Thursday, August 26, 2021

Sixth Circuit Upholds Michigan Schools Mask Mandate Against Free Exercise, Equal Protection Claims

The Sixth Circuit yesterday upheld Michigan's mask mandate in schools against free exercise and equal protection challenges. The mandate expired since the lawsuit began, however, so the ruling only means that Michigan didn't violate the Constitution in implementing the mandate, and that it (and other jurisdictions in the Sixth Circuit) can do it again.

The case, Resurrection School v. Hertel, tested the Michigan Department of Health and Human Service requirement that all persons five years of age and older wear a mask in indoor public settings, including while attending public and private K-12 schools. The requirement contained certain exceptions for eating and drinking, for those "engaging in a religious service," for those who have health conditions that restrict their mask wearing, and others. Resurrection sued, arguing that the mandate violated free exercise and equal protection, among other claims.

While the case was pending, the Department rescinded the mask requirement. The Sixth Circuit nevertheless ruled that the case wasn't moot under the voluntary-cessation and capable-of-repetition-but-evading-review exceptions.

On the merits, however, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claims. The court ruled that the mask requirement was a religiously neutral law of general applicability, and easily satisfied rational basis review. As to religious neutrality, the court declined to look outside the schools for a secular comparator to religious schools (like gyms or movie theaters, as some courts have done), which might've demonstrated that the Department was targeting religious schools; instead, it said that the mask requirement treated religious schools exactly as it treated secular schools--the relevant comparator here.

Identifying a comparable secular activity for religious schools other than a public or private nonreligious school is difficult. Schools educating students in grades K-5 are unique in bringing together students not yet old enough to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in an indoor setting and every day. Accordingly, the proper comparable secular activity in this case remains public and private nonreligious schools.

Even under this broader conception of comparable secular activity, the [Department] orders are not so riddled with secular exceptions as to fail to be neutral and generally applicable. . . .

The court also rejected the plaintiffs' equal protection and substantive due process claims, holding that these were merely repackaged free exercise claims.

August 26, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Fifth Circuit Rejects First Amendment Retaliation Claim for Union Activities

The Fifth Circuit earlier this week rejected free-speech and free-association claims of a public employee, who was also a public-union leader, after he was terminated for performance reasons. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' class-of-one equal protection claim.

The case, United Steel v. Anderson, arose when Sergio Castilleja, a community service officer for the Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, was terminated for violating Department rules and other performance issues, including using Department equipment for union activities. But prior to his termination, Castilleja had been elected president of the Bexar County Probation Officers Association, and, in that role, oversaw a no-confidence petition against the Department chief, Jarvis Anderson. When he was fired, Castilleja's children and various unions sued, arguing that the Department terminated him for his union activities in violation of the First Amendment and that the Department treated him differently than officers in other unions in violation of equal protection.

The Fifth Circuit rejected the claims. The court ruled that the Department provided a legitimate, non-speech and non-association reason for his termination--his performance deficiencies--and that the plaintiffs failed to show that this reason was a pretext for reprisal for protected speech and association. The court also ruled that the unions' equal protection argument failed, because under Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture class-of-one equal protection claims (where one person alleges unequal treatment as compared to similarly situated persons) don't apply to discretionary public-employment decisions.

August 21, 2021 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 20, 2021

Fifth Circuit Strikes Fee for Latex Clubs

The Fifth Circuit ruled that a $5 per person fee for "latex clubs" in Texas violated free speech and due process. The ruling means that state authorities can't enforce the fee against sexually oriented clubs where dancers wear opaque latex breast coverings and shorts.

The case, Texas Entertainment Association v. Hegar, arose when Texas enacted a "sexually oriented business" fee that imposed a $5 charge per customer on businesses that serve alcohol in the presence of nude entertainment. In response, some sexually oriented businesses required dancers to wear opaque latex breast coverings and shorts. The gambit allowed these "latex clubs" to dodge the $5 fee for a good eight years, until the Texas comptroller issued a rule that excluded latex from the definition of "clothing" under the law. The rule meant that latex clubs now had to pay the fee.

The TEA, which represents sexually oriented businesses in Texas, sued, arguing that the comptroller's move violated free speech, due process, and equal protection. The Fifth Circuit agreed, except as to equal protection.

The court ruled that the comptroller's redefinition was a content-based restriction on speech (and not content-neutral), because the comptroller produced no evidence that the redefinition served any non-speech purpose (like reducing the secondary effects of latex clubs). (The court declined to shoehorn the state's initial asserted interest behind the $5 fee--reducing secondary effects--into the comptroller's decision, more than eight years later, and based on no evidence.) The court applied strict scrutiny, and ruled that the comptroller's action failed.

The court also ruled that the comptroller's action violated due process. The court said that the comptroller previously declined to impose the fee on latex clubs--indeed, that the comptroller told one club that "everything was good"--and upset the latex clubs' "settled expectation that they would not be subject to" the fee.

Finally, the court ruled that the action didn't violate equal protection. The court said that latex clubs were more like nude dancing establishments (which were already subject to the fee), and not like sports bars (which were not). Because the move did not treat similarly situated businesses differently (latex clubs aren't similar to sports bars), the court ruled that it didn't violate equal protection.

August 20, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 16, 2021

Full Seventh Circuit Keeps Challenge to State Sex Offender Registration Alive

The full Seventh Circuit today rebuffed certain constitutional challenges to Indiana's Sex-Offender Registration Act (SORA) as applied to pre-Act offenders required to register in another state. At the same time, however, the court remanded an equal protection claim for further consideration.

The ruling means that the plaintiffs still have a live challenge to the Act. And, given the court's remand instruction and the lower court's earlier ruling, it's likely a winning one.

The case, Hope v. Commissioner of Indiana Department of Correction, tests Indiana's SORA as applied to pre-act offenders who were required to register in another state before SORA's enactment. That matters, because the Indiana Supreme Court interpreted the Act not to require Indiana pre-Act offenders to register. (It said that requiring registration would violate the state constitution's Ex Post Facto Clause.) So Indiana's SORA requires pre-Act offenders to register if they were required to register in another state before SORA. But it doesn't require pre-Act offenders to register if they had no pending out-of-state registration requirement.

Offenders with an out-of-state requirement sued, arguing that the Act, as interpreted by the state supreme court, violated their right to travel, the federal Ex Post Facto Clause, and equal protection. The district court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor on all claims, and a panel of the Seventh Circuit affirmed on the right to travel claim. The full court reversed.

The court ruled that the scheme didn't violate the right to travel under the Fourteenth Amendment Privileges or Immunities Clause--"for those travelers who elect to become permanent residents, the right to be treated like other citizens of that state." That's "because it does not expressly discriminate based on residency, as consistently required by the Supreme Court." Instead, the court said that while the Act "may affect newer residents disproportionately,"

[a]s a statutory matter, SORA obligates all offenders--both old and new residents--to register based on prior convictions. Indiana's Ex Post Facto Clause then relieves a subset of those who must register from that statutory obligation. Receiving the clause's benefits, though, does not depend on when an offender became an Indiana resident but on whether one is subject to an existing registration requirements. That requirement can come from Indiana, or from another state. The twist in this case is that for those offenders like the plaintiffs, convicted before Indiana's SORA covered their crimes, such a registration obligation must come from elsewhere.

(The dissent argued that this different treatment--based solely on whether a pre-Act offender has traveled to another state or not--is the model of infringing on the right to travel.)

The court next ruled that SORA didn't violate the federal Ex Post Facto Clause, because the registration requirement isn't punitive.

But the court remanded the question whether SORA violated the Equal Protection Clause under rational basis review--and all but invited the district court to rule in favor of the plaintiffs. The court wrote,

The plaintiffs may still challenge Indiana's application of SORA to them because it treats them differently than similarly situated Indiana offenders. SORA, as modified by the Indiana Supreme Court's constitutional overlay, creates two classes of pre-SORA offenders--those who must register in Indiana, and those who are free from that requirement. Indiana distinguishes between the two groups based solely on whether the pre-SORA offender had a registration obligation in another state. For example: two lifelong Indiana residents, both with pre-SORA convictions, will be treated differently if one commutes into Chicago for work--and so is subject to Illinois's reporting requirements--while the other never leaves Indiana. The distinction holds true for offenders who attend school in another state or who have lived in another state imposing registration obligations on them. In short, two similarly situated Indiana offenders may have vastly different legal obligations simply because one of them has an out-of-state registration obligation.

The court instructed the lower court to apply rational basis review to this distinction, and cautioned that it "should be undertaken with care" and "thorough[] develop[ment of] the factual record." It said that "[r]ational basis review favors the State but does not ensure an automatic win."

August 16, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Fourth Circuit Says Public Charter School Not a State Actor for Dress Policy

The Fourth Circuit ruled that a public charter school isn't a state actor for purposes of its dress policy, and dismissed an equal protection challenge to that policy. At the same time, the court ruled that Title IX covers the policy, and remanded the case for further consideration on that statutory ground.

The case, Peltier v. Charter Day School, tests CDS's policy that requires girls to wear skirts or skorts. CDS's stated reasons for the policy are baldly based on romantic paternalism and outdated ideas about sex-based differences; and the plaintiffs provided plenty of evidence that the policy harmed girls. Still, the court ruled that the plaintiffs couldn't assert an equal protection claim under Section 1983, because CDS isn't a state actor.

The court ruled that despite North Carolina's charter, designation, and funding of CDS as a "public" school, functional considerations made CDS a non-state-actor for the purpose of its dress policy.

Functionally, North Carolina's charter school statutory scheme disentangles the state from the day-to-day operations of CDS, and in particular CDS's promulgation of a dress code. The statutory scheme clearly reflects a "legislative policy choice" to contract with privately operated schools to provide a hands-off approach by the state, enabling pedagogical experimentation and school choice. Likewise, the fact that CDS is directly publicly funded, rather than reimbursed for tuition it charges by the state, is a formal distinction. . . . That charter schools cannot charge tuition in North Carolina merely reflects the legislative designation of the schools as public, and thus open equally, in theory, to all. It does not functionally change the relationship between CDS and the state.

The court went on to say that its ruling is limited to CDS's dress policy, suggesting that CDS may be a state actor for other purposes, and that its ruling doesn't license CDS to discriminate (because there are numerous other anti-discrimination requirements that apply to it). Moreover, it said that CDS's justification wouldn't have satisfied equal protection standards if CDS were a state actor.

The court also ruled that Title IX applied to the dress policy, notwithstanding a 1982 Department of Education move to revoke a previous regulation that applied Title IX to "any rules of appearance." The court applied Chevron and concluded that nothing in Title IX prevented its application to dress policies.

Judge Kennan dissented on the state-actor portion of the ruling. "I therefore part company with my friends in the majority and would hold that actions of [CDS], a public school created under North Carolina law and funded almost entirely by governmental sources, are actions of the state for purposes of Section 1983. Moreover, I would hold that CDS' enforcement of the skirts requirement, with its many attendant harms to girls, denies these girls at this public school their constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection under the law."

August 14, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Second Circuit Tosses Suit Challenging Connecticut Magnet School Racial Quota

The Second Circuit ruled yesterday that a nonprofit lacked standing to challenge a Connecticut Department of Education rule that interdistrict magnet schools enroll at least 25 percent non-Black and non-Latinx students. The ruling leaves the rule on the books.

The case, CTPU v. Russell-Tucker, arose when the Commissioner of the Connecticut State Department of Education issued a memo that required all interdistrict magnet schools to enroll at least 25 percent non-Black and non-Latinx students. The Connecticut Parents Union, a non-profit founded "to protect . . . children's educational rights thus ensuring that neither race, zip-code, nor socio-economic status is a predictor of a child's success," sued, arguing that the memo violated equal protection.

The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that CTPU lacked standing. The court agreed.

The court held that CTPU failed to allege a sufficient harm to its operations. (CTPU did not allege standing on behalf of its members.) The court acknowledged that an organization can establish standing when it "diverts its resources away from its [other] current activities," or otherwise incurs "some perceptible opportunity cost." But it held that CTPU failed to meet that standard here. The court said that CTPU

fail[ed] to identify any restrictions on its ability to perform the core activities--such as meetings, lectures, and general organizing--by which it pursued its mission prior to the [memo]. To the extent CTPU claims that [the memo] triggered an increased demand for parent counseling, CTPU fails to sufficiently plead that any resulting costs were material. Further, even construing the record in CT{U's favor, as we must, it is clear that CTPU incurred costs because it decided to initiate a campaign against [the memo] to advance its own "abstract social interests," thus any costs CPTU incurred from this campaign were not involuntary.

The ruling obviously doesn't prevent another person or organization who has been injured by the memo from suing. But since CTPU's lawsuit, the schools revised the memo to remove any penalties for noncompliance, likely raising other standing challenges for potential plaintiffs.

August 12, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

First Circuit Declines to Halt Geography-Based School Admissions Program

The First Circuit last week declined to enjoin Boston Public School's geography- and income-based admissions program for its elite magnet schools. The ruling says that plaintiffs are unlikely to succeed on their equal protection challenge to the admissions program.

The case, Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence v. School Committee of the City of Boston, challenges the Boston Public School's admission program to Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science for the 2021-22 school year. With more applicants than the schools could admit, the system turned to a two-phase admissions process. In the first phase, all students are ranked city-wide by GPA; the highest-ranked students are assigned their first choice until 20 percent of each school's seats are full. In the second phase, the 80 percent remaining seats are distributed among the city's various zip codes by population. Students are ranked by GPA within their zip codes and compete for admission with other students within their zip codes. The program admits top-ranked students in the zip code with the lowest household median income first, then moves to the zip code with the next lowest income, and so on, through the zip codes by incomes, lowest to highest.

Based on projections, Black and Latinx students would receive fewer seats than their proportional representation in the school-age population at large. White and Asian students, by contrast, would receive proportionally more seats.

Still, White and Asian students sued, arguing that they'd receive disproportionally even more seats without the zip-code-income-based program. They claimed that the program violated equal protection, because it was based on purposeful racial discrimination.

The First Circuit rejected the claim. It said that the program was racially neutral on its face, and that the plaintiffs failed to make out an Arlington Heights case of unconstitutional discriminatory impact. The court noted that the numbers alone didn't reveal a disparate impact on White or Asian students, and that the plaintiffs failed sufficiently to point to other circumstantial evidence of racial intent.

In particular, the court rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the program was impermissibly based in part on the Board's desire to diversify the schools by socioeconomic status, race, and geography: "the mere invocation of racial diversity as a goal is insufficient to subject [a facially neutral school selection plan] to strict scrutiny."

It also rejected the plaintiff's claim that some of the people involved in developing the policy sought to achieve racial balancing. "The fact that public school officials are well aware that race-neutral selection criteria--such as zip code and family income--are correlated with race and that their application would likely promote diversity does not automatically require strict scrutiny of a school system's decision to apply those neutral criteria."

The ruling leaves the program in place while the case proceeds. As a practical matter, the ruling almost certainly (absent something extraordinary) allows the Boston schools to use the program for the 2021-22 school year.

May 4, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 5, 2020

Obergefell as Precedent: First Monday in October

On the first Monday in October, the United States Supreme Court begins its Term, this time with only eight of the usual nine Justices given Justice Ginsburg's death in September.

In today's Order List of the Term, the Court denied certiorari in Davis v. Ermold to the Sixth Circuit's decision that court clerk Kim Davis did not have immunity from a damages suit. (Recall that in 2017 the Sixth Circuit allowed the damages suit to proceed). Kim Davis achieved notoriety as a clerk who refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple despite the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Two Justices on the Court who dissented in Obergefell — Thomas joined by Alito — used today's denial of certiorari to issue a "statement" (it is not a dissent as the issue is not "cleanly presented" in this case) to cast doubt on the continued validity of Obergefell:

this petition provides a stark reminder of the consequences of Obergefell. By choosing to privilege a novel constitutional right over the religious liberty interests explicitly protected in the First Amendment, and by doing so undemocratically, the Court has created a problem that only it can fix. Until then, Obergefell will continue to have “ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

Two Justices who joined the slim 5-4 majority in Obergefell  — Ginsburg and Kennedy — are no longer on the Court.  This statement sends a strong message to courts and advocates that the the Court would contemplate overruling or severely limiting Obergefell should the issue be more "cleanly presented."

October 5, 2020 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SCOTUS Holds Free Exercise Clause Bars Application of State's No-Aid to Religious Institutions Clause in State Constitution

In its opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships, the majority held that the scheme must be afforded to religious schools so that the Free Exercise Clause was not violated.

Recall that the Montana Supreme Court held that the tax credit program's application to religious schools was unconstitutional under its state constitution, Art. X §6 , which prohibits aid to sectarian schools. This type of no-aid provision is often referred to as (or similar to) a Blaine Amendment and frequently appears in state constitutions. 

In a closely-divided decision, the Court decided that the Montana Supreme Court's decision that the tax credit program could not be extended to religious schools should be subject to struct scrutiny under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and did not survive. (The Court therefore stated it need not reach the equal protection clause claims). The Court essentially found that this case was more like Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017) (involving playground resurfacing) and less like Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology. The Court distinguishes Locke v. Davey as pertaining to what Davey proposed "to do" (become a minister) and invoking a "historic and substantial” state interest in not funding the training of clergy. Instead, the Court opined that like Trinity Lutheran, Esponiza "turns expressly on religious status and not religious use."

The Court's opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, is relatively compact at 22 pages.  In addition to taking time to distinguish Locke v. Davey, the opinion devotes some discussion to federalism, invoking the Supremacy Clause and Marbury v. Madison in its final section. But the opinion also engages with the dissenting Justices' positions in its text and its footnotes. Along with the concurring opinions, the overall impression of Espinoza is a fragmented Court, despite the carefully crafted majority opinion.

The concurring opinion of Thomas — joined by Gorsuch — reiterates Thomas's view that the Establishment Clause should not apply to the states; the original meaning of the clause was to prevent the federal establishment of religion while allowing states to establish their own religions. While this concurring opinion criticizes the Court's Establishment Clause opinions, it does not confront why a state constitution would not be free to take an anti-establishment position.

Gorsuch also wrote separately, seemingly to emphasize that the record contained references to religious use (exercise) and not simply religious status. Gorsuch did not discuss the federalism issues he stressed in his opinion released yesterday in June Medical Services.

Alito's thirteen page concurring opinion is an exegesis on the origins of the Montana constitutional provision as biased. Alito interestingly invokes his dissenting opinion in Ramos v. Louisiana decided earlier this Term in which he argued that the original motivation of a state law should have no bearing on its present constitutionality: "But I lost, and Ramos is now precedent. If the original motivation for the laws mattered there, it certainly matters here." 
(Noteworthy perhaps is that Roberts joined Alito's dissenting opinion in Ramos and Roberts's opinion in Esponiza does spend about 3 pages discussing the Blaine amendments' problematical history, but apparently this was insufficient for Alito).

Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, joined by Kagan, pointed to an issue regarding the applicability of the Court's opinion:

By urging that it is impossible to apply the no-aid provision in harmony with the Free Exercise Clause, the Court seems to treat the no-aid provision itself as unconstitutional.  Petitioners, however, disavowed a facial First Amendment challenge, and the state courts were never asked to address the constitutionality of the no- aid provision divorced from its application to a specific government benefit.

Breyer, joined in part by Kagan, essentially argued that the majority gave short-shrift to Locke v. Davey and its "play-in-the-joints" concept authored by Rehnquist as expressing the relationship between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Breyer's opinion is almost as long as the majority opinion, and the majority takes several opportunities to express its disagreement with Breyer, including in a two paragraph discussion, his implicit departure from precedent (e.g., "building on his solo opinion in Trinity Lutheran").

Sotomayor's dissent, also criticized by the majority in text, argues that the Court is "wrong to decide the case at all" and furthermore decides it wrongly.  The Court's reframing incorrectly addressed (or seemingly addressed?) whether the longstanding state constitutional provision was constitutional. Thus, she argues, the Court has essentially issued an advisory opinion.  On the merits, she contends, "the Court’s answer to its hypothetical question is incorrect." She concludes that the majority's ruling is "perverse" because while the Court once held that "the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs,” it now departs from that balanced view.

The Court's opinion is much more divided than it seems at first blush. And the future of state constitutional provisions that prohibit taxpayer money from being used to support religious institutions remains in doubt.

 

June 30, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 18, 2020

SCOTUS Holds Administration DACA Rescission Violated the APA

In its opinion in Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California (consolidated with Trump v. NAACP, and McAleenan v. Vidal), the Court held that the Trump Administration's rescission of the DACA program forestalling deportation proceedings against undocumented persons who have resided in the United States since childhood was arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).  To reach that conclusion, the Court first found that the rescission decision was reviewable.

As we noted in our discussion of the oral argument (which occurred more than six months ago), the focus on the APA is not surprising although there were constitutional issues.  And as foreshadowed in the oral argument, the question of whether the Trump Administration memos adequately considered the issue of reliance on the DACA policy was central to the Court's opinion. 

The opinion by Chief Justice Roberts was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan in full, and joined by Justice Sotomayor except to Part IV regarding the Equal Protection claim (applicable to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment). On the Equal Protection claim, Roberts, writing for a plurality, reasoned:

To plead animus, a plaintiff must raise a plausible inference that an “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor” in the relevant decision. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U. S. 252, 266 (1977). Possible evidence includes disparate impact on a particular group, “[d]epartures from the normal procedural sequence,” and “contemporary statements by members of the decisionmaking body.”  Tracking these factors, respondents allege that animus is evidenced by (1) the disparate impact of the rescission on Latinos from Mexico, who represent 78% of DACA recipients; (2) the unusual history behind the rescission; and (3) pre- and post-election statements by President Trump. Brief for New York 54–55.

None of these points, either singly or in concert, establishes a plausible equal protection claim. First, because Latinos make up a large share of the unauthorized alien population, one would expect them to make up an outsized share of recipients of any cross-cutting immigration relief program.Were this fact sufficient to state a claim, virtually any generally applicable immigration policy could be challenged on equal protection grounds.

Second, there is nothing irregular about the history leading up to the September 2017 rescission. . . .

Finally, the cited statements are unilluminating. The relevant actors were most directly Acting Secretary Duke and the Attorney General.. . .Instead, respondents contend that President Trump made critical statements about Latinos that evince discriminatory intent. But, even as interpreted by respondents, these statements—remote in time and made in unrelated contexts— do not qualify as “contemporary statements” probative of the decision at issue.

[some citations omitted].

 Justice Sotomayor disagreed.  In her concurring opinion she stressed that the equal protection challenges were still in a "preliminary posture," so that all that was necessary at this stage of the litigation was  a statement of  sufficient facts that would allow a court to draw the reasonable inference that there is liability for the misconduct alleged. For Sotomayor, this threshold was met and her opinion criticizes the plurality for  "discounting some allegations altogether and by narrowly viewing the rest." Instead, Sotomayor argues that Trump's statements matter, as she did in her dissenting opinion in Trump v. Hawai'i  (2018) (the "travel ban" case). Further, she contends that the

the impact of the policy decision must be viewed in the context of the President’s public statements on and off the campaign trail. At the motion-to-dismiss stage, I would not so readily dismiss the allegation that an executive decision disproportionately harms the same racial group that the President branded as less desirable mere months earlier.

Moreover,

Finally, the plurality finds nothing untoward in the “specific sequence of events leading up to the challenged decision.” Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U. S. 252, 267 (1977). I disagree. As late as June 2017, DHS insisted it remained committed to DACA, even while rescinding a related program, the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents.  But a mere three months later, DHS terminated DACA without, as the plurality acknowledges, considering important aspects of the termination. The abrupt change in position plausibly suggests that something other than questions about the legality of DACA motivated the rescission decision. Accordingly, it raises the possibility of a “significant mismatch between the decision . . . made and the rationale . . . provided.” Department of Commerce v. New York, 588 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (slip op., at 26). Only by bypassing context does the plurality conclude otherwise.

The otherwise dissenting opinions concurred with the plurality on rejection of the equal protection claims.

Thus, with the nonconstitutional grounds for judgment, it is possible that the Trump Administration could attempt to rescind DACA by complying with the administrative requirements of the APA and not acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Whether or not the Trump Administration proceeds in that direction is uncertain.

 

June 18, 2020 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 15, 2020

SCOTUS Interprets Title VII to Include LGBTQ Identities

In its opinion in the consolidated cases of Bostock v. Clayton County, the United States Supreme Court interpreted the prohibition of discrimination "because of sex" in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et. seq. to include sexual and transgender identities.  As we discussed in our preview, two of the consolidated cases involved sexual orientation discrimination -  Altitude Express v. Zarda and  Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners -  while the third - R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC - involved gender identity.

The Court's opinion, authored by Justice Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, states:

At bottom, these cases involve no more than the straightforward application of legal terms with plain and settled meanings. For an employer to discriminate against employees for being homosexual or transgender, the employer must intentionally discriminate against individual men and women in part because of sex. That has always been prohibited by Title VII’s plain terms—and that “should be the end of the analysis.”

After considering and rejecting the employers' arguments, the opinion concludes:

Some of those who supported adding language to Title VII to ban sex discrimination may have hoped it would derail the entire Civil Rights Act. Yet, contrary to those intentions, the bill became law. Since then, Title VII’s effects have unfolded with far-reaching consequences, some likely beyond what many in Congress or elsewhere expected.

But none of this helps decide today’s cases. Ours is a society of written laws. Judges are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations. In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.

The judgments of the Second and Sixth Circuits in Nos. 17–1623 and 18–107 are affirmed. The judgment of the Eleventh Circuit in No. 17–1618 is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

 The Court's opinion is 33 pages or so and there are no concurring opinions.  Justice Alito's dissent, joined by Justice Thomas, weighs in at over 100 pages including its appendices. There is another dissenting opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, at a more modest 27 pages.

It is the dissenting opinions that provide the constitutional law perspective to the Court's statutory interpretation decision: both claim that the Court is violating separation of powers. Justice Alito begins his lengthy dissent by stating:

There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation. The document that the Court releases is in the form of a judicial opinion interpreting a statute, but that is deceptive.

And the Court's most recently appointed Justice, Kavanaugh, begins in a similar vein:

Like many cases in this Court, this case boils down to one fundamental question: Who decides?

Kavanaugh concludes that it should not be the Court's decision, but does expound on why the Court's interpretation regarding "sex" is incorrect.

Congress could, of course, amend Title VII to exclude LGBTQ identities. But the momentum in Congress has tilted in the direction of inclusion, a step which would now be redundant.

As for the connections between Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause and the definitions of "sex" and protection for LGBTQ individuals, these arise in the dissenting opinions.  Alito's dissent worries that the Title VII interpretation will "exert a gravitational pull in constitutional cases," so that LGBTQ identities will be afforded the heightened scrutiny standard applicable to sex/gender.  For his part, Kavanaugh's dissent stresses that in the Court's discussions of sexual orientation in equal protection doctrine, the Court did not consider sexual orientation part of sex discrimination.

Additionally, all of the opinions raise the First Amendment free exercise of religion specter. The Court's majority states that "worries about how Title VII may intersect with religious liberties are nothing new; they even predate the statute’s passage," but that issue is for another day:

So while other employers in other cases may raise free exercise arguments that merit careful consideration, none of the employers before us today represent in this Court that compliance with Title VII will infringe their own religious liberties in any way.

For Alito dissenting, his views are similar to his views in the same-sex marriage cases. He states here that the " position that the Court now adopts will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety. No one should think that the Court’s decision represents an unalloyed victory for individual liberty."

June 15, 2020 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Florida District Judge Issues Injunction on Florida Statute Requiring Payment of Fines and Fees for Re-enfranchisement

The 125 page opinion in Jones v. DeSantis by United States District Judge Robert Hinkle results in an detailed permanent injunction outlining how Florida must comply with the constitutional and statutory requirements required to implement its statute requiring the payment of fees and fines before persons convicted of felonies be re-enfranchised.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Fla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole." 

Recall Judge Hinkle previously issued a preliminary injunction regarding indigent persons, finding that the statute as to the named plaintiffs violated equal protection.

Recall also that the Eleventh Circuit upheld the preliminary injunction, finding that to the "extent a felon can pay" the legal financial obligations (LFOs), they must, but clearly affirmed the district court's order enjoining the state "from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations."

Now, Judge Hinkle has heard evidence in the five consolidated cases and issued a detailed injunction.

As to the equal protection claim of persons who are "genuinely unable to pay their LFOs,"  Judge Hinkle found the Eleventh Circuit decision upholding the preliminary injunction was determinative. But the determination of "genuinely unable to pay" had its own constitutional issues:

The State has shown a staggering inability to administer the pay-to- vote system and, in an effort to reduce the administrative difficulties, has largely abandoned the only legitimate rationale for the pay-to-vote system’s existence.

The state, it seemed, could not determine the original obligation for individuals, and it could not determine the amount that individuals had paid - - - changing its accounting from an "actual-balance method" to a "every-dollar method." The opinion does an admirable job of explaining the methods and providing examples - - - and it seems clear that it is incoherent. Further, the department of elections charged with administering the system did not have a system or the resources it.

On equal protection on the basis of race or gender, Judge Hinkle rejected both claims "on balance," but did provide serious consideration.

On the Twenty-fourth Amendment, the court stated that while the Florida statute was not a poll tax, the fees imposed on defendants as payment to run the criminal justice system were "any other tax" within the Amendment.

On procedural due process, the problems with the state system and the "request an advisory opinion" method provided to individuals to determine the amounts due merited analysis, as well as a large portion of the mandated injunction (below).

While the States may certainly chose to appeal, Florida would not seem to have a very good chance returning to the Eleventh Circuit.

Continue reading

May 26, 2020 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sixth Circuit Recognizes Fundamental Right to Literacy

In a divided panel opinion in Gary B. v. Whitmer, the Sixth Circuit held that there is a fundamental right to a "basic minimum education" providing "access to literacy" as a substantive due process right under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Recall that in July 2018, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed the complaint in Gary B. alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit. For Judge Murphy, the constitutional right alleges here of "access to literacy" was sufficient to seemingly distinguish it from San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), in which the Court rejected "education" as a fundamental right, but not ultimately distinguishable. The district judge found any right to access literacy was not cognizable as a fundamental right under the "standard" articulated in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) and the complaint was furthermore seeking recognition of a prohibited "positive right" given that the Constitution only recognizes "negative" rights.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed this conclusion. (The Sixth Circuit did affirm the district court's finding that the claims for equal protection merited dismissal).

The 60 page opinion by Judge Eric Clay, joined by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, is impressively well-written and well-structured. After an extensive discussion of the facts and procedural history, the court articulates the standard for its review of a motion to dismiss and disposes of the mootness and sovereign immunity arguments. The court also relatively quickly dispatches the equal protection claim based on the pleadings as well as the claim that the state's compulsory education mandate gives rise to a due process claim (seemingly a "negative right" backup to the argument that the complaint failed as only seeking "positive" rights).  The court reaches the central issue of the fundamental right to a basic minimum education, "meaning one that provides access to literacy" at about midway through the opinion.

The court first articulates the two-pronged Glucksberg test and then rehearses the United States Supreme Court's education cases, beginning with this overview:

Beyond the general framework for assessing whether an asserted right is fundamental, the Supreme Court has also, in a series of cases, addressed the extent of constitutional rights with respect to state-provided education. Its education jurisprudence teaches several lessons. First, the Court has found that there is no broad, general right to education. Rodriguez. Second, while no general right to education exists, the Supreme Court has specifically distinguished and left open “whether a minimally adequate education is a fundamental right.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 285 (1986); see also Rodriguez. Third, education is, at minimum, highly important to “maintaining our basic institutions,” and so the denial of public education to a discrete group of students “must be justified by a showing that it furthers some substantial state interest.” Plyler [v. Doe (1982)]. And fourth, the Court has addressed the critical link between education and race discrimination in America. We discuss the Court’s relevant education cases in turn, beginning chronologically.

[some citations and Sixth Circuit references omitted]. 

30721475326_1e66e3b647_oAfter its detailed discussion of Rodriguez and Plyler, incorporating the parties' arguments, the court discussed the lesser-known cases of Papasan v. Allain and Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools (1988). The court notes that the plaintiffs in Papasan did argue that they were deprived an opportunity to acquire basic minimal skills under the state's funding scheme, but the Court did not reject their claim as a matter of substantive due process: "Instead, the Court found that, assuming such a right existed, the plaintiffs had failed to allege sufficient facts in support of their claim." This, the Sixth Circuit reasoned, was an "answer on pleadings, sure, but not on constitutional law." Similarly, the Sixth Circuit found that the "Court essentially repeated this non-answer in Kardmas." Kardmas involved a fee charged for the bus transportation to attend public schools, but given that the plaintiffs were attending school "despite the bus fee," their claim was interpreted not as a denial of education but for wealth-discrimination based the payment of the bus fee. The Sixth Circuit quotes Justice Marshall's dissent in Kardmas as stating that the Court had still not decided whether there was a fundamental right to a minimal education.

That is the question that the Sixth Circuit panel takes up, using the framework of the Glucksberg prongs, and finds that access to a minimal education is a fundamental right.

In its discussion of whether the right to a basic minimum education is "deeply rooted in our Nation's history and traditions," the Sixth Circuit finds that the historical prevalence of education makes it "deeply rooted in our history and tradition, even under an originalist view." The opinion then notes that 92% of the population lived under mandated state-policies of public education at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment, and further declares that "history should not be viewed only as a static point," discussing the expansion of education. Most interestingly, perhaps, Judge Clay's opinion for the Sixth Circuit majority then develops an argument that "Our nation's history of racial discrimination further reveals the historical and lasting importance of education and the significance of its modern ubiquity." At the conclusion of that discussion, including the criminalization of teaching enslaved persons to read, the court concludes:

There are two main takeaways from this history of racial discrimination in education, as well as from past interventions by the courts. First, access to literacy was viewed as a prerequisite to the exercise of political power, with a strong correlation between those who were viewed as equal citizens entitled to self-governance and those who were provided access to education by the state. Second, when faced with exclusion from public education, would-be students have repeatedly been forced to rely on the courts for relief. The denials of education seen in these cases and beyond are now universally accepted as serious injustices, ones that conflict with our core values as a nation. Furthermore, the substantial litigation devoted to addressing these exclusions reveals the unparalleled value assigned to literacy, which is viewed by our society as essential for students to obtain even a chance at political and economic opportunity.

As to the second Glucksberg prong, which looks for the right to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, the Sixth Circuit notes that the belief that education is a means of achieving equality is a belief that has persisted in the nation "since the days of Thomas Jefferson," and concludes that providing a basic minimal education is necessary to prevent arbitrary denials to children based on no fault of their own, which is "so essential to our concept of ordered liberty."

The Sixth Circuit opinion then takes up the counter-arguments, including those made by the dissenting judge, Eric Murphy (recently appointed to the Sixth Circuit and seemingly no relation to district judge Eric Murphy). The Sixth Circuit majority refutes the judicial restraint argument with an articulation, if unlabeled, of a representation-reinforcement argument, with a footnote discussing its applicability to due process as well as equal protection:

But it is unsurprising that our political process, one in which participation is effectively predicated on literacy, would fail to address a lack of access to education that is endemic to a discrete population. The affected group—students and families of students without access to literacy—is especially vulnerable and faces a built-in disadvantage at seeking political recourse. The lack of literacy of which they complain is exactly what prevents them from obtaining a basic minimal education through the normal political process. This double bind provides increased justification for heightened judicial scrutiny and the recognition of the right as fundamental.

The Sixth Circuit majority also takes up the positive/negative rights dichotomy, first arguing that the constitutional tort at issue in DeShaney v. Winnebago County of Department of Social Services (1989), has no applicability to public education, and that even if it did, it is the state that is "creating the danger" here (rather than a private actor), thus bringing the case within the state-created danger exception.

Finally, with due recognition that the case is before the Sixth Circuit on a motion to dismiss, the majority acknowledged that it would be difficult to "define the exact limits of what constitutes a basic minimum education" sufficient to provide access to literacy. However, the majority stated that it would seem to include at least three basic components: facilities, teaching, and educational materials (e.g., books).  The case is therefore remanded to the district court to proceed.

But how the case will proceed is uncertain. In a usual scenario, the State would seek review. The Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel, however has stated that she is "overjoyed" with the Sixth Circuit's decision. (It was originally defended under a previous Michigan administration).  There is also some lack of clarity regarding the proper defendant or appellant, given that the school district is now under more local control (an issue that the Sixth Circuit discussed in its mootness analysis). If a party does not seek review, there is the possibility that the en banc Sixth Circuit may decide to consider the case. Under Sixth Circuit rules and internal operating procedures, 6 I.O.P. 35(e), "any member of the en banc court may sua sponte request a poll for hearing or rehearing en banc before a party files an en banc petition" and the "clerk will immediately circulate voting forms to the en banc court."  The en banc judges are judges in "regular active service" (meaning not senior judges) and including the panel judges no matter their status. It's quite possible that the dissenting judge would request a poll.

[image credit

April 26, 2020 in Books, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Eleventh Circuit: Florida Law Mandating Indigent Voters Pay Fines and Fees Violates Equal Protection Clause

In an extensive opinion in Jones v. Governor of Florida, the Eleventh Circuit found that the Florida legislature's imposition of payment of all fines, fees, and restitution connected with a felony conviction as a necessary precondition for re-enfranchisement violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Fla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole." 

Recall that in October 2019, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined, providing that persons affected should have the opportunity to prove their inability to pay.

The Eleventh's Circuit per curiam opinion of 78 pages concluded that the statute's requirement of payment of "legal financial obligations" (known as LFO) could not be sustained under heightened scrutiny.  While wealth classifications in equal protection do not generally merit heightened scrutiny, the Eleventh Circuit noted that

But the Supreme Court has told us that wealth classifications require more searching review in at least two discrete areas: the administration of criminal justice and access to the franchise. M.L.B. [ v. S.L.J.], 519 U.S. at 123  [1996] (“[O]ur cases solidly establish two exceptions to that general rule [of rational basis for wealth classifications]. The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license. Nor may access to judicial processes in cases criminal or ‘quasi criminal in nature’ turn on ability to pay.” (citations omitted)). Because Florida’s re-enfranchisement scheme directly implicates wealth discrimination both in the administration of criminal justice and in access to the franchise, we are obliged to apply some form of heightened scrutiny. Florida has implemented a wealth classification that punishes those genuinely unable to pay fees, fines, and restitution more harshly than those able to pay—that is, it punishes more harshly solely on account of wealth—and it does so by withholding access to the franchise. The observation that Florida may strip the right to vote from all felons forever does not dictate that rational basis review is proper in this case. To the contrary, settled Supreme Court precedent instructs us to employ heightened scrutiny where the State has chosen to “open the door” to alleviate punishment for some, but mandates that punishment continue for others, solely on account of wealth.

Further,

The Supreme Court has also determined that a state may not extend punishment on account of inability to pay fines or fees. See Bearden, 461 U.S. at 672–73 (holding that a state may not revoke probation—thereby extending a prison term—based on the failure to pay a fine the defendant is unable, through no fault of his own, to pay); Tate, 401 U.S. at 399 (holding that a state cannot imprison under a fine-only statute on the basis that an indigent defendant cannot pay a fine); Williams, 399 U.S. at 240–41 (holding that a period of imprisonment cannot be extended beyond the statutory maximum on the basis that an indigent cannot pay a fine).

1024px-2018_Florida_Amendment_4.svgFor the Eleventh Circuit, disenfranchisement is clearly punishment, and also clearly a "continuing form of punishment." (emphasis in original). The Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that while felon disenfranchisment schemes are generally only subject to rational basis review, here, the long and short of it is that:

 once a state provides an avenue to ending the punishment of disenfranchisement—as the voters of Florida plainly did—it must do so consonant with the principles of equal protection and it may not erect a wealth barrier absent a justification sufficient to overcome heightened scrutiny.

The court then applied the form heightened scrutiny from Bearden v. Georgia (1983) including its four considerations: (1) “the nature of the individual interest affected”; (2) “the extent to which it is affected”; (3) “the rationality of the connection between legislative means and purpose”; and (4) “the existence of alternative means for effectuating the purpose.” The court rather expeditiously analyzed the individual's interests as great, the state's interests as minor, and noted the lack of realistic alternatives.

Further, the court rejected Florida's argument that the plaintiffs must demonstrate discriminatory intent:

This is a wealth discrimination case. And the Supreme Court has squarely held that [Washington v.] Davis’s intent requirement is not applicable in wealth discrimination cases. See M.L.B., 519 U.S. at 126–27 (rejecting, in the context of a wealth discrimination claim, the argument that Washington v. Davis requires proof of discriminatory intent).

The Eleventh Circuit opinion concluded that although to the "extent a felon can pay LFOs, he or she must," but clearly affirmed the district court's order enjoining the state "from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations."

[image: Florida vote on Amendment 4 via]

February 19, 2020 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on Montana Blaine Amendment for School Scholarship

The Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships as violating the First Amendment's religion clauses and the equal protection clause.

Under the original Tax Credit Program, the law provided a taxpayer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit based on the taxpayer’s donation to a Student Scholarship Organization. However, Montana has a constitutional provision, Art. X §6, which prohibits aid to sectarian schools, so the department of revenue added "Rule 1" to the state tax credit scheme excluding from the definition of "qualified education provider" eligible under the scheme "a church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, literary or scientific institution, or any other sectarian institution owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination."  Parents challenged the constitutionality of Rule 1, but when the litigation reached the Montana Supreme Court, it held that the Tax Credit Program was unconstitutional under Art. X §6 and therefore it did not need to reach the issue regarding Rule 1:

Having concluded the Tax Credit Program violates Article X, Section 6, it is not necessary to consider federal precedent interpreting the First Amendment’s less-restrictive Establishment Clause. Conversely, however, an overly-broad analysis of Article X, Section 6, could implicate free exercise concerns. Although there may be a case where an indirect payment constitutes “aid” under Article X, Section 6, but where prohibiting the aid would violate the Free Exercise Clause, this is not one of those cases. We recognize we can only close the “room for play” between the joints of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses to a certain extent before our interpretation of one violates the other.

In the oral argument, Justice Ginsberg characterized the option exercised by the Montana Supreme Court as leveling down: "When a differential is challenged, the court inspecting the state law can level up or level down. And here it leveled down." (This "leveling down" approach occurred in Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court in Sessions v. Santana-Morales (2017)). And here that leveling down effected questions of standing which troubled Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in their early questions to the attorney for the petitioners — the parents and original plaintiffs — who are "three levels removed" from any injury as Sotmayor stated.

The Montana Supreme Court assumed center stage at times, with Justice Alito for example questioning not simply whether the court was wrong but whether it was discriminatory:

isn't the crucial question why the state court did what it did?

If it did what it did for an unconstitutionally discriminatory reason, then there's a problem under Village of Arlington Heights.

So I'll give you an example. The state legislature sets up a scholarship fund, and after a while, people look at the – the recipients of the scholarships, and some people say: Wow, these are mostly going to blacks and we don't like that and that's contrary to state law. So the state supreme court says: Okay,that discrimination is -- we're going to strike down the whole thing.

Is that constitutional?

The attorney for Montana, Adam Unikowsky rejected "the race analogy" stating that "we just don't think that race and religion are identical for all constitutional reasons."

Justice Breyer explained, "what he's saying is that, look, the court took the case in the Prince Edward County thing -- " or "the equivalent and said they couldn't do that. They can't shut down all the schools, even though the Constitution they didn't say had a right and so that's the similarity."

This question of the race-religion analogy persisted, with the motivation behind the Montana state constitutional provision, often known as a Blaine Amendment, being "rooted in -- in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics," as Justice Kavanaugh phrased it. Justice Kagan seemingly rejected the notion that the court's striking down the entire program must be motivated by animus towards religion:

And I can think of many reasons why you would strike down the whole program that have nothing to do with animus toward religion. You might actually think that funding religion imposes costs and burdens on religious institutions themselves. You might think that taxpayers have conscientious objections to funding religion. You might think that funding religion creates divisiveness and conflict within a society, and that for all those reasons, funding religious activity is not a good idea and that you would rather level down and fund no comparable activity, whether religious or otherwise, than fund both. Now, none of those things have anything to do with animus towards religion . . . .

Yet soon after, Chief Justice Roberts returned to the race analogy. Later, Justice Breyer would ask:

can we--can you or could I say this: Yes, race is different from religion. Why? There is no Establishment Clause in regard to race.

The specific doctrinal arguments revolve around the extension of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, decided in 2017, involving Missouri's state constitutional Blaine Amendment and the denial of funds to a church school playground.  And more deeply, the "play in the joints" notion from Locke v. Davey — which was itself divisive in Trinity Lutheran — is implicated. At stake is the possibility that Free Exercise Clause will now overwhelm any anti-Establishment concerns.

 

January 23, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Daily Read: Crenshaw & MacKinnon Propose a New Equality Amendment

In their article, Reconstituting the Future: The Equality Amendment, well-known feminist theorists Catharine A. MacKinnon & Kimberlé W. Crenshaw have argued that equality needs to be re-envisioned in an intersectional and progressive manner requiring constitutional amendment. In the Yale Journal Law Forum they contend their proposal

centers on rectifying the founding acts and omissions of race and sex, separately and together, and incorporates similar but distinct inequalities. It is informed by prior efforts to integrate equality into the constitutional landscape that have been decimated by political reversals and doctrinal backlash. It aggregates the insights, aspirations, and critiques of many thinkers and actors who have seized this moment to breathe new life into the nation’s reckoning with inequality. It neither looks back to celebrate amendments whose transformative possibilities have been defeated nor participates in contemporary hand-wringing over equality’s jurisprudential limitations. It seeks to make equality real and to matter now. We argue that a new equality paradigm is necessary and present one form it could take.

The article elaborates on the rationales for each section. The entire proposed amendment reads:

The Equality Amendment

Whereas all women, and men of color, were historically excluded as equals, intentionally and functionally, from the Constitution of the United States, subordinating these groups structurally and systemically; and

Whereas prior constitutional amendments have allowed extreme inequalities of race and/or sex and/or like grounds of subordination to continue with-out effective legal remedy, and have even been used to entrench such inequalities; and

Whereas this country aspires to be a democracy of, by, and for all of its people, and to treat all people of the world in accordance with human rights principles;

Therefore be it enacted that—

Section 1. Women in all their diversity shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.

Section 2. Equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex (including pregnancy, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity), and/or race (including ethnicity, national origin, or color), and/or like grounds of subordination (such as disability or faith). No law or its interpretation shall give force to common law disadvantages that exist on the ground(s) enumerated in this Amendment.

Section 3. To fully realize the rights guaranteed under this Amendment, Congress and the several States shall take legislative and other measures to prevent or redress any disadvantage suffered by individuals or groups because of past and/or present inequality as prohibited by this Amendment, and shall take all steps requisite and effective to abolish prior laws, policies, or constitutional provisions that impede equal political representation.

Section 4. Nothing in Section 2 shall invalidate a law, program, or activity that is protected or required under Section 1 or 3.

This just-published relatively brief (22 pages) essay would make a terrific addition to any Constitutional Law syllabus, as well as any course in Feminist Legal Theory or Gender and Law.

 

Screen Shot 2020-01-02 at 7.45.52 PM

pictured: Professors Crenshaw (left) & MacKinnon (right)

 

January 2, 2020 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Interpretation, Privacy, Race, Recent Cases, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Federal Judge Enjoins North Carolina's Voter-ID Law

In her opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Cooper, Judge Loretta Biggs of the Middle District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s voter ID-requirements, known as S.B. 824.

Judge Biggs found that plaintiffs’ claim that SB 824 violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause had a likelihood of success. Although the voter-ID law was facially neutral, Judge Biggs found that it enacted a racial classification. As she explained, in Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Dev. Corp. (1977),

the Supreme Court set forth a non-exhaustive list of factors to guide this delicate investigation. Reviewing courts should consider: (1) the law’s historical background; (2) the specific sequence of events leading up to the law’s enactment, including any departures from normal legislative procedure; (3) the law’s legislative and administrative history; and (4) whether the law’s effect “bears more heavily on one race than another.” The Court further cautioned that, because legislative bodies are “[r]arely . . . motivated solely by a single concern,” a challenger need only demonstrate that “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor.” (emphasis added). “[T]he ultimate question,” then, is whether a law was enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” the discriminatory effect it would likely produce.

Applying the Arlington Heights factors, Judge Biggs found that the “historical background” of the law “weighs in favor of a finding of discriminatory intent with respect to S.B. 824’s enactment”:  “North Carolina has a sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression stretching back to the time of slavery, through the era of Jim Crow, and, crucially, continuing up to the present day.”

On the “sequence of events,” Judge Biggs found the record “mixed.” While the  “parliamentary requirements” were met, when “viewed with a wider lens, the circumstances surrounding S.B. 824 are unusual.” A majority of the Republican legislators who supported a previous bill on voter-ID declared unconstitutional by the Fourth Circuit “also voted for S.B. 824, and the same legislative leaders spearheaded both bills. "Further,she found it noteworthy that "those legislators were elected, at least in part, by way of district maps which were declared unconstitutional." Additionally, "after voters ratified the voter-ID amendment, S.B. 824 was enacted along (virtually) strict party lines and over the Governor’s veto.”

As to the legislative history, including statements, Judge Biggs considered the statements of legislators after the previous bill was declared unconstitutional as well as changes proposed or adopted, and “the decision not to include public-assistance IDs as an acceptable form of identification,” despite the Fourth Circuit’s criticism.  

Finally, Judge Biggs concluded that there was (or was likely to be) a racially disparate impact. Examining the specific provisions of the bill, including what types of identification were accepted and which were not:

the important metric for the Court’s purposes isn’t so much the variety of IDs as how readily they are possessed by North Carolinians of different backgrounds. In this sense, what is most striking about the state’s newly expanded list of IDs is that it continues to primarily include IDs which minority voters disproportionately lack, and leaves out those which minority voters are more likely to have.

One example was federal government identification, which was excluded. For Judge Biggs, these disparate types of identification mean not only that “minority voters will bear this effect more severely than their white counterparts,” but also that “a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic” North Carolina citizens “could be deterred from voting or registering to vote because they lack, or believe they lack, acceptable identification and remain confused by or uninformed about S.B. 824’s exceptions.”

Thus, Judge Biggs found that the law was racially motivated. She further found that it was not supported by any of the proffered government interests.

Given that the Governor had vetoed this bill and the Fourth Circuit's decision holding a previous similar law unconstitutional, the prospects for an appeal will certainly be closely monitored.

December 31, 2019 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 18, 2019

Federal Judge Enjoins Florida's Statute Conditioning Right to Vote on Payment of Finess and Fees

In an opinion in Jones v. DeSantis, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 8.21.23 PMFla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole."

Judge Hinkle first addressed Florida's motion to dismiss based on lack of standing and motion to abstain, finding them without merit. Judge Hinkle then discussed whether or not Amendment 4 authorized the statute extending the conditions to all restitution, fines, and fees, acknowledging that "the last word will belong to the Florida Supreme Court," on the matter of that interpretation. However, for purposes of the issue of constitutionality at this stage, the judge assumed that " “all terms of sentence” includes fines and restitution, fees even when unrelated to culpability, and amounts even when converted to civil liens, so long as the amounts are included in the sentencing document."

While the court acknowledged that a state can deny persons convicted of a felony the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment as construed by the Court in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974), here the state had amended its constitution not to do so, but with an exception for those persons convicted of felonies who could not meet their financial obligations. Thus, the Equal Protection Clause is implicated. On this point, Judge Hinkle found Eleventh Circuit precedent was clear, citing Johnson v. Governor of Florida, 405 F.3d 1214 (11th Cir. 2005) (en banc). The court quotes the en banc court in Johnson stating:

Access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources. Under Florida’s Rules of Executive Clemency, however, the right to vote can still be granted to felons who cannot afford to pay restitution. . . . Because Florida does not deny access to the restoration of the franchise based on ability to pay, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on these claims.

[emphasis in original]. For Judge Hinkle, this is both the "starting point of the analysis of this issue, and pretty much the ending point." 

As support for Johnson and further explication of the standard of review under equal protection doctrine, Judge Hinkle reasoned:

Johnson does not lack Supreme Court support; it is consistent with a series of Supreme Court decisions.

In one, M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102 (1996), the Court noted the “general rule” that equal-protection claims based on indigency are subject to only rational-basis review. This is the same general rule on which the Secretary [of State of Florida] places heavy reliance here. But in M.L.B. the Court said there are two exceptions to the general rule. 

The first exception, squarely applicable here, is for claims related to voting.  The Court said, “The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license.”  The Court cited a long line of cases supporting this principle.  In asserting that the Amendment 4 and SB7066 requirement for payment of financial obligations is subject only to highly deferential rational-basis scrutiny, the Secretary ignores this exception.

The second exception is for claims related to criminal or quasi-criminal processes. Cases applying this exception hold that punishment cannot be increased because of a defendant’s inability to pay. See, e.g., Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983) (holding that probation cannot be revoked based on failure to pay an amount the defendant is financially unable to pay). Disenfranchisement of felons has a regulatory component, see, e.g., Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 96-97 (1958), and when so viewed, disenfranchisement is subject only to the first M.L.B. exception, not this second one. But when the purpose of disenfranchisement is to punish, this second exception applies. If, after adoption of Amendment 4, the purported justification for requiring payment of financial obligations is only to ensure that felons pay their “debt to society”—that is, that they are fully punished—this second M.L.B. exception is fully applicable.

Another case applying these principles is Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), which was cited in both M.L.B. and the Johnson footnote. In Harper the Supreme Court said “[v]oter qualification has no relation to wealth.”  The Court continued, “[w]ealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.”  And the Court added, “[t]o introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor.” The Secretary says none of this is true when the voter is a felon, but the Secretary does not explain how a felon’s wealth is more relevant than any other voter’s. And Johnson plainly rejected the Secretary’s proposed distinction.

[some citations omitted]

Judge Hinkle's remedy was not to entirely enjoin the enforcement of the statute. Instead, Florida must follow its procedures and amend them if need be to allow indigent persons to demonstrate their inability to pay any restitution, fines, or fees. Nevertheless, this is a victory for those who have argued that the Florida statute undermined Amendment 4.

[image via]

 

October 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

District Court Halts Enforcement of California Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Taxes

Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., (E.D. Cal.) granted President Trump's motion for a preliminary injunction yesterday and halted enforcement of California's new requirement that presidential primary candidates file their income tax returns with the state before gaining a place on the primary ballot.

The ruling puts a temporary stop to California's effort to press President Trump to reveal his tax returns.

The case tests California's requirement that candidates in the California primary election for president file their tax returns with the state before the state will list them on the ballot. Here's the measure:

Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not print the name of a candidate for President of the United States on a primary election ballot, unless the candidate, at least 98 days before the presidential primary election, files with the Secretary of State copies of every income tax return the candidate filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years.

California said that it adopted the measure in order to help its voters make an informed choice among candidates in the primary election. But it was pretty clearly a blunt effort to force President Trump to file his tax returns, which the state could then make public.

The court ruled that the requirement likely violated the Article II Qualifications Clause, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause.

As to Qualifications, the court drew on U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, where the Court struck Arkansas's effort to impose term limits on its members of Congress. The Court in Thornton ruled that the state's term limits impermissibly added a qualification to its members of Congress over and above the minimum qualifications set in the Article I Qualifications Clause. Judge England ruled that the same principle applies to a state's additional qualifications over and above the minimums set in the Article II Qualifications Clause, and that California's requirement amounts to just such an additional qualification.

As to the First Amendment, Judge England held that California's requirement amounts to a "severe restriction" on the right to access the ballot, the right to political association, the right to vote, and the right to express political preferences. The court applied strict scrutiny and held that the requirement failed.

Finally, as to equal protection, Judge England held that the requirement impermissibly treated partisan primary candidates differently than independent candidates (who are not subject to the requirement). "The State lacks any valid interest in providing voters with more information about party-backed candidates than independent candidates, especially when such requirements can lead to the exclusion of only major party candidates on the ballot."

October 2, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

District Judge Finds Harvard's Affirmative Action Admissions Policy Lawful

In a 130 page opinion in Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, Judge Allison Burroughs upheld Harvard's admissions policy that includes racial considerations. Although Harvard is a private institution and there is not sufficient state action to invoke the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Judge Burroughs noted that it was "subject to the same standards that the Equal Protection Clause imposes upon state actors for the purposes of a Title VI claim," referencing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000d et seq.  As Judge Burroughs stated, " the controlling principles articulated by the Supreme Court in Fisher II reflect the sum of its holdings in cases concerning higher education admissions over the last forty years and now guide the application of Title VI in this case," referencing Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin (2016). 

Applying strict scrutiny, Judge Burroughs first found that Harvard's interest in the educational benefits that flow from student diversity was compelling, concluding that "Harvard's goals are similar in specificity to the goals the Supreme Court found 'concrete and precise' in Fisher II."

On the more controversial issue of narrowly tailored means-chosen, the judge found there was no undue burden on any particular individual and that individuals were considered on a holistic basis. The judge specifically rejected the plaintiff's claim that the university engaged in "racial balancing." As to race-neutral means, the judge rejected the proffered race-neutral methods such as eliminating early action decisions, eliminating preferences for certain applicants (including legacy and children of Harvard employees), and preferences for economically disadvantaged students as not being "workable" methods for actually achieving racial diversity.

Judge Burrough's conclusion is especially noteworthy: she states that while the Harvard admissions policy satisfies strict scrutiny it is not perfect and administrators might benefit from "implicit bias training;" she discusses the language from Fisher II regarding data-collection and the language from Grutter v. Bollinger regarding the duration of affirmative action programs; and she quotes the esteemed author Toni Morrison of the relevance of race and the President of Harvard, Ruth Simmons on the the importance of diversity.

The plaintiff organization has proved itself determined to litigate this issue and an appeal is likely. But this thorough opinion — with more than 60 pages of factual discussion — will make its reversal a formidable task absent doctrinal changes.

Screen Shot 2019-10-01 at 5.25.18 PM[image from the opinion]

October 1, 2019 in Affirmative Action, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)