Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Federal Employees' Lawsuits Over the Shutdown

Over the last week, three separate lawsuits have been filed against President Trump and administration officials arguing that the government violates due process, the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Anti-Deficiency Act in ordering certain federal workers to work without pay. In short, the plaintiffs collectively argue that compelled work amounts to a taking of property without due process; that compelled work without pay amounts to involuntary servitude; that the government violates the FLSA by failing to provide on-time payments of overtime wages; and that the government violates the Anti-Deficiency Act by ordering federal employees to work, even if their services aren't needed "in connection with an imminent threat to human life or property" (as required by the Act). (The plaintiffs argue that the government's interpretation of the Anti-Deficiency Act, based on OLC memos, is at odds with the 1990 amendments to the Act. They also argue that this interpretation, and the Act itself, unconstitutionally encroach on Congress's appropriations authority.)

The National Treasury Employees Union complaint is here; the Air Traffic Controllers Association complaint is here; and the anonymous federal employees' complaint is here.

The plaintiffs (again, collectively) seek declaratory relief, back pay and overtime pay, and an injunction prohibiting the government from ordering them to work without pay, among other things.

January 16, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Dismisses Whistleblower Retaliation Claim under First Amendment, Qualified Immunity

The Fifth Circuit dismissed the free-speech claim of a state-court staff attorney who suffered reprisal for reporting judicial misconduct. The court ruled that the defendant, the court's chief justice, was entitled to qualified immunity, because the First Amendment law wasn't clearly established at the time of the reprisal.

The case arose when a "briefing attorney" for a state-court judge reported judicial misconduct on the part of the court's chief justice. The chief justice then arranged for the attorney not to be hired for a staff-attorney position in another judge's chambers. The attorney sued, arguing that the chief's actions amounted to retaliation for his free speech in violation of the First Amendment. The chief argued that the attorney's actions were governed by the state code of judicial conduct (which requires state judges and their staff to report judicial misconduct), that the speech was therefore pursuant to the attorney's "official duty," and that it was therefore unprotected.

The Fifth Circuit ruled that circuit law says that required disclosures are not part of an employee's "official duty" (and therefore are protected by the First Amendment), but that caselaw established this principle only after the chief's retaliation. As a result, the law wasn't "clearly established" when the chief retaliated, and he was therefore entitled to qualified immunity. 

The court also ruled that the attorney's suit dodged Eleventh Amendment immunity problems under Ex Parte Young, because he sought only injunctive relief for an ongoing violation. But the relief he sought--appointment as a staff attorney for a judge on the court--was unavailable, because his original judge (the one who withdrew a job offer in light of the chief's retaliation) was no longer on the court, and because other judges selected their own staff attorneys. "There is no ongoing violation of federal law in the failure to hire Anderson for a different staff attorney position with a different judge."

January 16, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sixth Circuit Rebuffs Sweeping Free Speech Claim

The Sixth Circuit ruled today that a school district's exclusion of a non-preferred vendor from "Band Night" did not violate the First Amendment. In so ruling, the court rejected the vendor's sweeping free-speech claim that could have turned many contract disputes into First Amendment violations.

The case involved the Coopersville Area Public Schools' decision to limit participation at the District's "Band Night" to a single musical-instrument vendor. (The District previously opened Band Night to any vendors.) After conducting a competitive process, the District selected Meyer Music, and rejected a competitor, West Michigan Band Instruments, which had previously participated in Band Night. WMBI sued, arguing that its exclusion violated the First Amendment, because the exclusion meant that it couldn't promote its viewpoint (that it was the best musical-instrument vendor for band students and parents) at Band Night.

The court ruled that Band Night was either a limited public forum or nonpublic forum, and that the exclusion did not amount to viewpoint discrimination. The court said that WMBI failed to allege viewpoint discrimination, but, even if it did, "WMBI is a vendor who was excluded from a school forum, not because of its viewpoint, but because of its status as a non-preferred vendor who lost to Myer Music in the bidding process."

The court recognized that school districts put out bids for any number of different projects, and that a ruling in favor of WMBI could have transformed contract awards into First Amendment claims for the losing bidders.

January 16, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Another Court Halts Administration's Final Rules on Contraception Mandate

Judge Wendy Bettlestone (E.D. Pa.) yesterday issued a preliminary injunction halting the government's final rules that provide sweeping exemptions to the contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

Judge Bettlestone's ruling is the second in two days halting the rules. But unlike Sunday's ruling, which applied just to the plaintiffs, Judge Bettlestone's injunction applies nationwide. The ruling strikes yet another significant blow against the administration's efforts to eviscerate the contraception mandate and means that the government can't enforce its new rules unless and until it successfully appeals or wins a stay. The second ruling also makes it more likely that the issue will sooner-or-later end up at the Supreme Court.

The court held that the religious and moral exemptions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, for both procedural and substantive reasons. As to procedure, the court held that the government's earlier failure to apply APA procedures to the interim rules "infected" its adoption of the final rules. As to substance, the court ruled that the final rules "exceed the Agencies' authority under the ACA" and cannot be justified by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The court recognized the controversies around nationwide injunctions, but wrote that a nationwide injunction was justified here for three reasons:

For one, anything short of a nation-wide injunction would likely fail to provide the States "complete relief." . . .

Second, it is far from clear how burdensome a nation-wide injunction would be on Defendants, given that when "agency regulations are unlawful, the ordinary result is that the rules are vacated--not that their application to the individual petitioners is proscribed." 

Third, one of the risks associated with a nation-wide injunction--namely, "foreclosing adjudication by a number of different courts"--is not necessarily present here, as the parallel litigation in the Ninth Circuit evidences. 

Fundamentally, given the harms to the States should the Final Rules be enforced--numerous citizens losing contraceptive coverage, resulting in "significant, direct and proprietary harm: to the States in the form of increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, as well as increased costs associated with unintended pregnancies--a nation-wide injunction is required to ensure complete relief to the States.

January 15, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Court (again) Halts Trump Exemptions to ACA's Contraception Requirement

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., issued a preliminary injunction yesterday that halts the government's implementation of its sweeping exemptions to Obamacare's contraception requirement in the plaintiff states.

The ruling is a blow to the administration's attempts to allow organizations to opt-out of the contraception requirement on their own say-so, and without informing the government.

Recall that just last month the Ninth Circuit affirmed an injunction barring the government from enforcing interim exemptions, but limited the injunction to plaintiff states.

Yesterday's ruling halts the final rules (not the interim ones). But as Judge Gilliam noted, they're more or less the same, except that the final rules went through notice-and-comment procedures under the Administrative Procedure Act. Those rules include a religious exemption and a moral exemption that permit any organization that has a religious or moral objection to unilaterally opt-out of the contraception requirement, without filing an exemption or even noting an objection to the government. 

The court ruled that the religious exemption likely violated the APA, because it's contrary to the ACA's contraception mandate. (The court rejected the government's position that the ACA's mandate is really just a suggestion.) The court also held that the government's final rule isn't required by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because no authority says that simply informing the government of a religious objection (by writing a letter, for example) is a substantial burden. The court noted that there's much work to be done on these issues, however, when the case goes forward.

The court also ruled that the moral exemption likely violated the APA, also because it's contrary to the ACA. Among other problems, the court noted that the Senate rejected a statutory moral exemption when it passed the ACA. 

The ruling temporarily halts enforcement of the government's new final rules in the plaintiff states--California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, and Washington, D.C. 

January 14, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Sixth Circuit Rebuffs Iraqis' Habeas Petition

The Sixth Circuit ruled that a group of Iraqis couldn't bring a habeas petition to challenge their removal to Iraq, and that the district court erred in granting class-wide relief over their detention claim. The ruling sends the case back for further proceedings, but it leaves no room for the lower court to halt their removal. This means that the petitioners will have to follow normal channels available to them to challenge their removal (if any), but that they may be able to obtain injunctions related to their detention one-by-one.

The case arose when a group of Iraqis brought a putative class action habeas petition on behalf of "all Iraqi nationals in the United States with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE as a result of Iraq's recent decision to issue travel documents to facilitate U.S. removal." They then brought a second claim, to challenge their continued detention during the pendency of their cases.

The district court ruled that while Congress had vested jurisdiction in "executing removal orders" exclusively in the AG (and thus divested the courts of jurisdiction over those claims), the "extraordinary circumstances" here created an as-applied constitutional violation of the Suspension Clause. As to the detention claims, the district court granted a class-wide preliminary injunction requiring bond hearings.

The Sixth Circuit reversed on both counts. As to the Suspension Clause ruling, the Sixth Circuit called the district court's approach "a broad, novel, and incorrect application of the Suspension Clause" and held that "the type of relief Petitioners seek is not protected by the Suspension Clause":

As the government states, "[t]he claims and relief requested here are fundamentally different from a traditional habeas claim." Petitioners' removal-based claims did not challenge any detention and did not seek release from custody. Rather, they sought "a stay of removal until they . . . had a reasonable period of time to locate immigration counsel, file a motion to reopen in the appropriate administrative immigration forum, and have that motion adjudicated to completion in the administrative system, with time to file a petition for review and request a stay of removal in a federal court of appeals." "[T]he nature of the relief sought by the habeas petitioners suggests that habeas is not appropriate in these cases" because "the last thing petitioners want is simple release" but instead a "court order requiring the United States to shelter them." Munaf. And the relief ordered by the district court--a stay of removal--did not result in Petitioners' release from custody. Because the common-law writ could not have granted Petitioners' requested relief, the Suspension Clause is not triggered here.

Moreover, the court said that Congress provided an adequate alternative to habeas to the petitioners: a motion to reopen followed by a petition for review filed in a court of appeals.

As to the detention claims, the court held that the statute grants courts the power to issue injunctive relief only as to "an individual alien against whom proceedings under such part have been initiated"--and not class-wide relief. 

December 21, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Habeas Corpus, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Groups Sue to Stop Bump-Stock Ban

An individual and three gun-rights groups filed suit this week in the D.C. District to halt the government's new bump-stock ban. The lawsuit seeks to stop the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from implementing and enforcing its final rule redefining "bump-stock-type" devices as "machineguns" under the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act and thus outlawing them.

The lawsuit alleges an illegally abrupt about-face on the definition (reversing the prior agency position that bump-stocks were not machineguns), without sufficient explanation, and a variety of "irregularities" in the rule-making process under the Administrative Procedure Act; and violations of the tax code.

It also alleges that the ban violates the Takings Clause, the Ex Post Facto Clause, and the Contracts Clause--all kind of a stretch, to be way too generous. (There's no Second Amendment allegation.)

Finally, the complaint alleges that acting AG Whitaker lacks authority to enforce the ban, because (wait for it) . . . his appointment was invalid.

December 20, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Contract Clause, News, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Another Ruling Against Administration Asylum Policies

Judge Jon Tigar (N.D. Cal.) today turned his temporary restraining order against the Administration's policy that makes anyone who crosses the southern border ineligible for asylum into a preliminary injunction. (Recall that the court issued a temporary restraining order late last month. It expired today.)

The ruling halts--or continues to halt--the Administration's ban on southern-border-crossing asylum claims. Still, the Administration's request to the Supreme Court to intervene in Judge Tigar's earlier temporary restraining order is still pending.

After hearing arguments, Judge Tigar wrote that "[t]he harms to those seeking asylum are also even clearer, and correspondingly the public interest more plainly supports injunctive relief."

This was the second ruling today against Administration asylum policies. We covered the earlier one, striking DOJ and USCIS rules largely banning victims of domestic violence and gang violence from asylum, here.

December 19, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Strikes Administration's Restrictions on Domestic and Gang Violence Asylum Seekers

Judge Emmet Sullivan (D.D.C.) today ruled that several aspects of the DOJ's and USCIS's standards for "credible fear" determinations by asylum officers in expedited removal proceedings violated the Immigration and Naturalization Act or were otherwise arbitrary and capricious and therefore invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Judge Sullivan vacated the credible fear policies; permanently enjoined the government from applying those policies and from removing plaintiffs who are currently in the United States without first providing a valid credible fear determination; and ordered the government to return to the United States the plaintiffs who were unlawfully deported and to provide them with a new credible fear determination. (At the same time, the court identified portions of the standards that were not inconsistent with the INA.)

The ruling means that the government cannot implement its sweeping and unilateral restrictions on asylum claims at the credible fear stage based on domestic violence and gang violence. It follow by just a couple weeks another significant ruling against Administration asylum restrictions.

The ruling is a huge victory for asylum claimants, and a serious blow against the Trump Administration's efforts to restrict the bases for asylum at the credible fear stage by unilateral agency action.

The case tested then-AG Sessions's ruling in Matter of A-B- and a USCIS Policy Memo, both of which had the effect of denying asylum to victims of domestic violence and gang violence. The court ruled that most of the standards in these administrative documents violated the INA and the APA.

December 19, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tenth Circuit Judicial Council Tosses Complaints Against Justice Kavanaugh

The Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit today tossed out the scores of complaints against Justice Kavanaugh on the ground that as a Supreme Court justice he is no longer subject to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act. Thus, the Council lacked jurisdiction and dismissed the complaints.

Chief Justice Roberts referred to the Tenth Circuit 83 complaints, alleging that Justice Kavanaugh testified falsely to Congress in his confirmation hearings about his role in the Bush administration, that he testified falsely about his personal conduct, and that he displayed partisan bias and lack of appropriate judicial temperament--all in violation of various canons of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.

But the Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit ruled that the Act "effectively precludes action against an individual who is no longer a circuit, district, bankruptcy or magistrate judge." "In conclusion, Congress has not extended the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act to Supreme Court justices."

Still, this might not end the matter. As the ruling states,

The importance of ensuring that governing bodies with clear jurisdiction are aware of the complaints should also be acknowledged. Accordingly, we request that the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States forward a copy of this Order to any relevant Congressional committees for their information.

. . .

As with any misconduct complaint . . . any complainant has a right to seek review of this Order by filing a petition for review by the Judicial Council . . . .

December 18, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Court Strikes the Entire Affordable Care Act

Judge Reed O'Connor (N.D. Tex.) today issued a sweeping and breathtaking ruling striking the entire Affordable Care Act. Judge O'Connor ruled that the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress's taxing power; that the individual mandate is not severable from the rest of the ACA; and that therefore the entire ACA must fail.

The case, Texas v. United States, arose after Congress passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which set the tax-penalty for noncompliance with the ACA's individual mandate at $0. Texas, a handful of other states, and a couple individuals sued, arguing that the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress's taxing power (as the Court held in NFIB), and, because it also couldn't be supported by Congress's Commerce Clause power (also as the Court held in NFIB), it was unconstitutional. Moreover, they argued that it was non-severable from the non-discrimination and community rating provisions of the ACA, and so therefore those provisions needed to fall, too.

The court agreed. Judge O'Connor ruled that the tax-penalty of the individual mandate could no longer be supported by Congress's taxing authority (in light of the $0 penalty in the 2017 tax act, which means that the penalty no longer raises money for the government, the touchstone for the taxing power). And because the mandate couldn't stand alone, without a tax penalty, because it can't be supported by the Commerce Clause, it is unconstitutional. But Judge O'Connor went a step farther and ruled that the individual mandate was non-severable from the entire ACA. The court looked to the statutory language (including congressional findings, which stated that the individual mandate was an essential part of the integrated ACA in order to ensure broad health insurance coverage and low costs), and the Court's ruling in NFIB to concluded that the entire Act was non-severable. As a result, the court struck the entire Act.

The ruling came as a declaratory judgment and summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, despite the fact that the plaintiffs originally sought only declaratory relief and a preliminary injunction. 

Unless stayed pending appeal (not in this ruling), the ruling gives cover to the government to start to dismantle the entire ACA (or at least those provisions that it hasn't already started to dismantle). 

December 14, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Halts Interim Rules on ACA Contraception Exemptions, but Only as to Plaintiff States

The Ninth Circuit upheld a lower court's preliminary injunction barring the government from enforcing its interim final rules allowing employers and organizations more freely to exempt themselves from the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement. But at the same time, the court narrowed the nationwide injunction to just the plaintiff states.

The ruling is a significant victory for the plaintiffs. But it may be short-lived, as the government moves to implement final rules (the same as the interim rules, published in November) in January.

The case, California v. Azar, involves several states' (California, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland, and New York) challenge to the government's 2017 interim final rules substantially loosening the exemption standard for organizations and persons to get out from under the Affordable Care Act's contraception requirement. (Recall that the Supreme Court declined to rule on the government's prior exemption in Zubik v. Burwell.) The two IFRs categorically exempted certain religious employers and essentially made the requirement optional for anyone else who has a "sincerely held moral conviction" to contraception.

The plaintiffs argued that the IFRs violated the Administrative Procedure Act (because the agencies didn't use APA notice-and-comment procedures in implementing the IFRs), equal protection, and the Establishment Clause. The Northern District of California held that they were likely to succeed on their APA claim, and issued a nationwide injunction.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, but limited the injunction to the plaintiff states.

The court first held that the case wasn't moot. The court said that while the agencies published final rules in November, those rules won't go into effect until January 14, 2019. In the meantime, the IFRs are in effect. And because the plaintiffs challenge the IFRs, their case isn't moot.

The court next held that the plaintiffs had standing, based on their increased costs for their already-existing contraception programs. "The states show, with reasonable probability, that the IFRs will first lead to women losing employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage, which will then result in economic harm to the states" because the states will have to fill the coverage loss through their existing free or subsidized contraceptive programs. 

As to the APA, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed--that HHS violated notice-and-comment rulemaking under the APA. The court held that the government's interests in eliminating regulatory uncertainty, eliminating RFRA violations, and reducing the cost of health insurance were insufficient to bypass notice-and-comment procedures. As to regulatory uncertainty, the court said it "is not by itself good cause" to bypass APA procedures. As to RFRA, the court said that "the agencies' reliance on this justification was not a reasoned decision based on findings in the record." And as to reducing health insurance costs, the court said that "[t]his is speculation unsupported by the administrative record and is not sufficient to constitute good cause." The court also said that the agencies lacked statutory authority to bypass notice-and-comment procedures. 

But the court narrowed the district court's nationwide preliminary injunction, and applied it only to the plaintiff states.

Judge Kleinfeld dissented, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, because "their injury is what the Supreme Court calls 'self-inflicted,' because it arises solely from their legislative decisions to pay" for contraception-access programs.

December 14, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Fifth Circuit Dismisses Texas's Plea for Declaratory Relief on Anti-Sanctuary Bill

The Fifth Circuit dismissed Texas's case seeking a declaration that its anti-sanctuary-city bill, SB4, did not violate the Constitution. The ruling follows its opinion earlier this year upholding most of the law.

The upshot: SB4 mostly stays on the books.

In this most recent case, Texas v. Travis County, the state sought declaratory relief that SB4 did not violate various provisions of the Constitution. (Recall that SB4 is a state law that requires jurisdictions within the state to comply with federal immigration detainer requests--and, to that extent, not be sanctuary jurisdictions.) The defendants moved to dismiss for lack of standing. But the court held that under Franchise Tax Board it lacked federal-question jurisdiction (and therefore didn't reach the standing question). Here's why (quoting Franchise Tax Board):

States are not significantly prejudiced by an inability to come to federal court for a declaratory judgment in advance of a possible injunctive suit by a person subject to federal regulation. They have a variety of means by which they can enforce their own laws in their own courts, and they do not suffer if the [constitutional questions that] such enforcement may raise are tested there.

...

[U]ntil Congress informs us otherwise, such a suit is not within the original jurisdiction of the United Sates district courts.

Because of the earlier ruling upholding SB4--and because this case merely dismisses Texas's suit for lack of jurisdiction--this case has no effect on SB4. As the court said, "[M]ost of SB4 is now in effect."

 

December 13, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Circuit Lets Eviction-Settlement Challenges Move Forward

The Second Circuit ruled that a case challenging New York officials' eviction-settlement practices can move forward in federal court, despite the fact that a state-court judge ratified the settlements. The ruling is a victory for victims of the practices, and says that a civil-rights defendant can't side-step federal jurisdiction by having a state-court judge merely ratify the defendant's actions.

The case, Cho v. City of New York, arose when New York officials coerced individuals and businesses into signing settlement agreements waiving various constitutional rights in order to avoid eviction. The settlement agreements were subsequently "so-ordered" by state-court judges.

Plaintiffs sued in federal court under Section 1983, but the defendants won a district court ruling dismissing the case based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (That doctrine says that a federal district court can't hear an appeal of a state-court judgment.) The Second Circuit reversed.

The court ruled that the state-court judges' acts of "so-order[ing]" the settlement agreements didn't turn the plaintiffs' federal-court case into a de facto appeal (that would have been barred by Rooker-Feldman). Instead, the state-court judges merely ratified the settlements. Moreover, the plaintiffs' harm was caused by the coerced settlement agreements themselves, not by the state-court ratification. The court explained:

The instant case thus does not entail the evil Rooker-Feldman was designed to prevent. Plaintiffs are attempting to remedy an alleged injury caused when, prior to any judicial action, they were coerced to settle, not an injury that flows from a state-court judgment. By allowing an action such as this to go forward, we do not risk turning our federal district courts into quasi-appellate courts sitting in review of state-court decisions.

The ruling only allows the case to move forward in federal court; it says nothing about the merits.

December 13, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

District Court Dismisses FACA Challenge to Trump's Infrastructure Council

Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle (D.D.C.) dismissed a suit challenging President Trump's Infrastructure Council under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

The ruling in Food & Water Watch v. Trump arose out of the plaintiff's FACA challenge to the Council, which was (or would have been) designed to give the President advice on infrastructure policy. The plaintiff claimed that the Council was stacked with President Trump's friends, and thus violated FACA's membership and transparency requirements.

The problem: the Council never got off the ground. For that reason, the court said it wasn't a "committee" or even a "de facto committee" under FACA, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction.

Judge Huvelle emphasized how narrowly courts interpret FACA in order to avoid a separation-of-powers problem. Citing In re Cheney, she wrote

Congress could not have meant that participation in committee meetings or activities, even influential participation, would be enough to make someone a member of the committee . . . . Separation-of-powers concerns strongly support this interpretation of FACA. In making decisions on personnel and policy, and in formulating legislative proposals, the President must be free to seek confidential information from many sources, both inside the government and outside.

The court also denied the plaintiff's request for further discovery.

December 11, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Organizations Have Standing to Challenge USDA Inaction on Birds (again), but Lose (again)

Judge Trevor N. McFadden (D.D.C.) ruled in American Anti-Vivisection Society v. USDA that plaintiff organizations had standing to sue the USDA for its 14-year failure to extend protections under the Animal Welfare Act to birds. But at the same time, the court ruled that the plaintiffs' Administrative Procedure Act claims failed.

The case is a reprise of PETA v. USDA, a D.C. Circuit ruling over 3 years ago.

The court recognized the D.C. Circuit's "permissive" rules on organizational standing, and said that while this case presented standing difficulties, it fell in line with PETA:

But the Plaintiffs' organizational standing allegations are similar enough to PETA II to dictate the outcome here. As there, the Plaintiffs have, "at the dismissal stage, adequately shown that the USDA's inaction injured [their] interests and, consequently, [they have] expended resources to counteract those injuries." They have alleged with enough supporting factual allegations that the challenged agency decisions "deny [them] access to information and avenues of redress they wish to use in their routine information-dispensing, counseling, and referral activities." In other words, they have plausibly "alleged inhibition of their daily operations, . . . an injury both concrete and specific to the work in which they are engaged."

This injury--an inability to gather information, publish reports, and help reduce the neglect and abuse of birds--is traceable to the Department's inaction and could be redressed by an order compelling the Department to issue regulations. And the Plaintiffs have pointed to webinars and other educational programs they must produce in the absence of applicable avian regulations. The Court finds that the Plaintiffs have standing and that it has jurisdiction to consider the merits of their arguments.

Nevertheless, the court ruled that the plaintiffs' APA claims failed, because the USDA took the "legally required" action (even if not the bird rules), and because the USDA's inaction isn't a "final agency action."

December 11, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Ninth Circuit Strikes Law Criminalizing "encouraging or inducing" Aliens to Come or Stay in U.S.

The Ninth Circuit ruled in U.S. v. Sineneng-Smith that a federal statute that criminalizes "encourag[ing] or induc[ing]" an alien to come to, to enter, or to reside in the United States violates the First Amendment. The court ruled that the statute was unconstitutionally overbroad and struck it.

The statute, 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1324(a)(1)(A)(iv), permits a felony prosecution of any person who "encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States" if the encourager knew, or recklessly disregarded "the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law."

The court held that the law bans substantially more speech than the First Amendment allows under the incitement doctrine, or as speech integral to criminal conduct. (The court reminds us that simply being in the United States isn't a crime.) Here's an example the court quotes from an amicus brief: "a loving grandmother who urges her grandson to overstay his visa," by saying "I encourage you to stay." The statement violates Subsection (iv), but:

Again, in Williams, the Supreme Court used almost identical language--"I encourage you to obtain child pornography"--to describe abstract advocacy immune from government prohibition. The government has not responded persuasively to this point; it simply argues that the grandmother would not be subject to criminal charges because her statement was "not accompanied by assistance or other inducements." However, as we have detailed above, Subsection (iv) does not contain an act or assistance requirement.

Another example: "marches, speeches, publications, and public debate expressing support for immigrants." And other: an attorney who tells a client that the client should remain in the country while contesting removal, because non-citizens in the U.S. have greater due process rights than non-citizens outside the U.S.

The court rejected the government's limiting interpretation--that the statute only prohibits a person from (1) knowingly undertaking (2) a non-de-minimis (3) act that (4) could assist (5) a specific alien (6) in violating (7) civil or criminal immigration laws--as wholesale rewriting the law.

December 4, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Says No Standing to Challenge Mississippi Flag

The Fifth Circuit ruled that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge a Mississippi town's decision to fly the state flag over city hall as a violation of the Fair Housing Act. The ruling ends the case.

The plaintiffs in Mississippi Rising Coalition v. City of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, challenged a city council resolution requiring the state flag to be flown over city hall and other municipal buildings. They claimed that flying the flag, which includes the Confederate battle flag, amounted to "racial steering" in violation of the FHA.

But the Fifth Circuit ruled that they lacked both Article III and statutory standing. As to Article III, the court simply pointed to a 2017 ruling, Moore v. Bryant, also denying standing to plaintiffs challenging the state flag, but under equal protection: "That Plaintiff alleges that he personally and deeply feels the impact of Mississippi's state flag, however sincere those allegations are, is irrelevant to . . . standing analysis unless Plaintiff alleges discriminatory treatment." The court said that "[i]f exposure to a flag does not injure a plaintiff for equal protection purposes, exposure to the same flag does not injure a plaintiff for FHA purposes either."

As to statutory standing under the FHA, the court said that flying the flag is not a "discriminatory housing practice," and that the plaintiffs therefore weren't "aggrieved persons" under the Act.

December 4, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ninth Circuit Revives Candidate's Party-Designation Challenge

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Soltysik v. Padilla that the lower court didn't sufficiently weigh the evidence in a candidate's challenge to California's rule that only candidates who "prefer" a recognized political party can list that party as their "preference" on the ballot.

The ruling means that the lower court will take a second crack at the case.

The case tests California's law that allows candidates who prefer a recognized political party to list that party on the ballot, but requires candidates who prefer a nonrecognized party to list their preference as "none." (California has voter-nominated (not party-nominated) primary process, and primary candidates list their "preference" for a party (and not their designation as the party's nominee).) Under the rule, Soltysik, a candidate for the state assembly who preferred a nonrecognized party (the Socialist Party USA), had to list "Party Preference: None" next to his name on the ballot. He argued that this violated free association, equal protection, and free speech.

The district court, applying the Burdick/Anderson sliding-scale test, deferred to the state and dismissed the case. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded.

The Ninth Circuit held that the burden on Soltysik's rights "is not severe," but that "it is more than 'slight,' warranting scrutiny that is neither strict nor wholly deferentially." The court then recognized that the state's interest in avoiding voter confusion is important; but it also said that the rule seems to have the opposite effect--to create confusion--and that the state may have other ways to achieve its interest.

In any event, the court held that the parties didn't get the chance to develop evidence to support their positions, because the lower court dismissed the case before discovery. So the court remanded for further proceedings.

Judge Rawlison dissented, arguing, among other things, that the court applied too high a level of scrutiny in evaluating the rule.

December 4, 2018 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

District Court Hands Sweeping Victory to Sanctuary Jurisdictions

Judge Edgardo Ramos (S.D.N.Y.) this week issued a sweeping ruling against the Trump Administration and its attempts to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions. The ruling is a significant victory for sanctuary jurisdictions, and a blow to the Trump Administration.

We last posted on sanctuary jurisdiction litigation here.

The case involves the states of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington; the commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia; and the city of New York. These jurisdictions sued the Administration to halt its unilateral anti-sanctuary conditions on their DOJ JAG/Byrne grants. In particular, they sought to stop the Administration from enforcing its three conditions on grant-receiving jurisdictions, on threat of losing their grants: (1) the "notice condition," which requires jurisdictions to give advance notice to DHS of the scheduled release date and time of aliens housed in state or local correctional facilities; (2) the "access condition," which requires jurisdictions to give federal agents access to aliens in state or local correctional facilities in order to question them about their immigration status; and (3) the "1373 compliance" condition, which requires jurisdictions to comply with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which, in turn, prohibits state or local governments from prohibiting their officials from communicating with the federal government about the immigration status of detainees.

Importantly, former AG Sessions imposed these conditions himself, without specific congressional authority (or any congressional action).

The court ruled that DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the conditions, and thus acted ultra vires and in violation of the separation of powers in imposing them unilaterally (that is, without specific congressional authority). It also ruled that the conditions were arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

As to Section 1373, the court said that it violated the anti-commandeering principle, based on Murphy v. NCAA. (The anti-commandeering principle says that the federal government can't compel a state to act in its sovereign capacity. Recall that the Court held in Murphy extended this principle to when the government compels a state not to act--as in Section 1373.)

The court granted the plaintiffs' request for mandamus relief and ordered the government to reissue their Byrne grant award documents without the conditions. It also enjoined the government from imposing the conditions against any of the plaintiffs in the future.

December 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Separation of Powers, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)