Thursday, February 21, 2019

D.C. Circuit Says Palestinians' Genocide Claims Against Americans Can Move Forward

The D.C. Circuit ruled in al-Tamimi v. Adelson that claims by Palestinians that pro-Israeli American individuals and entities conspired to support genocide in disputed territories does not present a non-justiciable political question. The court remanded the case so that it can move forward.

The case involves Palestinian nationals' and Palestinian-Americans' claims that certain pro-Israeli American individuals and organizations funneled money to Israeli settlements, which then used the funds to train a militia of Israeli settlers to kill Palestinians and confiscate their property. In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that some or all of the defendants (1) engaged in civil conspiracy to rid the disputed territory of all Palestinians, (2) committed or sponsored genocide and other war crimes, (3) aided and abetted the commission of genocide and other war crimes, and (4) trespassed on Palestinian property. The plaintiffs brought their claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act.

The district court held that the case raised non-justiciable political questions and dismissed the complaint.

The D.C. Circuit reversed. The court said that the plaintiffs' complaint reduced to two questions for the court: (1) Who has sovereignty over the disputed territory?; and (2) Are Israeli settlers committing genocide? The court ruled that the first question raised a political question, because it "plainly implicates foreign policy and thus is reserved to the political branches." But it ruled that the second question didn't:

An ATS claim, then, incorporates the law of nations. And it is well settled that genocide violates the law of nations. Genocide has a legal definition. Thus, the ATS--by incorporating the law of nations and the definitions included therein--provides a judicially manageable standard to determine whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide. . . . We are well able, however, to apply the standards enunciated by the Supreme Court to the facts of this case. . . .

In light of the statutory grounds of plaintiffs' claims coupled with Zivotofsky I's muteness regarding Baker's four prudential factors, we believe that whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide is not a jurisdiction-stripping political question. Accordingly, although the question who has sovereignty over the disputed territory does present a "hands-off" political question, the question whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide does not.

The court held that the first question was extricable from the rest of the case, and therefore the lower court could move forward on the second question. (The second question doesn't require resolution of sovereignty over the disputed territories; it only asks whether Israeli settlers are committing genocide in the disputed territories.)

February 21, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, International, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Political Question Doctrine, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Calls for Expanding Defamation Liability

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writing a concurring opinion from the denial of certiorari in McKee v. Cosby, has essentially called for an abandonment of First Amendment concerns in the torts of defamation and libel.  Interestingly, the lawsuit involves a claim by McGee, who accused actor and comedian Bill Cosby of sexual assault, for defamation based on a letter from Cosby's attorney which allegedly damaged her reputation for truthfulness and honesty. The First Circuit, affirming the district judge, found that by making the public accusation, McKee became a "limited-purpose public figure" under First Amendment doctrine and therefore would have to show not only that the statements were false, but that they were made with actual malice (knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth).

Clarence_Thomas_official_SCOTUS_portrait_cropMcKee had sought review of the determination that she was a limited public figure. The Court declined. Justice Thomas's concurring opinion does not address this "fact bound inquiry," but instead argues that the Court should reconsider the doctrinal basis for the lower courts' decisions, including New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which the opinion extensively discusses.  In a nutshell, Thomas argues that New York Times v. Sullivan and its progeny are "policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law": there was no "public figure" doctrine of libel at common law and an originalist understanding of the First Amendment does not extend to state law torts such as defamation and libel. While New York Times v. Sullivan may seem like settled precedent entitled to respect under stare decisis, Justice Thomas notes that the Court "did not begin meddling in this area until 1964, nearly 174 years after the First Amendment was ratified."

What should we make of this thirteen page concurring opinion?  It can seem a gratuitous intervention in a case in which it would not make a difference.  Or it can seem just another occasion for Justice Thomas to articulate his hallmark originalism.  Or it could be an invitation for lower federal judges — and for litigators — to start challenging the First Amendment actual malice standard for defamation and libel more directly.  Additionally, this position is quite consonant with the President's statements that libel laws need revision and Trump's reputation as a "libel bully," although perhaps cases such as Summer Zervos lawsuit against Trump — very similar to McKee's against Cosby — Trump would be disserved by a more common law approach. But in the cases in which Mr. Trump were the plaintiff, an absence of the burden of having to prove "actual malice" would certainly work to his benefit.

 

February 19, 2019 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 15, 2019

Third Circuit Finds No Property Interest in Continued Salary in Professor's Procedural Due Process Challenge

In its opinion in McKinney v. University of Pittsburgh, the Third Circuit rejected a procedural due process challenge to the university's reduction of a professor's salary by 20%. Reversing the district judge, the Third Circuit unanimously found that the professor did not have a property interest in continued salary at the same rate under the university policy.

The policy had no explicit provision describing salary decreases, but did provide that "[e]ach faculty or staff member performing satisfactorily will receive a percentage increase of the size determined for that year for maintenance of real salary.”  There were substantial questions about whether McKinney was performing satisfactorily and the decrease came only after several years of poor performance reviews. But the heart of the issue was whether the university policies established the type of property interest in his continued base salary sufficient to be recognized under Board of Regents v. Roth (1972) and Perry v. Sindermann (1972).

While the United States Supreme Court has never ruled explicitly on whether there is a property interest in a particular base salary, the Third Circuit discussed circuit cases requiring an "explicit assurance to that effect" in any policies. Here, while there was not a specific warning that salary could be reduced, the court found that nevertheless the language of the applicable policy was not sufficient to give McKinney a "legitimate expectation" in his base salary and thus a protectable property interest.

While the court's conclusion largely rested on its interpretation of the policy's language, it also noted that McKinney had not objected when his salary was not raised in a previous performance review, and articulated a policy of judicial restraint in the area of "academic decisionmaking."

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February 15, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Third Circuit Says State Liquor Control Board Gets Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Third Circuit ruled that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from a suit for monetary damages by an employee who alleged that the PLCB discriminated against him in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The ruling ends the case.

The case, Patterson v. PLCB, arose when a PLCB employee accused the Board of discriminating against him because of his race. The employee sued for monetary damages; the PLCB moved to dismiss under Eleventh Amendment immunity; and the district court dismissed the case.

The Third Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that the PLCB, an "independent" state agency, is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity under the circuit's three-part balancing test. The court said first that "the state is not legally responsible for adverse judgments, the PLCB can satisfy a judgment using revenue obtained from liquor sales, and the PLCB is responsible for its own debts"--weighing against immunity. Second, the court said that the state treats the Board as an arm of the state--the Board is separately incorporated, it has its own power to sue and be sued, it's immune from state taxes, and state law considers the Board an arm of the state--weighing in favor of immunity. Finally, the court said that the Board's governing structure and oversight by the state weigh in favor of immunity. On balance, the court held that the Board gets immunity.

February 14, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fourth Circuit Finds Public Official Violated First Amendment Rights of Constituent on Facebook

In its thorough opinion in Davison v. Randall (& Loudoun County), the Fourth Circuit earlier this month concluded that the interactive component of the Facebook Page of Phyllis Randall, the Chair of Loudoun County, Virginia constituted a public forum and that the Chair engaged in classic viewpoint discrimination violating the First Amendment when she banned a constituent from posting on the page.

The Fourth Circuit's unanimous opinion by Judge James Wynn affirms the opinion by District Judge James Cacheris which we extensively discussed here

However, for the first time on appeal the government defendants raised the argument that the individual constituent who was temporarily banned, Brian Davison, lacked Article III standing because he did not suffer an injury in fact. Judge Wynn's opinion first found that the plaintiff evinced an intent to engage in the proscribed conduct in the future — here, commenting on Facebook Pages of the government official — which was easily satisfied given that he was "active in local politics."   Second, Judge Wynn's opinion found that there continued to be a credible threat of future "enforcement" by the government, especially given past actions and that Randall had not "disavowed" future enforcement.

Facebook-mouse-cursor-mouse-pointer-76536Judge Wynn's opinion for the Fourth Circuit on the state action threshold issue agrees with the district court's opinion that there is state action. Judge Wynn wrote that the issue of whether there is sufficient "color of state law" under 42 U.S.C. §1983 is "synonymous with the more familiar state action requirement applicable to Fourteenth Amendment claims" and the analysis for each is identical. The precise contours of that analysis do not admit to a "specific formula" according to the opinion, instead meriting consideration of the totality of the circumstances and whether there is a sufficiently close nexus. Importantly, here the court concluded that the official used the power and prestige of her office to damage the plaintiff constituent based upon events which arose out of her official status.

On the First Amendment merits, Judge Wynn's opinion found that the Facebook Page — or portions of it — created a public forum, an issue that is intertwined with the state action issue. For the public forum question, the Fourth Circuit, like the district judge, again discussed the specifics of the Facebook Page and interactive component with its invitation for ANY Loudoun resident to make comments on ANY issues. The court noted the language from the Supreme Court's opinion in Packingham v. North Carolina (2017) commenting that social media as currently the most important place for the exchange of views.  Judge Wynn rejected the government's arguments that Facebook was a private website that cannot be converted to a public forum, noting that the forum analysis under the First Amendment applies to private property dedicated to public use.  Judge Wynn also rejected the government's argument that the Facebook Page was exempt from First Amendment analysis as government speech, again noting that it specifically invited constituents to participate.

Interestingly, the Fourth Circuit analogized to Halleck v. Manhattan Community Access Corp (2nd Cir. 2018), which, as the opinion discussed in a footnote, is now before the United States Supreme Court on certiorari (our preview is here).  But the Fourth Circuit distinguished the issues before the Court in Halleck as being state action issues rather than the public forum issues to which it analogized.

February 13, 2019 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Standing, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Check it Out: Litman on the Substance of the Supreme Court's Procedure

Check out Leah Litman's piece at Take Care on the Court's orders last week in June Medical (granting a stay of the Fifth Circuit's rejection of a challenge to Louisiana's admitting-privileges requirement for doctors who perform abortion) and Dunn v. Ray (granting a stay of the Eleventh Circuit's stay of execution for an inmate who was denied an imam to attend his execution). Litman argues that these rulings "are not really about the district court's general role as fact-finders. They are, instead, about the factual, procedural, and equitable standards that courts hold different kinds of plaintiffs to--who they indulge, and who they hold to increasingly insurmountable or prohibitively difficult standards."

February 13, 2019 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

United States District Judge Finds Exclusion of Puerto Rican Resident from Benefits Violates Equal Protection

In his opinion in United States v. Vaello-Madero, United States District Judge for the District of Puerto Rico, Gustavo Gelpí, entered summary judgment for the defendant in a suit by the United States seeking to recoup SSI disability payments. Mr. Vaello-Madero had been receiving SSI benefits while living in New York and the federal government continued to deposit the monthly payment into his checking account even after he relocated to Puerto Rico.  The SSI statute defines persons eligible for SSI as living in the "United States," and by definition Puerto Rico from the United States, 42 U.S.C. §1382c(e).

Judge Gelpí rejected the government's contention that this exclusion was supported by the Territorial Clause, Article IV §3 cl. 2, which although it gives Congress a "wide latitude of powers" is not a "blank check" to "dictate when and where the Constitution applies to its citizens," citing Boumediene v. Bush (2008).

1600px-1903_map_of_Porto_Rico_(Puerto_Rico)However, Judge Gelpí credited Vaello-Madero's argument that the exclusion of citizens of Puerto Rico from SSI benefits violated the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Judge Gelpí relied on United States v. Windsor (2013) in which the United States Supreme Court found DOMA unconstitutional, stating that as in Windsor the SSI statute was based on animus. Judge Gelpi gestured toward the possible applicability of a higher level of scrutiny - mentioning that US citizens residing in Puerto Rico are "very essence of a politically powerless group, with no Presidential nor Congressional vote, and with only a non-voting Resident Commissioner representing their interests in Congress" and noting that a "de facto classification based on Hispanic origin is constitutionally impermissible" - but held that, as in Windsor, rational basis was not satisfied.

Importantly, Judge Gelpí found that the government's interests advanced to support the exclusion of Puerto Rico in the statute, cost and nonpayment of federal income tax by Puerto Rican residents, were "belied by the fact that United States citizens in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands receive SSI disability benefits."

Judge Gelpí's opinion ends with strong language:

federal legislation that creates a citizenship apartheid based on historical and social ethnicity within United States soil goes against this very concept [of Equal Protection and Due Process].  It is in the Court’s responsibility to protect these rights if the other branches do not. Allowing a United States citizen in Puerto Rico that is poor and disabled to be denied SSI disability payments creates an impermissible second rate citizenship akin to that premised on race and amounts to Congress switching off the Constitution. All United States citizens must trust that their fundamental constitutional rights will be safeguarded everywhere within the Nation, be in a State or Territory.

However, the opinion stops short of declaring 42 U.S.C. §1382c(e) facially unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement.  Judge Gelpí does issue summary judgment in favor of Vaello-Madero in an opinion sure to be used as precedent in other similar proceedings if the United States does not appeal.

February 5, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 4, 2019

District Court Dismisses Maryland's Obamacare Case Against the Feds for Lack of Standing

Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander (D. Md.) dismissed Maryland's case against the federal government for a declaration as to the constitutionality and enforceability of the Affordable Care Act and an injunction to get the government to enforce it. Judge Hollander concluded that the state lacked standing.

At the same time, the court recognized that Maryland might establish standing in the future--if the administration actually fails to enforce the ACA.

Maryland threw all of its standing-spaghetti at the wall, but still it wasn't enough to overcome what the court called the speculative nature of its harm. Maryland argued that the government's failure to enforce the ACA would harm its proprietary and financial interests (because the state set up systems, including an exchange, under the ACA, and because the state would be on the hook for uninsureds' care); quasi-sovereign interests (ensuring that the state and its residents get to participate in the ACA); and sovereign interests (in the creation and enforcement of its insurance and healthcare regulatory regime).

But the court said Maryland's harms were too speculative, even given the state's allegations in a second amended complaint that specifically detailed the administration's efforts to undermine the ACA. (Importantly, the court concluded that Maryland hadn't sufficiently pleaded that the administration would fail to enforce the ACA--not that nonenforcement would lead to the harms that Maryland cited.) In short:

Here, the State does not fear an imminent risk of enforcement. Rather, it fears nonenforcement, which it claims would result in significant costs and harm to the State. Whereas the executive agencies are responsible for enforcing the law and can therefore be expected to bring enforcement actions, they are categorically prohibited from flouting the law. To establish a plausible inference that an agency will imminently flout the law, particularly one affecting millions of people and billions of federal dollars, requires more persuasive allegations that defendants imminently intend not to enforce the ACA.

The President's profound disdain for the ACA cannot be seriously disputed. But, the State's allegations do not create a plausible inference of a substantial or certainly impending risk that the Trump Administration will cease enforcement of part or all of the ACA. Neither the President's zealous attempts to repeal the statute, nor his derisive comments about it, support an inference that he will fail to enforce the law.

February 4, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 25, 2019

Court Denies Stay Pending Appeal of Order Vacating Sweeping Restrictions on Asylum Claims

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) today denied the government's request to stay the court's earlier order vacating the government's restrictions on asylum pending appeal. The ruling means that the court's order will remain in place--and the government can't enforce its crabbed "credible fear" standard in expedited removal proceedings--while the government appeals the earlier ruling.

Recall that the court halted DOJ's and USCIS's standards for "credible fear" determinations by asylum officers in expedited removal proceedings, because those standards violated the Immigration and Naturalization Act or were otherwise arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. (AG Sessions initiated the change in a ruling in Matter of A-B-, and DHS followed up with administrative guidance.) Those standards restricted claims by individuals who claim asylum based on a fear of domestic violence and gang violence.

The government claimed that the court only had authority to rule on the government's standards with regard to the plaintiffs in this case, and not across the board.

But the court rejected that argument, pointing to the language of the INA and the legislative history. The court also wrote that the government won't be irreparably harmed, and that third parties (other immigrants subject to the government's standard) would be harmed with a stay.

The ruling underscores the court's original order on the merits.

January 25, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Court Denies Restraining Order in Federal Employees' Lawsuit Over Shutdown

Judge Richard J. Leon (D.D.C.) earlier this week denied a temporary restraining order in favor of the federal employees who sued to get backpay and to not have to go to work during the shutdown. Judge Leon ordered further argument next Thursday, but the case is now likely moot (in light of today's agreement to get things going again, even if only temporarily).

The ruling means that the court declines to order the government to do anything for the employees, and leaves things to the political branches to work it out.

Judge Leon wrote in explicit separation-of-powers terms (and animated text--all emphasis in original):

But I want and need to make something very clear: the Judiciary is not just another source of leverage to be tapped in the ongoing internal squabble between the political branches. We are an independent, co-equal branch of government, and whether or not we can afford to keep our lights on, our oath is to the Constitution and the faithful application of the law. In the final analysis, the shutdown is a political problem. It does NOT, and can NOT, change this Court's limited role. Of that I am very certain.

***

But a TRO is designed to freeze the state of affairs, not throw the status quo into disarray. The TROs sought here would do the latter. Moreover, the emergency relief standard is a sliding scale, and one of the factors I have to weigh is whether granting relief sought is in the public interest. [One group of plaintiffs] would effectively have me order the Federal Aviation Administration to pay [their] unpaid salaries with money that the FAA does not have right now. As plaintiffs well know, Congress has the power of the purse, not me. I cannot grant injunctive relief in that form.

[Another group of plaintiffs] would have me, in effect, give all currently excepted federal employees--numbering in the hundreds of thousands across dozens of agencies--the option not to show up for work tomorrow. These are employees who perform functions that the relevant agencies have determined bear on the safety of human life and/or the protection of property. If I were to issue a TRO, there is no way to know how many of these excepted employees would choose not to report to work tomorrow, and there is no way to know what public services would therefore go unprovided.

It would be profoundly irresponsible under these circumstances--with no record whatsoever telling me what government functions would be impacted--for me to grant that TRO. At best, it would create chaos and confusion--at worst, catastrophe!

January 25, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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)

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)

Friday, January 4, 2019

SCOTUS to hear Partisan Gerrymandering Cases (Again)

The Court has ordered oral arguments set for March on the merits of two cases involving the recurring issue of the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek.

Both cases have extensive histories including previous appearances before the Supreme Court.

From North Carolina is Rucho v. Common Cause. In January 2018, a three-judge Court's extensive opinion found North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.  The United States Supreme Court stayed the judgment shortly thereafter,  and then vacated the opinion in light of  Gill v. Whitford (2018). In July 2018, the three judge court entered an even more extensive opinion - 300 pages - finding that standing regarding an equal protection challenge was satisfied under the Gill standard. The Court also reiterated its conclusions of the unconstitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, and enjoined the State from conducting any elections using the 2016 Plan in any election after the November 6, 2018, election.

From Maryland is Lamone v. Benisek.  In June 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued a brief per curiam opinion declining to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant to a preliminary injunction, at the same time the Court rendered its Gill v. Whitford opinion, and essentially reserved the issue of partisan gerrymandering for another day.

It seems that day has come — or will soon — but whether or not the Court will actually grapple with the constitutionality of the problem of partisan gerrymandering is as yet uncertain.

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[image: Anti-gerrymandering event at Supreme Court, October 2017, via]

 

January 4, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Recent Cases, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Daily Read: Can the Senate's Composition Change by Statute?

In a column at The Atlantic, "The Path to Give California 12 Senators, and Vermont Just One," subtitled "Maybe the two-senators-per-state rule isn’t as permanent as it seems," Political Science Professor Eric Orts agrees with many others that the Senate is essentially anti-democratic and that the time has come to change the 2 senators from every state rule. 

Orts recognizes that the 2 Senators per state rule is doubly-demanded by the text of the Constitution: Not only does Article I §3 provide that "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State," but Article V respecting the amendment process specifically provides "no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."

Orts proposes that a way around these Constitutional commands — at least "arguably"— is through Congressional action. Orts contends that Congress could pass a law restructuring Senate representation like this:

Start with the total U.S. population, then divide by 100, since that’s the size of the current, more deliberative upper chamber. Next, allocate senators to each state according to their share of the total; 2/100 equals two senators, 3/100 equals three, etc. Update the apportionment every decade according to the official census.

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Congressional power to do so, he seems to contend, would be grounded most obviously in the Reconstruction Amendments. He cites Equal Protection Clause cases such as Reynolds v. Sims (1964) and Bush v. Gore (2000), and argues that although 

the Court trimmed a portion of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, reaffirmed the authority of Congress to regulate in this field and endorsed a forward-looking orientation. “The Fifteenth Amendment commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command," he wrote. “The Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.”

Thus, inherent in Orts's argument is not simply that the Senate does not adequately represent the population of the United States but that this inadequacy is racialized. As he notes, under the current configuration it is states with small predominantly white populations that benefit: "in California, 38 percent of citizens are white. In Texas, that figure is 43 percent," while in the two smallest states, "Vermont is 94 percent white, and Wyoming is 86 percent white." 

Indeed, Orts states that  his proposal

corrects a heavy, unjustified bias favoring white citizens in the Senate. It doesn’t go too far to describe the current Senate apportionment as a vehicle entrenching white supremacy.

Would the Supreme Court uphold such a statute? Orts suggests that the Court could "stay out of the mix" by deferring to Congress or invoking the political question doctrine.

Would Congress ever pass such a statute? Orts admits that it is unlikely in large part because a more democratic Senate is a more Democratic party Senate. But, he ends, "who knows" what 2020 will bring.

[image: United States Capitol by C. E. Loven after photograph of drawing by Thomas U. Walter, via]

January 2, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Federalism, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Scholarship, Seventeenth Amendment | 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

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)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Court Tosses San Francisco's Challenge to Trump Walk-Back of Regulatory Guidance

Judge Jon S. Tigar (N.D. Cal.) ruled that San Francisco lacked standing to challenge the Trump Administration's rescission of administrative guidance documents related to various federal civil rights and immigration statutes. The ruling is a victory for the Trump Administration and its deregulatory agenda.

The case, San Francisco v. Whitaker, arose out of President Trump's executive order instructing agencies to identify regulatory actions that were "outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective" as candidates for repeal, modification, or replacement. Then-AG Sessions issued a memo stating that DOJ would no longer "issue guidance documents that purport to create rights or obligations binding on persons or entities outside the Executive Branch (including state, local, and tribal governments)." DOJ subsequently announced that it would rescind 25 guidance documents.

San Francisco sued to stop the DOJ from rescinding eight of those, arguing that the rescission was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act. (The eight relate to the ADA, the FHA, the INA, and various fee and fine practices.)

The court ruled that San Francisco lacked standing. While the court said that San Francisco could assert procedural standing or organizational standing, it still needed to show a harm--and it didn't. The city's theory of harm varied depending on the particular guidance document, but in general the court held that it failed to show that rescission would interfere with its interest in regulation, or increase the risk of enforcement action against it, or that it failed to show a sufficiently tight connection between the rescission and any harm to the city.

The ruling means that the rescission can move forward, ultimately curbing federal regulation of these provisions. Establishing standing to challenge a roll-back on regulations is always trickier than establishing standing to challenge regulations themselves, and it's not clear if or how another plaintiff might show a harm to challenge these or other rescission documents.

December 12, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | 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)