Friday, May 3, 2019

First Circuit Says Massachusetts Has Standing to Challenge Contraception Mandate Exemptions

The First Circuit ruled that the state of Massachusetts has standing to sue the Trump administration to halt implementation of its rules establishing religious and moral exemptions to the Affordable Care Act's "contraception mandate."

Those rules allow covered employers to get an exemption from the ACA's requirement that employers provide certain contraceptive services.

The mandate is already subject to nationwide injunctions from other cases (in which the courts have also found valid standing for challenging states; we posted most recently here.) This is just the latest case to move forward.

The court said that Massachusetts sufficiently demonstrated a fiscal harm. Here's why: (1) the state demonstrated that some employers in the state are likely to use the exemptions and drop employees from contraception coverage; (2) the state demonstrated that at least some of those employees are likely to turn to the state for contraception and related services; and (3) this "cause and effect" chain is based on "probable market behavior."

The court also ruled that the state showed causation and redressability--the former for the reasons above; the latter because halting the exemptions would also halt this chain of causation.

The ruling is only preliminary. It only allows the case to move forward on the merits. But as we said: the rules are already subject to nationwide injunctions, and this case won't directly affect those injunctions.

May 3, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Kansas Supreme Court Finds Fundamental Right to Abortion Under State Constitution

In its extensive opinion in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that the right to abortion in protected under its state constitution and regulations of the fundamental right should be subject to strict scrutiny.

The per curiam opinion is exceedingly clear that the opinion rests on independent state constitutional grounds and that it is interpreting §1 of the Kansas state Constitution, adopted in 1859:  "All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The court specifically finds that this provision creates judicially enforceable "natural rights" such as the right to "personal autonomy" to make decisions regarding our bodies, health care, family formation, and family life, including a woman's right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.

Having held that the right to an abortion is encompassed within the fundamental right bodily autonomy, the Kansas Supreme Court held that strict scrutiny should apply, which the court articulated as prohibited the state from restricting that right unless it can show it is doing so to further a compelling government interest and in a way that is narrowly tailored to that interest.

At issue in the case is Kansas S.B. 95, passed in 2015, now K.S.A. 65-6741 through 65-6749, which prohibits physicians from performing a specific abortion method referred to in medical terms as Dilation and Evacuation (D & E) except when "necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman" or to prevent a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."

The trial court had issued a preliminary injunction, which the Kansas Supreme Court upheld, but remanded the case for a fuller evidentiary hearing applying strict scrutiny.

Supreme-court

via & caption: Kansas Supreme Court
Seated left to right: Hon. Marla J. Luckert, Hon. Lawton R. Nuss, Chief Justice; Hon. Carol A. Beier.
Standing left to right: Hon. Dan Biles, Hon. Eric S. Rosen, Hon. Lee A. Johnson, and Hon. Caleb Stegall. 

In a concurring opinion, Justice Dan Biles argued that the majority should be more explicit in articulating how strict scrutiny should be applied in the abortion context, suggesting what "our state test should look like using an evidence-based analytical model taken from Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt" (2016).  Justice Biles provided a very detailed roadmap that would be attractive to the trial court. Justice Biles also placed the decision within developments in state constitutional law on abortion:

It is also worth mentioning our court has not gone rogue today. By my count, appellate courts in 17 states have addressed whether their state constitutions independently protect a pregnant woman's decisions regarding her pregnancy from unjustifiable government interference. Of those, 13 have plainly held they do. [citations omitted].

The sole dissenting Justice of the seven Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court (pictured above) was Justice Caleb Stegall, who relied on numerous dissenting opinions in both the United States Supreme Court and Kansas Supreme Court. He began his opinion by stating "This case is not only about abortion policy—the most divisive social issue of our day—it is more elementally about the structure of our republican form of government." In essence, he considers the majority to be taking an activist stance. The majority opinion does devote more than a little attention to refuting and engaging with the dissent's arguments.

Because the case cannot be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court (given that the state's highest court decided it on the independent ground of its state constitution, unless it is argued it infringes on another constitutional right), subsequent constitutional law issues will be concentrated on what happens in the trial court and what might happen in other states. 

April 26, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument on Census Citizenship Question

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments  in Department of Commerce v. New York on the issue of whether the decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to include a citizenship question on the main census questionnaire for 2020 is lawful. The constitutional issues in the case include the standing of the challengers and the "actual enumeration" requirements in the Constitution, Art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and Amend. XIV, § 2.  The equal protection argument has seemingly receded into the background. Taking center stage are the nonconstitutional issues centering on the Administrative Procedure Act.

Recall that the case was originally before the Court on an order requiring Secretary Wilbur Ross to submit to a deposition.  However, Recall that in January in New York v. United States Department of Commerce, United States District Judge Jesse Furman decided the case without the Secretary's evidence, finding that without it there was no proof of discriminatory intent sufficient for an equal protection challenge.  Nevertheless, Judge Furman vacated and enjoined the implementation of the decision of Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire, holding that the Secretary's decision violated provisions of the APA, was arbitrary and capricious, and most unusually, pretextual.  

Recall also that in March California v. Ross, United States District Judge Richard Seeborg has found the decision of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census unlawful under the Administration Procedure Act and unconstitutional under the Enumeration Clause.

Arguing for the United States Department of Commerce, Solicitor General Noel Francisco was quickly interrupted by Justice Sotomayor in his very first description of the facts  — that "Secretary Ross reinstated a citizenship question that has been asked as part of the census in one form or another for nearly 200 years" — when she noted that the citizenship question was not part of the short survey that is at issue in the present case.  In short, Solicitor General Francisco's argument was that the Secretary has wide discretion to put whatever questions he'd like on the census for whatever reason.  While Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts seemed sympathetic to this wide discretion, especially in their subsequent questioning, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan characterized the Secretary's decision as a "solution in search of a problem." 

Justice Kagan: . . . [as] Justice Sotomayor was talking about was that it did really seem like the Secretary was shopping for a need. Goes to the Justice Department. Justice Department says we don't need anything. Goes to DHS. DHS says they don't need anything. Goes back to the Justice Department. Makes it clear that he's going to put in a call to the Attorney General. Finally, the Justice Department comes back to him and says: Okay, we can give you what you want.

So you can't read this record without sensing that this -- this need is a contrived one. Nobody had -- there have been lots of assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division that have never made a plea for this kind of data.

The Solicitor General of New York (and former Attorney General of New York) Barbara Underwood argued that there was nothing before the Secretary to support the notion that this would assist in making determinations under the Voting Rights Act. Justice Kavanaugh interestingly asked Underwood about United Nations recommendations for citizenship questions, a topic which Douglas Letter came back to during his argument, representing the United States House of Representatives as amicus curiae in support of New York and the other respondents, stating that other nations may not have an "actual enumeration" Clause in their constitutions, and stressing the importance of accurate census data to the House of Representatives given its purpose in representation.

Dale Ho, arguing for New York Immigration Coalition, discussed the intersection between the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the census, explaining how the Census Bureau alters and approximates information.

Assuming the Court does not reach the constitutional issues, the heart of the case under the APA will be how much deference the Court is willing to afford to the Secretary.  This deference to the Secretary's discretion was interestingly implicated in the argument concerning the question of the Congressional role, with Douglas Letter pointing out that

The Secretary of Commerce has been called before Congress to explain what he did here, and Assistant Attorney General Gore . . .  They have been declining to answer. They're not giving Congress the information it requests because they say there's litigation going on. And, I repeat, this is a matter of public record.

Given recent other matters of public record in which government officials are refusing to come before Congress, more may be at stake in this case than the APA, including separation of powers issues.

April 23, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Executive Authority, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Ninth Circuit Rebuffs Government's Challenge to California's Sanctuary Laws

The Ninth Circuit ruled yesterday that the federal government was unlikely to succeed in its challenge to certain California "sanctuary" laws that protect undocumented immigrants from federal immigration enforcement. The ruling denies the government's motion for a preliminary injunction against these laws. At the same time, the court remanded one particular provision to the lower court for further consideration.

The ruling, while preliminary, is yet another blow to the federal government's efforts to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions.

The case, United States v. California, tested three of California's "sanctuary" provisions. The federal government argued that they violated the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity (which prohibits state governments from regulating the federal government) and that federal law preempted them. 

The first, AB 450, prohibits public and private employers in the state from providing consent to an immigration enforcement agent to enter any nonpublic area of their property and to review their employment records without a subpoena or warrant. It also requires employers to provide employees with a notice of inspection by an immigration agency within 72 hours of receiving the notice. The court rejected the government's intergovernmental immunity claim, because "AB 450 is directed at the conduct of employers, not the United States or its agents, and no federal activity is regulated." It rejected the obstacle-preemption argument, because the provision regulates the relationship between employers and their employees, not between federal immigration authorities and the employees they regulate, and therefore it "imposes no additional or contrary obligations that undermine or disrupt the activities of federal immigration authorities." 

The second, AB 103, requires the California attorney general to inspect "county, local, or private" detention facilities where immigrants are housed and to review the conditions of confinement, including the "standard of care and due process provided to" detainees, and "the circumstances around their apprehension and transfer to the facility." The court ruled that the government was unlikely to succeed on its intergovernmental immunity argument as to the provision's burdens that duplicated preexisting inspection requirements, including the due process provision. But it ruled that the government was likely to succeed as to the provision's excessive burdens that fell uniquely on the federal government (the requirement that the state ag examine the circumstances surrounding the apprehension and transfer of immigration detainees). The court ruled that the government was not likely to succeed on the merits of its preemption claim, because "California possesses the general authority to ensure the health and welfare of inmates and detainees in facilities within its borders," and the government failed to show that Congress intended to supersede this authority.

The final provision, SB 54, restricts law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities in immigration enforcement. The court held that the federal government's preemption claim runs headlong into the Tenth Amendment's anti-commandeering principle. That's because the federal government can't force the state or its officers into participating in federal immigration enforcement, even if "SB 54 may well frustrate the federal government's enforcement efforts." The court rejected the federal government's intergovernmental immunity argument, because accepting that claim "would imply that California cannot choose to discriminate against federal immigration authorities by refusing to assist their enforcement efforts--a result that would be inconsistent with the Tenth Amendment and the anticommandeering rule." Finally, the court ruled that SB 54 does not directly conflict with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local governments from prohibiting their officers from communicating with federal immigration officials about the immigration status of any person.

April 19, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Daily Read: Crawford and Simon on Due Process and Tax at SCOTUS

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in North Carolina Dept of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust posing the question of whether a state's taxation of a trust based solely on the residence of a beneficiary violates due process.

Bridget_CrawfordProfessors Bridget Crawford (pictured left) and Michelle Simon (pictured below) in their article in UCLA Law Review Discourse compellingly argue that the Court should hold that a state has no constitutional authority to impose a tax on trust income where the trust’s only connection with the forum state is the residence of a contingent beneficiary. In The Supreme Court, Due Process and State Income Taxation of Trusts they contend that "Kaestner Trust is the most important due process case involving trusts that the Court has decided in over sixty years; it bears directly on the fundamental meaning of due process."

Michelle_Simon_1Crawford and Simon also provide a useful primer on the law and facts relevant to the issues of due process.  They state that for some "lawyers and lucky individuals," a  "list of common verbal triads includes the words 'grantor, trustee, and beneficiary,'" which will be just as familiar as other words that "seem to roll off the tongue naturally in threes" such as tic-tac-toe, snap, crackle, pop; Larry, Curly, and Moe; and peas porridge hot.  However, if one is not one of those "lucky individuals" and perhaps is even a bit shy of trusts and taxation, the article proves itself a patient and trustworthy guide.

The article's well-earned conclusion states:

Justice Harry Blackmun famously said that he knew he was “in the doghouse” with the Chief Justice if he received an assignment to write the opinion in a tax case. But Kaestner Trust is no dog of a case. It broadly implicates basic principles of due process. There are many reasons to allow each state to implement its own tax (and strong arguments in favor of a more uniform approach), but it would be fundamentally unfair to require a trust to pay income tax to a jurisdiction solely on the basis of the residence of a discretionary trust beneficiary who does not actually receive any trust distributions. Once the beneficiary receives trust income, it is reasonable in all respects to subject that income to taxation. The Court’s decision in Kaestner Trust will have lasting impact on the future of due process jurisprudence.

Ultimately, trusts are creatures of legal fiction. They exist because the law tolerates the idea that it is possible to split legal and equitable title to property. Trusts are not the inevitable consequence of some right to control property; their existence reflects the acceptance of the story of split ownership. In the case of trust law, fiction is already strange enough. State income taxation should hew close enough to material reality that a trust is taxed only when the trust has some meaningful connection with the jurisdiction. An accident of fate—such as where a wholly discretionary beneficiary decides to live—should not trigger income taxation.

[footnotes omitted].

A must-read for ConLawProfs seeking to understand Kaestner Trust and for whichever Justice (and clerks) assigned to write the opinion.

April 16, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Science, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Daily Read: Federal Judge Carlton Reeves on Attacks on the Judiciary

United States District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi Carlton Reeves in a speech at the University of Virginia School of Law addressed the critiques of the judiciary and the lack of diversity in judicial appointments.  Judge Reeves recounts a history of the federal bench and equality, with some progress in diversifying the bench, but naming the present state of affairs as the "third great assault on our judiciary."

The written version of the speech includes footnotes, including references to presidential tweets.  In speaking about "this Administration’s judicial nominations, especially those confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate," Judge Reeves noted:

Of the Article III judges confirmed under the current Administration, 90% have been white. Just one of those judges is black. Just two are Hispanic. It’s not just  about racial diversity. Barely 25% of this Administration’s confirmed judges are women. None have been black or Latina. Achieving complete gender equality on the federal bench would require us to confirm  only 23 women a  year. How hard could that be?  . . . . Think:  in a country where they  make up  just 30% of the population, non-Hispanic white men make  up nearly 70% of this Administration’s confirmed judicial appointees. That’s not what America looks like. That’s not even what the legal profession looks like.

In addition to commenting on the lack of diversity on the United States Supreme Court ("We have as many justices who have graduated from Georgetown Prep as we have Justices who have lived as a non-white person") and the duty of judges to diversify their own hiring of law clerks, Judge Reeves spoke to access to justice issues:

Courts must do more than denounce and diversify. For the attack on the judiciary aims to close the courthouse doors to those who most need justice by shrinking the size, resources, and jurisdiction of courts. Over the last 30 years,while the U.S. population has increased by over 30%; Congress has increased the number of Article III judges by just 3%. Meanwhile, there are continued attempts to close the doors to our own courtrooms. I think of heightened pleading standards, the rise of mandatory arbitration, and judges who proclaim that “prisoner civil rights cases should be eliminated from federal dockets.” Defending the judiciary requires judges to demand, not diminish, the resources they need to find truth. We must expand the reach and power of our courts, offering justice to all who claim the promise of America.

The speech is worth listening to in full:

April 13, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

District Court Tosses Challenge to Capital Post-Conviction Counsel Regs

Judge Reggie B. Walton (D.D.C.) ruled that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge federal regulations that specified a process for certification of state capital counsel in post-conviction proceedings. The ruling means that the regs stay on the books, unless and until a plaintiff who can demonstrate a concrete harm brings a challenge. 

Judge Walton's ruling follows a 2016 Ninth Circuit ruling by similar plaintiffs against the same regs.

The case tests DOJ's 2013 regs to certify state's mechanism for providing counsel to indigent prisoners in state postconviction proceedings. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, if a state provides a mechanism for counsel, and gets it certified by DOJ, then (1) the capital prisoner gets an automatic stay from execution while postconviction and federal habeas proceedings are pending, (2) the statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas petition is shortened from one year to six months from the date of final judgment of the state courts on direct appeal, and (3) federal courts have to give priority status to the habeas case and resolve it within time periods set by statute.

DOJ implemented regs in 2013 to set standards and a process for DOJ certification of a state mechanism. (Again, certification would trigger the three things above, including the compressed time to file a federal habeas petition.) The regs allow the AG to "determine the date on which the state established its mechanism." And they include a retroactivity provision: "The certification is effective as to the date the Attorney General finds the state established its adequate mechanism; as this date can be in the past, a certification decision may be applied retroactively." 

Under the plain language of AEDPA and the regs, the AG's determination of the certification date--especially a retroactive determination--could throw a serious curve ball at capital attorneys and prisoners in the postconviction pipeline, by suddenly (or even retroactively) shortening their deadline. Even without formal certification (yet), attorneys that represent capital prisoners in postconviction cases have to adjust their practices in accepting new clients.

So when Texas applied for certification, but before it received certification, the Texas Defender Service and individual prisoners sued to halt and set aside the regs. But the court dismissed the case for lack of standing, and lack of ripeness.

Applying Havens Realty Corp. v. Coleman, the court held that

because "TDS's mission is to establish a fair and just criminal justice system in Texas" and a significant aspect of TDS's work includes "represent[ing] death-sentenced prisoners in post[]conviction proceedings in federal court," the 2013 Regulations--particularly the provision allowing for the potential retroactive application of certification--is "'at loggerheads' with [TDS's] mission-driven activities."

But "TDS's position that it has been 'forced to expend substantial resources to prepare its comments [to Texas's petition]' and that its staff 'divert[ed] their attention from their ordinary responsibilities,' fails to satisfy the second prong of injury-in-fact under Havens because TDS has not shown that preparing comments to advocate against Texas's certification was an 'operational cost[] beyond those normally expended to carry out its advocacy mission.'"

As to the individual plaintiffs, the court held that the 2013 regs weren't aimed at them, and that their rights therefore could only "be affected indirectly, if the sentencing state requests certification and if the Attorney General finds that the state's capital-counsel mechanism comports with" the Act and regs. "The 2013 Regulations therefore do not have the coercive impact necessary to confer standing on the individual plaintiffs to bring their preenforcement challenge to the 2013 Regulations."

The court also ruled that the plaintiffs' claims weren't ripe for review.

April 10, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Ripeness, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

D.C. Circuit Says Prisoner's Equitable Claims are not Moot, Even After Transfer

The D.C. Circuit ruled that a federal prisoner's civil rights claims didn't become moot simply because he was transferred to another prison. The ruling goes against the general principle that a prisoner's "transfer or release from a prison moots any claim he might have had for equitable relief arising out of the conditions of confinement in that prison." According to the D.C. Circuit, that's because this prisoner alleged that he had been subject to the practices in different facilities, and because he alleged a policy or practice of violating regulations that would apply to him in any facility.

The case, Reid v. Hurwitz, arose when federal prisoner Gordon Reid alleged that federal prison officials failed to deliver his magazine subscriptions and deprived him of outside exercise during his repeated stays in the special housing unit, and deprived him of meaningful access to administrative remedies. Importantly, he alleged that with each violation, prison officials cited "BOP policy." Reid sought declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief.

The district court dismissed the case, citing the "normal" rule that a prisoner's claims for equitable relief become moot when he or she leaves the prison. But the D.C. Circuit reversed, holding that Reid's harms are "capable of repetition but evading review." The court wrote that Reid alleged that he was in the SHU in different facilities, that he suffered the same harms in different SHUs, and that prison officials gave the same explanation: "policy." Add those up, and you get "capable of repetition but evading review." Here's the court:

The BOP's argument ignores that Reid's complaint identifies not only single instances but also BOP's alleged policy or practice or violating its own regulations to the detriment of Reid. In particular, Reid has alleged three key facts. First, he has been housed at eight different SHUs since 2008. Second, he has suffered a uniform set of deprivations at each SHU that contradict BOP's written regulations. Third, each time he has suffered a deprivation, he alleges that BOP officials justify the deprivations based on "BOP policy." Having been placed in a SHU in myriad different BOP institutions, subject each time to a restriction allegedly imposed under a purported BOP policy or practice contravening BOP regulations, Reid has proffered a logical theory that the challenged actions reasonably will recur despite his current transfer out of the SHU.

***

Both the District Court and the government on appeal have failed to grapple with Reid's claim that he was repeatedly subjected to deprivations in the SHU due to an ongoing policy or practice of the BOP.

At the same time, the court acknowledged that there may be several other reasons for the district court to dismiss the case on remand.

Judge Katsas dissented, arguing that "[w]e should reject Reid's conclusory allegation that BOP has implemented unlawful nationwide policies. And without such unifying policies, the specific disputes alleged here are not capable of repetition."

April 10, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Partisan Gerrymandering Case

The Court heard oral arguments in Rucho v. Common Cause (& League of Women Voters) regarding the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina. The major question raised by the arguments was whether the courts have any role in protecting voters from partisan gerrymandering.

Recall that in an almost 200 page opinion, the three judge court resolved the issues of justiciability and standing in favor of the plaintiffs and held that the redistricting violated equal protection. The United States Supreme Court stayed that judgment.

Recall also that last term the Court essentially dodged the issue of the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, finding in Gill v. Whitford involving a challenge to Wisconsin's alleged partisan gerrymandering the Court found that the plaintiffs did not prove sufficient Article III standing to sustain the relief granted by the three judge court and in Benisek v. Lamone, involving a challenge to alleged political gerrymandering in Maryland, declining to to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant a preliminary injunction.

The question of the standard by which to judge partisan gerrymandering preoccupied the arguments with the inevitable slippery slope of having the courts guarantee proportional representation being invoked.  Additionally, the question of whether the federal courts should defer was raised repeatedly, with the solution being a state referendum, or even Congressional action, with Paul Clement representing the republican state legislators arguing that

And if you look at HR-1, the very first bill that the new Congress put on their agenda, it was an effort to essentially force states to have bipartisan commissions, now query whether that's constitutional, but it certainly shows that Congress is able to take action in this particular area.

[emphasis added].

Clement argued vigorously that the federal courts should have no power to act to prevent partisan gerrymandering, however extreme, with Justice Sotomayor stating that such an argument's "ship has sailed in Baker v. Carr" (1962), but Clement concluding with the point in his rebuttal referencing the authors of the Federalist Papers as accepting the political realities of partisan gerrymandering.

 

March 26, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 18, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument on Virginia Racial Gerrymandering, Bethune-Hill Redux

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill involving the ultimate issue of whether the redistricting plan of Virginia is racial gerrymandering in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Like many states, the redistricting legal landscape in Virginia is complex; a good explainer from Loyola-Los Angeles Law School is here.

Recall that two years ago, in March 2017, the Court in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts. 

On remand, the three-judge court divided, with the detailed and extensive opinion authored by Judge Barbara Milano Keenan for the majority ultimately concluding that the "Commonwealth of Virginia's House of Delegates  Districts numbers 63, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95 as drawn under the 2011 Redistricting Plan, Va. Code Ann. § 24.2—3o4.03, violate the Equal Protection Clause. "

Speaker_Bill_Howell_opens_session_at_Virginia_House_of_DelegatesDuring that proceeding, the Virginia House of Delegates — one house of the Virginia legislature — was allowed to intervene, but a question on appeal to the United States Supreme Court is whether the House of Delegates, represented by Paul Clement, has standing to appeal, especially given that the Virginia Board of Elections, represented by Toby Heytens, the appellate the first time the case reached the United States Supreme Court, is now the appellee in agreement with Bethune-Hill, represented by Marc Elias. Morgan Ratner, an assistant Solicitor General, appeared on behalf of the United States and fully supported neither party, but did argue that the House of Delegates lacked standing, because "the House as an institution isn't harmed by changes to individual district lines, and while states can authorize legislatures to represent them in court, Virginia hasn't done so."  While Justice Alito seemed to take the position that all the House of Delegates needed to establish was some injury on fact, such as  the cost of publishing a new map showing the new districts, with Justice Sotomayor labeling Clement's statement that Virginia had "forfeited" the ability to object to the appeal as an "extreme" view.  There was seemingly some sympathy to Toby Heytens' view that the Court was essentially being asked to referee a dispute between branches of the Virginia state government, with Justice Alito also asking whether or not the question of which entity may represent the state is not a question that should be certified to the Virginia Supreme Court.  The precedential value and applicability of Minnesota State Senate v. Beens (1972), which Justice Ginsburg pointed out has not been cited in 30 years and was from an era in which standing was more "relaxed" and which others distinguished in terms of the impact on the legislative body.

On the merits, one issue was credibility of witnesses and deference to the court's factual determinations, especially given that the first three judge court had reached some opposite conclusions, including in some districts whether or not racial considerations predominated (and thus strict scrutiny would apply). This might seemingly be explained by the different standard articulated by the Court's previous decision in Bethune-Hill before remand, but this did not seem to be addressed. As typical, the precise facts in the map-making and the interplay between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause made the argument exceedingly detailed. For example, there are particular questions about the BVAP [Black Voting Age Population] in specific districts and what percentage is acceptable in each district as individualized or as comparative to other districts.

If the Court does not resolve the case on lack of standing, one can expect another highly specific opinion regarding racial gerrymandering in the continuing difficult saga of racial equality in voting.

[image: Virginia House of Delegates 2012 via]

March 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2019

New York Appellate Court Upholds Jurisdiction Over President in Zervos's Defamation Lawsuit

In its opinion in Zervos v. Trump, the Appellate Division, First Department of the New York State courts held that the lawsuit for defamation could proceed against the President while he is in office.

Recall that in March 2018, the New York state trial judge ruled the lawsuit for defamation by Summer Zervos against now-President Trump could proceed, denying a motion to dismiss or to stay by Trump based on his presidential status. The trial judge decided that the holding of  the United States Supreme Court in its unanimous 1997 decision of Clinton v. Jones that then-President Clinton was subject to suit in federal court extended to state court.  Recall also that soon thereafter, the appellate division in New York denied President Trump's motion for a stay, in a summary decision, and likewise soon thereafter, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court) dismissed the appeal by Trump on the ground that the order appealed from does not finally determine the action.

In today's divided decision, the appellate division reached the merits of the trial judge's opinion with the majority affirming the decision regarding the President's amenability to suit, and all five judges agreeing that there was a claim for defamation.

Writing for the majority of three judges, Judge Dianne Renwick concluded that the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, does not bar a state court from exercising jurisdiction. She rejected Trump's argument that because he is the "ultimate repository of the Executive Branch's powers and is required by the Constitution to always be in function" as being without support in the constitutional text or case law and conflicting with the fundamental principle that the United States is a "government of laws and not of men." After a detailed discussion of Clinton v. Jones, she stated that in short, the decision "clearly and unequivocably demonstrates that the Presidency and the President are indeed separable." She continued that "aside from the forum, plaintiff's case is materially indistinguishable from Clinton v. Jones," and noted that Congress had not acted to afford the President more protection, interestingly citing and quoting an article by the most recent Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh.

The difference between the majority and the dissent is centered on footnote 13 of Clinton v. Jones:

Because the Supremacy Clause makes federal law "the supreme Law of the Land," Art. VI, cl. 2, any direct control by a state court over the President, who has principal responsibility to ensure that those laws are "faithfully executed," Art. II, § 3, may implicate concerns that are quite different from the interbranch separation-of-powers questions addressed here. Cf., e.g., Hancock v. Train, 426 U.S. 167, 178—179 (1976); Mayo v. United States, 319 U.S. 441, 445 (1943). See L. Tribe, American Constitutional Law 513 (2d ed.1988) ("[A]bsent explicit congressional consent no state may command federal officials ... to take action in derogation of their ... federal responsibilities")."

But as the majority opinion explains,

the cases cited in the footnote above suggest only that the Supreme Court was concerned with a state's exercise of control over the President in a way that would interfere with his execution of federal law (Hancock, 426 US at 167 [holding that the State of Kentucky could not force federal facilities in the State to obtain state permits to operate]; Mayo, 319 US at 441 [holding that a Florida state official could not order the cessation of a federal fertilizer distribution program]; but see Alabama v King & Boozer, 314 US 1 [1941] [holding that the State of Alabama could charge a tax on lumber that a federal government contractor purchased within the state for construction of an army base, where the federal government would ultimately pay the tax]).

The_Sword_of_Damocles _1812The difference between the majority and dissent centers on the possibility that a state court could hold the President in contempt.  For the majority, this is a "hypothetical concern" that is not presently before the court, noting also that contempt is unusual in all circumstances and state courts would be aware of the issue. For the dissent, on the other hand, although there is no reason to believe the President Defendant "would not cooperate in the litigation, there is no way to be absolutely certain that the court would not at some point have to take steps to protect its own legitimacy;" the contempt power would be a "sword of Damocles hanging over the President's head."

All judges agreed that Zervos stated a claim for defamation, rejecting Trump's claim that the statements were mere hyperbole and not pertaining to the plaintiff. Instead, he was clearly including Zervos in statements and his "flat-out denial of a provable, specific allegation against him concerning his own conduct, accompanied by a claim that the accuser was lying" is not rhetorical or a statement of opinion.

Presumably, the case will be heard on appeal by New York's highest court.

[image: Richard Westall, Sword of Damocles, 1812 via]

 

March 14, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

District Court Gives the Go Ahead to Sierra Club Suit Against Energy for Lack of Energy-Efficiency Regulation

Judge Emmet G. Sullivan (D.D.C.) ruled in Sierra Club v. Perry that Sierra Club has associational standing to sue the Department of Energy for the Department's failure to promulgate energy-efficiency standards for manufactured housing, as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The ruling means that Sierra Club's case can go forward. And given the court's conclusions, and the law, it seems likely that Sierra Club will win. But that doesn't mean that we'll see regs any time soon.

The case arose when Sierra Club sued the Department for failing to promulgate energy-efficiency standards for manufactured housing by 2011, as required by the Act. The Department moved to dismiss for lack of standing. The court rejected that motion.

The court ruled that Sierra Club sufficiently pleaded that its members suffered three different harms. As to the first, economic injury, the court said that "members have alleged that they either cannot find, or it is difficult to find, energy-efficient manufactured homes, and their ability to search for such homes will continue to be adversely impacted by DOE's inaction." The court noted that under circuit law a plaintiff has suffered an injury to challenge an agency action if the action prevented consumers from purchasing a desired product--even if they could purchase an alternative.

As to the second, health injury, the court said that "seven members allege that their exposure to air pollutants and other harmful emissions is negatively impacting their health due to the lack of standards for energy-efficiency in manufactured housing." 

As to the third, procedural injury, the court simply said that "the Secretary has compromised Sierra Club's members' 'concrete and particularized procedural rights,' because it is clear that the Secretary failed to establish regulations for energy-efficiency standards mandated by Congress, and it is substantially probable that the Secretary's failure to establish the standards has caused Sierra Club's members' concrete injury."

The court held that Sierra Club satisfied the causation and redressability requirements, because, by the Department's own reckoning, regulations would clean up the air (and a lack of regulations keeps it dirtier). 

March 13, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Sixth Circuit En Banc Majority Upholds Ohio's Ban on Funding Planned Parenthood

In its en banc opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Hodges, the Sixth Circuit reversed a permanent injunction by the district judge against Ohio Rev. Code §3701.034 which bars any state funding —  including government-sponsored health and education programs that target sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer and cervical cancer, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, and sexual violence — to any organization that performs or promotes abortion. 

In less than 12 pages, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for the 11 judge majority, rejected the claim that the Ohio statute was an unconstitutional condition on the due process right encompassing the right to abortion by stating that Planned Parenthood had no substantive due process right to provide abortions: "The Supreme Court has never identified a freestanding right to perform abortions."  Moreover, Sutton's opinion rejected the argument that

the Ohio law will deprive Ohio women of their constitutional right of access to abortion services without undue burden, because it will lead Planned Parenthood and perhaps other abortion providers to stop providing them. Maybe; maybe not. More to the point, the conclusion is premature and unsupported by the record.

In this way, the majority distinguished the United States Supreme Court's most recent abortion case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), albeit briefly (with one "cf." citation and one "see" citation).

In the dissenting opinion, Judge Helene White writing for 6 judges, criticizes the majority for not mentioning "much less" applying, 

the test the Supreme Court has recently articulated governing the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine. That doctrine prohibits the government from conditioning the grant of funds under a government program if: (1) the challenged conditions would violate the Constitution if they were instead enacted as a direct regulation; and (2) the conditions affect protected conduct outside the scope of the government program.

citing Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (2013) [the "prostitution pledge" case].
The dissent concludes that because "(1) the funding conditions in this case would result in an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain nontherapeutic abortions if imposed directly, and (2) the six federal programs have nothing to do with Plaintiffs’ performing abortions, advocating for abortion rights, or affiliating with organizations that engage in such activity, all on their own 'time and dime,' " the Ohio statute should be unconstitutional.

The dissenting opinion also discusses the First Amendment argument, which the district court judge had credited but which the majority discounted because to prevail Ohio need only show that one limitation satisfied the Constitution and because "the conduct component of the Ohio law does not impose an unconstitutional condition in violation of due process, we need not reach the free speech claim." For the dissent, the free speech claim was not mooted and should be successful as in Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (2013).

 

 

March 12, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Federal District Judge Finds Proposed Citizenship Question on Census Unconstitutional

In his 126 page opinion in California v. Ross, United States District Judge Richard Seeborg has found the decision of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census unlawful under the Administration Procedure Act and unconstitutional under the Enumeration Clause.

Recall that California filed its complaint in March 2018, including a claim that the Constitution requires the “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives among the states. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and amend. XIV, § 2, and that by including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Defendants are in violation of the “actual Enumeration” clause of the Constitution because the question will diminish the response rates of non-citizens and their citizen relatives.  

Recall also that New York filed a similar complaint, which led to the 277 page decision in New York v. United States Department of Commerce rendered in January 2019, which is now scheduled for oral arguments at the United States Supreme Court on April 23 on the issue of whether the Secretary’s decision violated the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 701 et seq.  An additional issue in the New York litigation — and the issue on which the United States Supreme Court first granted certiorari — involves the refusal of Secretary Ross to be deposed regarding his rationales for adding the citizenship question.

In California v. Ross, Judge Seeborg's opinion concluded that the plaintiff state of California, as well as plaintiff counties and cities in California, and the organization, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, satisfied the requirements for Article III standing. Important to this determination are questions of whether there would be actual injury in fact if a citizenship question were added to the census. Judge Seeborg extensively discussed the affidavits and experts regarding the relationship between the question and people responding to the census, an issue that dovetails with the constitutional Enumeration Clause claim. Judge Seeborg generally concluded there was Article III standing.

The major portion of Judge Seeborg's opinion is devoted to the Administrative Procedure Act. Judge Seeborg's concluded that "one need look no further than the Administrative Record to conclude that the decision to include the citizenship question was arbitrary and capricious, represented an abuse of discretion, and was otherwise not in accordance with law." However, Judge Seeborg's opinion also separately analyzed "extra-record" including

the absence of any effort to test the impact of the addition of the citizenship question to the census, the deviation from the Census Bureau’s usual process for adding new questions to the census, the troubling circumstances under which the DOJ’s request letter was drafted and procured, and Sessions’ order prohibiting DOJ staff from meeting with Census Bureau officials to discuss alternative sources of data that could meet DOJ’s VRA [Voting Rights Act] enforcement needs.

As to the Enumeration Clause, Judge Seeborg wrote:

The analysis of the Enumeration Clause claim similarly involves evidence beyond the four corners of the Administrative Record. As a general proposition, the decision to include a specific question on the census is committed to the discretion of the Commerce Secretary and does not implicate the constitutional command that all persons in each state be counted every ten years. However, if the Secretary’s decision to include a question affirmatively interferes with the actual enumeration and fulfills no reasonable governmental purpose, it may form the basis for a cognizable Enumeration Clause challenge.

Importantly, in finding the Enumeration Clause violation, Judge Seeborg concluded that the inclusion of a citizenship question

will materially harm the accuracy of the census without advancing any legitimate governmental interest. This is no ordinary demographic inquiry. The record reveals that the inclusion of the citizenship question on the upcoming census will have a unique impact on the Census Bureau’s ability to count the public, to the point where the inclusion of this question is akin to a mechanics-of-counting-type issue. In short, Secretary Ross’s decision to add the citizenship question to the 2020 Census undermines the “strong constitutional interest in [the] accuracy” of the census, and does so despite the fact that adding this question does not advance any identifiable government purpose.

[citation omitted]. The remedy for this constitutional violation is not a simple vacatur as it is for the APA injunction, but a nationwide injunction against including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census:

The record in this case has clearly established that including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census is fundamentally counterproductive to the goal of obtaining accurate citizenship data about the public. This question is, however, quite effective at depressing self-response rates among immigrants and noncitizens, and poses a significant risk of distorting the apportionment of congressional representation among the states. In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system—and does so based on a self-defeating rationale. In light of these findings, Defendants do not get another bite at the apple. Defendants are hereby enjoined from including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, regardless of any technical compliance with the APA.

Given the nationwide injunction, the fast approaching deadlines for preparation of the 2020 Census, and the already-scheduled April arguments before the United States Supreme Court, the DOJ attorneys will probably act quickly to seek review of this decision.

1920_census_Moisant

[image: Los Angeles Census materials, 1920, via]

March 6, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Executive Authority, Opinion Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Federal District Judge Finds Male-Only Selective Service Registration Violates Equal Protection

In his opinion in National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System, Judge Gray Miller of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas found that the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) provision, 50 USC §3802(a), requiring males (but not females) between the ages of 18 and 26 to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) violated equal protection, as applicable to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

Judge Miller first rejected the Government's Motion to Stay, concluding that the case was ripe, as it involved only a question of law, and that considerations of separation of powers and discretionary power of the court did not merit a stay. Judge Miller noted that Congress "has been debating the male-only registration requirement since at least 1980 and has recently considered and rejected a proposal to include women in the draft."

DraftcardRenJuanAt the heart of this litigation is Rostker v. Goldberg (1981) in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the male-only selective service registration based on its reasoning that because women were not statutorily eligible for combat, men and women were not "similarly situated" for purposes of the draft.  The Government argued that Rostker should control. But, as Judge Miller stated, in the nearly four decades since Rostker "women's opportunities in the military have expanded dramatically" and in 2013, the Department of Defense officially lifted the ban on women in combat and in 2015 "lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service."  Judge Miller also rejected the Government's argument based on Trump v. Hawai'i (2018), that there should be considerable deference, finding "the Trump decision is tangential, at best."

Thus, Judge Miller applied the intermediate scrutiny merited by sex classifications as articulated by the Court most recently in Sessions v. Morales-Santana (2017), and using the language of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996): "The justification must be genuine, not hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation. And it must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females."

Judge Miller rejected both of the Government's two asserted interests. First, the Government argued that women's eligibility to serve in combat is distinct from the women's conscription because conscription could lead to trade-offs for the military, meaning that requiring women to register for the draft could affect women's enlistment by increasing the perception that they would be required to serve in combat. Judge Miller found that this argument "smacks of 'archaic and overbroad generalizations' about women's preferences." Additionally, Judge Miller observed that this argument "appears to have been created for litigation."  Second, the Government argued that Congress preserved the male-only registration requirement out of concern for the administrative burden of registering and drafting women for combat. But even if women are  statistically less physically suited for combat,

the relevant question is not what proportion of women are physically eligible for combat—it may well be that only a small percentage of women meets the physical standards for combat positions.  However, if a similarly small percentage of men is combat-eligible, then men and women are similarly situated for the purposes of the draft and the MSSA’s discrimination is unjustified. Defendants provide no evidence that Congress ever looked at arguments on this topic and then made a “studied choice” between alternatives based on that information.

Had Congress compared male and female rates of physical eligibility, for example, and concluded that it was not administratively wise to draft women, the court may have been bound to defer to Congress’s judgment. Instead, at most, it appears that Congress obliquely relied on assumptions and overly broad stereotypes about women and their ability to fulfill combat roles.“ Thus, Defendants’ second proffered justification appears to be an “accidental by—product of a traditional way of thinking about females,”’ rather than a robust, studied position.

[citations omitted].

Judge Miller issued a declaratory judgment that the male-only draft violates equal protection, but did not issue an injunction because the Plaintiffs did not request or brief it in their summary judgment motion and materials. 

[image: Viet Nam War era draft card via]

February 25, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

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."

United_States_one_dollar_coin _reverse

 

 

 

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)