Thursday, November 6, 2014
The Sixth Circuit's opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder upheld the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage bans in several states, reversing the district court decisions in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The majority opinion, authored by Judge Jeffrey Sutton and joined by Judge Deborah Cook begins by invoking judicial restraint and democratic processes: "This is a case about change—and how best to handle it under the United States Constitution." Such an opening may not be surprising given Judge Sutton's published views such as this from a Harvard Law Review piece favoring "a return to a world in which the state courts and state legislatures are on the front lines when it comes to rights innovation."
Dissenting, Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, begins with a scathing assessment of Judge Sutton's opinion:
The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal: whether a state’s constitutional prohibition of same-sex marriage violates equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.
For the majority, the operative precedent is Baker v. Nelson, the United States Supreme Court's 1972 dismissal of a same-sex marriage ban challenge "for want of substantial federal question." The opinion distinguishes Windsor v. United States as limited to the federal government. The opinion also rejects the relevance of the Supreme Court's denial of certiorari from circuit decisions finding same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional: "The Court’s certiorari denials tell us nothing about the democracy-versus-litigation path to same-sex marriage, and they tell us nothing about the validity of any of these theories."
The majority also rejects the persuasive value of the opinions from the other circuits, again returning to the judicial restraint perspective:
There are many ways, as these lower court decisions confirm, to look at this question: originalism; rational basis review; animus; fundamental rights; suspect classifications; evolving meaning. The parties in one way or another have invoked them all. Not one of the plaintiffs’ theories, however, makes the case for constitutionalizing the definition of marriage and for removing the issue from the place it has been since the founding: in the hands of state voters.
In considering rational basis review (under either equal protection or due process), the majority finds that states can rationally incentivize marriage for heterosexual couples who "run the risk of unintended offspring" and that states might rationally chose to "wait and see" before changing the definition of marriage.
In considering animus (which might heighten the rational basis review to rational basis "plus"), the majority distinguishes both City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center and Romer v. Evans, stating that the state-wide initiatives banning same-sex marriage merely "codified a long-existing, widely held social norm already reflected in state law," rather than being novel acts of animus. Indeed, the majority states
What the Court recently said about another statewide initiative that people care passionately about applies with equal vigor here: “Deliberative debate on sensitive issues such as racial preferences all too often may shade into rancor. But that does not justify removing certain court-determined issues from the voters’ reach. Democracy does not presume that some subjects are either too divisive or too profound for public debate.” Schuette v. Coal. to Defend Affirmative Action[BAMN].
Moreover, in another portion of the opinion the majority addresses the possibility of heightened review under the Equal protection Clause based on level of scrutiny to be applied to sexual minorities and invokes Carolene Products. For the majority, the issue of political power is the key rationale for denying heightened scrutiny:
The Fourteenth Amendment does not insulate influential, indeed eminently successful, interest groups from a defining attribute of all democratic initiatives—some succeed, some fail—particularly when succeeding more and failing less are in the offing.
And in considering fundamental right to marriage under the Due Process Clause, the majority concluded marriage is not a fundamental right, distinguishing Loving v. Virginia as a case that "addressed, and rightly corrected, an unconstitutional eligibility requirement for marriage; it did not create a new definition of marriage." Moreover, if marriage were a fundamental right, this would call into question laws regarding divorce, polygamy, and age requirements.
The majority also rejects the "right to travel" argument as a rationale for recognizing valid out of state marriages.
Additionally, the majority articulates its constitutional interpretative strategies. In section B, entitled "Original meaning" and in Section G, entitled "Evolving meaning," the majority is very clear that one theory is more consistent with its view of judicial restraint.
The Sixth Circuit - - - as many predicted - - - has now created a split in the circuits on the question of the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans. The plaintiffs, who prevailed in the district court cases below, are sure to petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, perhaps bypassing seeking en banc review by the Sixth Circuit.
November 6, 2014 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
In a per curiam Order of the Federal Circuit in In re Reines, the court disciplined an attorney for disseminating to clients and potential clients a highly complimentary email from a judge, rejecting a First Amendment claim.
The email, from then-Chief Judge Rader, since resigned, was not only complimentary, but problematically implied an improper ability to influence.
As the Federal Circuit opinion noted:
The compliments here were centered in a private communication and both stated and implied a special relationship between the respondent and then- Chief Judge Rader. The comments to existing and potential clients invited respondent’s retention in future matters based on this relationship. Attorney speech which ‘‘state[s] or impl[ies] an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law,’’ Model Rules of Prof’l Conduct R. 8.4(e) (2014), is either misleading (because the attorney has no ability to influence the official) or, if true, solicits business based on an offer to improperly influence the public official.
The court rehearsed the Supreme Court's attorney commercial speech cases. It also distinguished the recent Third Circuit opinion in Dwyer v. Cappell finding a First Amendment violation by a New Jersey rule prohibiting excerpts from cases mentioning the attorney although the "full text" of the opinion was permitted.
The underlying email, worth reading in full:
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
In addition to the candidates, Tuesday's ballots contained a wide variety of proposed state constitutional amendments--from protecting and curtailing fundamental rights, to taxes, to structure and governance issues.
Maybe most notably, Colorado and North Dakota voters rejected a personhood amendment, while Tennessee voters approved an amendment giving lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.
Here's a sampling of other approved amendments:
Alabama voters passed an amendment to ban the use of foreign law in state courts, and another one to strengthen the state's constitutional right to hunt.
Illinois voters passed an amendment banning discrimination in the vote and another one that expands the rights of crime victims in the criminal justice system.
Mississippi voters aproved an amendment creating a right to hunt and fish.
Missouri voters approved an amendment to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes against children, and another one to limit the governor's ability to withhold money from the state budget.
North Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing criminal defendants to choose a judge or a jury trial.
South Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing certain nonprofits to hold raffles and use proceeds for charitable causes, and another allowing the governor to appoint the head of the South Carolina National Guard with consent of the Senate.
Tennessee approved four amendments: one to give lawmakers more power to regulate and restrict abortions; two to give more power to the governor in appointing judges (and to take that power away from a judicial nominating commission); three to forbid a state income tax; and four to allow the legislature to authorize lotteries to certain nonprofits.
Utah voters passed an amendment clarifying the term of an appointed lieutenant governor.
Virginia voters approved an amendment that exempts from local property taxes the home of a surviving spouse of an armed forces member who was killed in action.
Wisconsin voters approved an amendment that prevents governors and legislators from using state transportation funds for other purposes.
Here's a sampling of rejected amendments:
Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a personhood amendment.
Florida voters rejected a medical marijuana amendment. (Voters in other states also voted on marijuana initiatives, but Florida's was a proposed constitutional amendment.)
Idaho voters rejected an amendment that would allow the legislature to veto rules put in place by executive branch agencies.
Missouri voters rejected an amendment to evaluate K-12 teachers based on student performance instead of seniority, and another amendment to create a limited early voting period.
North Carolina voters rejected a personhood amendment.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
In a 38 page opinion in Marie v. Moser, Judge Daniel Crabtree held that Kansas' state constitutional provisions and statutes prohibiting same-sex marriages violates the Fourteenth Amendment.
This is not surprising given the Tenth Circuit's opinions in Bishop v. Smith (finding Oklahoma's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional) and Kitchen v. Herbert (finding Utah's same-sex marriage prohibition unconstitutional and the United States Supreme Court's denial of certiorari in these cases a month ago. As Judge Crabtree states: "When the Supreme Court or the Tenth Circuit has established a clear rule of law, our Court must follow it."
First, why is the opinion 38 pages? Shouldn't this opinion be more like last month's four page opinion by the Arizona federal judge stating that it is bound by the Circuit opinion? And indeed, Judge Crabtree's analysis of the Circuit precedent is relatively brief. However, Judge Crabtree's opinion also contains not only a brief discussion of the parties and the challenged laws, but a careful consideration of a variety of other matters including those related to justicability and jurisdiction:
- Standing (generally focusing on redressability, but including a claim that because the plaintiffs are a same-sex female couple, they cannot argue the constitutionality of the Kansas laws as applied to same-sex male couples);
- Eleventh Amendment
- Domestic Relations Exception to federal court jurisdiction
- Absention (including Pullman, Younger, Colorado River, Burford, Rooker-Feldman)
Additionally, Judge Crabtree considered an argument that the correct precedent was not the Tenth Circuit opinion, but a Kansas state court opinion (to which the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari).
Judge Crabtree rejected all of these arguments, but in a careful and considered manner.
Second, why did Judge Crabtree grant a stay to the defendants? Judge Crabtree's answer is related to the length of the opinion. He states that although
the Tenth Circuit has settled the substance of the constitutional challenge plaintiffs’ motion presents. And under the Circuit’s decisions, Kansas law is encroaching on plaintiffs constitutional rights. But defendants’ arguments have required the Court to make several jurisdictional and justiciability determinations, and human fallibility is what it is; the Circuit may come to a different conclusion about one of these threshold determinations. On balance, the Court concludes that a short-term stay is the safer and wiser course.
Thus Judge Crabtree stayed the injunction until November 11, unless the defendants inform the court they will not appeal. Perhaps the state officials in Kansas will conclude that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money as did the state officials in Arizona. Or perhaps not.
Monday, November 3, 2014
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the case testing whether Congress can require the State Department to list "Israel" as the country of birth for a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem, upon the request of that citizen. The State Department has long declined to list "Israel" (or "Palestinian Territories" or the like) as the country of birth on such a passport, in order to promote its long-standing position of neutrality with regard to sovereignty over Jerusalem. This case tests which branch gets to decide whether Congress, or the executive branch, gets to decide what goes on the passport.
If arguments are any indication, this'll be a 5-4 opinion, along conventional lines (conservatives for Congress; progressives for the President). In short, conservatives didn't seem to think the Act's place-of-birth designation mattered much to recognition or to foreign affairs (or, as Justice Kennedy suggested, that its impact could be mitigated), and therefore that the Act didn't seriously interfere with any exclusive powers of the presidency. Progressives took the opposite view.
Zivotofsky tried to steer the Court toward his argument that the country-of-birth deisgnation on a passport has nothing to do with official recognition of a foreign sovereign. This position could allow the Court to dodge a thorny separation-of-powers problem entirely, by hanging its hat on the idea that the country-of-birth designation serves only an identification purpose, not a sovereign-recognition purpose. If so, the Court could rule for Zivotofsky by saying that Congress can require anything it wants in the place-of-birth line, because it doesn't interfere with the President's recognition power. (Or, as the government argued, the Court could rule for the government, saying that the congressionally required designation in effect requires the President to issue a diplomatic communication that contradicts the President's own recognition and foreign policy. But this would require at least some consideration of constitutional separation of powers--in particular, whether the President's power of recognition is exclusive.)
This approach seemed to get the attention of the conservatives on the Court. In particular, Justices Kennedy and Scalia in different ways seemed to suggest that the country-of-birth designation didn't recognize sovereignty. (If not, however, Justice Kennedy at one point wondered why Congress would have passed it in the first place.) Justice Kennedy returned several times to the ideal of a State Department disclaimer--that State could just write a statement that the place-of-birth designation didn't reflect the policy of the United States. And Chief Justice Roberts wondered later in the arguments whether the President's objections to the Act and the executive's position in litigation amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy--that is, whether designating "Israel" wasn't really all that big of a deal, until the President made it so. (This exchange, with SG Verilli, came up in a line of questions about why President Bush signed the Act in the first place, even with his constitutional reservations in the signing statement.) All these, and Justice Alito, suggested at different times that the country-of-birth designation wasn't all that important, anyway--a corollary to the country-of-birth-designation-as-mere-identification theory.
But Justice Kagan pushed back against the self-identification theory: she called the Act a "very selective vanity plate law," because it allows a passport holder to determine the designation of country of birth. She also underscored the passport-as-diplomatic-note point by asking whether a hypothetical congressional act would be constitutional if it required the State Department to inform all foreign minister that a new American was born in Israel whenever a new American was born in Jerusalem. (Zivotofsky's answer: Yes. Justice Kagan called this "a little bit shocking.") Justice Sotomayor went a step further and said (several times) that Zivotofsky and Act supporters wanted the government to lie--to say that Israel was the place of birth, even though the government doesn't recognize Israel as sovereign over Jerusalem.
Justice Breyer took an institutional competence view of the case, asking if the foreign affairs experts at the State Department declined to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, who was he to question them?
Justice Kagan took the final shot at the it-doesn't-matter-that-much view at the very end of arguments:
Can I say that this seems a particularly unfortunate week to be making this kind of, "oh, it's no big deal" argument. I mean, history suggests that everything is a big deal with respect to the status of Jerusalem. And right now Jerusalem is a tinderbox because of issues about the status of and access to a particularly holy site there. And so sort of everything matters, doesn't it?
It seems doubtful that she'll persuade her conservative colleagues.