Friday, June 14, 2019

D.C. Circuit Finds Federal Policy Barring Abortion for Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Unconstitutional

In its opinion in Jane Doe v. Azar, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the trial court's injunction against the federal government's 2017 policy banning abortion access for any unaccompanied immigrant minor in federal custody.  As the per curiam opinion for the majority explained:

The claim of one minor in this case brings the policy’s breadth and operation into stark relief. She had been raped in her country of origin. After her arrival here and her placement in government custody, she learned she was pregnant as a result of the rape. She repeatedly asked to obtain a pre-viability abortion, to no avail. She remained in government custody as an unaccompanied minor because there was no suitable sponsor to whom she could be released. Nor was there any viable prospect of her returning to her country of origin: indeed, she eventually received a grant of asylum (and lawful status here) due to her well-founded fear of persecution in her country of origin. Still, the government sought to compel this minor to carry her rape-induced pregnancy to term.

She is one of the named plaintiffs who brought this challenge to the government’s policy on behalf of a class of pregnant unaccompanied minors. The district court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, and the government now appeals. We initially agree with the district court that the case is not moot, and we find no abuse of discretion in the court’s certification of a plaintiffs’ class consisting of pregnant unaccompanied minors in the government’s custody. On the merits, we sustain the district court’s preliminary injunction in principal part.

The bulk of the per curiam majority's opinion is devoted to the class action certification and mootness issues. The government contended that because the named representatives had obtained abortions, their claims were moot, and rendered them inadequate class representatives (both because of the mootness and because not all pregnant minors would choose abortions). The government further contended that other requirements for class certification were not met and that the class should be narrowed so that joinder of individual plaintiffs seeking an abortion would be possible. The majority found the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class.

On the merits of the constitutional claim, the majority stated it was clear that there is a constitutional right to access abortion adjudicated under the undue burden standard and that it extends to minors, although there can be a parental consent requirement if there is a judicial bypass provision. The federal government agreed that a state could not simply ban a minor's access to abortion, but how then, the opinion asked, can the federal government defend the abortion ban policy of the ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a program in the Department of Health and Human Services, bears responsibility for the “care and placement” of unaccompanied immigrant minors (known as UACs, "Unaccompanied Alien Children")? The government offered three arguments, each of the which the majority rejected.

    *    "First, the government contends that permitting unaccompanied minors in its custody to access pre-viability abortions requires it to “facilitate” abortions, which the government says it is not obligated to do." The court, however, noted that the problem was not the government not wanting to remove barriers not of its own creation (such as poverty), but here the government creates the conditions itself: "an unaccompanied minor’s abortion hinges on ORR’s drafting and executing approval documents only because ORR itself has conditioned abortion access on its execution of approval documents." Further, the court ruled that what the government deems the “facilitation” that it wants to steer clear of giving to an unaccompanied minor, "is something it willingly gives to all others in federal custody."

    *    Second, the government asserts that unaccompanied minors may voluntarily depart the country and that the ban thus does not impose any cognizable burden. But, the court noted that"voluntary departure" is not freely available, but is at government discretion, and actually operates as a "second government veto." Moreover, even if the government were to grant a voluntary departure upon request, there is no indication of how long that process might take, and requires the minor to abandon all other requests for relief.

    *     Third, the government argues that, because many unaccompanied minors are released to sponsors, banning abortions while in ORR custody does not impose an undue burden. The court found that the sponsorship argument was "ultimately no more persuasive than its voluntary-departure one. Those arguments share important parallels. In both, the central idea is that an unaccompanied minor may find herself no longer in ORR custody—either because she voluntarily departs the country or because she is released to a sponsor—in which event she would be free to access an abortion without the burden of ORR’s policy."

Thus, the majority found that the ORR policy violated the Fifth Amendment right to due process and affirmed the district court's injunction against its enforcement.

The court remanded another portion of the district court's injunction, however, on the basis that the ORR policies involved were not necessarily clear. At issue were any policies that required disclosure of pregnancy or abortion access.  This issue was at times conflated with the access to abortion issue, and the court remanded so that the district court could "give a more fulsome account of its findings and conclusions in that regard."

In a dissenting opinion, Senior Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman devoted most of his opinion to the class certification issue, but on the merits relied heavily on the dissenting opinion of then-judge and now-Justice Kavanaugh in Garza v. Hargan (2017), concluding that the majority is "endorsing abortion on demand – at least as far as the federal Government is concerned."  Thus, the stage is set for the federal government's petition for certiorari.

 

June 14, 2019 in Abortion, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Fifth Amendment, Gender, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 31, 2019

Daily Read: Imani Gandy on Justice Thomas's Eugenics Concurrence

Responding to Justice Thomas's concurring opinion from a denial of certiorari in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana, legal commentator Imani Gandy (pictured) writes When It Comes to Birth Control and Eugenics, Clarence Thomas Gets It All Wrong.

RdCLAANW_400x400Specifically, Gandy takes on the history of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), who she states is not necessarily a present-day "infallible feminist hero" and certainly had the same abelist views that the Court credited in Buck v. Bell.

But, on the subject of race, Gandy writes:

The framing of Thomas’ concurrence, however, suggests that she [Sanger] did want to reduce the Black population. This framing extends to his description of the Negro Project, which Sanger created in conjunction with some of the most prominent Black civil rights leaders of the time—Franklin Frazier, Walter White, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Mary McLeod Bethune, and W.E.B DuBois—in order to bring birth control to the South. Thomas writes as if her mere advocacy for birth control was in and of itself racial eugenics. And he virtually ignores that Black women in the South wanted birth control and had taken their reproduction into their own hands since the days of enslavement, when women would self-induce abortions or even kill their newborns in order to save them from a life of slavery.

Gandy's commentary also provides an interesting critique of Thomas's use of a Sanger quotation by providing larger context. Gandy writes: "What Thomas leaves out is the very next sentence that Sanger wrote . . ."  and thus invites the reader to think more deeply about the history of birth control.

Predictably, Thomas's concurring opinion is provoking other commentaries, but Gandy's piece is among the most insightful.

 

May 31, 2019 in Abortion, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Fundamental Rights, Gender, Race, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 24, 2019

District Judge Enjoins Mississippi Restrictive Abortion Law

In an opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs, Judge Carlton Reeves has issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of Mississippi Senate Bill 2116 which "bans abortions in Mississippi after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is as early as 6 weeks lmp."

The opinion is only 8 pages and begins "Here we go again."

The parties had been before the court before and Judge Reeves previously enjoined a Mississippi law banning abortions at 15 weeks lmp.   Judge Reeves in this opinion noted that the "State responded by passing an even more restrictive bill, S.B. 2116." Judge Reeves continued:

This Court previously found the 15-week ban to be an unconstitutional violation of substantive due process because the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that women have the right to choose an abortion prior to viability, and a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks lmp. If a fetus is not viable at 15 weeks lmp, it is not viable at 6 weeks lmp. The State conceded this point. The State also conceded at oral argument that this Court must follow Supreme Court precedent. Under Supreme Court precedent, plaintiffs are substantially likely to succeed on the merits of this claim.

[footnotes omitted].  Judge Reeves cited Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (201), the Supreme Court's most recent ruling on abortion.

 

 

May 24, 2019 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Gender | 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 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)

Monday, April 8, 2019

D.C. Circuit Upholds D.C.'s Anti-Obstruction Statute

The D.C. Circuit on Friday rejected the plaintiffs' facial vagueness challenge to D.C.'s anti-obstruction statute. The ruling means that the statute stays on the books.

The case, Agnew v. D.C., tests D.C.'s anti-obstruction statute. That provision makes it a misdemeanor "to crowd, obstruct, or incommode" the use of streets, sidewalks, or building entrances, and "continue or resume the crowding, obstructing, or incommoding after being instructed by a law enforcement officer to cease" doing so.

Three plaintiffs challenged the law as unconstitutionally vague. One was arrested after he failed to comply with an officer's warning to vacate a ramp near his apartment building. (He had stepped outside his home to get some air and was standing on the ramp as the officer drove by.) Another was arrested after he failed to comply with that same officer's warning to get off the stoop of his mother's building (where he went for a smoke). The third was arrested on a sidewalk in front of a business after she failed to comply with an officer's instruction to leave.

None actually obstructed anything, and their criminal cases were dismissed for lack of prosecution.

They sued, arguing that the law was unconstitutionally vague on its face, because it is subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. The court rejected the challenge:

Because it is readily apparent that the terms "to crowd, obstruct, or incommode" the use of public ways mean to block or hinder other people's ability to pass through or use a common space, we hold that the anti-obstructing statute is not unconstitutionally vague on its face.

The court noted that because the plaintiffs lodged only a facial challenge--and because their individual relief depended on that challenge's success--it didn't need to rule on individual relief.

 

April 8, 2019 in Due Process (Substantive), 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 Agrees to Hear Unanimous Jury Incorporation Challenge

The United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in Ramos v. Louisiana posing the question whether the right to a unanimous jury verdict is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

Recall that in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), in which a 5-4 Court held that the Second Amendment is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with four Justices finding this occurred through the Due Process Clause and Justice Thomas stating the proper vehicle was the Privileges or Immunities Clause), Justice Alito writing for the plurality discussed the state of incorporation doctrine in some detail.  In footnote 12, Alito's opinion discussed the provisions of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that had been incorporated, providing citations, and in footnote 13, the opinion discussed the provisions that had not yet been incorporated, other than the Second Amendment then under consideration:

  • the Third Amendment’s protection against quartering of soldiers;
  • the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury indictment requirement;
  • the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases; and
  • the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines.

Just this term in February, the Court whittled this small list down to three, deciding unanimously in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on excessive fines is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, following an oral argument in which some Justices expressed wonderment that the issue of incorporation was even arguable in 2018.

But embedded in Timbs was a dispute about whether the "right" and the "substance of the right" must be similar, a question that the Court did not address.  That dispute is at the heart of the incorporation doctrine surrounding the right to have a unanimous jury verdict.  Justice Alito explained the problem in footnote 14 of McDonald, after stating in the text that the general rule is that rights "are all to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.”

There is one exception to this general rule. The Court has held that although the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires a unanimous jury verdict in federal criminal trials, it does not require a unanimous jury verdict in state criminal trials. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404 (1972); see also Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U. S. 356 (1972) (holding that the Due Process Clause does not require unanimous jury verdicts in state criminal trials). But that ruling was the result of an unusual division among the Justices, not an endorsement of the two-track approach to incorporation. In Apodaca, eight Justices agreed that the Sixth Amendment applies identically to both theFederal Government and the States. See Johnson, supra, at 395 (Brennan, J., dissenting). Nonetheless, among those eight, four Justices took the view that the Sixth Amendment does not require unanimous jury verdicts in either federal or state criminal trials, Apodaca, 406 U. S., at 406 (plurality opinion), and four other Justices took the view that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous jury verdicts in federal and state criminal trials, id., at 414–415 (Stewart, J., dissenting); Johnson, supra, at 381–382 (Douglas, J., dissenting). Justice Powell’s concurrence in the judgment broke the tie, and he concluded that the Sixth Amendment requires juror unanimity in federal, but not state, cases. Apodaca, therefore, does not undermine the well-established rule that incorporated Bill of Rights protections apply identically to the States and the Federal Government. See Johnson, supra, at 395–396 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (footnote omitted) (“In any event, the affirmance must not obscure that the majority of the Court remains of the view that, as in the case of every specific of the Bill of Rights that extends to the States, the Sixth Amendment’s jury trialguarantee, however it is to be construed, has identical application against both State and Federal governments.")

Thus, in Ramos v. Louisiana, the Court is set to address this "exception to the general rule" and decide whether jury unanimity is required in a criminal case in state court to the same extent as in federal court pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.

Lady-justice-jury[image via]

March 18, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | 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, February 20, 2019

SCOTUS Declares Excessive Fines Prohibition Incorporated As Against the States

In its unanimous opinion in Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. 

Recall that the oral argument heavily pointed toward this outcome. While there was some discussion during oral argument about the relationship between excessive fines and civil in rem forfeiture, the Court's opinion, authored by Justice Ginsburg, rejected Indiana's attempt to  "reformulate the question" to one focused on civil asset forfeitures. This was not the argument that the Indiana Supreme Court ruled upon. Moreover, the question of incorporation is not dependent on whether "each and every particular application" of a right passes the incorporation test, using as an example the Court's unanimous opinion in Packingham v. North Carolina (2017), in which the Court did not ask whether the First Amendment's "application to social media websites was fundamental or deeply rooted."

Magna_Carta_StampInstead, the Court clearly held that the "safeguard" of the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment is "fundamental to our scheme of ordered liberty" with "deep roots in [our] history and tradition," citing McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Court's most recent incorporation case.  In an opinion of less that ten pages, Ginsburg discusses the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights after the Glorious Revolution, the inclusion of the Clause in colonial constitutions and in state constitutions at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment, the misuse of excessive fines in Black Codes, and the current inclusion of the provision in the constitutions of all 50 states.

Justice Thomas, in a concurring opinion longer than the Court's opinion, reiterates the position he articulated in McDonald v. Chicago that it should not be the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that is the vehicle for incorporation but the Privileges or Immunities Clause.  Justice Gorsuch writes a separate and very brief concurring opinion acknowledging that the appropriate vehicle for incorporation "may well be" the Fourteenth Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause, but "nothing in this case turns on that question." 

Given that this is a unanimous opinion, unlike McDonald in which Justice Thomas was necessary to the five Justice majority regarding the incorporation of the Second Amendment, the attempt to resurrect the Privileges or Immunities Clause carries little precedential weight.

Thus, now the only rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights that are not incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment to the states are: the Third Amendment prohibiting quartering of soldiers, Fifth Amendment right to a grand jury indictment in a criminal case; and the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases.

February 20, 2019 in Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Judge Gelpí's opinion ends with strong language:

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2018

SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Excessive Fines and Forfeiture

On November 28, 2018, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Timbs v. Indiana, raising the issue of whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "excessive fines" is incorporated as against the States and arguably whether this includes forfeitures.

The Indiana Supreme Court's brief opinion clearly concluded that "the Excessive Fines Clause does not bar the State from forfeiting Defendant's vehicle because the United States Supreme Court has not held that the Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment." The Indiana Supreme Court cited footnote 13 of McDonald v. City of Chicago, in which a majority of the Court found that the Second Amendment was incorporated to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with a plurality relying on the Due Process Clause).  Recall that in footnote 12, Justice Alito's plurality opinion in McDonald listed the provisions of the Bill of Rights that had been incorporated with citations, while in footnote 13, Justice Alito listed the few remaining provisions not incorporated, also with citations.

Justice Alito's citation in footnote 14 of McDonald is to "Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt. v. Kelco Disposal (1989) (declining to decide whether the excessive-fines protection applies to the states)."  Yet as the Indiana Supreme Court notes, in its 2001 opinion in Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., the Court stated that the Fourteenth Amendment  made the "Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments applicable to the States." The Indiana Supreme Court decided that the Cooper Industries statement was dicta and that the McDonald footnote omission of Cooper supported that conclusion ("we will not conclude lightly that the Supreme Court whiffed on the existence or meaning of its precedent").

Whatever the status of precedent, however, the Court is poised to resolve the question of the incorporation of the Excessive Fines Clause to the States.  The amicus briefs tilt heavily in this direction.  One possible wrinkle is the relationship between forfeiture and excessive fines, with the State of Indiana arguing that the issue is whether there is a right to proportionality in forfeiture proceedings that is sufficiently fundamental to meet the incorporation test (whether the right is deeply rooted in this nation's history and traditions and whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty).

 

November 26, 2018 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 23, 2018

District Judge Enjoins Mississippi Abortion Law as Unconstitutional

In an opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves enjoined the Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks as unconstitutional.

Judge Reeves had previously entered a temporary restraining order, which this order and opinion makes permanent. Judge Reeves holds that Mississippi's H.B. 1510 is a clearly unconstitutional violation of due process under Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) which makes viability the marker before which states may not ban abortions. Judge Reeves's opinion then asks "So, why are we here?" The opinion answers its own query by explaining that "the State of Mississippi contends that every court who ruled on a case such as this “misinterpreted or misapplied prior Supreme Court abortion precedent," and argues that the bill only "regulates" abortions. Judge Reeves concluded that the State "characterization" of the law as a regulation was incorrect; the law's very title stated it was "to prohibit." Additionally, Judge Reeves concluded:

The State is wrong on the law. The Casey court confirmed that the “State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child” and it may regulate abortions in pursuit of those legitimate interests.Those regulations are constitutional only if they do not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion.But “this ‘undue burden’/‘substantial obstacle’ mode of analysis has no place where, as here, the state is forbidding certain women from choosing pre-viability abortions rather than specifying the conditions under which such abortions are to be allowed.”There is no legitimate state interest strong enough, prior to viability, to justify a ban on abortions.

[footnotes omitted]. 

    Judge Reeves also expressed "frustration" with the Mississippi legislature passing a law it knew was unconstitutional, "aware that this type of litigation costs the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money," to "endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade."  Judge Reeves chastised the Mississippi Legislature for its "disingenuous calculations," augmented with a footnote (n.40) that begins "The Mississippi Legislature has a history of disregarding the constitutional rights of its citizens," and followed by citation and parenthetical explanations of a half-dozen cases.

    Judge Reeves' concluding section to the seventeen page opinion reiterates some of these concerns and adds that "With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court, it may be that the State believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation. Time will tell." Judge Reeves specifically mentions the amicus brief of women in the legal profession regarding their abortions in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), and also adds:

The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the Court. As Sarah Weddington argued to the nine men on the Supreme Court in 1971 when representing “Jane Roe,” “a pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life.”As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined.

[footnotes omitted].

November 23, 2018 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

District Judge Finds ICWA Unconstitutional

In his opinion in Brackeen v. Zinke, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, Reed O'Connor, entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs and found that portions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA  are unconstitutional, specifically violating equal protection, the non-delegation doctrine of Article I, and the commandeering principle of the Tenth Amendment.  Passed in 1978, the general purpose of ICWA is to prevent Native children from being removed from their families and tribes based on a finding that "an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families [were being] broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies” as Judge O'Connor's opinion acknowledged, quoting Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013) (quoting 25 U.S.C. § 1901(4)).

Judge Reed O'Connor, however, accepts an argument that was sidestepped by the United States Supreme Court in Baby Girl: that ICWA violates equal protection (applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment) by making a racial classification that does not survive strict scrutiny. Recall that in some briefs as well as in the oral argument, the specter of the racial classification was raised.  In United States District Judge O'Connor's opinion, that specter is fully embodied. Judge O'Connor found that ICWA does make a racial classification, rejecting the government's view that the classification at issue was a political category. Judge O'Connor reasoned that ICWA defines Indian child not only by membership in an Indian child, but extends its coverage to children "simply eligible for membership who have a biological Indian parent." Thus, Judge O'Connor reasoned, ICWA's definition "uses ancestry as a proxy for race" and therefore must be subject to strict scrutiny.  Interestingly, the United States government did not offer any compelling governmental interest or argued that the classification is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. Judge O'Connor nevertheless credited the Tribal Defendants/Intervenors assertion of an interest in maintaining the Indian child's relationship with the tribe, but found that the means chosen was overinclusive, concluding that

The ICWA’s racial classification applies to potential Indian children, including those who will never be members of their ancestral tribe, those who will ultimately be placed with non-tribal family members, and those who will be adopted by members of other tribes.

On the non-delegation claim, Judge Reed O'Connor found it fatal that ICWA allows Tribes to change the child placement preferences selected by Congress and which then must be honored by the states in child custody proceedings.

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On the Tenth Amendment claim, Judge Reed O'Connor relied on the Court's recent decision in Murphy v. NCAA holding unconstitutional a federal law prohibiting states from allowing sports gambling regarding anti-commandeering, concluding that

Congress violated all three principles [articulated in Murphy] when it enacted the ICWA. First, the ICWA offends the structure of the Constitution by overstepping the division of federal and state authority over Indian affairs by commanding States to impose federal standards in state created causes of action. See 25 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Second, because the ICWA only applies in custody proceedings arising under state law, it appears to the public as if state courts or legislatures are responsible for federally-mandated standards, meaning “responsibility is blurred.” Third, the ICWA shifts “the costs of regulations to the States” by giving the sole power to enforce a federal policy to the States.  Congress is similarly not forced to weigh costs the States incur enforcing the ICWA against the benefits of doing so. In sum, Congress shifts all responsibility to the States, yet “unequivocally dictates” what they must do.

[citations to Murphy omitted].

 
With more abbreviated analysis, Judge Reed O'Connor found that the applicable regulations pursuant to ICWA violated the Administrative Procedure Act and that Congress did not have power to pass ICWA under the Indian Commerce Clause because it was limited by the Tenth Amendment. However, Judge O'Connor rejected the individual prospective plaintiffs' argument that ICWA violated the Due Process Clause's protection of family rights.
 
This opinion finding a long-standing statute unconstitutional is sure to be appealed, especially by the Cherokee Nation and other Tribal Intervenors.
 

October 10, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Nondelegation Doctrine, Opinion Analysis, Race, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Seventh Circuit Upholds Wisconsin's Butter-Grading System

The Seventh Circuit last week upheld Wisconsin's butter-grading system against Dormant Commerce Clause, due process, and equal protection challenges. The ruling means that Wisconsin's butter-grading system stays on the books.

The case, Minerva Dairy v. Harsdorf, took on Wisconsin's law for grading butter, which makes it unlawful "to sell . . . any butter at retail unless it has been graded." To satisfy this requirement, butter may be graded either by a Wisconsin-licensed grader, or by the USDA voluntary butter-grading program. The plaintiff, an Ohio butter producer, argued that the law violated the Dormant Commerce Clause, due process, and equal protection.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that the law didn't discriminate against interstate commerce, and so didn't violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. (The court didn't even apply Pike v. Bruce Church balancing, because the law didn't discriminate on its face or in effect.) The court also said that Wisconsin's butter-grading-licensing standards, which require a person to come to Wisconsin to test to be a Wisconsin-certified butter-grader, didn't discriminate, either (even though a would-be butter-grader who lives in or close to Wisconsin can get there easier than a would-be grader who lives farther away).

The court rejected the due process and equal protection challenges, too, because the law satisfied rational basis review.

October 9, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Texas Federal Judge Rules Texas Fetal Remains Law Unconstitutional

In an extensive opinion in Whole Woman's Health v. Smith, District Judge David Alan Ezra ruled that Texas statute and regulations requiring internment (or cremation) for "embryonic and fetal tissue disposal" were unconstitutional.  Judge Ezra's opinion occurred after a one-week bench trial in which the issue of cost of compliance was excluded.

Judge Ezra found that the Texas laws violated both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On the equal protection issue, Judge Ezra found that the Texas laws' distinction between "pre-implantation and post-implantation embryos and the facilities that handle them" was not rationally related to the legitimate government interest in "respecting potential life." Thus, even under the rational basis test, the laws did not survive.

On the due process issue, Judge Ezra applied the doctrine from the Supreme Court's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, and found that the Texas laws

place substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking pregnancy-related medical care, particularly a previability abortion, while offering minimal benefits.

By endorsing one view of the status and respect to be accorded to embryonic and fetal tissue remains, the State imposes intrusive burdens upon personal decisions concerning procreation, especially upon the right of the woman to chose to have an abortion. And most importantly, the evidence in this case overwhelmingly demonstrated that if the challenged laws were to go into effect now, they would likely cause a near catastrophic failure of the health care system designed to serve women of childbearing age within the State of Texas.

This failure, Judge Ezra makes clear, is not simply for women seeking an abortion, but for all women seeking pregnancy care for complications.

Thus the court declared the laws and implementing regulations unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement.

September 5, 2018 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Gender, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Federal Judge Declares Cash Bail Practice in New Orleans Unconstitutional

 In his opinion in Caliste v. Cantrell, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana Eldon Fallon declared the bail practices of Judge Cantrell, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Magistrate Judge, unconstitutional as violative of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

After disposing of questions of justiciability and absention, Judge Fallon considered the cash bail practices in which the parish judge would never inquire regarding defendants' ability to post bail or provide reasoning for a rejection of alternative conditions of release, and would tell "public defenders that he would hold them in contempt when they have attempted to argue for lower bond amounts or RORs for their clients.” 

Judge Fallon found that the practices violated procedural due process, applying the well-settled balancing test of Matthews v. Eldridge (1976).  Judge Fallon concluded "that in the context of hearings to determine pretrial detention Due Process requires:

1) an inquiry into the arrestee’s ability to pay, including notice of the importance of this issue and the ability to be heard on this issue;
2) consideration of alternative conditions of release, including findings on the record applying the clear and convincing standard and explaining why an arrestee does not qualify for alternative conditions of release; and
3) representative counsel.

Judge Fallon also found there was a substantive due process violation, analyzing it in a section entitled "conflict of interest." Judge Fallon relied in part on Caperton v. Massey (2009), noting that there need not be proof of "actual bias," but there should be an inquiry “whether, ‘under a realistic appraisal of psychological tendencies and human weakness,’ the interest ‘poses such a risk of actual bias or prejudgment that the practice must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented.’”  In the Orleans parish, the problem was that the Orleans judge not only set bail but also managed "the Judicial Expense Fund, a portion of which comes from fees levied on commercial surety bonds." Judge Fallon found this was a conflict of interest rising to a due process violation: "Judge Cantrell’s institutional incentives create a substantial and unconstitutional conflict of interest when he determines their ability to pay bail and sets the amount of that bail."

Thus, the federal court entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring the cash bail practices of  the Orleans parish judge unconstitutional.

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[image via]

 

 

August 6, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Daily Read: The Fourteenth Amendment (on its 150th Anniversary)

The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868. 

Here's the text:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

 

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14th_Amendment_Pg2of2_AC

[images National Archives via]

 

July 9, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Procedural Due Process, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Federal District Judge Enjoins Tennessee's Revocation of Drivers License for Failure to Pay Court Debt

In an opinion in Thomas v. Haslam, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, Aleta Trauger, has held unconstitutional Tennessee Code §40-24-105(b) which revokes the driver's license of any person who has failed to pay court debt for a year or more.

Judge Trauger had issued an extensive opinion in March, appended to the current opinion, detailing the issues, holding the plaintiffs presented a justiciable claim, certifying the class, and allowing for additional briefing on the summary judgment motions on the constitutional issues.

The constitutional challenge to the driver's license revocation is grounded in Griffin v. Illinois (1956) and its progeny, which, as Judge Trauger explained "implicates both Due Process and Equal Protection principles in ways that defy an easy application of the Court’s more general precedents involving either constitutional guarantee alone" and should not be subject to a "pigeonhole analysis" of either strict scrutiny or rational basis review. However, Judge Trauger ruled that under Sixth Circuit precedent, rational basis must be applied, "which asks only whether the challenged policy is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose." Yet in the context of distinctions based on indigence, this rational basis should be one of "extra care" if "a statute treats the rich better than the poor in a way that will affirmatively make the poor poorer."

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Judge Trauger reasoned that while the state has a legitimate interest in seeking to recoup court debt, revoking the driver's license of a person unable to pay the debt is not "effective." Moreover,

 the law is not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive. If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it; he may, however, become able to pay it in the future. But taking his driver’s license away sabotages that prospect. For one thing, the lack of a driver’s license substantially limits one’s ability to obtain and maintain employment. Even aside from the effect on employment, however, the inability to drive introduces new obstacles, risks, and costs to a wide array of life activities, as the former driver is forced into a daily ordeal of logistical triage to compensate for his inadequate transportation. In short, losing one’s driver’s license simultaneously makes the burdens of life more expensive and renders the prospect of amassing the resources needed to overcome those burdens more remote.

Thus, while a lenient standard, Judge Trauger held that the lack of an indigent exception in the driver's license revocation penalty for failure to pay court debt fails rational basis scrutiny

Additionally, Judge Trauger held that the Tennessee statute does not afford procedural due process and that a "driver facing revocation for nonpayment of court debt is entitled to a pre-revocation notice and determination related to his indigence," to be developed by the state.

While issuing an injunction against the statute's future enforcement, Judge Trauger ordered the state to "submit a plan, within 60 days, for lifting the revocations of drivers whose licenses were revoked under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(b) and providing an appropriate process for reinstatement."

Or, of course, Tennessee could appeal.

July 3, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Federal Judge Dismisses Complaint Seeking Access to Literacy by School Children

In his opinion in Gary B. v. Snyder, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed a complaint alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit.

After finding the plaintiff students had standing and that the complaint against Governor Snyder and other officials was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, Judge Snyder dismissed the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims.

On the Due Process Clause claim, Judge Snyder noted that the constitutional right at issue is framed as "access to literacy" which "speaks to an opportunity" rather than simply literacy which is an "outcome of education." Using this definition, Judge Snyder distinguished the complaint from landmark cases such as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), rejecting "education" as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, applying the "standard" test to determine a fundamental right from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) — "fundamental rights are only those 'objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed'"— even through the lens of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Snyder reasoned that fundamental rights are generally only "negative rights."

Conceivably, a case like this one could be argued on either positive- or negative- right theories. As a positive right, access to literacy (i.e., a minimally adequate education) is so important that the state is compelled to provide it. As a negative right, access to literacy is so important that the state may not hinder Plaintiffs' attempts to secure it.  ***

But a violation of negative rights is not what the Complaint truly seems to argue. The Complaint explains, in great detail, that the instruction and resources in Plaintiffs' schools are inadequate.

  256px-Paul_Constant_Soyer_-_Little_Girl_Reading_-_Walters_371621Judge Snyder reasoned that the Supreme Court's understanding of a "fundamental right," requires finding that neither liberty nor justice would exist absent state-provided literacy access, which would be "difficult to square with the fact that '[t]here was no federal or state-run school system anywhere in the United States as late as 1830.'" Thus, for Judge Snyder, the "ordered liberty" prong is tantamount to historical roots:

School districts at the time of the Constitution's ratification were formed 'when a group of farms came together and decided to construct a public building for schooling, where their children could gather and be taught reading, writing, and moral codes of instruction.' [citation omitted]  The history evinces a deep American commitment to education, but runs counter to the notion that ordered society demands that a state provide one.

Thus, he concluded:

The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? Based on the foregoing analysis, the answer to the question is no.

Judge Murphy concluded that the Equal Protection Clause claim was similarly not founded. The court repeats that there is no fundamental right and further finds that there is no racial classification because there to be a "relevant comparator school" requires not only that the school in question have a different racial composition that the 97% African-American schools in Detroit but also that the school "experienced relevant state interventions" like the schools in Detroit. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applies at its most deferential — whether "there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification" — and the plaintiffs did not plead "specific decisions Defendants made concerning Plaintiffs' schools that could have been made differently" and were thus irrational.

The dismissal of the complaint makes it ripe for appeal.

[image: Paul-Constant Soyer, Little Girl Reading (1864) via]

 

July 2, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)