Friday, March 13, 2020

D.C. Circuit Vacates McGahn Ruling, Sets for Rehearing En Banc

The full D.C. Circuit voted to reconsider the question whether a House committee has standing to sue a former executive branch officer. The court ordered rehearing in Committee on the Judiciary v. McGahn (and House of Representatives v. Mnuchin, which raises the same standing question) and vacated the panel's earlier ruling that the Committee lacked standing.

Recall that the panel held that the Judiciary Committee lacked standing to sue McGahn, a former executive branch official. In short, the court said that federal courts can't hear pure disputes between the coordinate branches; instead, there must be a plaintiff who was personally harmed in order to get the claim into federal court.

Today's order undoes that ruling and sets the case for rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit.

This doesn't bode well for McGahn (and Mnuchin, and the Trump Administration). But whatever the en banc court ultimately says, this case is surely headed to the Supreme Court.

March 13, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

D.C. Circuit Authorizes Release of Full Mueller Report to House

The D.C. Circuit this week upheld a district court ruling that auhorized release of the full, unredacted Mueller Report to the House Judiciary Committee. The ruling, if upheld on inevitable appeal, means that the Committee'll get its hands on the full report, plus other, supporting grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation.

The ruling deals a sharp blow to the Trump Administration and DOJ. It means that the Committee can decide for itself, based on the full Mueller Report and additional grand jury materials, whether Administration witnesses lied to Congress or to the Mueller team, and the extent to which AG Barr misrepresented the full Report. It also means that the Committee can see for itself the full extent of any collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia, and campaign and Administration efforts to conceal any collaboration or otherwise to obstruct congressional investigations.

But don't think that this means that we'll see the full Report anytime soon. First, there's the matter of the inevitable application for a stay, and appeal. Second, the court's holding hinges, in part, on the Committee's plan to protect the material from public release and to use only those portions that it needs.

The case arose when, July 26, 2019, the Committee filed an application for release of certain grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation with the federal district court. The Committee sought release of three categories of grand jury materials: (1) all portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to the general grand-jury secrecy rule in Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, (2) any portions of grand jury materials (transcripts, exhibits) that were referenced in those redactions, and (3) any other underlying grand jury material that related directly to certain individuals and events described in the Mueller Report.

The Committee sought release pursuant to the "judicial proceeding" exception, in Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(i), to the general rule of grand jury secrecy. The exception allows for release of grand jury materials in a "judicial proceeding," where the requesting party can demonstrate a particularized need for the material. After in camera review of a portion (but not all) of the requested materials, the district court held that the Senate's impeachment trial of President Trump met the "judicial proceeding" requirement, and that the Committee demonstrated a particularized need for the material. The court authorized release of the first two categories of grand jury material requested by the Committee.

(You might wonder how the Committee request for release relates to impeachment. Here's how: The Committee Report on Impeachment said that the conduct in the Articles of Impeachment was consistent with President Trump's behavior with regard to Russia and the Mueller investigation. Moreover, the Committee's impeachment investigation related to the Mueller report is ongoing, and may lead to addition articles of impeachment.)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court held that the Senate's impeachment trial is, indeed, a "judicial proceeding" under Rule 6(e) (and that the Committee's investigation is part of, preliminary to, a Senate trial). It held that constitutional text and history, circuit precedent, and past practice all uniformly supported this conclusion. (On this point, "[i]t is only the President's categorical resistance and the Department's objection that are unprecedented.")

The court went on to say that the Committee demonstrated a particuularized need, because, among other things, the Committee may yet issue more articles of impeachment related to the President's behavior with regard to Russia and the Mueller investigation. 

Judge Rao dissented. She argued that the lower court actually made two moves--one to "authorize" release of the material, and the other to "order" DOJ to release it. She agreed that the court could authorize release, but she argued that it couldn't order DOJ to release the material, because the Committee lacked standing to bring a claim against the Executive Branch under the court's recent ruling in the McGahn case.

Both the court and Judge Griffith, in concurrence, wrote that the district court did no such thing. They both reminded that grand jury materials are judicial records, and that DOJ only holds them. As a result, this wasn't a dispute between the Committee and the Executive Branch. Instead, it was merely an application by the Committee to the courts, which the Executive Branch decided to oppose.

March 12, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Daily Read: Attorney General Barr's Reputation at Issue in Mueller Report FOIA Litigation

The issue of the Attorney General's candor is central to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation seeking the unredacted Mueller Report. In the consolidated cases of Electronic Freedom Foundation v. DOJ, and Jason Leopold & BuzzFeed News v. DOJ, the plaintiffs essentially challenge the basis of FOIA exemptions which DOJ has listed as justifying the numerous redactions.

In his Opinion today, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, Reggie Walton, granted the plaintiffs' requests that the court conduct in camera review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report. What makes the Opinion noteworthy is Judge Walton's explicit statements regarding the untrustworthiness of the Attorney General that justified the need for in camera review. After a detailed discussion of the circumstances, Judge Walton wrote:

Although Attorney General Barr can be commended for his effort to expeditiously release a summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions in the public interest, the Court is troubled by his hurried release of his March 24, 2019 letter well in advance of when the redacted version of the Mueller Report was ultimately made available to the public. The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report—a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.

As noted earlier, the Court has reviewed the redacted version of the Mueller Report, Attorney General Barr’s representations made during his April 18, 2019 press conference, and Attorney General Barr’s April 18, 2019 letter. And, the Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.

These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility and in turn, the Department’s representation that “all of the information redacted from the version of the [Mueller] Report released by [ ] Attorney General [Barr]” is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions. In the Court’s view, Attorney General Barr’s representation that the Mueller Report would be “subject only to those redactions required by law or by compelling law enforcement, national security, or personal privacy interests” cannot be credited without the Court’s independent verification in light of Attorney General Barr’s conduct and misleading public statements about the findings in the Mueller Report, id., Ex. 7 (April 18, 2019 Letter) at 3, and it would be disingenuous for the Court to conclude that the redactions of the Mueller Report pursuant to the FOIA are not tainted by Attorney General Barr’s actions and representations.

[brackets in original; bolding added].

Later in the opinion, Judge Walton continued:

Here, although it is with great consternation, true to the oath that the undersigned took upon becoming a federal judge, and the need for the American public to have faith in the judicial process, considering the record in this case, the Court must conclude that the actions of Attorney General Barr and his representations about the Mueller Report preclude the Court’s acceptance of the validity of the Department’s redactions without its independent verification. Adherence to the FOIA’s objective of keeping the American public informed of what its government is up to demands nothing less.

Judge Walton, who was appointed to the federal court in 2001 and who has interestingly served as Judge and Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ordered the DOJ to

submit the unredacted version of the Mueller Report to the Court for in camera review. If, after reviewing the unredacted version of the Mueller Report, the Court concludes that all of the information has been appropriately withheld under the claimed FOIA exemptions, it will issue a supplemental Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Department’s motion for summary judgment on that ground and denying the plaintiffs’ cross- motions. On the other hand, if the Court concludes after its in camera review that any of the redacted information was inappropriately withheld, it will issue a supplemental Memorandum Opinion and Order that comports with that finding.

A federal judge's opinion that the Attorney General's "lack of candor" supports an independent judicial examination of redacted material implicates separation of powers issues, to be sure, but it is also yet another indication of the lack of confidence in the Attorney General.

March 5, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Chief Justice and Senator Trade Remarks: Further Erosions of the Court's Legitimacy?

Chief Justice Roberts issued a rare statement today rebuking statements by Senator Chuck Schumer made while the Court was hearing arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo. The Chief Justice's statement read in full:

This morning, Senator Schumer spoke at a rally in front of the Supreme Court while a case was being argued inside. Senator Schumer referred to two Members of the Court by name and said he wanted to tell them that “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You will not know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous. All Members of the Court will continue to do their job, without fear or favor, from whatever quarter.

Senator Schumer's speech, reported and captured on video, included the Senator saying:

I want to tell you Gorsuch. I want to tell you Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price. You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.

Schumer's "whirlwind" reference echoed Kavanaugh's statements during his confirmation hearings to the Democratic Senators, telling them “You sowed the wind, the county will reap the whirlwind.”

 

A Presidential tweet predictably followed Roberts's statement:

 

As some commentators — and a spokesperson for Senator Schumer — have pointed out, Chief Justice Roberts has not issued statements defending Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg when they were maligned by the President, as we discussed here.

Indeed, because Chief Justice Roberts has chosen to make this statement, his choices of when not to make similar statements is now a very legitimate subject of debate. These choices add to the continuing debate about the Court's own legitimacy in this fraught political climate.

March 4, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2020

D.C. Circuit Tosses House Judiciary Committee Suit to Compel McGahn Testimony

The D.C. Circuit dismissed the House Judiciary Committee's lawsuit seeking to compel the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn. The court held that the Committee failed to assert a judicially cognizable injury, and that the case was therefore not justiciable under Article III.

The ruling deals a sharp blow to Congress's authority to compel testimony of, and to obtain information from, Executive Branch officials. It means that congressional lawsuits against Executive Branch officials to compel testimony are nonjusticiable, and that Congress will have to use its own powers (appropriations, appointments, contempt, impeachment) to obtain that testimony and information. As we've seen, however, those tools often don't do the job.

In short, the ruling invites presidential noncooperation with congressional oversight and investigations and, as a practical matter, with a noncooperative president, could all but mark the end of effective congressional oversight of the administration. Having said that, this'll surely be appealed.

We posted on the district court ruling here.

The court, in an opinion penned by Judge Griffith, ruled that the Committee lacked a judicially cognizable injury, and therefore lacked standing under Article III. It said that the courts have no business refereeing a pure dispute between Congress and the Executive Branch. It distinguished cases where the courts have ruled in inter-branch disputes, saying that those cases always involved a direct, cognizable harm to an individual, not a branch of government.

In this case, the Committee's dispute with the Executive Branch is unfit for judicial resolution because it has no bearing on the "rights of individuals" or some entity beyond the federal government. The Committee is not a private entity seeking vindication of its "constitutional rights and liberties . . . against oppressive or discriminatory government action." Nor does the Committee seek the "production or nonproduction of specified evidence . . . in a pending criminal case"--the "kind of controversy" threatening individual liberty that "courts traditionally resolve."

Instead, the Committee claims that the Executive Branch's assertion of a constitutional privilege is "obstructing the Committee's investigation." That obstruction may seriously and even unlawfully hinder the Committee's efforts to probe presidential wrongdoing, but it is not a "judicially cognizable" injury.

Judge Henderson concurred, but added that McGahn's arguments on both justiciability and the merits went too far:

First, McGahn urges us to foreclose Article III standing when the Congress, or a House thereof, asserts any institutional injury in any interbranch dispute; I do not believe, however, Supreme Court precedent supports a holding of that scope. Second, McGahn's assertion of absolute testimonial immunity against compelled congressional process is, in my opinion, a step too far, again, under Supreme Court precedent.

Judge Rogers dissented:

The House comes to the court in light of the President's blanket and unprecedented order that no member of the Executive Branch shall comply with the subpoena duly issued by an authorized House Committee. Exercising jurisdiction over the Committee's case is not an instant of judicial encroachment on the prerogatives of another Branch, because subpoena enforcement is a traditional and commonplace function of the federal courts. The court removes any incentive for the Executive Branch to engage in the negotiation process seeking accommodation, all but assures future Presidential stonewalling of Congress, and further impairs the House's ability to perform its constitutional duties.

February 28, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

High Court Rebuffs Cross-Border Killing Case

The Supreme Court this week dismissed a case by parents of a Mexican youth against a U.S. Border Patrol agent for shooting and killing their son. The ruling declined to extend a Bivens remedy (a constitutional claim against a federal officer) to the cross-border killing and dismissed the case. The ruling ends the case and (if there were any doubt) underscores just how little is left of Bivens.

The case, Hernandez v. Mesa, arose after a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a 15-year old Mexican national, while he was playing with friends in the concrete culvert that runs between the U.S.-Mexico border. The child's parents sued Agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., under Bivens for violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

A 5-4 Court, divided along conventional ideological lines, ruled that Bivens didn't extend to the case. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Alito, ruled that the case raised a new Bivens context, and that the special factors of foreign affairs, national security, and Congress's failure to provide a remedy for this or similar claims all counseled against extending a Bivens remedy to this new context.

The ruling wasn't surprising, given the Court's most recent foray into Bivens, in Ziglar v. Abbasi. In that case, the Court limited Bivens to all but the precise three contexts where the Court has recognized a Bivens remedy (Bivens itself, a congressional staffer's Fifth Amendment claim of dismissal based on sex, and a federal prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim for failure to provide adequate medical treatment). Just to underscore how little remains of Bivens, the Court there noted that if these claims came up today, the Court would likely rule differently.

Justice Thomas concurred, joined by Justice Gorsuch, arguing that the Court should do away with Bivens entirely.

Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She argued that the case did not arise in a new Bivens context, and even if it did, special factors don't counsel against a Bivens remedy. After all, she argued, the case is about whether a federal officer violated the Constitution when he shot and killed the child while on U.S. soil, under U.S. law--and does not intrude on the other branches' conduct of foreign affairs or national security.

February 27, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Should any of the SCOTUS Justices Recuse?

The seemingly persistent question of the type of bias of SCOTUS Justices that should merit recusal has resurfaced again.

Recall that the Code of Conduct for United States Judges does not apply to the Justices of SCOTUS, a situation unchanged by the amended code effective March 2019. In his end-of-year Report in 2012, Chief Justice Roberts seemingly argued that there was no need to specifically include the Justices and addressed (albeit somewhat obliquely) some of the ethical concerns that had arisen. For example, Justice Alito had raised concerns when he appeared at an "event" for the The American Spectator, described as a "right wing magazine" that was behind the attempts to impeach Bill Clinton, that its publisher leads the “Conservative Action Project,” formed after President Obama’s election, to help lobby for conservative legislative priorities, elect Republicans and block President Obama’s judicial appointments.  The keynote speaker at the event was then-Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).  Additionally, there were concerns regarding Justice Thomas's financial situation, including acceptances of financial gifts and nondisclosure of his wife's income.

Statements and relationships, especially pronounced in these contentious times, also give rise to concerns regarding bias and the recusal remedy.  Justice Ginsburg's comments about presidential candidate Donald Trump labeling him a "faker" caused controversy and invited comparisons with the late Justice Scalia's remarks and relationship with a sitting Vice President and his refusal to recuse himself from a case involving the VP which Scalia himself described as "heroic" in an interview.  Later, a scholar argued that Justice Kavanaugh should recuse himself in a variety of cases based on Kavanaugh's statements during his confirmation hearing.

Lately, two situations have provoked controversy.  The first involves Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg. It seemingly springs from Justice Sotomayor's dissent from the issuance of a stay in Wolf v. Cook County, on the public charge policy, which we discussed here. The President, in tweets and in a speech in India, criticized Sotomayor — and added Justice Ginsburg (who had not joined Sotomayor's dissent)  — calling on them to recuse themselves "on all Trump, or Trump-related matters!"  The tweet itself cites Laura Ingraham and FoxNews, and as journalist Matthew Gertz noted, the President's tweet replicates the words of the broadcast, which referenced Ginsburg's 2016 "faker" comment.

The second situation involves Justice Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas, who reportedly was advising Trump on people in federal employment who should be "purged" as disloyal to the President and who should be hired to replace them.  As the New York Times subsequently reported:

Among Ms. Thomas’s top targets have been officials at the National Security Council, the former head of the White House personnel office, Sean Doocey, and other top White House aides. Another target was Jessie K. Liu, who recently left her job as the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia for a job in the Treasury Department that was later withdrawn by the White House.

Ms. Thomas, a politically active conservative who for nearly seven years has led a group called Groundswell, also successfully lobbied for a role for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the former attorney general of Virginia who is now the acting deputy secretary of homeland security.

This has led at least one organization, Take Back the Court, to write a letter requesting that Justice Thomas recuse himself from matters before the Court involving Trump.

The overall effect may be to (further) erode the legitimacy of the courts in general and SCOTUS in particular. 

Meanwhile, rereading Canons 4 and 5 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges and the considerations relating to bias, the appearance of impartiality, and political participation might anchor the conversations about bias.

SCOTUS_2020

 

February 25, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Interpretation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Daily Read: Justice Sotomayor on Role of the Court

Dissenting from the grant of a stay in Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois, involving the controversial "public charge" immigration rule of the Trump Administration, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Court has been "too quick" to grant the United States government's requests for stays especially as compared to not granting stays in other circumstances, including executions. Importantly, the stay at issue was not related to a nationwide injunction:

Sonia_SotomayorIts public-charge rule is set to go into effect in 49 of 50 States next week. The Seventh Circuit is set to consider the Illinois-specific injunction next week as well, with a decision to follow shortly thereafter. And the Government is unable to articulate how many cases—if any—this narrow injunction would affect in the meantime. In sum, the Government’s only claimed hardship is that it must enforce an existing interpretation of an immigration rule in one State—just as it has done for the past 20 years—while an updated version of the rule takes effect in the remaining 49. The Government has not quantified or explained any bur- dens that would arise from this state of the world. Indeed, until this Court granted relief in the New York cases, the Government itself did not consider this Illinois-specific harm serious enough to warrant asking this Court for relief.

These facts—all of which undermine the Government’s assertion of irreparable harm—show two things, one about the Government’s conduct and one about this Court’s own. First, the Government has come to treat “th[e] exceptional mechanism” of stay relief “as a new normal.” Barr v. East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, 588 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting from grant of stay) (slip op., at 5). Claiming one emergency after another, the Government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming lim- ited Court resources in each. And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow. Indeed, its behavior relating to the public-charge rule in particular shows how much its own definition of ir- reparable harm has shifted. Having first sought a stay in the New York cases based, in large part, on the purported harm created by a nationwide injunction, it now disclaims that rationale and insists that the harm is its temporary inability to enforce its goals in one State.

Second, this Court is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process. That is because the Court—in this case, the New York cases, and many others—has been all too quick to grant the Government’s “reflexiv[e]” requests. Ibid. But make no mistake: Such a shift in the Court’s own behavior comes at a cost.

After discussing the extensive time and resources that stay applications involve, Justice Sotomayor continued:

Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.” Murphy v. Collier, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (second statement of KAVANAUGH, J.) (slip op., at 4); see also id., at ___ (ALITO, J., joined by THOMAS and GORSUCH, JJ., dissenting from grant of stay) (slip op., at 6) (“When courts do not have ad- equate time to consider a claim, the decisionmaking process may be compromised”); cf. Dunn v. Ray, 586 U. S. ___ (2019) (overturning the grant of a stay of execution). Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances— where the Government itself chose to wait to seek relief, and where its claimed harm is continuation of a 20-year status quo in one State. I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.

In brief, Justice Sotomayor has argued that some of her colleagues have been biased toward the Trump Administration's petitions.

 

February 24, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, News, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 7, 2020

D.C. Circuit Tosses Congressional Members' Foreign Emoluments Suit Against Trump

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that 215 Members of Congress who brought a suit against President Trump for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause lacked standing to sue. As a result, the court ordered the case dismissed.

The ruling is a significant victory for President Trump. But it wasn't a ruling on the merits, and other Emoluments Clause cases are still pending against the President in two other circuits.

We last posted on the case here. In short, Members argued that President Trump failed to gain congressional approval and thus violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause for taking money from foreign governments for stays and services at his properties. President Trump moved to dismiss for lack of standing, among other reasons. The district court denied the motion; the D.C. Circuit today reversed.

The ruling was concise. The court simply held that the case was governed by Raines v. Byrd, in which the Supreme Court held that Members of Congress lacked standing to challenge the Line Item Veto Act. Here's how the D.C. Circuit applied Raines:

This case is really no different from Raines. The Members were not singled out--their alleged injury is shared by the 320 members of the Congress who did not join this lawsuit--and their claim is based entirely on the loss of political power. . . .

The Supreme Court's recent summary reading of Raines that "individual members" of the Congress "lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature" in the same way "a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole," Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, puts paid to any doubt regarding the Members' lack of standing.

The plaintiffs can appeal to the full D.C. Circuit and to the Supreme Court.

February 7, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on Montana Blaine Amendment for School Scholarship

The Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships as violating the First Amendment's religion clauses and the equal protection clause.

Under the original Tax Credit Program, the law provided a taxpayer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit based on the taxpayer’s donation to a Student Scholarship Organization. However, Montana has a constitutional provision, Art. X §6, which prohibits aid to sectarian schools, so the department of revenue added "Rule 1" to the state tax credit scheme excluding from the definition of "qualified education provider" eligible under the scheme "a church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, literary or scientific institution, or any other sectarian institution owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination."  Parents challenged the constitutionality of Rule 1, but when the litigation reached the Montana Supreme Court, it held that the Tax Credit Program was unconstitutional under Art. X §6 and therefore it did not need to reach the issue regarding Rule 1:

Having concluded the Tax Credit Program violates Article X, Section 6, it is not necessary to consider federal precedent interpreting the First Amendment’s less-restrictive Establishment Clause. Conversely, however, an overly-broad analysis of Article X, Section 6, could implicate free exercise concerns. Although there may be a case where an indirect payment constitutes “aid” under Article X, Section 6, but where prohibiting the aid would violate the Free Exercise Clause, this is not one of those cases. We recognize we can only close the “room for play” between the joints of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses to a certain extent before our interpretation of one violates the other.

In the oral argument, Justice Ginsberg characterized the option exercised by the Montana Supreme Court as leveling down: "When a differential is challenged, the court inspecting the state law can level up or level down. And here it leveled down." (This "leveling down" approach occurred in Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court in Sessions v. Santana-Morales (2017)). And here that leveling down effected questions of standing which troubled Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in their early questions to the attorney for the petitioners — the parents and original plaintiffs — who are "three levels removed" from any injury as Sotmayor stated.

The Montana Supreme Court assumed center stage at times, with Justice Alito for example questioning not simply whether the court was wrong but whether it was discriminatory:

isn't the crucial question why the state court did what it did?

If it did what it did for an unconstitutionally discriminatory reason, then there's a problem under Village of Arlington Heights.

So I'll give you an example. The state legislature sets up a scholarship fund, and after a while, people look at the – the recipients of the scholarships, and some people say: Wow, these are mostly going to blacks and we don't like that and that's contrary to state law. So the state supreme court says: Okay,that discrimination is -- we're going to strike down the whole thing.

Is that constitutional?

The attorney for Montana, Adam Unikowsky rejected "the race analogy" stating that "we just don't think that race and religion are identical for all constitutional reasons."

Justice Breyer explained, "what he's saying is that, look, the court took the case in the Prince Edward County thing -- " or "the equivalent and said they couldn't do that. They can't shut down all the schools, even though the Constitution they didn't say had a right and so that's the similarity."

This question of the race-religion analogy persisted, with the motivation behind the Montana state constitutional provision, often known as a Blaine Amendment, being "rooted in -- in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics," as Justice Kavanaugh phrased it. Justice Kagan seemingly rejected the notion that the court's striking down the entire program must be motivated by animus towards religion:

And I can think of many reasons why you would strike down the whole program that have nothing to do with animus toward religion. You might actually think that funding religion imposes costs and burdens on religious institutions themselves. You might think that taxpayers have conscientious objections to funding religion. You might think that funding religion creates divisiveness and conflict within a society, and that for all those reasons, funding religious activity is not a good idea and that you would rather level down and fund no comparable activity, whether religious or otherwise, than fund both. Now, none of those things have anything to do with animus towards religion . . . .

Yet soon after, Chief Justice Roberts returned to the race analogy. Later, Justice Breyer would ask:

can we--can you or could I say this: Yes, race is different from religion. Why? There is no Establishment Clause in regard to race.

The specific doctrinal arguments revolve around the extension of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, decided in 2017, involving Missouri's state constitutional Blaine Amendment and the denial of funds to a church school playground.  And more deeply, the "play in the joints" notion from Locke v. Davey — which was itself divisive in Trinity Lutheran — is implicated. At stake is the possibility that Free Exercise Clause will now overwhelm any anti-Establishment concerns.

 

January 23, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Ninth Circuit Rules on Court Processes and Media Right to Access

The Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday that a media plaintiff had a First Amendment right to access nonconfidential civil complaints, and that one court policy violated that right, where another court policy didn't. The ruling sets a test and clarifies the law in the Ninth Circuit.

The case, Courthouse News Service v. Planet, arose when CNS challenged the process of releasing nonconfidential complaints to the press in Ventura County Superior Court. That process, dubbed "no access before process," meant that the court put newly filed civil complaints through a seven-step administrative process before releasing them to the media. That could take a couple days, so CNS sued, seeking immediate access. (Venture County doesn't use electronic filing; it's all paper.)

As the case worked its way through the federal courts, Ventura County changed its practice to a "scanning policy." Under the scanning policy, the court scanned complaints and made them available the same day (in most cases) on court computers. CNS still wanted immediate access, however, so the case moved on.

The Ninth Circuit said that CNS has a qualified First Amendment right of access to newly filed, nonconfidential civil complaints, and that the "no access before process" violated it, while the "scanning policy" didn't. The Ninth Circuit held that courts could adopt reasonable restrictions on access resembling time, place, and manner regulations. These could result in incidental delays in access, so long as they are content-neutral, narrowly tailored and necessary to serve the court's important interest in the fair and orderly administration of justice. Or: "Ventura County must demonstrate first that there is a 'substantial probability' that its interest in the fair and orderly administration of justice would be impaired by immediate access, and second, that no reasonable alternatives exist to 'adequately protect' that government interest."

As to the "no access before process" policy, the court said that it resulted in significant delays, but didn't serve (and in fact were entirely unrelated to) the stated interests in privacy and confidentiality, complying with accounting protocols, controlling quality and accuracy, promoting efficient court administration, or promoting the integrity of court records. It also said that the policy "caused far greater delays than were necessary to protect [these interests]."

As to the scanning policy, the court said that it directly related to the court's asserted interests and that, after the court changed its filing hours, the policy resulted in "near perfect" same-day access to the complaints. (Before the court changed its filing hours, there wasn't near perfect same-day access, but the Ninth Circuit gave the court a pass, because it faced resource constraints.)

The ruling leaves the current scanning policy in place.

Judge Smith concurred in part, arguing that the majority wrongly applied strict scrutiny, and instead should have applied "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions."

January 20, 2020 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

District Court Halts Trump Order Allowing Cities, States to Veto Refugee Resettlement

Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of President Trump's executive order that effectively authorized state and local governments to veto federal resettlement of refugees. The ruling, while preliminary, deals a sharp blow to President Trump's effort to empower state and local governments to restrict refugee resettlement. At the same time, it's a significant victory for refugees and the refugee-rights community.

President Trump's EO provides that the federal government "should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program." The EO effectively allowed state and local governments to veto resettlement.

The court ruled that this likely violated 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1522, which sets out the "conditions and considerations" for refugee resettlement and assistance programs:

[The statute] speaks in terms of "consulting" and "consultation" between and among the Resettlement Agencies and the State and Local Governments; establishes that the Resettlement Agencies and State and Local Governments must regularly "meet" to "plan and coordinate"; even acknowledges that "maximum consideration" be given to "recommendations" States make to the Federal Government. The challenged Order definitely appears to undermine this arrangement. As to States or Local Governments that refuse to give written consents, there will be no consultation, no meetings with the Resettlement Agencies, not just "recommendations." Those State and Local Governments can simply give or withhold their written consents to the resettlement of refugees within their borders.

The court also held that the EO "appears to run counter to the Refugee Act's stated purpose" and the congressional intent. (A report on the bill from the House Judiciary Committee couldn't have been clearer: "The Committee emphasizes that these requirements [of the act] are not intended to give States and localities any veto power over refugee placement decisions, but rather to ensure their input into the process and to improve their resettlement planning capacity.")

The court also held that individual government officials' enforcement of the EO was likely arbitrary and capricious, and thus invalid, under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling preliminarily prohibits enforcement of the EO. But it also telegraphs the court's conclusion on the merits: the EO is unlawful.

January 15, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Daily Read: Crenshaw & MacKinnon Propose a New Equality Amendment

In their article, Reconstituting the Future: The Equality Amendment, well-known feminist theorists Catharine A. MacKinnon & Kimberlé W. Crenshaw have argued that equality needs to be re-envisioned in an intersectional and progressive manner requiring constitutional amendment. In the Yale Journal Law Forum they contend their proposal

centers on rectifying the founding acts and omissions of race and sex, separately and together, and incorporates similar but distinct inequalities. It is informed by prior efforts to integrate equality into the constitutional landscape that have been decimated by political reversals and doctrinal backlash. It aggregates the insights, aspirations, and critiques of many thinkers and actors who have seized this moment to breathe new life into the nation’s reckoning with inequality. It neither looks back to celebrate amendments whose transformative possibilities have been defeated nor participates in contemporary hand-wringing over equality’s jurisprudential limitations. It seeks to make equality real and to matter now. We argue that a new equality paradigm is necessary and present one form it could take.

The article elaborates on the rationales for each section. The entire proposed amendment reads:

The Equality Amendment

Whereas all women, and men of color, were historically excluded as equals, intentionally and functionally, from the Constitution of the United States, subordinating these groups structurally and systemically; and

Whereas prior constitutional amendments have allowed extreme inequalities of race and/or sex and/or like grounds of subordination to continue with-out effective legal remedy, and have even been used to entrench such inequalities; and

Whereas this country aspires to be a democracy of, by, and for all of its people, and to treat all people of the world in accordance with human rights principles;

Therefore be it enacted that—

Section 1. Women in all their diversity shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Section 2. Equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex (including pregnancy, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity), and/or race (including ethnicity, national origin, or color), and/or like grounds of subordination (such as disability or faith). No law or its interpretation shall give force to common law disadvantages that exist on the ground(s) enumerated in this Amendment.

Section 3. To fully realize the rights guaranteed under this Amendment, Congress and the several States shall take legislative and other measures to prevent or redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past and/or present inequality as prohibited by this Amendment, and shall take all steps requisite and effective to abolish prior laws, policies, or constitutional provisions that impede equal political representation.

Section 4. Nothing in Section 2 shall invalidate a law, program, or activity that is protected or required under Section 1 or 3.

This just-published relatively brief (22 pages) essay would make a terrific addition to any Constitutional Law syllabus, as well as any course in Feminist Legal Theory or Gender and Law.

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-02 at 7.45.52 PM

pictured: Professors Crenshaw (left) & MacKinnon (right)

 

January 2, 2020 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Privacy, Race, Recent Cases, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Daily Read: Chief Justice's Year-End Report on the Judiciary

For his 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice Roberts chose to include in his brief introductory remarks some words about democracy:

It is sadly ironic that John Jay’s efforts to educate his fellow citizens about the Framers’ plan of government fell victim to a rock thrown by a rioter motivated by a rumor. Happily, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay ultimately succeeded in convincing the public of the virtues of the principles embodied in the Constitution. Those principles leave no place for mob violence. But in the ensuing years, we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside. In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital. The judiciary has an important role to play in civic education, and I am pleased to report that the judges and staff of our federal courts are taking up the challenge.

[emphasis added]. The emphasized bolded language, seeming to blame the population of the United States for taking democracy for granted and social media for spreading rumors did not sit well with some commentators who argued that Roberts should consider his own contributions to undermining democracy:  Shelby County (regarding voting rights);  Rucho (decided in June of this year holding partisan gerrymandering is a political question not suitable for the federal courts);   McCutcheon (finding campaign finance regulations unconstitutional).  For others, Roberts's language regarding civic education is welcome and demonstrates his recognition of the divides in the nation.

Noticeably absent from Roberts's remarks was any reference to the impeachment trial which looms in the Senate over which he will preside.  Also absent was any update on the sexual misconduct claims against members of the judiciary which he mentioned in last year's report.

January 1, 2020 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Political Question Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ninth Circuit Refuses to Stay Injunction Against Trump's Immigration Health-Care Requirement

The Ninth Circuit last week refused to grant an emergency temporary stay of a district judge's temporary injunction against enforcement of President Trump's October 4 Proclamation that restricts entry into the United States by aliens "who will financial burden the United States healthcare system." The ruling means that the lower court's injunction stays in place, and the government cannot enforce the Proclamation. The court expedited review of the government's motion for a stay pending appeal, however, and will hear oral argument on January 9.

President Trump's proclamation, titled "Presidential Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry of Immigrants Who Will Financially Burden the United States," requires aliens to show proof of approved health insurance before getting a visa or otherwise entering the United States. Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Proclamation exceeded the President's authority under law, that the President therefore engaged in impermissible lawmaking in violation of the separation of powers, and that the law impermissibly delegated lawmaking authority to the President in violation of the nondelegation doctrine. The district court agreed and issued a temporary injunction against enforcement of the Proclamation.

The Ninth Circuit most recently denied the government's request for an emergency temporary stay. The court wrote,

Here, the status quo would be disrupted by granting the temporary stay request. Therefore, we deny the request for a temporary stay. The Proclamation has not yet gone into effect. The changes it would make to American immigration policy are major and unprecedented; the harms the government alleges it will suffer pending review of the motion for stay pending appeal are long-term rather than immediate. Our ruling is based solely on the absence of a sufficient exigency to justify changing the status quo, particularly during the few weeks before scheduled oral argument on the merits of the emergency motion; we do not consider the merits of the dispute in any respect.

The court went on to expedite briefing and oral argument on the government's motion for a stay pending appeal.

Judge Bress dissented, arguing that "the district court's decision is clearly wrong as a matter of law." According to Judge Bress, "[i]n the supposed name of the separation of powers, the district court struck down part of a longstanding congressional statute, invalidated a presidential proclamation, and purported to grant worldwide relief to persons not before the court. And it did so based on the nondelegation doctrine--among the most brittle limbs in American constitutional law--and a reading of 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1184(f) that the Supreme Court expressly rejected in Trump v. Hawaii.

December 28, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Nondelegation Doctrine, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 23, 2019

SCOTUS to Hear Ministerial Exception Cases

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to two Ninth Circuit cases and consolidated them: Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel

Both cases involve an application of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" first accepted by the Court in 2012 in Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.  In the unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor, the Court found that the school teacher Cheryl Perich was tantamount to a minister. Thus, under both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as a "minister" her employment relations with her church school employer were eligible for a "ministerial exception" to the otherwise applicable employment laws, in that case the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

But who is a "ministerial" employee subject to the exemption from employment laws?

Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Hosanna-Tabor declined to provide a test for deciding whether or not an employee was within the ministerial exception. However, the Court did extensively analyze Cheryl Perich's employment. And the lower courts have been struggling with how to analogize to the Court's conclusions regarding the "called teacher" Perich.

In the unpublished and very brief panel opinion in Morrisey-Berru, the court stated that the Court in Hosanna-Tabor considered four factors in analyzing whether the exception applied:

  • (1) whether the employer held the employee out as a minister by bestowing a formal religious title;
  • (2) whether the employee’s title reflected ministerial substance and training;
  • (3) whether the employee held herself out as a minister; and
  • (4) whether the employee’s job duties included “important religious functions.”

Applying those factors, the Ninth Circuit panel stated:

Considering the totality of the circumstances in this case, we conclude that the district court erred in concluding that Morrissey-Berru was a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception. Unlike the employee in Hosanna-Tabor, Morrissey-Berru’s formal title of “Teacher” was secular. Aside from taking a single course on the history of the Catholic church, Morrissey-Berru did not have any religious credential, training, or ministerial background. Morrissey-Berru also did not hold herself out to the public as a religious leader or minister.

Morrissey-Berru did have significant religious responsibilities as a teacher at the School. She committed to incorporate Catholic values and teachings into her curriculum, as evidenced by several of the employment agreements she signed, led her students in daily prayer, was in charge of liturgy planning for a monthly Mass, and directed and produced a performance by her students during the School’s Easter celebration every year. However, an employee’s duties alone are not dispositive under Hosanna-Tabor’s framework. See Biel v. St. James Sch. (9th Cir. 2018). Therefore, on balance, we conclude that the ministerial exception does not bar Morrissey-Berru’s ADEA claim.

Biel, relied upon in Morrisey-Berru's unpublished opinion, was much more contentious. Reversing the district court, the Ninth Circuit panel's opinion in Biel similarly considered four factors from Hosanna-Tabor and applying them to the school teacher Kristen Biel concluded that she was not a ministerial employee. For the panel in Biel, she

by contrast, has none of Perich’s credentials, training, or ministerial background. There was no religious component to her liberal studies degree or teaching credential. St. James had no religious requirements for her position. And, even after she began working there, her training consisted of only a half-day conference whose religious substance was limited. Unlike Perich, who joined the Lutheran teaching ministry as a calling, Biel appears to have taken on teaching work wherever she could find it: tutoring companies, multiple public schools, another Catholic school, and even a Lutheran school.

***

Also in contrast to Perich, nothing in the record indicates that Biel considered herself a minister or presented herself as one to the community. She described herself as a teacher and claimed no benefits available only to ministers.

Only with respect to the fourth consideration in Hosanna-Tabor do Biel and Perich have anything in common: they both taught religion in the classroom. Biel taught lessons on the Catholic faith four days a week. She also incorporated religious themes and symbols into her overall classroom environment and curriculum, as the school required. We do not, however, read Hosanna-Tabor to indicate that the ministerial exception applies based on this shared characteristic alone. If it did, most of the analysis in Hosanna-Tabor would be irrelevant dicta, given that Perich’s role in teaching religion was only one of the four characteristics the Court relied upon in reaching the conclusion that she fell within the ministerial exception.

And even Biel’s role in teaching religion was not equivalent to Perich’s.. . .

The panel's opinion in Biel was not unanimous. A dissenting judge would have held that Biel was a minister in large part because her teaching duties at a Catholic school included religious teachings; the judge was "struck by the importance of her stewardship of the Catholic faith to the children in her class. Biel’s Grade 5 Teacher title may not have explicitly announced her role in ministry, but the substance reflected in her title demonstrates that she was a Catholic school educator with a distinctly religious purpose."

The petition for rehearing en banc was denied, but with a lengthy dissenting opinion  by Judge R. Nelson joined by an addition eight Ninth Circuit Judges - - - that's nine Judges dissenting.  Judge Nelson's opinion argues that the panel opinion in Biel (as well as the opinion in Morrisey-Berru) had taken the narrowest possible interpretation of Hosanna-Tabor, so narrow as to have "excised the ministerial exception, slicing through constitutional muscle and now cutting deep into core constitutional bone." For the dissenting judges, 

In turning a blind eye to St. James’s religious liberties protected by both Religion Clauses, we exhibit the very hostility toward religion our Founders prohibited and the Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed us to avoid.

Chalk_Lessons_or_The_Blackboard_in_the_Sunday_School_by_Frank_Beard_1896With the Court's grant of certiorari in Biel and Morrisey-Berru, perhaps there will be more clarity regarding the factors of Hosanna-Tabor and how they should be applied to teachers in private schools run by religious organizations. 

The facts of Biel may strike many as particularly sympathetic: Kristen Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer and terminated when she said she would have to take some time off work when she underwent chemotherapy. St. James's principal, Sister Mary Margaret, told Biel it was not "fair" "to have two teachers for the children during the school year.” If she had worked for a nonreligious school, Biel would have been protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Court is set to decide whether Biel and seemingly almost every teacher at a private school operated by a religious organization should be excluded from the employment protections afforded other workers.

[image "Chalk Lessons, or the Black-board in the Sunday School. A Practical Guide for Superintendents and Teachers" by Frank Beard (1896), via]

December 23, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Disability, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Fourth Circuit Allows Census Undercount Claim to Move Forward

The Fourth Circuit ruled in NAACP v. Bureau of the Census that a lower court erred in dismissing the plaintiffs' claims that the "methods and means" that the Census Bureau adopted for the 2020 Census would under-count African Americans. The court ordered the district court to allow the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint. The ruling said nothing about the merits.

The case involves the NAACP's claims under the Enumeration Clause and the Administrative Procedure Act that the Census Bureau's planned methodology for the 2020 Census will disproportionately undercount African Americans. The plaintiffs filed their initial complaint alleging certain deficiencies in the Bureau's approach and methodology. The district court dismissed the Enumeration Clause claim as unripe; it dismissed the APA claim on jurisdictional grounds. Just days after the district court ruled, the Bureau issued its "Operational Plan" for the 2020 Census. The court granted the plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaint as to the APA, but denied it as to the Enumeration Clause, holding that this claim was still unripe. (The court held that the plaintiffs' claims wouldn't become ripe until after the 2020 Census.) The court then dismissed the case.

The Fourth Circuit reversed as to the Enumeration Clause. It held that "at the latest" the case was ripe "when the defendants announced that the Operational Plan was final and the plaintiffs sought leave to file an amended complaint." Moreover, it said that "delayed adjudication would result in hardship to the plaintiffs."

The court remanded the case with instructions to allow the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint as to the Enumeration Clause claim (but not as to the APA). It noted, however, that "we do not express any view regarding" the merits.

December 19, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fifth Circuit Strikes ACA's Individual Mandate, Remands for the Reconsideration of Rest of the Act

The Fifth Circuit yesterday ruled that the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate is unconstitutional. At the same time, the court remanded to the district court to reconsider whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the Act (and therefore whether other portions of the Act can stand) and to consider the government's new request for relief.

We posted on the district court's ruling here.

The ruling is a big victory for opponents of the ACA, especially the individual mandate. But whether the case also strikes other portions of the ACA, and how far the ruling sweeps, are still undetermined.

The three-judge panel ruled that the individual mandate cannot stand as an exercise of Congress's taxing power, because Congress set the tax penalty at $0. With no revenue potential, the provision cannot be a tax:

Now that the shared responsibility payment amount is set at zero, the provision's savings construction [the NFIB ruling that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress's taxing power] is no longer available. The four central attributes that once saved the statute because it could be read as a tax no longer exist. Most fundamentally, the provision no longer yields the "essential feature of any tax" because it does not produce "at least some revenue for the Government." Because the provision no longer produces revenue, it necessarily lacks the three other characteristics that once rendered the provision a tax. The shared-responsibility payment is no longer "paid into the Treasure by taxpayer[s] when they file their tax returns" because the payment is no longer paid by anyone. The payment amount is no longer "determined by such familiar factors as taxable income, number of dependents, and joint filing status." The amount is zero for everyone, without regard to any of these factors. The IRS no longer collects the payment "in the same manner as taxes" because the IRS cannot collect it at all.

The court went on to say that the district court failed to consider carefully enough whether the individual mandate is severable from the rest of the Act--that is, whether other provisions of the ACA can stand without the individual mandate. (The government switched its position on appeal and argued that the mandate is inseverable.) The district court previously ruled that it wasn't severable, and thus struck the entire Act, including the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions, but also including every other provision (like the provision that says young people can stay on their parents' insurance until age 26). But the Fifth Circuit held that the district court's analysis wasn't sufficient, and remanded to the court "to employ a finer-toothed comb . . . and conduct a more searching inquiry into which provisions of the ACA Congress intended to be inseverable from the individual mandate."

The court also directed the lower court to consider the government's new request for relief. The government switched positions on appeal and argued that, while the individual mandate is inseverable, the court should enjoin enforcement only as to the plaintiff states and only as to those provisions that injure the plaintiffs.

In short, while yesterday's ruling struck the individual mandate, it's not yet clear exactly how far that ruling will extend to also strike other provisions of the ACA, how far it will extend geographically, and how far it will extend beyond the plaintiffs in this case.

Judge King dissented, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing, and that (in any event) the individual mandate was constitutional.

December 19, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 6, 2019

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari in First Amendment Challenge to Delaware Constitution's Judicial Appointment Provision

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Adams v. Carney, Governor of Delaware in which the Third Circuit held several sections of the Delaware Constitution regarding the selection of judges violated the First Amendment.

Centrally, the Delaware Constitution, Art IV §3 seeks to achieve a partisan balance in the judiciary and provides that appointments to the state judiciary "shall at all times be subject to the following limitations":

First, three of the five Justices of the Supreme Court in office at the same time, shall be of one major political party, and two of said Justices shall be of the other major political party.

Second, at any time when the total number of Judges of the Superior Court shall be an even number not more than one-half of the members of all such offices shall be of the same political party; and at any time when the number of such offices shall be an odd number, then not more than a bare majority of the members of all such offices shall be of the same major political party, the remaining members of such offices shall be of the other major political party.

Third, at any time when the total number of the offices of the Justices of the Supreme Court, the Judges of the Superior Court, the Chancellor and all the Vice-Chancellors shall be an even number, not more than one-half of the members of all such offices shall be of the same major political party; and at any time when the total number of such offices shall be an odd number, then not more than a bare majority of the members of all such offices shall be of the same major political party; the remaining members of the Courts above enumerated shall be of the other major political party.

In its opinion, the Third Circuit panel found that this political balancing violated the First Amendment, concluding that it was not within the protections for political policymakers of Elrod v. Burns (1976) and Branti v. Finkel (1980).  The Third Circuit found that even assuming that "judicial political balance is a vital Delaware interest," Delaware failed to demonstrate that this goal could not be realized using less restrictive means of infringing on the plaintiff's associational interests. 

And while the Third Circuit found that the plaintiff, a retired Delaware attorney who belonged to neither major party. lacked standing to challenge the Delaware constitutional provisions regarding Family Court and the Court of Common Pleas.  The United States Supreme Court, however, has directed briefing on the issue of Article III standing, presumably pertinent to the other provisions.

1024px-El_Rodeo_(1914)_(41507)[image via]

 

December 6, 2019 in Association, Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Second Circuit Says Deutsche Bank Must Turn Over Trump Financial Records to House Committees

The Second Circuit ruled that Deutsche Bank and Capital One have to comply with subpoenas issued by the House Financial Services and Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence for financial records related to President Trump and his businesses. The court denied a preliminary injunction to halt the disclosures. While the ruling is technically preliminary, the court noted that it's effectively a ruling on the merits.

The ruling is yet another blow to President Trump and his continuing quest to keep his financial records secret. (We posted most recently here, on the Supreme Court's stay of a D.C. Circuit mandate to Mazars to release his financial records.) It's also yet another candidate for Supreme Court review.

After the Committees subpoenaed the banks, President Trump, his three oldest children, and some of their organizations sued the banks and the Committees seeking to halt the disclosure. The plaintiffs raised statutory and constitutional claims, although the court noted that President Trump specifically identified himself only as a private citizen.

The court held that the plaintiffs weren't likely to succeed on any of their claims. As to the first statutory claim, the court held that the Right to Financial Privacy Act did not prohibit the disclosures, because the RFPA doesn't apply to Congress. As to the second statutory claim, the court ruled that 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6103 and its several relevant subsections didn't bar the Committees from seeking the records from the banks.

As to the constitutional claim, the court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that the Committees exceeded their power to investigate in issuing the subpoenas. The court noted the breadth of the subpoenas, but nevertheless held that the Committees had a valid legislative purpose (not focusing on possible illegalities committed by the President, but instead "on the existence of such activity in the banking industry, the adequacy of regulation by relevant agencies, and the need for legislation") and that the "public need" to investigate for that purpose "overbalances any private rights affected." On this balancing, the court wrote,

"[T]he weight to be ascribed to" the public need for the investigations the Committees are pursuing is of the highest order. The legislative purposes of the investigations concern national security and the integrity of elections, as detailed above. By contrast, the privacy interests concern private financial documents related to businesses, possibly enhanced by the risk that disclosure might distract the President in the performance of his official duties.

The court went on to hold that the subpoenas were sufficiently tailored to the Committees' legitimate purposes.

The court identified one request, however, that "might reveal sensitive personal details having no relationship to the Committees' legislative purposes," and others "that have such an attenuated relationship to the Committees' legislative purposes that they need not be disclosed." The court remanded to the district court and specified a procedure by which the court could exclude certain "sensitive documents."

As to all other documents not identified for exclusion or possible exclusion, however, the court ordered the banks to "promptly transmit[] to the Committees in daily batches as they are assembled, beginning seven days from the date of this opinion."

The court rejected the amicus government's separation-of-powers argument, holding that this case isn't about the separation of powers (because it involves a congressional request from a third party for information of the President in his personal capacity).

Judge Livingston dissented. She agreed with the majority that the plaintiffs lacked a likelihood of success on the merits of their statutory claims. But she disagreed about how to treat the constitutional claims. She argued that the case raises serious separation-of-powers concerns, and that the current record simply isn't well enough developed to evaluate those concerns. So she argued for a full remand, "directing the district court promptly to implement a procedure by which the Plaintiffs may lodge their objections to disclosure with regard to specific portions of the assembled material and so that the Committees can clearly articulate, also with regard to specific categories of information, the legislative purpose that supports disclosure and the pertinence of such information to that purpose."

December 4, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)