Monday, June 17, 2019
In its divided opinion in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the Court concluded that the Virginia House of Delegates, one of two chambers in the state legislature, did not have standing to appeal the judgment of the three judge district court that eleven districts in its 2011 redistricting plan were racially gerrymandered and violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall that in its previous appearance before the United States Supreme Court, Virginia's 2011 redistricting plan caused the Court to clarify the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections (2017), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts. It was on this remand that the three-judge court found that these other eleven districts also violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall also that at oral argument, the questions of standing to appeal were intermixed with the factually-intense merits, so that details about the processes leading to the actual redistricting map and its impacts complexified the arguments.
The Court did not reach the merits, but decided the case on lack of standing to appeal. As Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, phrased it, after the 2018 three-judge court decision, Virginia decided it "would rather stop than fight on," and Virginia did not appeal. However, the Virginia House of Delegates did pursue an appeal. Ginsburg — joined by Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch — held that the House of Delegates did not have standing to appeal.
The majority held that the House of Delegates had no standing to represent the interests of the State of Virginia. A State has the authority to designate the entities to represent it and in the case of Virginia it has given this authority exclusively to the state Attorney General.
Further, the majority held that the Virginia House of Delegates did not have standing in its own right, as it did not have a distinct injury. "Just as individual members of Congress do not have standing to assert the institutional interests of the legislature, "a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole." The Court also rejected specific injury to the House of Delegates because redrawing district lines would harm it.
Justice Alito, writing the dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer and Kavanaugh, argued that the House of delegates did experience specific injury in fact, given that a representative represents a specific set of constituents with specific interests and this would be changed by redistricting.
The contentious redistricting in Virginia (as well as other states) is not brought any closer to resolution by the Court's decision, but it does mean that Virginia's choice to end this round of the litigation must be a unitary one.
image: map of Virginia circa 1612 via
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
The Seventh Circuit last week rebuffed a challenge to Illinois's law that prohibits residents of states that lack substantially similar licensing standards to even apply for an Illinois concealed-carry license. The ruling keeps Illinois's law on the books. (This is the second time the court ruled on the issue, the same way.)
The case, Culp v. Raoul, involved Second Amendment and related challenges to the reciprocal feature of Illinois's concealed-carry law. Here's how it works:
Illinois residents can apply for and receive a concealed-carry license upon a showing that the applicant isn't a public danger and, for the last five years, hasn't been a patient in a mental hospital, hasn't been convicted of certain crimes, and hasn't participated in a residential or court-ordered drug or alcohol treatment program. The state engages in an extensive background check of each applicant, and a daily check against the Illinois Criminal History Record Inquiry and the Department of Human Service's mental health system.
But for out-of-staters, the law only permits residents of states with substantially similar licensing requirements to apply for an Illinois concealed-carry license. The reason: Illinois authorities don't have access to criminal and mental health records of other states, so can't do the same kind of background check of their residents. At last count, there were just four such states; those states' residents can apply. Residents of all other states can't even apply for an Illinois concealed-carry license.
Residents of non-substantially-similar states sued, arguing that the law violated the Second Amendment, equal protection, and Article IV privileges and immunities. The court rejected those claims.
As to the Second Amendment, the court said that the law permissibly restricted out-of-staters' Second Amedment rights based on an "important and substantial" reason, enforcement of the criminal-history and mental-health standards, and that while it wasn't a perfect fit, it was close enough for intermediate scrutiny:
And the absence of historical support for a broad, unfettered right to carry a gun in public brings with it a legal consequence: the Second Amendment allows Illinois, in the name of important and substantial public-safety interests, to restrict the public carrying of firearms by those most likely to misuse them.
As to equal protection, the court noted that there's no discrimination against out-of-staters, because "Illinois's licensing standards are identical for all applicants--residents and non-residents the same." The court said that any discrimination between different states' non-residents was justified, because "Illinois has demonstrated that the substantial-similarity requirement relates directly to the State's important interest in promoting public safety by ensuring the ongoing eligibility of who carries a firearm in public. Intermediate scrutiny requires no more."
As to privileges and immunities, the court said concealed carry isn't a protected economic interest, and "we are equally unaware of a decision holding that a privilege of citizenship includes a right to engage in the public carry of a firearm, or, even more specifically, the right to carry a concealed firearm in another state." Moreover, the Clause "does not compel Illinois to afford nonresidents firearm privileges on terms more favorable than afforded to its own citizens."
The court noted that non-residents can still carry and use their firearms in the state. Just not concealed carry.
Judge Manion dissented, arguing that the law was way too rough a cut (both overinclusive and underinclusive) to meet the state's interests. "Illinois has utterly failed to show that banning the residents of an overwhelming majority of the country from even applying for a license is a 'close fit' to its goal."
Saturday, April 13, 2019
United States District Judge for the Southern District of Mississippi Carlton Reeves in a speech at the University of Virginia School of Law addressed the critiques of the judiciary and the lack of diversity in judicial appointments. Judge Reeves recounts a history of the federal bench and equality, with some progress in diversifying the bench, but naming the present state of affairs as the "third great assault on our judiciary."
The written version of the speech includes footnotes, including references to presidential tweets. In speaking about "this Administration’s judicial nominations, especially those confirmed with the advice and consent of the Senate," Judge Reeves noted:
Of the Article III judges confirmed under the current Administration, 90% have been white. Just one of those judges is black. Just two are Hispanic. It’s not just about racial diversity. Barely 25% of this Administration’s confirmed judges are women. None have been black or Latina. Achieving complete gender equality on the federal bench would require us to confirm only 23 women a year. How hard could that be? . . . . Think: in a country where they make up just 30% of the population, non-Hispanic white men make up nearly 70% of this Administration’s confirmed judicial appointees. That’s not what America looks like. That’s not even what the legal profession looks like.
In addition to commenting on the lack of diversity on the United States Supreme Court ("We have as many justices who have graduated from Georgetown Prep as we have Justices who have lived as a non-white person") and the duty of judges to diversify their own hiring of law clerks, Judge Reeves spoke to access to justice issues:
Courts must do more than denounce and diversify. For the attack on the judiciary aims to close the courthouse doors to those who most need justice by shrinking the size, resources, and jurisdiction of courts. Over the last 30 years,while the U.S. population has increased by over 30%; Congress has increased the number of Article III judges by just 3%. Meanwhile, there are continued attempts to close the doors to our own courtrooms. I think of heightened pleading standards, the rise of mandatory arbitration, and judges who proclaim that “prisoner civil rights cases should be eliminated from federal dockets.” Defending the judiciary requires judges to demand, not diminish, the resources they need to find truth. We must expand the reach and power of our courts, offering justice to all who claim the promise of America.
The speech is worth listening to in full:
Saturday, March 30, 2019
In his opinion in Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc., Senior United States District Judge Malcolm J. Howard in the Eastern District of North Carolina held that the dress code of the Charter Day School corporation mandating that girl students wear skirts violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The bulk of Judge Howard's 36 page opinion concerned the threshold matter of state action given that Charter Day School (CDS) is a private nonprofit corporation. CDS described itself as a "traditional values" charter school and operated under North Carolina statutes allowing and regulating charter schools. Judge Howard determined that CDS had responsibility for the dress code (unlike another defendant), was viewed as a public school under state law, was performing an historical, exclusive, and traditional state function, and was subject to pervasive regulation including regarding suspensions for dress code violations.
On the Equal Protection Clause issue, Judge Howard noted that grooming and dress codes did not fit neatly into the doctrine of sex discrimination articulated in United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), noting that the CDS argued that intermediate scrutiny should not apply, but rather a "comparable burden" analysis. However, Judge Howard determined that even under a "comparative burden" analysis, the skirts requirement for girls did not "pass muster." Judge Howard stated that the skirts requirement was not consistent with community norms: women and girls have worn both pants and skirts in school and professional settings since the 1970s.
In considering the interests CDS asserted, including that the skirts requirement "helps the students act appropriately toward the opposite sex," Judge Howard found that there was no evidence to substantiate this, including a comparison to the days when there were exceptions to the only-skirts requirement. Moreover, the CDS board members could not explain when deposed how the skirts requirement furthered the goal. And while CDS stressed their students' good performance, there was no link between the performance and the skirts policy.
As Judge Howard implied, mandating girl students wear skirts has become anachronistic. However, as Judge Howard also noted, this does not mean that all gender-specific dress codes violate equal protection. For more about school dress codes and enforcing gender norms, see Dressing Constitutionally.
image: girls in pants in Minneapolis, 1929, via
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
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.
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.
Monday, March 18, 2019
The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill involving the ultimate issue of whether the redistricting plan of Virginia is racial gerrymandering in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Like many states, the redistricting legal landscape in Virginia is complex; a good explainer from Loyola-Los Angeles Law School is here.
Recall that two years ago, in March 2017, the Court in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.
On remand, the three-judge court divided, with the detailed and extensive opinion authored by Judge Barbara Milano Keenan for the majority ultimately concluding that the "Commonwealth of Virginia's House of Delegates Districts numbers 63, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95 as drawn under the 2011 Redistricting Plan, Va. Code Ann. § 24.2—3o4.03, violate the Equal Protection Clause. "
During that proceeding, the Virginia House of Delegates — one house of the Virginia legislature — was allowed to intervene, but a question on appeal to the United States Supreme Court is whether the House of Delegates, represented by Paul Clement, has standing to appeal, especially given that the Virginia Board of Elections, represented by Toby Heytens, the appellate the first time the case reached the United States Supreme Court, is now the appellee in agreement with Bethune-Hill, represented by Marc Elias. Morgan Ratner, an assistant Solicitor General, appeared on behalf of the United States and fully supported neither party, but did argue that the House of Delegates lacked standing, because "the House as an institution isn't harmed by changes to individual district lines, and while states can authorize legislatures to represent them in court, Virginia hasn't done so." While Justice Alito seemed to take the position that all the House of Delegates needed to establish was some injury on fact, such as the cost of publishing a new map showing the new districts, with Justice Sotomayor labeling Clement's statement that Virginia had "forfeited" the ability to object to the appeal as an "extreme" view. There was seemingly some sympathy to Toby Heytens' view that the Court was essentially being asked to referee a dispute between branches of the Virginia state government, with Justice Alito also asking whether or not the question of which entity may represent the state is not a question that should be certified to the Virginia Supreme Court. The precedential value and applicability of Minnesota State Senate v. Beens (1972), which Justice Ginsburg pointed out has not been cited in 30 years and was from an era in which standing was more "relaxed" and which others distinguished in terms of the impact on the legislative body.
On the merits, one issue was credibility of witnesses and deference to the court's factual determinations, especially given that the first three judge court had reached some opposite conclusions, including in some districts whether or not racial considerations predominated (and thus strict scrutiny would apply). This might seemingly be explained by the different standard articulated by the Court's previous decision in Bethune-Hill before remand, but this did not seem to be addressed. As typical, the precise facts in the map-making and the interplay between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause made the argument exceedingly detailed. For example, there are particular questions about the BVAP [Black Voting Age Population] in specific districts and what percentage is acceptable in each district as individualized or as comparative to other districts.
If the Court does not resolve the case on lack of standing, one can expect another highly specific opinion regarding racial gerrymandering in the continuing difficult saga of racial equality in voting.
[image: Virginia House of Delegates 2012 via]
Thursday, March 7, 2019
In its opinion in D.M. v. Minnesota State High School League, the Eighth Circuit held that an exclusion of male students from competitive dance teams violates equal protection. The Minnesota State High School League, a voluntary association of high schools that controls extracurricular activities and sports throughout Minnesota, prevailed in the district court by arguing that the gender-exclusive policy was justified because girls' "overall athletic opportunities have previously been limited," while boys' have not.
Writing for the unanimous panel, Judge Michael Melloy recited the well-known standard for evaluating the constitutionality of sex classifications from United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996) requiring an exceedingly persuasive justification, and that classification serves an "at least" important government objective that is substantially related. While a compensatory justification intended to remedy past discrimination might survive in limited circumstances, Judge Melloy used the statistics provided by the state, reproducing them in table form, to demonstrate that there has not been a meaningful disparity in the rates of male and female participation in high school athletics. Judge Melloy concluded that the "broad" arguments the state advanced of important government interests such as promoting safety, increasing competition, redressing past discrimination, and providing more athletic opportunities for female athletes, failed to rise to the level of exceedingly persuasive justifications.
The court's opinion did not delve into this additional language from United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), that the justification "must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females." It might have provided further support for the court's recognition that a dancing-is-only-for-girls policy violates equal protection.
The court did remand with instructions to issue preliminary injunctions on behalf of the boys who wanted to join the competitive dance teams at their respective high schools.
[image: David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, Children playing, 1651, via]
Monday, February 25, 2019
In his opinion in National Coalition for Men v. Selective Service System, Judge Gray Miller of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas found that the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) provision, 50 USC §3802(a), requiring males (but not females) between the ages of 18 and 26 to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) violated equal protection, as applicable to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
Judge Miller first rejected the Government's Motion to Stay, concluding that the case was ripe, as it involved only a question of law, and that considerations of separation of powers and discretionary power of the court did not merit a stay. Judge Miller noted that Congress "has been debating the male-only registration requirement since at least 1980 and has recently considered and rejected a proposal to include women in the draft."
At the heart of this litigation is Rostker v. Goldberg (1981) in which the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the male-only selective service registration based on its reasoning that because women were not statutorily eligible for combat, men and women were not "similarly situated" for purposes of the draft. The Government argued that Rostker should control. But, as Judge Miller stated, in the nearly four decades since Rostker "women's opportunities in the military have expanded dramatically" and in 2013, the Department of Defense officially lifted the ban on women in combat and in 2015 "lifted all gender-based restrictions on military service." Judge Miller also rejected the Government's argument based on Trump v. Hawai'i (2018), that there should be considerable deference, finding "the Trump decision is tangential, at best."
Thus, Judge Miller applied the intermediate scrutiny merited by sex classifications as articulated by the Court most recently in Sessions v. Morales-Santana (2017), and using the language of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996): "The justification must be genuine, not hypothesized or invented post hoc in response to litigation. And it must not rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females."
Judge Miller rejected both of the Government's two asserted interests. First, the Government argued that women's eligibility to serve in combat is distinct from the women's conscription because conscription could lead to trade-offs for the military, meaning that requiring women to register for the draft could affect women's enlistment by increasing the perception that they would be required to serve in combat. Judge Miller found that this argument "smacks of 'archaic and overbroad generalizations' about women's preferences." Additionally, Judge Miller observed that this argument "appears to have been created for litigation." Second, the Government argued that Congress preserved the male-only registration requirement out of concern for the administrative burden of registering and drafting women for combat. But even if women are statistically less physically suited for combat,
the relevant question is not what proportion of women are physically eligible for combat—it may well be that only a small percentage of women meets the physical standards for combat positions. However, if a similarly small percentage of men is combat-eligible, then men and women are similarly situated for the purposes of the draft and the MSSA’s discrimination is unjustified. Defendants provide no evidence that Congress ever looked at arguments on this topic and then made a “studied choice” between alternatives based on that information.
Had Congress compared male and female rates of physical eligibility, for example, and concluded that it was not administratively wise to draft women, the court may have been bound to defer to Congress’s judgment. Instead, at most, it appears that Congress obliquely relied on assumptions and overly broad stereotypes about women and their ability to fulfill combat roles.“ Thus, Defendants’ second proffered justification appears to be an “accidental by—product of a traditional way of thinking about females,”’ rather than a robust, studied position.
Judge Miller issued a declaratory judgment that the male-only draft violates equal protection, but did not issue an injunction because the Plaintiffs did not request or brief it in their summary judgment motion and materials.
[image: Viet Nam War era draft card via]
Friday, February 15, 2019
In its opinion in Free the Nipple v. City of Fort Collins, the Tenth Circuit upheld the district judge's preliminary injunction against a public-nudity ordinance that imposes no restrictions on male "toplessness" but prohibits women from baring their breasts below the areola, Fort Collins, Colo., Mun. Code § 17-142 (2015). The district judge dismissed the First Amendment challenge, but later found that the plaintiffs had a likelihood of success on their Equal Protection Clause challenge and that a preliminary injunction from enforcing the statute was warranted.
Writing for the majority, Judge Gregory Phillips relied heavily on the United States Supreme Court's most recent decision on equal protection and gender, Sessions v. Morales-Santana (2017). The majority first concluded that as a gender-based classification, the ordinance merited intermediate scrutiny. While the city agreed the classification was gender-based, it had argued that only "invidious discrimination" on the basis of gender merited intermediate scrutiny. Judge Phillips noted that only when the classification is facially neutral but has disparate impact is the issue if "invidiousness" relevant.
The city also argued that women's and men's breasts had important physical differences. Judge Phillips considered several sources, adding that although the court was "wary of Wikipedia's user-generated content," it agreed with the district judge that there were inherent physical differences between men's and women's breasts, but "that doesn't resolve the constitutional question." Instead, the majority opinion stressed that the court should beware of such generalizations and their potential to "perpetuate inequality."
In its application of intermediate scrutiny, the majority analyzed the three interests asserted by the city:
- protecting children from public nudity,
- maintaining public order, and
- promoting traffic safety.
As to protecting children, the majority agreed with the district judge's finding quoting experts that the city's interest rested on negative stereotypes and citing Morales-Santana, the majority concluded that "laws grounded in stereotypes about the way women are serve no important governmental interest."
As to public order and traffic safety, the majority agreed that in "the abstract," these were both important governmental interests. However, the court stated that it suspected that the city was actually more concerned with the sex-object stereotype that the district judge had described, quoting experts. Moreover, it noted that the cases which the city relied upon held that the "nebulous concepts of public morality" actually justified the ban rather than interests in public order or traffic safety. The majority also concluded that the female-only toplessness ban was overbroad - and suggested that the city could "abate sidewalk confrontations by increasing the penalties for engaging in offensive conduct." In other words, the majority concluded that rather than criminalize women's behavior because it might incite some people, the city could criminalize people who acted on their incitement.
The majority candidly recognized that it had the "minority viewpoint" and other courts in divided opinions - including the Seventh Circuit - have rejected such challenges.
In dissent, Judge Harris Hartz argued that intermediate scrutiny should not apply at all, in part because there are real differences between men and women as to their breasts, and that intermediate scrutiny should not be diluted by applying it in this instance. Instead, Judge Hartz argued that only rational basis should apply, which the ordinance easily passed.
The constitutionality of sex-specific nudity bans that apply to women's breasts is long-standing: our earlier discussion is here, linking to a discussion from Dressing Constitutionally about the 1992 New York case which the majority cites. Yet with the split between the Tenth and Seventh Circuits now apparent, it may be ripe for United States Supreme Court resolution.
[image: "Photograph of Gerald R. Ford, Jr., and Two Unidentified Men in Bathing Suits" via]
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).
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.
Friday, January 4, 2019
The Court has ordered oral arguments set for March on the merits of two cases involving the recurring issue of the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek.
Both cases have extensive histories including previous appearances before the Supreme Court.
From North Carolina is Rucho v. Common Cause. In January 2018, a three-judge Court's extensive opinion found North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4. The United States Supreme Court stayed the judgment shortly thereafter, and then vacated the opinion in light of Gill v. Whitford (2018). In July 2018, the three judge court entered an even more extensive opinion - 300 pages - finding that standing regarding an equal protection challenge was satisfied under the Gill standard. The Court also reiterated its conclusions of the unconstitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, and enjoined the State from conducting any elections using the 2016 Plan in any election after the November 6, 2018, election.
From Maryland is Lamone v. Benisek. In June 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued a brief per curiam opinion declining to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant to a preliminary injunction, at the same time the Court rendered its Gill v. Whitford opinion, and essentially reserved the issue of partisan gerrymandering for another day.
It seems that day has come — or will soon — but whether or not the Court will actually grapple with the constitutionality of the problem of partisan gerrymandering is as yet uncertain.
[image: Anti-gerrymandering event at Supreme Court, October 2017, via]
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
In a column at The Atlantic, "The Path to Give California 12 Senators, and Vermont Just One," subtitled "Maybe the two-senators-per-state rule isn’t as permanent as it seems," Political Science Professor Eric Orts agrees with many others that the Senate is essentially anti-democratic and that the time has come to change the 2 senators from every state rule.
Orts recognizes that the 2 Senators per state rule is doubly-demanded by the text of the Constitution: Not only does Article I §3 provide that "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State," but Article V respecting the amendment process specifically provides "no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."
Orts proposes that a way around these Constitutional commands — at least "arguably"— is through Congressional action. Orts contends that Congress could pass a law restructuring Senate representation like this:
Start with the total U.S. population, then divide by 100, since that’s the size of the current, more deliberative upper chamber. Next, allocate senators to each state according to their share of the total; 2/100 equals two senators, 3/100 equals three, etc. Update the apportionment every decade according to the official census.
Congressional power to do so, he seems to contend, would be grounded most obviously in the Reconstruction Amendments. He cites Equal Protection Clause cases such as Reynolds v. Sims (1964) and Bush v. Gore (2000), and argues that although
the Court trimmed a portion of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, reaffirmed the authority of Congress to regulate in this field and endorsed a forward-looking orientation. “The Fifteenth Amendment commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command," he wrote. “The Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.”
Thus, inherent in Orts's argument is not simply that the Senate does not adequately represent the population of the United States but that this inadequacy is racialized. As he notes, under the current configuration it is states with small predominantly white populations that benefit: "in California, 38 percent of citizens are white. In Texas, that figure is 43 percent," while in the two smallest states, "Vermont is 94 percent white, and Wyoming is 86 percent white."
Indeed, Orts states that his proposal
corrects a heavy, unjustified bias favoring white citizens in the Senate. It doesn’t go too far to describe the current Senate apportionment as a vehicle entrenching white supremacy.
Would the Supreme Court uphold such a statute? Orts suggests that the Court could "stay out of the mix" by deferring to Congress or invoking the political question doctrine.
Would Congress ever pass such a statute? Orts admits that it is unlikely in large part because a more democratic Senate is a more Democratic party Senate. But, he ends, "who knows" what 2020 will bring.
[image: United States Capitol by C. E. Loven after photograph of drawing by Thomas U. Walter, via]
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
In its opinion in Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs v. Attorney General of New Jersey, a divided panel of the Third Circuit rejected a challenge to New Jersey's prohibition of large capacity magazines (LCM), defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:39-1(y), 2C:39-3(j). The challengers sought a preliminary injunction based on violations of the Second Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause; after an evidentiary hearing the district judge denied the injunction.
On the Second Amendment claim, the Third Circuit majority agreed with the general analysis laid out by the Second Circuit in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Cuomo (2015). Judge Patty Shwartz, writing for the majority, first determined that a "magazine" is an arm regulated under the Second Amendment. Judge Shwartz then considered whether the regulation of a specific type of magazine, namely an LCM, “imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee," by inquiring whether the type of arm at issue is commonly owned, and “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." The court noted that the record showed there were "millions" of such magazines and then assumed "without deciding that LCMs are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and that they are entitled to Second Amendment protection." The court then turned to the level of scrutiny to be applied — a question left open by the Court in Heller v. D.C. — by inquiring how severely the challenged regulation "burdens the core Second Amendment right."
Here, the court held that the New Jersey law did not severely burden the core Second Amendment right to self-defense in the home for five reasons and thus determined that intermediate scrutiny should apply. The court then held that the State of New Jersey has, undoubtedly, a significant, substantial and important interest in protecting its citizens’ safety," including reducing the lethality of active shooter and mass shooting incidents. The court rejected the challengers' argument that the rarity of such incidents should negate the state's interest, finding instead that the "evidence adduced before the District Court shows that this statement downplays the significant increase in the frequency and lethality of these incidents." The court further found that the LCM ban was a sufficiently close fit to the state's interest in promoting safety.
It was on the Second Amendment issue that Judge Stephanos Bibas dissenting, arguing that strict scrutiny should apply and that even if it does not, the New Jersey statute fails intermediate scrutiny. For Judge Bibas, although the majority stands in good company: five other circuits have upheld limits on magazine sizes," the courts err "in subjecting the Second Amendment to different, watered-down rules and demanding little if any proof."
While the Second Amendment challenge was at the heart of the case, the majority also rejected the challengers' claims under the Takings Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. On the Takings Clause, the majority held that there is not actual taking, and no "regulatory taking because it does not deprive the gun owners of all economically beneficial or productive uses of their magazines." On the Equal Protection Clause, the challengers faulted the Act because it allows retired law enforcement officers to possess LCMs while prohibiting retired military members and ordinary citizens from doing so.The majority did not engage in a robust analysis, but held that "retired law enforcement officers are not similarly situated to retired military personnel and ordinary citizens, and therefore their exemption from the LCM ban does not violate the Equal Protection Clause."
In short, the Third Circuit's opinion is part of a trend of determining that intermediate scrutiny applies to various regulations of high capacity firearms or magazines and upholding state regulation. Most likely a petition for certiorari will follow this opinion and it will be interesting to see whether the United States Supreme Court continues its own trend of denying such petitions.
[image: double-drum magazine, which holds 100 rounds, via]
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
The Ninth Circuit ruled in Soltysik v. Padilla that the lower court didn't sufficiently weigh the evidence in a candidate's challenge to California's rule that only candidates who "prefer" a recognized political party can list that party as their "preference" on the ballot.
The ruling means that the lower court will take a second crack at the case.
The case tests California's law that allows candidates who prefer a recognized political party to list that party on the ballot, but requires candidates who prefer a nonrecognized party to list their preference as "none." (California has voter-nominated (not party-nominated) primary process, and primary candidates list their "preference" for a party (and not their designation as the party's nominee).) Under the rule, Soltysik, a candidate for the state assembly who preferred a nonrecognized party (the Socialist Party USA), had to list "Party Preference: None" next to his name on the ballot. He argued that this violated free association, equal protection, and free speech.
The district court, applying the Burdick/Anderson sliding-scale test, deferred to the state and dismissed the case. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded.
The Ninth Circuit held that the burden on Soltysik's rights "is not severe," but that "it is more than 'slight,' warranting scrutiny that is neither strict nor wholly deferentially." The court then recognized that the state's interest in avoiding voter confusion is important; but it also said that the rule seems to have the opposite effect--to create confusion--and that the state may have other ways to achieve its interest.
In any event, the court held that the parties didn't get the chance to develop evidence to support their positions, because the lower court dismissed the case before discovery. So the court remanded for further proceedings.
Judge Rawlison dissented, arguing, among other things, that the court applied too high a level of scrutiny in evaluating the rule.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
In his opinion in Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. Detzner, United States District Judge Mark Walker, Chief Judge for the Northern District of Florida, has granted the motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered Florida to "allow voters who have been belatedly notified they have submitted a mismatched-signature ballot to cure their ballots by November 17, 2018, at 5:00 p.m."
After finding that the plaintiffs had standing and were not barred by laches, Judge Walker reached the question of whether the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their constitutional claims on the infringement of the right to vote. Judge Walker decided that the standard derived from Anderson-Burdick should be applied:
Under Anderson-Burdick, a court considering a challenge to a state election law “must weigh ‘the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate’ against ‘the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule,’ taking into consideration ‘the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’s rights.’ ” Burdick. When an election law imposes only reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions upon the constitutional rights of voters, the states’ important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify the restrictions. Id. But, “[h]owever slight the burden may appear . . . it must be justified by relevant and legitimate state interests sufficiently weighty to justify the limitations.” Common Cause/Ga. v. Billups, 554 F.3d 1340, 1352 (11th Cir. 2009). This is not a litmus test, rather the court must balance these factors and make hard judgments. Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, 190 (2008). Finally, “Anderson/Burdick balancing . . . should not be divorced from reality, and  both the burden and legitimate regulatory interest should be evaluated in context.”
[some citations omitted]
Judge Walker found that the "injury is the deprivation of the right to vote based on a standardless determination made by laypeople that the signature on a voters’ vote-by-mail or provisional ballot does not match the signature on file with the supervisor of elections." The judge noted that there are "dozens of reasons a signature mismatch may occur, even when the individual signing is in fact the voter," and concluded that disenfranchisement of "approximately 5,000 voters based on signature mismatch is a substantial burden." While Judge Walker found that Florida's interests "to prevent fraud, to efficiently and quickly report election results, and to promote faith and certainty in election results" were compelling, the "use of signature matching is not reasonable and may lead to unconstitutional disenfranchisement."
Judge Walker extended the period for voters to address a potential signature mismatch by noting that the previous opportunity to cure has "proved illusory."
Provisional ballot voters are provided no opportunity to cure under the law. Without this Court’s intervention, these potential voters have no remedy. Rather, they are simply out of luck and deprived of the right to vote. What is shocking about Florida law is that even though a voter cannot challenge a vote rejected as illegal, any voter or candidate could challenge a vote accepted as legal. The burden on the right to vote, in this case, outweighs the state’s reasons for the practice. Thus, under Anderson-Burdick, this scheme unconstitutionally burdens the fundamental right of Florida citizens to vote and have their votes counted.
Additionally, Judge Walker noted that although the plaintiffs' claims rested on the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he was also troubled by the lack of procedural due process, citing the Georgia mismatch decision in Martin v. Kemp.
Judge Walker's 34 page opinion did not cite Bush v. Gore (2000).
The Florida recount, like the Georgia recount continues, more than a week after election day.
Friday, November 2, 2018
In an Order in Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda v. Kemp, United States District Judge Eleanor Ross has found that the challengers would be likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claim regarding Georgia's flagging of potential voters as noncitizens ineligible to vote. Recall that a different district judge recently issued an injunction against Secretary of State Kemp — who is also a candidate for Governor — in a challenge to the "mismatch" of voter names.
Here, Judge Ross articulated the appropriate framework as:
When deciding whether a state election law violates First and Fourteenth Amendment associational rights, we weigh the character and magnitude of the burden the State’s rule imposes on those rights against the interests the State contends justify that burden, and consider the extent to which the State’s concerns make the burden necessary.
Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358 (1997).
Judge Ross first found that the burden was "severe for those individuals who have been flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship." Discussing one particular person, Judge Ross stated that
it was not a nominal effort for him to vote; it was a burdensome process requiring two trips to the polls, his own research, and his hunting down a name and telephone number to give to election officials so that his citizenship status could be verified, all after he had already submitted proof of citizenship with his voter registration application. This is beyond the merely inconvenient.
Relying on Timmons, Judge Ross continued with a strict scrutiny analysis, finding that while the State's interest in ensuring only citizens vote was compelling, the specific means chosen were not narrowly tailored. Here, the focus was on the fact that 4 of the 5 ways in which the State proposed that persons could verify their citizenship required a "deputy registrar," which were derived from a previous settlement. However, Judge Ross declared that the court's hands were not tied as to this matter, and ultimately all 5 of the options "for allowing individuals with flags for citizenship to vote in the upcoming election, sweep broader than necessary to advance the State's interest, creating confusion as Election Day looms."
Judge Ross directed Brian Kemp in his official capacity as Secretary of State to:
Allow county election officials to permit eligible voters who registered to vote, but who are inaccurately flagged as non-citizens to vote a regular ballot by furnishing proof of citizenship to poll managers or deputy registrars.
Update the “Information for Pending Voters” on the Secretary of State’s website so that it provides (a) clear instructions and guidance to voters in pending status due to citizenship and (b) a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.
Direct all county registrars, deputy registrars, and poll managers on how to verify proof of citizenship to ensure that they can properly confirm citizenship status consistent with this order. Issue a press release (a) accurately describing how an individual flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship may vote in the upcoming election, as set forth herein; and (b) providing a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.
Issue a press release (a) accurately describing how an individual flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship may vote in the upcoming election, as set forth herein; and (b) providing a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.
- Direct the county boards of elections to post a list of acceptable documentation to prove citizenship, which includes a naturalization certificate, birth certificate issued by a state or territory within the United States, U.S. passport, and other documents or affidavits explicitly identified by Georgia law and listed on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, at polling places on Election Day.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
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.
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].
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)
The Supreme Court yesterday declined to intervene in a case challenging North Dakota's voter-ID law. The move allows the law to go into effect for the upcoming elections.
The action (or lack of it) is significant, because of the nature of the law. As Pema Levy explains at Mother Jones, the ND law requires ND voters to show proof of a residential address in order to cast a ballot. But it says that PO boxes don't count. That matters, because Native American voters in ND often lack street address, and instead use PO boxes, because the U.S. Postal Service doesn't provide residential delivery in rural Native American communities.
The legislature enacted the law after the state elected Heidi Heitkamp to the Senate by a very slim margin, and with the strong backing of Native American voters. Heitkamp is the only statewide elected Democrat in the state.
Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Kagan, dissented. She wrote that not intervening in the case and vacating an Eighth Circuit stay risks voter confusion (because the law was halted by a lower court for the primaries), and that "the risk of disfranchisement is large."
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
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.
Thursday, October 4, 2018
In his opinion in Ramos v. Nielsen, United States District Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California enjoined the federal government's termination of TPS — Temporary Protected Status — designations for Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.
As we previously discussed related to the NAACP complaint filed in January in Maryland and related only to Haiti, one argument is that the termination is a violation of equal protection, springing from an intent to discriminate on the basis of race and/or ethnicity.
Judge Chen's opinion finds that the preliminary injunction is warranted based on a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of an Administrative Procedure Act claim, but also on the merits of the equal protection claim. Judge Chen applied the factors from Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977), and concluded that there was sufficient evidence to
raise serious questions as to whether a discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor in the decisions to terminate the TPS designations. In particular, Plaintiffs have provided evidence indicating that (1) the DHS Acting Secretary or Secretary was influenced by President Trump and/or the White House in her TPS decision-making and (2) President Trump has expressed animus against non-white, non-European immigrants.
there were departures from the normal procedural sequence during the TPS decision-making process; that is, instead of considering all current country conditions as had been done in previous administrations, the DHS political appointees in the current administration made TPS decisions turn on whether the originating condition or conditions directly related thereto continued to exist, disregarding all other current conditions no matter how bad. Moreover, at the apparent behest of then-DHS Secretary Kelly, there was an effort to gather negative information about Haitian TPS beneficiaries prior to the decision on Haiti’s TP designation – in particular, whether Haitian TPS beneficiaries had been convicted of crimes or were on public or private relief. See Degen Decl., Ex. 84 (email). There is no indication that these factors had previously been considered by DHS in making TPS decisions; indeed, the email indicated that the request for the information should be kept quiet. See Degen Decl., Ex. 84 (email) (“Please keep the prep for this briefing limited to those on this email. If you need a specific data set and need to ask someone to pull it, please do not indicate what it is for. I don’t want this to turn into a big thing were people start prodding and things start leaking out.”). The information sought by the Secretary coincides with racial stereotypes – i.e., that non-whites commit crimes and are on the public dole.
This is yet another judicial finding that the administration has acted with racial animus and the administration is sure to appeal it.
[image: Kirstjen Nielsen, current Secretary of Department of Homeland Security]