Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Writing for the Court, Alito's opinion — joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that although the teachers in these cases were not actually "ministers" by title and did not have as much as religious training as the teacher in Hosanna-Tabor, they are encompassed in the same exception from enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. The Court stated that the First Amendment protects a religious institution's independence on matters of "faith and doctrine" without interference from secular authorities, including selection of its "ministers." But who should qualify as a "minister" subject to this exemption? Recall that the factors of Hosanna-Tabor figured in the oral argument (and recall also that they figured in the Ninth Circuit's opinions). But here, the Court stated that while there may be factors, "What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does," rather than what the employee is titled. Moreover, the "religious institution's explanation of the role of such employees in the life of the religion" is important. Indeed, the religious institution's "explanation" seems determinative. The Court rejected a "rigid formula" for determining whether an employee is within the ministerial exception, concluding instead that:
When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.
The brief concurring opinion by Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, argues that the Court should go further and essentially make the implicit more explicit: the Court should decline to ever weigh in "on the theological question of which positions qualify as 'ministerial.' "
Sotomayor dissenting opinion, joined by Ginsburg, begins:
Two employers fired their employees allegedly because one had breast cancer and the other was elderly. Purporting to rely on this Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012), the majority shields those employers from disability and age-discrimination claims. In the Court’s view, because the employees taught short religion modules at Catholic elementary schools, they were “ministers” of the Catholic faith and thus could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse. The Court reaches this result even though the teachers taught primarily secular subjects, lacked substantial religious titles and training, and were not even required to be Catholic. In foreclosing the teachers’ claims, the Court skews the facts, ignores the applicable standard of review, and collapses Hosanna-Tabor’s careful analysis into a single consideration: whether a church thinks its employees play an important religious role. Because that simplistic approach has no basis in law and strips thousands of school- teachers of their legal protections, I respectfully dissent.
For the dissent, the Court's conclusion has "grave consequences," noting that it is estimated that over 100,000 secular teachers employed by religiously-affiliated schools are now without employment protections. Further, it contrasts Esponiza v. Montana Dept of Revenue, decided this Term, in which the Court "lamented a perceived 'discrimination against religion,'" but here "it swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs." The dissent concludes with a hope that the Court will be "deft" enough to "cabin the consequences" of this ministerial exception, but given the current composition of the Court, that hope seems a narrow one.
Monday, May 11, 2020
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments (telephonically) in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel.
Recall that these cases involve an application of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" first accepted by the Court in 2012 in Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. In the unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor, the Court found that the school teacher Cheryl Perich was tantamount to a minister. Thus, under both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as a "minister" her employment relations with her church school employer were eligible for a "ministerial exception" to the otherwise applicable employment laws, in that case the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But how far such this extend and who should qualify as a "ministerial" employee subject to the exemption from employment laws? The factors that courts have derived from Hosana-Tabor include:
- (1) whether the employer held the employee out as a minister by bestowing a formal religious title;
- (2) whether the employee’s title reflected ministerial substance and training;
- (3) whether the employee held herself out as a minister; and
- (4) whether the employee’s job duties included “important religious functions.”
Throughout the oral argument, the question was which of these factors should be the test. Morgan Ratner, on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae argued that the sole factor of the employee performing an "important religious function" should be the test. And yet, the very determination of whether an employee was performing "important religious functions" implicates an Establishment Clause issue should the court make such determinations. Indeed, Justice Gorsuch pressed on whether the court should simply accept the religious organization's statement that it had a sincere religious belief.
Nevertheless, the United States argued that this "important religious functions" factor should govern, even if the employee was not terminated for a religious reason, but — as is the allegation in these cases — for a health issue or for age discrimination. Both Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor repeated the broadness of the exemption sought. And further, the fact that the teacher need not share religious identity with the organization should not be relevant to a determination of "important religious functions":
KAGAN: [A]nd if a position can be filled by any old person, not by a member of a faith, isn't that a pretty good sign that the employee doesn't have that special role within the religious community?
MS. RATNER: No, Justice Kagan, I don't think so. And -- and there are really several reasons. The -- the most important one is that's essentially a religious judgment about who is qualified to perform certain important religious functions and how much of the creed of that religion you need to share to perform that function.
Arguing for the teachers who had been terminated, Jeffrey Fisher pointed out the number of teachers employed in religious schools, and the number of other employees in religious hospitals. Fisher argued the expansiveness of the religious organization's argument:
So it really is a sea change – even as to teachers, leaving everything else aside, it is truly a sea change that is being requested by the other side here today in terms of how teachers and schools are classified and whether they have any employment rights at all or -- or, in fact, whether at least if you follow the way the lower courts have -- have implemented the ministerial exception, you basically have employment law-free zones in all religious schools.
Fisher also contended that many other laws were at stake, not only discrimination laws, but wage and hour and equal pay acts, as well as teacher credentialing laws including specific provisions such as criminal background checks.
Thus, while the ministerial exemption as rooted in the free exercise and establishment clauses of the First Amendment originally excepted only "ministers," there is a chance that it will be broadened to include all - - - or almost all - - - employees at religious organizations.
Monday, December 23, 2019
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to two Ninth Circuit cases and consolidated them: Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel.
Both cases involve an application of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" first accepted by the Court in 2012 in Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC. In the unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor, the Court found that the school teacher Cheryl Perich was tantamount to a minister. Thus, under both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as a "minister" her employment relations with her church school employer were eligible for a "ministerial exception" to the otherwise applicable employment laws, in that case the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But who is a "ministerial" employee subject to the exemption from employment laws?
Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Hosanna-Tabor declined to provide a test for deciding whether or not an employee was within the ministerial exception. However, the Court did extensively analyze Cheryl Perich's employment. And the lower courts have been struggling with how to analogize to the Court's conclusions regarding the "called teacher" Perich.
In the unpublished and very brief panel opinion in Morrisey-Berru, the court stated that the Court in Hosanna-Tabor considered four factors in analyzing whether the exception applied:
- (1) whether the employer held the employee out as a minister by bestowing a formal religious title;
- (2) whether the employee’s title reflected ministerial substance and training;
- (3) whether the employee held herself out as a minister; and
- (4) whether the employee’s job duties included “important religious functions.”
Applying those factors, the Ninth Circuit panel stated:
Considering the totality of the circumstances in this case, we conclude that the district court erred in concluding that Morrissey-Berru was a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception. Unlike the employee in Hosanna-Tabor, Morrissey-Berru’s formal title of “Teacher” was secular. Aside from taking a single course on the history of the Catholic church, Morrissey-Berru did not have any religious credential, training, or ministerial background. Morrissey-Berru also did not hold herself out to the public as a religious leader or minister.
Morrissey-Berru did have significant religious responsibilities as a teacher at the School. She committed to incorporate Catholic values and teachings into her curriculum, as evidenced by several of the employment agreements she signed, led her students in daily prayer, was in charge of liturgy planning for a monthly Mass, and directed and produced a performance by her students during the School’s Easter celebration every year. However, an employee’s duties alone are not dispositive under Hosanna-Tabor’s framework. See Biel v. St. James Sch. (9th Cir. 2018). Therefore, on balance, we conclude that the ministerial exception does not bar Morrissey-Berru’s ADEA claim.
Biel, relied upon in Morrisey-Berru's unpublished opinion, was much more contentious. Reversing the district court, the Ninth Circuit panel's opinion in Biel similarly considered four factors from Hosanna-Tabor and applying them to the school teacher Kristen Biel concluded that she was not a ministerial employee. For the panel in Biel, she
by contrast, has none of Perich’s credentials, training, or ministerial background. There was no religious component to her liberal studies degree or teaching credential. St. James had no religious requirements for her position. And, even after she began working there, her training consisted of only a half-day conference whose religious substance was limited. Unlike Perich, who joined the Lutheran teaching ministry as a calling, Biel appears to have taken on teaching work wherever she could find it: tutoring companies, multiple public schools, another Catholic school, and even a Lutheran school.
Also in contrast to Perich, nothing in the record indicates that Biel considered herself a minister or presented herself as one to the community. She described herself as a teacher and claimed no benefits available only to ministers.
Only with respect to the fourth consideration in Hosanna-Tabor do Biel and Perich have anything in common: they both taught religion in the classroom. Biel taught lessons on the Catholic faith four days a week. She also incorporated religious themes and symbols into her overall classroom environment and curriculum, as the school required. We do not, however, read Hosanna-Tabor to indicate that the ministerial exception applies based on this shared characteristic alone. If it did, most of the analysis in Hosanna-Tabor would be irrelevant dicta, given that Perich’s role in teaching religion was only one of the four characteristics the Court relied upon in reaching the conclusion that she fell within the ministerial exception.
And even Biel’s role in teaching religion was not equivalent to Perich’s.. . .
The panel's opinion in Biel was not unanimous. A dissenting judge would have held that Biel was a minister in large part because her teaching duties at a Catholic school included religious teachings; the judge was "struck by the importance of her stewardship of the Catholic faith to the children in her class. Biel’s Grade 5 Teacher title may not have explicitly announced her role in ministry, but the substance reflected in her title demonstrates that she was a Catholic school educator with a distinctly religious purpose."
The petition for rehearing en banc was denied, but with a lengthy dissenting opinion by Judge R. Nelson joined by an addition eight Ninth Circuit Judges - - - that's nine Judges dissenting. Judge Nelson's opinion argues that the panel opinion in Biel (as well as the opinion in Morrisey-Berru) had taken the narrowest possible interpretation of Hosanna-Tabor, so narrow as to have "excised the ministerial exception, slicing through constitutional muscle and now cutting deep into core constitutional bone." For the dissenting judges,
In turning a blind eye to St. James’s religious liberties protected by both Religion Clauses, we exhibit the very hostility toward religion our Founders prohibited and the Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed us to avoid.
With the Court's grant of certiorari in Biel and Morrisey-Berru, perhaps there will be more clarity regarding the factors of Hosanna-Tabor and how they should be applied to teachers in private schools run by religious organizations.
The facts of Biel may strike many as particularly sympathetic: Kristen Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer and terminated when she said she would have to take some time off work when she underwent chemotherapy. St. James's principal, Sister Mary Margaret, told Biel it was not "fair" "to have two teachers for the children during the school year.” If she had worked for a nonreligious school, Biel would have been protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Court is set to decide whether Biel and seemingly almost every teacher at a private school operated by a religious organization should be excluded from the employment protections afforded other workers.
[image "Chalk Lessons, or the Black-board in the Sunday School. A Practical Guide for Superintendents and Teachers" by Frank Beard (1896), via]
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Ninth Circuit Upholds Upholds California Ban on Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapy Against Religion Clauses Challenge
In a sequel to the Ninth Circuit's 2013 decision in Pickup v. Brown upholding California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit upheld the same law against a facial challenge based upon the First Amendment's Religion Clauses in its relatively brief opinion in Welch v. Brown.
The panel in Welsh - - - the same panel as in Pickup - - - held that the SB 1172 violated neither the Establishment Clause nor the Free Exercise Clause. The panel rejected the challengers' interpretation of the law as applying to members of the clergy because the law specifically exempts religious clergy "as long as they do not hold themselves out as operating pursuant" to any therapist licenses.
The panel also rejected the contention that the law has the primary effect of inhibiting religion. That some minors who seek sexual orientation conversion may have religious motivations does not rise to the level of an inhibition of religion, especially given that the law was not targeted at religious motivated conduct. The panel noted that the law's legislative findings focused on "social stigmatization" and "family rejection" rather than religiosity. The panel likewise rejected the Free Exercise Clause claim that the law was not neutral as to religion based on the same rationales and cited the Third Circuit's similar conclusion regarding New Jersey's prohibition of sexual conversion therapy in King v. Christie.
The court also reiterated its rejection of any "privacy" claim based on its previous analysis in Pickup.
So far, challenges to state prohibitions of sexual conversion therapy for minors have had little success.
August 24, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Disability, Due Process (Substantive), Establishment Clause, Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, May 18, 2015
The United States Supreme Court's opinion in City and County of San Francisco v. Sheehan arises from an incident in which two police officers shot Teresa Sheehan, a woman suffering from a schizoaffective disorder who was living in a group home for those with mental illness.
The seemingly primary issue upon which certiorari was granted was whether the Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, 42 U. S. C. §12132, required law enforcement officers to "provide accommodations to an armed, violent, and mentally ill suspect in the course of bringing the suspect into custody.” The Court, in an opinion by Justice Alito, found fault with the attorneys litigating on behalf of San Francisco and dismissed this first question presented as improvidently granted. In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Kagan, also faulted the attorneys for San Francisco, noting that the Petition for Certiorari
assured us (quite accurately), and devoted a section of its argument to the point, that "The Circuits Are In Conflict On This Question.”
But, Justice Scalia continued,
Imagine our surprise, then, when the petitioners’ principal brief, reply brief, and oral argument had nary a word to say about that subject.
Instead, the petitioners argued that "the issue is not (as the petition had asserted) whether Title II applies to arrests of violent, mentally ill individuals, but rather how it applies under the circumstances of this case, where the plaintiff threatened officers with a weapon."
We were thus deprived of the opportunity to consider, and settle, a controverted question of law that has divided the Circuits, and were invited instead to decide an ADA question that has relevance only if we assume the Ninth Circuit correctly resolved the antecedent, unargued question on which we granted certiorari.
Scalia had especially harsh words for the attorneys for San Francisco, casting aspersion on their integrity:
Why, one might ask, would a petitioner take a position on a Circuit split that it had no intention of arguing, or at least was so little keen to argue that it cast the argument aside uninvited? The answer is simple. Petitioners included that issue to induce us to grant certiorari.
Scalia states that the Court would never have granted certiorari on the first question as it was argued in the briefs and would certainly have never granted certiorari on the"fact-bound" qualified immunity issue. Scalia, with Kagan, dissented from the Court's holding on the qualified immunity issue:
I would not reward such bait-and-switch tactics by proceeding to decide the independently “uncertworthy” second question. And make no mistake about it: Today’s judgment is a reward. It gives the individual petitioners all that they seek, and spares San Francisco the significant expense of defending the suit, and satisfying any judgment, against the individual petitioners. I would not encourage future litigants to seek review premised on arguments they never plan to press, secure in the knowledge that once they find a toehold on this Court’s docket, we will consider whatever workaday arguments they choose to present in their merits briefs.
The Court, absent Justice Breyer who did not participate in the case, did "reward" San Francisco by finding that the police officers were protected by qualified immunity: "no precedent clearly established that there was not 'an objective need for immediate entry' here." The somewhat particular facts - - - the situation involved an entry and then a re-entry of Sheehan's room - - - nevertheless involved a "straightforward" and exceedingly brief qualified immunity analysis.
And a reversal of the Ninth Circuit.
While the attorneys for the City and County of San Francisco may have endured a scolding, Scalia is correct that the Court's decision is ultimately a reward.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
In a divided opinion in Korab v. Fink, a Ninth Circuit panel upheld the constitutionality of Hawai'i's health benefits for a certain class of "nonimmigrant aliens" against an equal protection challenge. The court reversed the preliminary injunction entered by the district judge.
There are several layers of complexity in the case. There is the immigration scheme, including a particular one involving specific nations; the health benefits schemes of both the federal government and the state; and the equal protection doctrine applicable to immigrant status fluctuating depending upon whether the government regulation is federal or state.
Judge Margaret McKeown's relatively brief majority opinion does an excellent job of unweaving and weaving these various strands of complexities in 22 pages. As she explains, in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Congress classified "aliens" into three categories for the purpose of federal benefits, including Medicaid: eligible aliens, ineligible aliens, and a third category which allowed state option. The "aliens" at issue are citizens of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau who, under the Compact of Free Association (“COFA”) with the United States, may enter the United States and establish residence as a “nonimmigrant. The "COFA aliens" are in the third category of state option. At one point, Hawai'i included coverage for the COFA "nonimmigrants," but with the advent of Basic Health Hawai'i, its 2010 program, the COFA "nonimmigrants" were excluded. It is the COFA "nonimmigrants" who challenge their exclusion from Basic Health Hawai'i on the basis of equal protection.
Given the federal and state interrelationships, the question of the level of scrutiny that should apply is pertinent. As Judge McKeown explains, "states must generally treat lawfully present aliens the same as citizens, and state classifications based on alienage are subject to strict scrutiny review." In contrast, she states, "federal statutes regulating alien classifications are subject to the easier-to-satisfy rational-basis review." What standard should apply to a "hybrid case" such as Basic Health Hawai‘i, in which a state is following a federal direction? Judge McKeown's majority concludes that rational-basis review applies to Basic Health Hawai'i "because Hawai‘i is merely following the federal direction set forth by Congress under the Welfare Reform Act."
Judge Bybee's concurring opinion, slightly longer than the majority opinion he joined, is an extended argument against equal protection doctrine's applicability in favor of a preemption doctrine.
Judge Richard Clifton, who was appointed to the bench from a private practice in Honolulu, argued that the higher level of scrutiny should be applied essentially because it is Hawai'i that is exercising its state power when in makes the choice.
I acknowledge there is something paradoxical and more than a little unfair in my conclusion that the State of Hawai‘i has discriminated against COFA Residents. The state responded to an option given to it by Congress, albeit an option that I don’t think Congress had the power to give. Hawai‘i provided full Medicaid benefits to COFA Residents for many years, entirely out of its own treasury, because the federal government declined to bear any part of that cost. Rather than terminate benefits completely in 2010, Hawai‘i offered the BHH program to COFA Residents, again from its own pocket. The right of COFA Residents to come to Hawai‘i in the first place derives from the Compacts of Free Association that were negotiated and entered into by the federal government. That a disproportionate share of COFA Residents, from Pacific island nations, come to Hawai‘i as compared to the other forty-nine states is hardly a surprise, given basic geography. The decision by the state not to keep paying the full expense of Medicaid benefits for those aliens is not really a surprise, either. In a larger sense, it is the federal government, not the State of Hawai‘i, that should be deemed responsible.
While Judge Clifton's remarks concluding his dissent focus on the paradox in his opinion, his observations also implicitly point to the paradox at the heart of the majority's decision given that the federal scheme gives the state choices - - - and it was the state that chose to exclude certain "nonimmigrants" from the South Pacific.
April 1, 2014 in Congressional Authority, Disability, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, January 16, 2014
In its opinion today in Schroeder v. Weighall, the Washington Supreme Court held a medical malpractice statute of limitations violated the state constitution's equality provisions.
The statute at issue, RCW 4.16.190, tolls the statute of limitations during the time a person suffers from a disability, including being a minor. However, subsection (2) of the statute is an exemption only for persons under the age of 18 and only with respect to actions under RCW 4.16.350, the statute governing claims for medical malpractice.
The court found the exemption provision unconstitutional under Washington Constitution Art. 1 §12 :
No law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens, or corporations.
While the court noted that this provision could be "substantially similar" to the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, it was also different and more protective and paid special attention to "undue political influence" that was "exercised by a privileged few."
The court applied a two prong test, first looking at whether there was a "privilege or immunity," at stake, easily concluding that the benefit in the statutory exemption was "limited liability-an immunity from suits pursued by certain plaintiffs." The court quickly turned to the mirror image of this benefit, concluding that the right to sue for what is essentially common law negligence was within these definitions.
The court then turned to the second prong of the test, considering whether there is a "reasonable ground" for "limiting medical malpractice defendants' liability to patients injured during minority," and noting that "reasonableness" under the state constitution was more rigorous that rational basis. The court carefully looked at the purported interests of the statute, and noted an inconsistency:
If the statute is to be justified on the basis that it will greatly reduce medical malpractice claims, it cannot also be justified on the ground that it will not prevent very many plaintiffs from having their day in court. If it is to be justified on the basis that it is a substantial wrong to permit even one stale medical malpractice claim to proceed, then there can be no rational explanation for the legislature's failure to eliminate tolling for other incompetent plaintiffs.
Again, however, the court indulged in a mirror image discussion, looking at the statutory scheme's affect on a "particularly vulnerable population not accountable for its status. While children are not a suspect or even semi-suspect class, the court did note that "the group of minors most likely to be adversely affected" by the statutory exemption are those "whose parent or guardian lacks the knowledge or incentive to pursue a claim on his or her behalf" or who are in state care.
While 7 of the 9 justices of the court assented to this opinion, authored by Justice Gordon McCloud, there was a dissenting opinion by Justice James M. Johnson, joined by Justice Susan Owens, arguing that the most deferential standard of scrutiny should apply and accepting the claims of legislative interest in reducing claims of medical malpractice.
The Washington Supreme Court's majority opinion is a well-reasoned example of the vibrancy of state constitutional equality provisions, including a somewhat unusual application to a statute of limitations provision.
Friday, June 15, 2012
The Supreme Court of British Columbia today issued its lengthy opinion in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), authored by Justice Lynn Smith, a former dean at the Faculty of Law of the University of British Columbia. Smith's opinion concluded that the assisted suicide prohibition in the Canadian Criminal Code infringes sections 7 and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section 7 - - - " Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," and Section 15(1) - - - "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability" are often be analogized to due process and equal protection by those trained in the US constitutional system.
However, Judge Smith made little use of US constitutional precedent and did not give much credence to the Canadian government's reliance on Washington v. Glucksberg, in which the US Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to an assisted suicide ban. [¶ 1118 of Opinion]. Instead, Judge Smith extensively canvassed the state of assisted suicide laws in US states and other nations, producing a scholarly survey and discussion of the issues. Insisting that "context is vital," Judge Smith's decision is nuanced and careful.
to the extent that they prohibit physician-assisted suicide by a medical practitioner in the context of a physician-patient relationship, where the assistance is provided to a fully-informed, non-ambivalent competent adult patient who:
(a) is free from coercion and undue influence, is not clinically depressed and who personally (not through a substituted decision-maker) requests physician-assisted death; and
(b) is materially physically disabled or is soon to become so, has been diagnosed by a medical practitioner as having a serious illness, disease or disability (including disability arising from traumatic injury), is in a state of advanced weakening capacities with no chance of improvement, has an illness that is without remedy as determined by reference to treatment options acceptable to the person, and has an illness causing enduring physical or psychological suffering that is intolerable to that person and cannot be alleviated by any medical treatment acceptable to that person.
[¶ 1393]. For some, this type of decision is reminiscient of legislation, but the declarations are suspended for one year allowing Parliament time to correct the constitutional problems. Yet defering the opinion's effective date for a year has obvious costs given the court's own discussion. For plaintiff Gloria Taylor the plaintiffs had sought an "immediate constitutional exemption that would allow her to avail herself of a physician-assisted death at such time and subject to such terms and conditions that the Court allows or requires." Judge Smith's opinion grants such an exemption and sets out its terms.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
Saturday Evening Review: The Missing Dissenting Opinion in Hosanna-Tabor by Professor Leslie Griffin
As a rule, there is something unsatisfying about a constitutional law opinion from the United States Supreme Court without a well-reasoned and scholarly dissent.
The Court's opinion earlier this year in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC is no exception to that rule, despite a short concurring opinion by Justice Thomas and the much longer concurring opinion by Justice Alito in which Justice Kagan joined. The Court in Hosanna-Tabor recognized the so-called "ministerial exception" barring a lawsuit against a religious organization by an employee seeking relief pursuant to federal anti-discrimination laws, including the ADA.
Professor Leslie Griffin supplies the necessary countervailing arguments in her forthcoming article The Sins of Hosanna-Tabor, available on ssrn. Professor Griffin (pictured left) who co-authored the Brief of Amici Curiae Law and Religion Professors in Support of Respondents and who appeared at the AALS Conference panel discussing the case was well-situated to provide a quick and thorough analysis, with excellent research that is mostly absent from the Court's opinions.
Griffin's critique of the case is insightful and pointed, discussing the factual context and reorienting it as a retaliation case, providing some useful historical perspectives, and seeking to reconcile the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith. As Griffin argues, after Hosanna-Tabor, "Individual religious believers are subject to the rule of Smith, while institutions are not. Institutional religious freedom allows the firing of ministerial employees for any reasons, even non-religious ones." This does seem incoherent, although as Griffin notes, the "rule always favors employers."
The broad insulation of religious employers from anti-discrimination laws for anyone who is deemed a minister is the import of Hosanna-Tabor. While the Court declined to decide exactly who is a minister, the implication seems to be that this determination must rest on the sincere belief of the employer, lest there be Establishment Clause issues. The Court also declined to express a view "on whether the exception bars other types of suits, including actions by employees alleging breach of contract or tortious conduct by their religious employers.” Griffin uses her in depth knowledge of the area to explore the implications of this opening.
Griffin's article is worth reading for anyone teaching or writing about Hosanna-Tabor and should certainly be excerpted in Casebooks. It's an important dissenting opinion.
Thursday, April 19, 2012
The inimitable Linda Greenhouse has a provocative column entitled "Women's Work" which takes up the continuing relevance of gender politics - - - and a gender divide - - - on the Supreme Court. Her subject is the Court's 5-4 opinion last month in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland.
Coleman's consitutional issue involved the Eleventh Amendment, which may at first blush seem an odd grounding for gender equality, until one recalls cases such as Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (2003). As Greenhouse reminds us, Rehnquist's opinion for the majority in Hibbs was rather suprising. Not only did it reverse the Court's trend to "diss Congress" (as Ruth Colker and James Brudney so evocatively phrased it in their terrific 2001 article), but also construed Congressional intent in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as addressing “the pervasive sex-role stereotype that caring for family members is women’s work.”
Greenhouse states she'd "love to know" how Rehnquist would have decided Coleman, involving the self-care provision of FMLA. She criticizes Kennedy's opinion for the Court as ignoring the legislative history that Ginsburg so meticulously discussed in the dissent and that was central to Hibbs. (Of course, one might also recall that Kennedy also dissented in Hibbs).
And, while we are used to thinking about a "liberal" v. "conservative" split on the Court, Greenhouse highlights another split: "the three women, along with the highly evolved Justice Stephen G. Breyer, were on one side – the losing side – while the remaining five men were in the majority."
One of those five men in the majority is Alito, who one might recall, replaced Justice O'Connor. O'Connor joined the majority in Hibbs, so perhaps it is reasonable to believe that she would have joined Ginsburg's view regarding the importance of sex-role stereotyping in the FMLA, extended to the self-care provision.
But one might also recall that before Justice Alito, there was nominee Harriet Miers. One wonders how she might have voted.
[image: WWII government poster via]
April 19, 2012 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Disability, Eleventh Amendment, Family, Federalism, Fourth Amendment, Gender, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Tracey Cooper-Harris (pictured right), a member of the US Army for twelve years, has filed a complaint against the US for veterans benefits for her same-sex partner, arguing that DOMA and the VA definition of "spouse" violates the Fifth Amendment's equal protection component. Cooper-Harris is represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization that also litigated the landmark case Frontiero v. Richardson involving a woman's right for military benefits for her husband.
This lawsuit joins the other constitutional challenges to DOMA including one filed by the Service Members Legal Defense Network, as well two companion decisions by federal district judge Tauro declaring DOMA unconstitutional, the Obama DOJ's decision not to defend it, and legislative efforts at repeal.
(h/t Jen Hogg)
Thursday, December 15, 2011
White House Proposes Rules on Domestic Workers to "Overrule" Long Island Health Care at Home v. Coke
Today, President Obama announced proposed rulemaking to revise the companionship and live-in worker regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act "to more clearly define the tasks that may be performed by an exempt companion" and " to limit the companionship exemption to companions employed only by the family or household using the services. Third party employers, such as in-home care staffing agencies, could not claim the exemption, even if the employee is jointly employed by the third party and the family or household."
This latter provision regarding home health care workers employed by contractors would change the result of Long Island Care at Home v. Coke, decided by the Court in 2007. As the President's announcement notes, the issue of FLSA coverage
gained national attention when, in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that Evelyn Coke, a home care worker who worked as much as 70 hours a week, was not entitled to overtime pay under existing regulations. Thus, any change to these rules requires action by Congress or the Department of Labor. There have been bills introduced in numerous Congresses to address this issue (including legislation that then-Senator Obama co-sponsored in the 110th Congress) but these bills have not moved forward. The Department of Labor is therefore now proposing regulations to change these rules and ensure that home care workers like Evelyn Coke will have basic wage protections.
Interestingly, Coke was a unanimous opinion that provoked little controversy when it was rendered.
I've elsewhere discussed Evelyn Coke in the context of legal theory regarding "servants." At the oral argument in Coke, which Evelyn Coke attended in a wheelchair, Justice Scalia joked regarding the meaning of "footmen" and Justice Brennan expressed concern for the families who needed home health care workers, but not for the workers themselves. Evelyn Coke died in 2009.
If the regulations are adopted, they would essentially "overrule" the Court's opinion, based as it was on regulatory and statutory construction. Thus, the issue is of general interest regarding separation of powers. The development is also of interest to ConLawProfs working on social change and poverty issues.
[image Library of Congress via]
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Judge Wilken wrote that the proposed notices regarding the reductions "raise serious questions of violations of the federal Due Process Clause," as well as violations of several federal statutory schemes by " by placing IHSS recipients at imminent risk of unnecessary and unwanted out-of-home placement, including in institutions such as nursing homes, board and care facilities, and psychiatric hospitals; by discriminating on the basis of type of disability; and by using methods of administration that will exclude individuals with disabilities from IHSS."
Judge Wilken concluded that the "balance of equities strongly favors Plaintiffs because Defendants’ only interest is fiscal, whereas the plaintiff class faces life or death consequences." She set a briefing schedule, with a hearing most likely to be held on December 15.
An excellent discussion contextualizing the TRO by Marty Omoto of the California Disability Community Action Network is available here.
[image: Disabled professional surfer Christiaan "Otter" Bailey of Santa Cruz, Ca. via]
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
"Do Not Cease from Exploration: A Report at the Nexus of Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System," is the just published "jot" by Dean Kim Brooks (pictured right) of Dalhousie University in Canada.
And, as Dean Brooks notes, the piece she has selected, Judge Anne Derrick’s In the Matter of a Fatality Inquiry Regarding the Death of Howard Hyde, Report Pursuant to the Fatality Investigations Act (2010), "pushes at the boundaries of what most of us would consider scholarship." However, Brooks contends that it is "the most interesting piece of scholarly work motivated by equality considerations that has crossed my desk in the last several months." Indeed, Brooks argues that "the report’s 80 recommendations are essential ground for equality scholars with an interest in policy-relevant scholarship."
With this selection, Brooks addresses aspects of equality that tend to be side-lined and in a form that is often neglected. It's a fitting start for the new section on Equality from Jotwell: The Journal on Things We Like (Lots). Brooks' co-editor of the Equality Section is Professor Sonia Lawrence, Director, Institute for Feminist Legal Studies York University – Osgoode Hall Law School. They've assembled a crew of contributing editors (and I feel humbled to be included) from around the globe, so the work highlighted is sure to transcend the usual "equal protection doctrine revisionings" that have become ubiquitous in US scholarship. The Equality "jots" will run monthly, but in the interim Jotwell has a great sections on Constitutional Law, Jurisprudence, and other areas of law.
Monday, April 4, 2011
On the anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, footnote 24 of Justice Thurgood Marshall’s concurring and dissenting opinion in Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432 (1985) is appropriate. Marshall's footnote is condensation of equal protection theory and an argument for judicial consideration of history and experience. It is also an illumination of footnote 4 of Carolene Products. Marshall (pictured) wrote:
No single talisman can define those groups likely to be the target of classifications offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore warranting heightened or strict scrutiny; experience, not abstract logic, must be the primary guide. The "political powerlessness" of a group may be relevant, San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 28 (1973), but that factor is neither necessary, as the gender cases demonstrate, nor sufficient, as the example of minors illustrates. Minors cannot vote and thus might be considered politically powerless to an extreme degree. Nonetheless, we see few statutes reflecting prejudice or indifference to minors, and I am not aware of any suggestion that legislation affecting them be viewed with the suspicion of heightened scrutiny. Similarly, immutability of the trait at issue may be relevant, but many immutable characteristics, such as height or blindness, are valid bases of governmental action and classifications under a variety of circumstances. See ante, at 442-443, n. 10. The political powerlessness of a group and the immutability of its defining trait are relevant insofar as they point to a social and cultural isolation that gives the majority little reason to respect or be concerned with that group's interests and needs. Statutes discriminating against the young have not been common nor need be feared because those who do vote and legislate were once themselves young, typically have children of their own, and certainly interact regularly with minors. Their social integration means that minors, unlike discrete and insular minorities, tend to be treated in legislative arenas with full concern and respect, despite their formal and complete exclusion from the electoral process. The discreteness and insularity warranting a "more searching judicial inquiry," United States v. Carolene Products Co., 304 U.S. 144, 153 , n. 4 (1938), must therefore be viewed from a social and cultural perspective as well as a political one. To this task judges are well suited, for the lessons of history and experience are surely the best guide as to when, and with respect to what interests, society is likely to stigmatize individuals as members of an inferior caste or view them as not belonging to the community. Because prejudice spawns prejudice, and stereotypes produce limitations that confirm the stereotype on which they are based, a history of unequal treatment requires sensitivity to the prospect that its vestiges endure. In separating those groups that are discrete and insular from those that are not, as in many important legal distinctions, "a page of history is worth a volume of logic." New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U.S. 345, 349 (1921) (Holmes, J.)
Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 472-473 (1985) (Marshall, J. concurring and dissenting in part).
Marshall's discussion of the social integration of minors and the lack of prejudice against the young might be worth further discussion.
(Suggested by Ed Campanelli)
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez this week reminded state court chief justices and administrators of their obligation to provide "meaningful access" for individuals with limited English language proficiency.
The obligation comes from the conditional spending measures in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 2000d et seq., and the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 3789d(c), both of which prohibit national origin discrimination by federal fund recipients, and E.O. 13166 (2000), which requires federal agencies to "work to ensure that recipients of Federal financial assistance . . . provide meaningful access to their [applicants with limited English proficiency]." The Supreme Court ruled in Lau v. Nichols in 1974 that failure to take measures to provide access to individuals with limited English proficiency is a form of national origin discrimination banned by Title VI.
Perez also delineated some of the ways in which state courts are failing to meet their obligations: limiting the types of proceedings for which interpreter services are provided; charging interpreter costs to a party; and restricting language services to the courtroom (and not court offices and other court personnel).
Congress and the president effectively banned all discrimination against individuals with limited English proficiency in state courts through conditional spending (because all state courts receive some federal funding and thus accept the non-discriminatory condition). Because state courts "contractually agreed" (quoting Lau v. Nichols) to the non-discrimination provisions as a condition of receiving federal funds, they are bound by them, notwithstanding state law to the contrary. (As Perez writes, "The federal requirement to provide language assistance . . . applies notwithstanding conflicting state or local laws or court rules.") As a conditional spending requirement, there is no Tenth Amendment problem. See South Dakota v. Dole (stating the requirements for federal conditional spending programs).
But Congress could also almost certainly achieve this result directly if it wished--by outlawing discrimination in state courts under its Fourteenth Amendment, Section 5, authority. The Supreme Court upheld just such a law in Tennessee v. Lane in 2004--Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which outlawed discrimination against individuals with disabilities in access to the state courts.
August 18, 2010 in Congressional Authority, Disability, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Georgia District Judge Finds Georgia Legislature Violated Equal Protection Clause by Terminating a Transgendered Employee
In an extensive opinion, United States District Judge Richard Story of the Northern District of Georgia has granted summary judgment in favor of a former employee of the Georgia General Assembly on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The plaintiff, Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn, formerly known as Glenn Morrison, was an editor at the Georgia General Assembly's Office of Legislative Counsel, but was terminated when she conveyed her intent to transition from a man to a woman.
The District Judge applied intermediate scrutiny, holding that "while transsexuals are not members of a protected class based on sex, those who do not conform to gender stereotypes are members of a protected class based on sex," and citing, after extensive analysis, to the Title VII case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989) (Opinion at 30-31). The Judge therefore held that intermediate scrutiny applied:
Defendant must “demonstrate an ‘exceedingly persuasive justification’” for her
termination. Defendant may only satisfy the burden of intermediate scrutiny by “showing at least that the classification serves ‘important governmental objectives and that the discriminatory means employed’ are ‘substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.’”
Opinion at 36 (citations omitted). However, the Judge noted that the Defendant did not argue that his actions survived intermediate scrutiny, but based its entire argument on its contention that a sex-based classification analysis was not appropriate.
The Judge nevertheless analyzed the Defendant's arguments made, including its asserted interest that terminating the employee was "legitimate" to prevent future litigation, especially regarding restrooms. The Judge found this was not an exceedingly persuasive justification. The Judge also considered the Defendant's cursory claim that the Georgia OLC needed to have the confidence of the state legislators of Georgia, concluding:
To the extent that the record contains any evidence that legislators would lose “confidence” in the OLC, it is in the form of [ a ] statement that some legislators would believe that Glenn’s gender transition was immoral, unnatural, and “ultraliberal.” Even if this were the case, avoiding the anticipated negative reactions of others cannot serve as a sufficient basis for discrimination and does not constitute an important government interest.
Opinion at 42.
The importance of intermediate scrutiny - - - and the Defendant's failure to adequately argue the issue - - - is highlighted by the Judge's finding that the Plaintiff's "Gender Identity Disorder" claim merited only rational basis scrutiny and survived the constitutional challenge.
ConLawProfs looking for an example - - - or counter-example - - - of argument methodology in equal protection doctrine should find this Opinion especially interesting.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The Presidential Memorandum on Hospital Visitation seeks to insure that hospitals not deny visitation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and guarantee that all patients' advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected. Obama noted that these problems have "uniquely affected" "gay and lesbian Americans."The President and federal government have the power to accomplish such objectives, at least for hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid programs, as a condition for receiving such funding.
Establishing conditions for receiving federal funds is nothing new, of course.
Recall Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991), in which the Court upheld restrictions on projects receiving federal funds from providing or discussing abortions.
Also recall Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR) Inc., 547 U.S. 47 (2006), in which a unanimous Court upheld the Solomon Amendment that applied to universities, including law schools. The law conditioned the receipt of federal funds such as grants and student aide, on allowing the military to recruit on campus notwithstanding any university or law school policies barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by potential employers.
April 16, 2010 in Current Affairs, Disability, Executive Authority, Family, Federalism, Medical Decisions, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, September 26, 2009
A person's constitutional rights may be curtailed simply because she or he attains the age of sixty-five.
This is the startling conclusion of Outliving Civil Rights, 86 Washington University Law Review 1053 (2009), by Professor Nina Kohn (pictured below) of Syracuse University College of Law.
Kohn argues that although well-intentioned, state statues meant to protect the elderly have "serious —and potentially unjustifiable—civil rights implications for the seniors they are designed to protect." She contends that some state actions
limit older adults’ substantive due process rights by criminalizing certain forms of consensual sexual behavior; others undermine older adults’ informational privacy rights by requiring the doctors, attorneys, priests, or other confidants to report suspected abuse or neglect to the state.
Kohn compelling argues that Lawrence v. Texas should be applicable to statutes which prohibit elder sexual "abuse." (at 1094). She is arguing, of course, that the definition of "abuse" is overbroad and includes much consensual activity. "Criminalizing consensual sexual conduct by the aged or frail is also [as in Lawrence] demeaning and stigma-creating. Already, older persons find themselves stereotyped as sexless. Indeed, sexual activity by older adults is apt to be perceived as abnormal or even pathological." She continues:
Laws that criminalize sexual activity with older adults—laws that deem their sexual partners to be felons— further entrench this stereotype of sexuality on the part of older people as perverse.Elder sexual protection statutes also create collateral consequences that are analogous to those that burdened the liberty interests of Texas homosexuals in Lawrence. Persons convicted under the Texas anti- homosexual conduct statute faced collateral consequences, including inclusion in criminal registries and negative consequences for future employment. Collateral consequences are also significant in elder abuse cases, although somewhat less direct. Persons convicted of sexual abuse of older adults are increasingly likely to be barred from working with or caring for the elderly. The “abused” adult may face unwanted protective action such as involuntary isolation from the “abuser” or involuntary removal from a shared accommodation with the “abuser.” In addition, as discussed earlier, persons investigated as victims of elder abuse are highly likely to be institutionalized as a result and are also at disproportionate risk of having their right to make personal choices eliminated through the imposition of a guardianship.
Kohn makes clear that her ultimate objective is less a blueprint for constitutional challenges to elder-protection laws than a rethinking of the paternalistic approach of such laws. She notes that elder abuse laws have most often been modeled on child-abuse laws (at 1108). (And while the courts have been explicit about the lesser constitutional rights of minors, they have not been willing to generalize substandard constitutional status for the elderly). She suggests that a better model is domestic violence. Id. (Although it might be argued that violence against women policies have not always accorded women full constitutional status).
September 26, 2009 in Disability, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Scholarship, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)