  The court:

68.  In reality, both the President and the LDK wish to benefit from their association with each other.  The President may be able to "unfreeze" his exercising of the functions if and when he leaves the office of the President of Kosovo.  The party may seek political advancement by being associated with a powerful constitutional officer, the President of the Republic of Kosovo.  The symbiotic relationship remains between the President and his party to this day.  They thus "make use of" each other by permitting this public association to continue.  This "making use of" is one of the definitions for "exercise" that the President offers in his response.

The court further ruled that the violation was "serious"--a ruling that under Article 91 allows the Assembly to dismiss the President by a 2/3 vote of all deputies.  Why "serious"?  Because of the impact on public confidence in Sejdiu and the President's constitutional duty to represent all the people (and not just a faction):

69.  In considering whether this violation is merely a technical violation of the Constitution or rather a serious violation the Court should assess the impact of the President's decision on the confidence of the public in the office of President of the Republic of Kosovo.  Bearing in mind the considerable powers granted to the President under the Constitution it is reasonable for the public to assume that their President, "representing the unity of all people" and not a sectional or party political interest, will represent them all.  Every citizen of the Republic is entitled to be assured of the impartiality, integrit and independence of their President.  This is particularly so when he exercises political choices such as choosing competing candidates from possible coalitions to become Prime Minister.

Sejdiu's resignation obviously preempts any Assembly attempt to oust him under Article 91.  It may also throw a wrench into Kosovo's negotiations with Serbia.  Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia has not recognized it as an independent country.  Early this year the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence was not illegal under international law.  Serbia recently signalled that it was open to negotiations over practical issues in the relationship between the two.


September 30, 2010 in Comparative Constitutionalism, International, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Retired Supreme Court Justices to "Unretire"? Leahy Bill to Allow Justices to Sit by Designation

As we previously discussed, the suggestion to "bring back" Supreme Court Justices who have retired - - - that would be O'Connor, Souter, and Stevens - - - seems a solution to the problem of Supreme Court Justice recusals.  The recusal issue is especially pronounced this term because the newest Justice comes to the bench after having been Solictor General.

Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced a Bill which would allow such a process.  The Bill provides:

(2) Any retired Chief Justice of the United States or any retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court may be designated and assigned to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States in a particular case  if—

    (A) any active justice is recused from that case; and

    (B) a majority of active justices vote to designate and assign that retired Chief Justice or Associate Justice.’

Leahy notes that the process was suggested by then-Justice Stevens.  Currently, "Congress has previously given the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court the authority to designate and assign retired Supreme Court justices to cases in any federal circuit," as demonstrated by a recent case in which former Justice Souter wrote an opinion in the First Circuit.  But, as Leahy states, "the law does not provide any authority permitting a former justice to sit by designation on the Supreme Court – the court to which he or she was confirmed."  


Retired Justices
In addition to the pragmatic and political issues, the process may pose some constitutional issues as we discussed here.


September 30, 2010 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Court to Consider a More Ordinary State Secrets Privilege

The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear a government contractor's case against the Defense Department involving the Department's invocation of the state secrets privilege.  But the case doesn't involve anything nearly so dramatic as what we've seen recently come out of the Ninth Circuit in Mohamed v. Jeppesen (ordering the dismissal of a private lawsuit by an alleged victim of extraordinary rendition and torture based upon the government's intervention and assertion of the state secrets privilege).  Instead, this case is a more ordinary application of the privilege--an application more consistent with its common law, evidentiary roots.

But that doesn't make the case any less important.  And the Court's treatment of the privilege in this more ordinary context may give us important clues as to how the Court might treat the more dramatic cases.

This case, General Dynamics Corp. v. U.S. (and a consolidated companion, The Boeing Co. v. U.S.) is a nearly 20-year-old dispute over the plaintiffs' ill-fated contract with the Navy to develop the A-12 Avenger, a carrier-based stealth aircraft.  The plaintiffs-appellants claim that the Navy declined to share its stealth technology with the contractors in the design process, instead requiring the contractors to reinvent this wheel.  This, among many other problems, led to substantial delays in the development of the aircraft.  Finally the Navy terminated the contract for default.

Under federal contracting regulations, a termination for default means that the contractor gets no more payments under the contract and may have to reimburse the government for some payments already issued.  A termination for default can also mean that the contractor is debarred from public contracting, or is prejudiced in the award of new contracts.  (The government could have alternatively terminated for convenience.  When it does this, the contractor still gets reimbursement for costs reasonably incurred.)

The contractors sued, arguing that the government failed to meet its burden in terminating for default because the government had "superior knowledge" (i.e., the stealth technology), but refused to share it with the contractors.  The government asserted the state secrets privilege, arguing that it couldn't litigate the "superior knowledge" claim because the stealth technology is a state secret.  The lower courts ruled in favor of the government.

The case now goes before the Court on the state secrets issue and a couple other issues related to the standard that applies to termination for default.

The contractors argue that the government cannot at once press its default claim (on which it bears the burden) but also deny the contractors information on their "superior knowledge" defense.  The contractors point to language in United States v. Reynolds that supports this common-sensical argument--you can't fairly prosecute when you also deny the accused evidence necessary for the defense.  And given the amount of money at stake and the possibly punitive nature of termination for default, this is like a prosecution.

The government argues that this principle doesn't apply here: after all, the government is the defendant; it isn't prosecuting anything.  Moreover, it's the plaintiffs who bear the burden on the "superior knowledge" defense.

The case thus involves an evidentiary state secrets privilege in the old-fashioned sense--a privilege that applies (or not) to individual pieces of evidence, and not to entire cases, even purely private cases, as we've seen in the lower courts more recently.  But the Court could nevertheless use the case to signal its direction with the cases, like Mohamed, that involve the government's far more sweeping assertions of the privilege, and therefore it's one to watch.


September 29, 2010 in Executive Authority, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

First Amendment Protects Michigan Assistant AG's "Political Campaign" Against University Student President?

UPDATE: The Michigan Assistant AG has been terminated.

UPDATE: The Michigan Assistant AG has apparently taken a "leave of absence."


The CNN report by Anderson Cooper is worth watching:



The blog "Chris Armstrong Watch,"  by the Assistant AG is entirely devoted to Chris Armstrong, the student body president.  The Michigan student newspaper has quoted the statement of Michigan AG Mike Cox:

“All state employees have a right to free speech outside working hours,” Cox said in a statement yesterday, according to the Free Press. “But Mr. Shirvell’s immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

For ConLawProfs looking for an in-class exercise testing the limits of Pickering as well as discussing Garcetti v. Ceballos this would make good material.

RR   (h/t Steve Sanders)

September 29, 2010 in Current Affairs, First Amendment, Sexual Orientation, Speech, Teaching Tips, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Civil Gideon Resource

The Philadelphia Bar Association recently launched its Civil Gideon Corner, an on-line resource page for all things Civil Gideon (including activities of the Bar Association's Civil Gideon Task Force).

According to the site,

The term "civil Gideon" refers to a growing national movement that has developed to explore strategies to provide legal counsel, as a matter of right and at public expense, to low-income persons in civil legal proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter and child custody.

The new site complements the site for the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.

We've covered issues related to Civil Gideon here, here, and here.


September 28, 2010 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Regulatory Takings Conference at UC-Berkeley

Is the "takings revolution" over?  This conference "explores the regulatory takings issue as it relates to land use and environmental regulation" and "brings together a diverse group of leading scholars and experienced practitioners to discuss cutting-edge issues raised by recent and pending court cases and new regulatory initiatives."

Picture 1


"Some topics to be discussed include the Supreme Court's recent Stop the Beach Renourishment decision, the future of the "judicial takings" theory, takings questions raised by sea level rise and other consequences of climate change, controversial new decisions applying an expansive interpretation of the Penn Central analysis, and recent takings cases involving water and endangered species laws."

For more information: Brochure  and registration (through Vermont Law School).


September 28, 2010 in Conferences, Takings Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Can the NJ Chief Justice Fill a Vacancy on the State Supreme Court?

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner earlier this month assigned Judge Edwin H. Stern, head of the state Superior Court Appellate Division, to temporarily fill a vacant seat on the state high court.  The temporary assignment comes in the wake of Republican Governor Chris Christie's refusal to reappoint Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallce and to nominate Anne Patterson to replace him.  Democrats in the legislature have refused to schedule a confrimation hearing for Patterson, thus leaving the vacancy.

To scholars and students of the federal Constitution, Chief Justice Rabner's move may seem surprising.  After all, can we imagine Chief Justice Roberts appointing a replacement for Justice Kagan in those cases in which she will recuse herself this term?  Temporary assignments by designation are routine in the federal circuit courts, but an assignment by the Chief to the Supreme Court itself, even if only temporary, would raise Appointments Clause and separation-of-powers problems.

Not (necessarily) so under the New Jersey state constitution.  The state constitution of 1947 contains its own appointments Clause, vesting appointment of state supreme court justices in the governor, with advice and consent of the state sentate.  But it goes on:

The Supreme Court shall consist of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices.  Five members of the court shall constitute a quorum.  When necessary, the Chief Justice shall assign the Judge or Judges of the Superior Court, senior in service, as provided by rules of the Supreme Court, to serve temporarily in the Supreme Court.

New Jersey Constitution, Article VI, section 2, paragraph 1.

Justice Wallace's departure does not create a quorum problem, so the question is: Does this provision empower (or require) Chief Rabner to assign Judge Stern to the court?

Earl Maltz, Distinguished Prof at Rutgers Camden, argues in this Federalist Society briefing paper that it does not.  Maltz traces the text, history, purpose, and practices of the provision and concludes that "[w]hen necessary" means when the court lacks a quorum.  According to Maltz, because the vacancy creates no quorum problem, Chief Rabner lacks authority here.


September 28, 2010 in Appointment and Removal Powers, Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Interpretation, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Washington High Court Upholds State Internet Gambling Ban

The Washington Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld the state's ban on internet gambling against a Dormant Commerce Clause challenging, ruling that the ban was not "clearly excessive" in relation to legitimate state interests.

The case, Rousso v. State of Washington, involved a Washington statute that criminalizes "the knowing transmission and reception of gambling information by various means, including use of the Internet."  The plaintiff, a Washington would-be gambler, claimed that the statute discriminated against out-of-staters in its effects and that Washington could have achieved its objectives by merely regulating, not completely banning, internet gambling.

The high court disagreed.  In an opinion chock full of deference to the legislature and liberally laced with separation-of-powers and institutional competence concerns, the court ruled that the ban did not discriminate against out-of-staters, either on its face or in effect.  It thus applied the familiar test that an evenhanded law does not violate the Commerce Clause if (1) there is a legitimate state purpose and (2) the burden imposed on interstate commerce is not "clearly excessive" in relation to the law's benefit. 

Here, the state was concerned about gambling addiction, underage gambling, money laundering, and organized crime--clearly legitimate state purposes.  The court ruled that the ban was not "clearly excessive" because any lesser action--regulation of internet gambling, e.g.--would be unduly burdensome and would not similarly achieve the benefits of the ban.  Even though the state regulates, not bans, "brick and mortar gambling operations," similar state regulation of internet gambling "would be an interstate-commerce burdening nightmare."

The court found Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co. instructive:

There the Minnesota legislature banned the retail sale of milk in plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers because they presented a solid waste management problem, caused energy waste, and depleted natural resources.  Other nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, such as ones made from paperboard, raised similar concerns but were not banned. . . .

Even though plastic and paperboard nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers caused the same ultimate ills, the Supreme Court . . . held the ban on plastic containers, which still permitted paperboard containers, was consistent with the dormant commerce clause.

Similarly, here "both brick and mortar gambling and Internet gambling pose many of the same threats to citizens' health, welfare, safety, and morals, yet only the latter is banned."


September 27, 2010 in Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Updating the ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act)

The constitutional protection of "privacy" in the internet age is a subject of ongoing debate.  As the NYT reports, Congress is considering "sweeping new regulations for the Internet," to include email, "Facebook" and "Skype" messaging.  Spy

Such revisions will, of course, be subject to challenge under the First and Fourth Amendments.   Jim Dempsey, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, testified before the Judiciary Committee and stressed the Fourth Amendment aspects of privacy, as well as highlighting the disarray of the current state of the law. 

Dempsey's appendix to his written testimony, discussing the current state of the law regarding protection for an email, demonstrates the doctrinal disorder:

ECPA, as interpreted by the Justice Department and the courts, provides a patchwork quilt of standards for governmental access to email. Under ECPA today, the status of a single email changes dramatically depending on where it is stored, how old it is, and even the district within which the government issues or serves its process.

Standards for access to the content of an email:
• Draft email stored on desktop computer – As an email is being drafted on a personʼs computer, that email is fully protected by the Fourth Amendment: the government must obtain a search warrant from a judge in order to seize the computer and the email.
• Draft email stored on gMail – However, if the person drafting the email uses a “cloud” service such as Googleʼs gMail, and stores a copy of the draft email with Google, intending to finish it and send it later, ECPA says that Google can be compelled to disclose the email with a mere subpoena. 18 U.S.C. 2703(b).
• Content of email in transit – After the person writing the email hits “send,” the email is again protected by the full warrant standard as it passes over the Internet. Most scholars and practitioners assume that the Fourth Amendment applies, but in any case the Wiretap Act requires a warrant to intercept an email in transit.
• Content of email in storage with service provider 180 days or less – Once the email reaches the inbox of the intended recipient, it falls out of the Wiretap Act and into the portion of ECPA known as the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2703(a). At least so long as the email is unopened, the service provider can be forced to disclose it to the government only with a warrant.
• Content of opened email in storage with service provider 180 days or less – The Justice Department argues that an email, once opened by the intended recipient, immediately loses the warrant protection and can be obtained from the service provider with a mere subpoena. (Under the same theory, the sender of an email immediately loses the warrant protection for all sent email stored with the senderʼs service provider.) The Ninth Circuit has rejected this argument. The question remains unsettled in the rest of the country. The Justice Department recently sought opened email in Colorado without a warrant; when the service provider resisted, the government withdrew its request, which means in effect that outside of the Ninth Circuit there may be one standard for service providers who comply with subpoenas and one for service providers who insist on a warrant.
• Content of email in storage with service provider more than 180 days – ECPA specifies that all email after 180 days loses the warrant protection and is available with a mere subpoena, issued without judicial approval.

Dempsey, written testimony at 15.

ConLawProfs looking for a provocative class discussion or exercise could attempt to elucidate the constitutional theory underpinnings of the current state of email protection, or make arguments regarding the government's attempts to include "Facebook" or "Skype," or the application to the military's  "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as construed by a judge who considered the military's use of private emails in her conclusion that the policy is unconstitutional.


[image via]

September 27, 2010 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Privacy, Speech, Teaching Tips, Theory, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Government Moves to Dismiss Targeted Killing Case

The government on Friday filed its legal arguments in support of its motion to dismiss Nasser Al-Aulaqi's case against it for allegedly designating his son Anwar Al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen living in Yemen and allegedly supporting al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, for targeted killing.  Thanks to Rachel Mabbott for the heads-up.

The government proffers three principal arguments, each of which reveals a little more about the legal authority it claims for targeted killings in the first place.  Thus, the government argues that Nasser Al-Aulaqi, as Anwar's next-of-friend, lacks standing.  The government argues that Nasser failed to show the imminence of harm necessary to support standing (because, after all, the whole program is secret--see below) and that Anwar could access the courts by turning himself over to U.S. authorities.

Next, the government argues that the case is barred by the political question doctrine.  The government argues that judicial action in the case would intrude upon the foreign affairs and national security powers of the President in violation of separation-of-powers principles.  In short, the courts are not well suited to evaluate this kind of claim.  Moreover, the government argues that it has clear authority to engage in targeted killing (without admitting that it has targeted Al-Aulaqi) under the AUMF and international law.

Finally, the government argues that its assertion of the state secrets privilege requires complete dismissal.  Emboldened by the recent Ninth Circuit decision in Mohamed v. Jeppesen, the government argues that the case should be dismissed on the pleadings based on its assertion of the privilege and the court's ex parte and in camera review of it own affidavits supporting the assertion.  The government goes one step farther than the Ninth Circuit's ruling in Mohamed, however, and argues that the privilege is rooted in constitutional principles (citing the Fourth Circuit's decision in El-Masri)--a dangerous argument not supported by Mohamed (or any other authority except El-Masri, for that matter) and taking the courts out of the equation entirely (as I argue in detail here).  While the government is careful to argue the privilege as a last resort--and with all the procedural protections built in by the Holder Justice Department--its claim here is still breathtaking and means that the government could order the targeted killing of a U.S. citizen on its own say-so, with no judicial oversight.  The government gives a glimpse of the kind of information it seeks to protect here:

Resolution of the plaintiff's claim therefore would require the Court to answer a range of questions, even apart from the question of whether the plaintiff's son has been targeted: What kind of threat, if any, does plaintiff's son pose?  If there is a threat, how imminent is it, and how continuing is it?  How many innocent people are threatened by the danger plaintiff's son might pose?  In the totality of the circumstances does the United States have the capability and access to capture plaintiff's son safely?  In trying to capture him, how many innocent people or military personnel would likely be killed or injured in the process?  It is self-evident that all the above questions (and more) directly implicate information protected by the military and state secrets privilege, at a minimum because those facts would require the examination of any available and pertinent classified intelligence that might exist on the subject, as well as the sources or methods for gathering that intelligence, and any related information concerning foreign relations and diplomatic communications.

. . .

Finally, plaintiff also raises a claim under the Fifth Amendment that expressly seeks disclosure of alleged secret criteria governing the targeting of U.S. citizens engaged in terrorist activities with lethal force.  Such a disclosure would reveal not only whether such targeting has occurred or been considered in any given case but would disclose to the plaintiff and any potential target the criteria utilized by the Government to make this determination.  It strains credulity to argue that the Due Process Clause requires the Government to disclose to Answer al-Aulaqi, an operational leader of the [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], whatever criteria it may be applying to respond to his activities.

Thus the government follows the Ninth Circuit's lead in invoking the privilege quite carefully, with protections (or saying that it's invoking the privilege carefully with protections), but in the end its sweep is every bit as broad as the more cavalier invocations by the prior administration and the Fourth Circuit in El-Masri


September 26, 2010 in Executive Authority, Fundamental Rights, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Political Question Doctrine, Procedural Due Process, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, State Secrets, War Powers | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Miranda and Television: Anthony Franze, Justice Sotomayor, and the Roberts Court

Miranda warnings are a staple of "TV cop shows," and have become so ubiquitous that persons arrested in Canada, Australia, the U.K., and presumably other nations, reportedly protest when they do not receive their Arrest "Miranda warnings."   The warnings are, of course, derived from the United States Supreme Court case of Miranda v. Arizona, decided in 1966.  But are the protections about to be relegated to television, as one attorney has suggested, or perhaps to the bygone "television era"?

Justice Sotomayor, when asked by a law student about Berghuis v. Thompkins, in which she dissented, stated that she does not think that the Roberts Court is "eroding" Miranda.  

In an article just published in Harvard Law and Policy Review Online, Anthony Franze makes a compelling argument that Sotomayor's comment is incorrect, and indeed quotes Sotomayor's dissenting opinion in support of his position:

To borrow from Justice Sotomayor’s Berghuis dissent, the new rules “turn[] Miranda upside down,” reflect “a substantial retreat from the protections against compelled self-incrimination,” “ignore[] the important interests Miranda safeguards,” and “bode[] poorly for the fundamental principles that Miranda protects.”

Franze considers Berghuis, as well as Florida v. Powell and Maryland v. Shatzer, and concludes that these cases reaffirm that the Court will not overrule Miranda in a single, headline-grabbing decision. Rather, the case has been condemned to a death by a thousand cuts."   As for the future, Franze sees Sotomayor as the Justice "who may turn out to be the most forceful, if unexpected, advocate for Miranda in Stevens’s absence," because although she joined the majorities in Powell and Shatzer," giving "early signals were that her years as a prosecutor and judge may have left her no friend of Miranda,"  it is " those practical experiences that may, as in her vigorous dissent in Berghuis, render her loath to place further limits on Miranda." 

As for the newest Justice, Franze discusses Kagan's record, but notes that her views as Solicitor General do not necessarily predict her views as Supreme Court Justice.

There has certainly been much discussion about last term's Miranda cases, including an excellent article by Professor Kit Kinports, available on ssrn here, and commentary by our colleagues over at CrimProfBlog

Franze's article adds to the literature, certainly, but it also serves as a great overview for ConLawProfs who may have not fully engaged with constitutional criminal procedure developments last term.


[image via]

September 26, 2010 in Criminal Procedure, Fifth Amendment, Recent Cases, Scholarship, Sixth Amendment, Television, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Banned Books Week"

The last week in September is the American Library Association's "Banned Books Week":  "an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment," which "highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States."

 A classic example of the situation "banned books week" is meant to address occurred earlier this month when a school board in Stockton, Missouri unanimously banned Sherman Alexie's National Book Award winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian from the school curriculum.  Lists of the most frequently banned books (which almost always include the legal classic To Kill a Mockingbird) are available here. 


Less usually understood within the purview of "banned books" are prison policies, but federal district judge James Turk's opinion in Couch v. Jabe declaring the Virginia prison policy unconstitutional is certainly in the same spirit.  Judge Turk quotes Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and mentions many other classics, concluding that the prison book policy is not reasonable but an "exaggerated response" to prison conditions. 

And from Alaska, a new statute known as SB 222 is being challenged for its overbreadth in criminalizing books "harmful to minors."  According to an article by Jill Burke in Alaska Dispatch:

The Alaska Library Association is concerned library patrons might be denied access to art books like "The World of Picasso" by Lael Tucker Wertenbaker or the sex education classic "Our Bodies, Ourselves" by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. . . . .  David Cheezem of Fireside Books wonders if works like "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, which contains sexual references, will have to be removed from his website.

More information on the Alaska challenge, including the complaint, is available here.


[image via]

September 25, 2010 in Books, Current Affairs, First Amendment, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Ask, Don't Tell: Unconstitutional as Applied to Major Margaret Witt

In an opinion today, Judge Ronald Leighton of the Western District of Washington, concluded:

The application of “Don't Ask Don’t Tell” to Major Margaret Witt does not significantly further the government’s interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion. Her discharge from the Air Force Reserves violated her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be restored to her position as a Flight Nurse with the 446th AES as soon as is practicable, subject to meeting applicable regulations touching upon qualifications necessary for continued service.

Opinion at 14-15.  The Judge entered his opinion after the case on remand from the Ninth Circuit on the plaintiff’s substantive and procedural due process claims.  Witt v. Department of the Air Force, 527 F.3d 806, 813 (9th Cir. 2008).  "On remand, this Court was directed to determine whether the specific application of DADT to Major Witt significantly furthers the government’s interest, and whether less intrusive means would substantially achieve the government’s interest." Witt, 527 F.3d at 821. 

401px-Margaret_Witt_01 The standard to be applied was "something more than traditional rational basis review."  Opinion at 2. As the Court understood the Ninth Circuit standard, to  "survive plaintiff’s constitutional challenge, the statute must (1) advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest." Opinion at 7.

Regarding the first requirement, the Court noted that the parties agree "that the important government interest is directed at unit morale, good order, discipline, and cohesion."  Opinion at 9.  But the Court found that the Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy's application to Witt  did not advance a government interest, but indeed, to "the contrary, the actions taken against Major Witt had the opposite effect."  Opinion at 11.

This finding - - - that the government interest that the DADT policy is intended to serve is actually undermined by the DADT policy - - - is similar to the finding by Judge Virginia Phillips earlier this month in her opinion concluding the DADT policy is unconstitutional.

The Seattle Times has the comments of Judge Leighton after he delivered his opinion - - - a statement that acknowledges that Margaret Witt will face additional obstacles.


[image: Margaret Witt, via]

September 24, 2010 in Due Process (Substantive), Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ninth Circuit Rejects Standing Based on Informational Injury

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit today ruled in The Wilderness Society v. Rey that The Wilderness Society's claim for "informational injury" was insufficient to support Article III standing under the Supreme Court's 2009 ruling Summers v. Earth Island Institute.  The panel thus dismissed the Wilderness Society's case against the chief of the U.S. Forest Service challenging the Service's regulations as violating the Forest Service Decisionmaking and Appeals Reform Act (ARA).

The case involves three Forest Service regulations issued in 2003 that limited the Service's notice, comment, and appeals related to Service projects and activities implementing land and resource management plans.  Here's a quick summary of the regs, all in Title 36 C.F.R.:

  • Sec. 215.20(b) exempts decisions of the Secretary and Under Secretary from notice, comment, and appeal requirements.
  • Sec. 215.13(a) limits the right to appeal Forest Service decisions related to a land or resource management plan only to those who provided substantive comments on the plan.
  • Sec. 215.12(f) exempts from appeal those projects that the Service finds not to have a significant effect on the environment.

The problem?  According to the Wilderness Society, the regs violate the ARA, which requires the unqualified application of notice, comment, and appeals procedures to "projects and activities implementing land and resource management plans."

With respect to 20(b), the Wilderness Society argued that it had an injury-in-fact supporting Article III standing based upon an "informational injury" resulting from "the violation of the obligation to provide notice."  The court rejected this argument.  It held that in order to support standing based upon an informational injury, "the ARA must grant a right to information capable of supporting a lawsuit."  Op. at 16110.  But the ARA grants no such right; rather, the ARA is designed "to allow the public opportunity to comment on the proposals."  "Notice is provided as a predicate for public comment"--a procedural right.  Op. at 16111. 

The ARA's requirement for information is merely instrumental--to support the public's participation--and only gives rise to the kind of procedural injury that Summers foreclosed for standing purposes.

The court distinguished a line of cases that found a statutory right to information, the violation of which did give rise to informational standing under the FOIA, the Fair Housing Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  Op. at 16110.  The court quoted the Seventh Circuit to illustrate the difference here:

In short, statutes like FOIA and FACA that have served as the basis for informational standing have a goal of providing information to the public; the ARA's goal is simply to increase public participation in the decision-making process.  The difference in purposes seems to believe [the] claim that the ARA provides a right to information.

Op. at 16122 (quoting Bensman v. United States Forest Service, 408 F.3d 945 (7th Cir. 2005).

(The court also rejected the Society's claim for standing to challenge 12(f) based upon a member's recreational and aesthetic injuries.  The court ruled that the claimed injuries were not sufficiently specific.)


September 22, 2010 in Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Florida appellate court: homosexual adoption ban unconstitutional

A Florida appellate court has declared Florida's ban of adoption of children by "homosexuals" unconstitutional.  The 42 page  opinion by the Third District Court of Appeal, affirms the finding of a trial court in late 2008, which we discussed here.

The appellate court relied upon the equality clause of the state constitution, Art. I, § 2, Fla. Const. ("All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess and protect property...").  


The court used a rational basis level of scrutiny, noting that the Florida Department of Children and Families "has argued that evidence produced by its experts and F.G.’s experts supports a distinction wherein homosexual persons may serve as foster parents or guardians, but not adoptive parents. Respectfully, the portions of the record cited by the Department do not support the Department’s position. We conclude that there is no rational basis for the statute."  Opinion at 26.

The appellate court observed that Florida was the only state to have such a ban.  [Recall the Arkansas attempt which we discussed here].    And in footnote 1, the court stated:

We note that our ruling is unlikely to be the last word. The Florida Constitution states that a party may appeal to the Supreme Court of Florida when there is a
decision of a district court of appeal “declaring invalid a state statute.” Art. V, §
3(b)(1), Fla. Const.

Presumably, the state will appeal.


[image: Porträt des Bildhauers Aubé mit seinem Sohn, by Paul Gauguin, via]

September 22, 2010 in Equal Protection, Family, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Inspector General Reviews FBI Investigations of Advocacy Groups

The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General released a report today concluding that the FBI did not target five domestic advocacy groups and one individual on the basis of their protected First Amendment activities between January 2001 and December 2006.  But the report also concluded that the FBI opened some investigations with a weak factual predication, unnecessarily labeled some activities as domestic terrorism, and maintained irrelevant information about targets' protected First Amendment activities too long.   

While the OIG concluded that the FBI did not target groups for their protected activities, it noted that the investigations and classifications did have "practical impacts":

However, in some cases, we found that the FBI extended the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without sufficient basis.  This had practice impacts on subjects, whose names were maintained on watchlists as a result and whose travels and interactions with law enforcement were tracked.  For example, the FBI continued to collect information about the international travel of two subjects of a PETA-related investigation after the point that the underlying justification for the case ceased to exist.

. . .

The domestic terrorism classification had impact beyond any stigma resulting from the public release of the documents under FOIA.  For example, persons who are subjects of domestic terrorism investigations are normally placed on watchlists, and their travels and interactions with law enforcement may be tracked. 

The OIG concluded that the FBI's activities by and large did not violate the Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations.  (There was an exception: The FBI violated the Guidelines when it sent an agent "to look for terrorism subjects at an anti-war rally."  The OIG called this an "ill-conceived project on a slow work day.")  But it also noted that the 2008 Guidelines loosened the standard for retention of information related to attendance at public events.  (The report recommended tightening them back up.)

The report included six recommendations, two of which addressed the "inconsistent and erroneous" statements about the Pittsburgh Field Division's surveillance of a Merton Center anti-war rally.  The report also recommended requiring identification of a federal crime as part of the predication that triggers an investigation, revising the Guidelines to prohibit the retention of irrelevant "First Amendment material" from public events, clarifying when "First Amendment cases" should be classified as terrorism cases, and conducting a review of recent domestic terrorism cases out of the Pittsburgh Division.

The report examined FBI activities related to six different organizations and individuals: The Thomas Merton Center of Pittsburgh; PETA; Greenpeace USA; The Catholic Worker; Glen Milner (an individual); and The Religious Society of Friends. 


September 20, 2010 in Association, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Marijuana Legalization as a Civil Rights Issue

Marijuana plant Editorializing about the "war on drugs" as a war not on the "drug lords and violent cartels" but a war " that disproportionately impacts young men and women and is the latest tool for imposing Jim Crow on poor African Americans,"  Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, supports California's Proposition 19 in the San Francisco Chronicle here

Huffman has joined other voices in favor of legalizing marijuana, including arguments regarding an extension of Lawrence v. Texas to include marijuana legalization, which we discussed here.

Marijuana legalization by California (or any state) raises a potential federalism or Tenth Amendment issue since marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law. 


[image via]

September 18, 2010 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Federalism, Medical Decisions, Race, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Constitution Day

September 17 is Constitution Day - - - or Constitution and Citizenship Day - - - as declared by Congress.   The day commemorates the signing of the Constitution in 1787.

However, this is no mere resolution.  The law, codified at 36 U.S.C. § 106, includes a provision that:

Each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States  Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.

So, here's the question: What is your institution doing - - - and are you taking part in it?  If you are, what are you doing?  Focusing on the signers of the Constitution?  Discussing the amendments to the Constitution, including the Fourteenth?  Including "Citizenship"?  Linking the commemoration of the Constitution to current controversies?

September 17, 2010 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Facial Challenge to VRA to be Decided on Summary Judgment

Judge Bates of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia today ruled that a facial challenge to the Voting Rights Act may be decided on the pleadings and ordered the government to respond to the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

The case, Shelby County v. Holder involves a facial challenge to Sections 4(b) and 5 (preclearance) of the VRA.  Soon after filing the complaint, Shelby County moved for summary judgment.  The government asked the court to deny the motion as premature or to order discovery.  Judge Bates declined and ordered the government instead to respond to Shelby County's motion.

In so ruling, Judges Bates concluded that the only relevant evidence in the case is the 2006 legislative record--the actual evidence of contemporary discrimination in voting that Congress considered when it reauthorized Section 5 preclearance for another 25 years.  Judge Bates:

[A]t oral argument, the Court asked if any counsel--who collectively have a very broad experience--could identify a case in which the Supreme Court decided the facial constitutionality of an act of Congress based on facts unique to the specific plaintiff bringing the lawsuit.  None could.  Yet that is the discovery the government and defendant-intervenors seek here. . . .  [T]he constitutionality of the VRA must rise or fall on the record that Congress created when it extended that act in 2006.

The government had argued that it needed discovery to determine whether to challenge the plaintiff's standing, whether the plaintiff might bail out of the Section 5 preclearance requirement, and whether the VRA was unconstitutional.  Judge Bates ruled that none of these reasons required discovery.

Shelby County is one of the facial challenges to VRA preclearance in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2009 ruling in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder.  In that case, the Court declined to reach the constitutional question (although it was quite skeptical of that current conditions could justify preclearance); instead it ruled that the District qualified for bailout under the VRA.

Judge Bates ordered the government to file its response to Shelby County's motion for summary judgment by November 15.


September 16, 2010 in Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Civin and Adegbile Analyze Twombly and Iqbal

Joshua Civin and Debo Adegbile of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund just published Restoring Access to Justice: The Impact of Iqbal and Twombly on Federal Civil Rights Litigation, an American Constitution Society Issue Brief on Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal that walks readers through the impact of these cases in plain language and explores congressional responses.  From the Brief:

The names Yick Wo, Heman Sweatt, Pete Hernandez, Clarence Gideon, Annie Harper, Mildred and Richard Loving, and Willie Griggs are barely known to the American public, but the nation they helped forge is their lasting legacy.  These individuals went to court, and their ability to do so literally changed our understanding of citizenship, access to education, jury service, the right to counsel, access to the voting booth, marriage, and equal employment opportunity.  Indeed, much of our nation's progress toward the Constitutional aspiration of a "more perfect Union" occurred because these and other ordinary people have had ready access to litigate meritorious but often novel or difficult-to-prove cases in our courts.

. . .

Recently, however, in a pair of decisions, the Supreme Court skewed the balance away from access to courts by elevating the threshold standard that all plaintiffs must meet to pursue legal claims.  In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Court suddenly and without clear necessity overturned well-settled law and imposed a more stringent standard for federal cases to survive.  These decisions, by dramatically frontloading litigation and inviting judges to substitute their threshold personal judgments in place of evidence, go far beyond the familiar "verdict first, trial second" problem of which high-profile defendants complain.  Instead, under Twombly and Iqbal, we now risk a world in which meritorious claims face "dismissal first, trial never."

We posted most recently on the cases here.


September 15, 2010 in Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Recent Cases, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)