Thursday, August 29, 2013
Ninth Circuit Upholds California Ban on Reparative (Sexual Orientatation Conversion)Therapy Against First Amendment Challenge
A panel of the Ninth Circuit today upheld the validity of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18.
In its 36 page opinion in the consolidated cases of Pickup v. Brown and Welch v. Brown, the court reversed the senior district judge's opinion in Welch v. Brown enjoining the statute, and affirmed the opinion of a different district judge in Pickup v. Brown that had found the statute constitutional, and dissolved its own injunction pending appeal issued last December.
Judge Susan Graber, writing for the unanimous panel also consisting of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and Judge Morgan Christen, Judge Graber summarized the holding thusly:
SB 1172, as a regulation of professional conduct, does not violate the free speech rights of SOCE practitioners or minor patients, is neither vague nor overbroad, and does not violate parents’ fundamental rights.
(1) doctor-patient communications about medical treatment receive substantial First Amendment protection, but the government has more leeway to regulate the conduct necessary to administering treatment itself;
(2) psychotherapists are not entitled to special First Amendment protection merely because the mechanism used to deliver mental health treatment is the spoken word; and
(3) nevertheless, communication that occurs during psychotherapy does receive some constitutional protection, but it is not immune from regulation.
(emphasis in original). The panel concluded that there is a continuum between speech and conduct, and that SB 1172 landed toward conduct, "where the state's power is great, even though such regulation may have an incidental effect on speech." Applying a rational basis standard, the court rejected the claim that California legislature acted irrationally.
The court quickly dispatched the remaining arguments including that SB 1172 violated the right of "expressive association" as between counselors and clients, that SB 1172 was void for vagueness, that SB 1172 was overbroad, and that SB1172 violated the parents' fundamental due process rights over their children.
This is an important and well-reasoned decision likely to be persuasive to other courts, including the federal district judge deciding the constitutional challenge to New Jersey's similar statute.