Tuesday, May 7, 2013
The Louisiana Supreme Court today ruled that the state's school voucher program violates the state constitution. In particular, the court ruled that the voucher program tapped the constitutionally protected per pupil state fund for public education and that the legislature passed the funding mechanism in violation of state constitutional procedural requirements.
The ruling deals a fatal blow to this funding mechanism for the state's voucher program. But the state could probably create a voucher program and fund it through a different budget mechanism (e.g., a regular line item, instead of the state's specifically reserved per pupil fund for public education). The ruling thus puts the ball back in the governor's and legislature's court--to create a new mechanism for the voucher program, and to come up with the money to fund it. (Here's Governor Jindal's statement in reaction to the ruling.) Even if this happens, the ruling underscores the constitutional protection for separately allocated per pupil fund for public education in the state.
The ruling, Louisiana Federation of Teachers v. State of Lousiana, arose out of state constitutional challenges to the state's recently encacted voucher program. That program diverted state funds separately allocated for public education (under the "minimum foundation program," or MFP) to private schools "on behalf of each student awarded a scholarship" under the voucher program. The program came in two parts: Act 2 created the voucher program; and Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 99 approved the MFP line-item but diverted MFP funds to support Act 2 vouchers.
The court ruled that the provisions violated Louisiana Constitution Article VIII, Sec. 13(B), which requires the legislature to "fully fund the current cost to the state" of "a minimum foundation program of education in all public elementary and secondary schools," and the "funds appropriated shall be equitably allocated to parish and city school systems." According to the court, Section 13(B) requires that MFP funds be used to support public education only, even if some of the students used to calculate the MFP base elected to go to private school. In short, when Section 13(B) says that MFP funds "shall" be allocated to public schools, it means they shall be allocated only to public schools--and can't be diverted to private schools.
The court also ruled that SCR 99 violated Article III, Sec. 2(A)(3)(a), which says (in relevant part):
No new matter intended to have the effect of law shall be introduced or received by either house after six o'clock in the evening of the twenty-third calendar day.
After some analysis of "the effect of law," the court concluded that SCR 99 violated this provision, because it was introduced in both houses after the twenty-third calendar day of the regular session. (The court ruled that it also violated a related provision, requiring a 2/3 vote after a certain date. Ultimately the court noted that in the House it didn't even get a "majority of the members elected," as required by Article III, Sec. 15(G).)
At the same time, the court ruled that the voucher package didn't violate the constitution's "one-object" rule, requiring each piece of legislation to deal with just one object. The court said the legislation was indeed quite lengthy, but still it all went to the same general object--promoting school choice.
Monday, May 6, 2013
The 2009 sharply divided Supreme Court opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal is the centerpiece of the new book, The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption by Laurence Leamer. Recall that the Court in Caperton ruled that due process required judicial recusal of a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge, Justice Brent Benjamin, in a case involving Massey Coal because of the contributions by Massey Coal to Justice Benjamin's campaign.
The starred review from Publisher's Weekly describes the book as
the riveting and compulsively readable tale of the epic battle between Don Blankenship, the man who essentially ran the West Virginia coal industry through his company Massey Energy, and two seemingly ordinary attorneys: Bruce Stanley and David Fawcett. The centerpiece of the story is a West Virginia mine owner whom Blankenship purposefully bankrupted, and on whose behalf Stanley and Fawcett won (in 2002) a $50 million dollar verdict that is still unpaid. In hopes of having the ruling overturned by the West Virginia Supreme Court, Blankenship sought to “buy” a seat on the court by contributing over $3 million to the successful campaign of a conservative judicial candidate. However, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually found that Blankenship’s contributions were too much to allow the new West Virginia justice to hear the case. Leamer has produced a Shakespearean tale of greed, corporate irresponsibility, and personal hubris on the one hand, and idealism, commitment to justice, and personal sacrifice on the other. Blankenship is a villain for all time, and Stanley and Fawcett are lawyers who bring honor to their profession.
A good addition to that summer reading list for anyone interested in constitutional law and anyone who might like a reminder that lawyers can, indeed, be heroic.
Friday, May 3, 2013
The hunger strike amongst prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has led to force-feeding, a situation prompting the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN to issue a statement reiterating the disapproval of Guantanamo and remind the United States that:
in cases involving people on hunger strikes, the duty of medical personnel to act ethically and the principle of respect for individuals’ autonomy, among other principles, must be respected. Under these principles, it is unjustifiable to engage in forced feeding of individuals contrary to their informed and voluntary refusal of such a measure. Moreover, hunger strikers should be protected from all forms of coercion, even more so when this is done through force and in some cases through physical violence. Health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike. Nor is it acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have voluntarily decided to go on a hunger strike.
New York's highest court, in its opinion in Bezio v. Dorsey regarding a state prisoner on a hunger strike reached an opposite conclusion. The court's majority stated:
The issue before us is whether Dorsey's rights were violated by a judicial order permitting the State to feed him by nasogastric tube after his health devolved to the point that his condition became life-threatening. We answer that question in the negative.
Yet the question of Dorsey's "rights" that were properly before the court occupied the bulk of the majority and dissenting opinions. The state Department of Corrections and Correctional Services (DOCCS) had originally sought the judicial order relating to Dorsey, a "serial hunger striker," which Dorsey resisted with pragmatic rather than constitutional arguments. But the state relied heavily on previous New York law - - - including a case involving Mark Chapman, the man convicted of murdering John Lennon - - - to support the constitutionality of forced-feeding.
Chief Judge Lippman, dissenting (and joined by Judge Rivera) argued that there were too many factual distinctions, including any finding that the prisoner or the institution was actually in danger.
As noted, DOCCS's own consulting psychiatrist stated flatly in his assessment that Mr. Dorsey was not suicidal. He was undoubtedly manipulative [as the doctor had stated], but all civil disobedience is manipulative. Manipulativeness, obviously, is not a sufficient predicate for forced feeding by the State.
While concluding that the issues are not properly before the court, and that the case is moot under state constitutional doctrine, the dissenting judges nevertheless concluded
The right to refuse treatment, we have held, is a kind of liberty interest within the protective ambit of the Due Process Clause of the State Constitution. While the right may be overcome in compelling circumstances justifying the state's resort to its police power and the state may thus intervene to prevent suicide, the individual's basic prerogative to make decisions affecting his or her own personal health and right to be left alone, i.e. to personal privacy, ordinarily will trump even the best intended state intervention.
For the majority of the court, however, the balance articulated in Turner v. Safley (1987) was easily resolved in favor of the legitimate penological interests of the prison, including the risk of a "significant destabilizing impact on the institution" by an inmate hunger strike, to allow force feeding an inmate.
May 3, 2013 in Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, International, Medical Decisions, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The general perception that Congress has been recalcitrant regarding President Obama's nominees to the federal bench can be tested against the Congressional Research Service report, President Obama’s First-Term U.S. Circuit and District Court Nominations: An Analysis and Comparison with Presidents Since Reagan, authored by Barry J. McMillion.
During the first terms of the five most recent Presidents (Reagan to Obama), the 30 confirmed Obama circuit court nominees were tied with 30 Clinton nominees as the fewest number of circuit nominees confirmed. The percentage of circuit nominees confirmed during President Obama’s first term, 71.4%, was the second-lowest, while the percentage confirmed during G.W. Bush’s first term, 67.3%, was the lowest.
For district judges, the report declares:
President Obama’s first term, compared with the first terms of Presidents Reagan to G.W. Bush, had the second-fewest number of district court nominees confirmed (143 compared with 130 for President Reagan) and the second-lowest percentage of district court nominees confirmed (82.7% compared with 76.9% for President G.H.W. Bush).
As to the timeliness of the process, the report states:
President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).
The 31 page report has many specific details and statistics. It's definitely worth a read for anyone interested in the federal judiciary.
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."