Thursday, January 23, 2020
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)
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
Judge Paul A. Engelmayer (S.D.N.Y.) struck the Trump Administration rule designed to allow healthcare workers to decline services if they have a religious objection to a procedure.
The ruling deals a significant blow to the Administration's efforts to expand "conscience protections" for healthcare workers beyond what federal statutes currently provide.
The court held that the Health and Human Services rule exceed statutory authority, violate the law, and violated the separation of powers and the Spending Clause. The court held that it did not violate the Establishment Clause.
The rule provides, among other things, that a healthcare worker can decline to participate in a procedure when the worker has a religious or moral objection, that the worker's employer can't discriminate against the worker based on the worker's beliefs, and that HHS can revoke all HHS funding to any employer who violates these provisions. HHS purportedly adopted the rule under authority of 30 statutory provisions that recognize the right of an individual or entity to abstain from participation in medical procedures.
The court ruled that the sweeping rule went well beyond HHS's statutory authority, and that the agency therefore exceeded its statutory authority in enacting the rule. It also held that the rule violates Title VII and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act. And it held that HHS's reasons for enacting the rule were not sufficient (among other things, "HHS's central factual claim of a 'significant increase' of complaints of Conscience Provision violations is flatly untrue."); that HHS's explanation for changing course was insufficient; and that HHS failed to consider the rule's application to medical emergencies and its interplay (and conflict with) Title VII. Finally, the court held that the rule's sweeping definition of "discrimination" "was not a logical outgrowth of the Rule as proposed."
The court also ruled that HHS violated the separation of powers by adopting a rule that allowed the agency to withhold all federal funding, exceeding the agency's authority under federal law. It held that the rule violated the Spending Clause as against state plaintiffs, because the conditions on receipt of federal funds are ambiguous and impermissibly coercive.
However, the court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the rule violated the Establishment Clause, "because the Rule, on its face, equally recognizes secular ("moral") and religious objections to the covered medical procedures."
The court vacated the entire rule (and declined to sever offending portions, given that the APA violates "are numerous, fundamental, and far-reaching") and held it invalid as to any plaintiff.
November 6, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Spending Clause | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 20, 2019
In its fractured opinions in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association), a majority of the Court concluded that a 32 foot high "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., originally erected in 1919 to honor the dead of World War I, does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Recall that during oral argument, one question was whether the cross should be evaluated by applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) or whether it should be deemed more of a "passive monument" under Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Recall also that in the Fourth Circuit decision finding the cross violated the Establishment Clause, the majority found that the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry was not conclusive and stressed that the well-established Lemon test remained a "useful guidepost."
Writing for the majority, Justice Alito's opinion was joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. However, two portions of Justice Alito's opinion garnered only a plurality: Kagan did not join sections §IIA and §IID, the first essentially involving a critique of Lemon's usefulness and the second relying upon the divided town counsel prayer case of Town of Greece to conclude that "categories of monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history" are constitutional. Breyer — who wrote an important concurring opinion in the passive monument case of Van Orden — wrote a separate concurring opinion in which Kagan joined. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, again arguing that the Establishment Clause is not incorporated as against the states. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a separate concurring opinion, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing based on their status as "offended observers" and contending Lemon should be "shelved" and was a "misadventure." While joining Justice Alito's opinion in full, Kavanaugh also concurred separately to reprise a critique of Lemon as inconsistent with by the Court's decisions in five categories of Establishment Clause cases. Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Sotomayor.
So what does the majority "hold"? Alito's opinion for the majority concludes that this specific cross "carries special significance in commemorating World War I," which it had at the time of its erection and "acquired additional layers of historical meaning in subsequent years" and has become "part of the community." Certainly, "the cross originated as a Christian symbol and retains that meaning in many contexts," but this "does not change the fact that the symbol took on added secular meaning when used in World War I memorials." Alito's opinion specifically rejected arguments that the cross "disrespected" Jewish or Black veterans, and specifically mentions that "one of the local leaders responsible" for the cross was a "Jewish veteran" and that the memorial includes the names of black and white soldiers. Recall that this had been broached in the oral argument, with Justice Alito asking counsel: "And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?"
Justice Ginsburg, dissenting in a 21 page opinion including an appendix of images (including the headstones in a military cemetery, right) joined by Sotomayor, disputed the cross as a secular symbol. "Just as the Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation." Disputing the contention that the Latin cross is a well-established secular symbol commemorating World War I military casualties, Ginsburg relates disputes in the War Department in 1919, arguing that everyone involved "saw the Latin cross as a Christian symbol, not a universal or secular one." A true secular symbol was the "mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statute," of which there was one in Prince George's county, the cross being an "aberration" even at the time. Ginsburg confronts the slippery slope argument that a contrary decision would eliminate all commemorative crosses by arguing that the in the context of a cemetery, individual markers are acceptable because they convey individuality rather than government endorsement, and that in this case, the solution could be a transfer of the cross to private rather than government property.
The decision leaves lower courts and advocates in the same doctrinal landscape that they inhabited before, although with an even clearer message that longstanding religious monuments with religious symbols, no matter how imposing, will be upheld under the Establishment Clause.
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
The State of New York and a host of other states and cities yesterday filed suit in the Southern District of New York to halt the implementation of President Trump's "conscience protection" regulations for health-care providers.
We posted on the regs here. In short, they require health-care providers and state and local recipients of certain federal funds to permit employees to opt out of providing health services if they have a religious objection to those services.
New York's lawsuit follows San Francisco's, filed earlier this month.
The plaintiffs in the New York case allege that the regs exceed statutory authority, violate federal law, are arbitrary and capricious, and violate the Spending Clause, the separation of powers, and the Establishment Clause.
Plaintiffs focus on the expansive definitions in the new regs that sweep beyond the administration's statutory authority, and HHS's ability under the regs to cut off vast amounts of federal funding to states and local governments who do not comply with the "conscience protections." They allege that they'll be harmed in their ability to enforce their own laws (which, among other things, require health-care providers to provide certain services, irrespective of religious beliefs) and in their receipt of federal funds.
In a bit of what-goes-around-comes-around, the plaintiffs draw on the Court's ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius--the Medicaid expansion portion of the ruling--to argue that the sheer amount of threatened federal funds under the new regs turns the condition on federal funding for state and local governments (compliance with the "conscience protections") from pressure into compulsion, in violation of federalism principles. They also contend that the conditions are vague, and that the administration impermissibly imposed them without prior congressional action in violation of the separation of powers. (This latter point is based on HHS's apparent ability to withhold funds not authorized for withholding under existing federal law.)
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Third Circuit Upholds Philadelphia's Refusal to Refer Foster Children to Organizations that Discriminates on Basis of Sexual Orientation
In its opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents.
Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents. Once Philadelphia became aware of the CSS policy, through investigative reporting, the city eventually suspended foster care referrals to CSS in accordance with the city's nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation. The plaintiffs, including individuals about whom the Third Circuit had standing doubts, sued for a preliminary injunction, which the district judge denied after a three day hearing. On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on their First Amendment claims under the Free Exercise Clause, as well as the Establishment Clause and the Speech Clause.
Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be. Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case. As the court stated:
CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of [Employment Division v. ] Smith that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”
On the Establishment Clause, Judge Ambro briefly concluded that there was no evidence that Philadelphia was attempting to impose its preferred version of Catholic teaching on CSS.
And in a similarly brief discussion of the free speech claim, Judge Ambro's opinion found there was no viable compelled speech claim or retaliation claim.
Finally, the Third Circuit opinion considered whether there was a possibly successful claim under Pennsylvania's RFRA statute and found that there was little chance of success on the merits, even given the higher standard of review.
This litigation has attracted much interest, with intervenors and amici, and the plaintiffs filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court for an injunction pending appeal or an immediate grant of certiorari in 2018, which was denied. Another certiorari petition is almost sure to follow the Third Circuit's decision.
April 23, 2019 in Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
In oral argument in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association, the Court considered whether a 40 foot "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., erected to honor the dead of World War I, violates the Establishment Clause.
Recall that a divided panel of the Fourth Circuit held that the cross violated the Establishment Clause, applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) as a "useful guidepost" augmented by the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) regarding passive monuments.
Michael Carvin, arguing for the American Legion, proposed replacing the Lemon test with a very broad standard that made all sectarian symbols erected or maintained by governments presumptively constitutional, except in "the rare case in which they've been misused to proselytize." Carvin's argument would essentially vitiate the Establishment Clause and the Justices did not seem inclined to go that far. However, there was much discussion regarding whether the endorsement inquiry under Lemon — or any portion of Lemon — was appropriate or workable.
In considering whether the Latin cross was exclusionary of non-Christians, Neal Katyal, arguing for the Maryland state government party, stated that "factually, one of the main proponents for fundraisers of this particular cross was J. Moses Eldovich, who himself was a Jewish veteran." Later in the argument, Chief Justice Roberts returned to this point in a colloquy with Monica Miller (pictured right) arguing on behalf of the American Humanist Association:
CJ ROBERTS: Well, but that’s one of the main criticisms of the - - - of the Lemon test - - - that different people are going to process that [the relationship between Christianity and citizenship virtues] in different ways.
I mean, you heard from one of your friends on the other side that one of the major fund-raisers of this was a Jewish individual. So he was obviously observing it or anticipating it in a different way.
MILLER: Well, Your Honor, I think that we cannot take one person's example, again, someone who is probably one of maybe the only Jewish people in that county at a time when there was an active clan [Klan] burning crosses, burning Jewish buildings or Jewish, you know, businesses at a time when atheists couldn't run for office, Jews had to swear that they believed in an after-life in order to qualify, I mean —
Justice Kagan, attempted to ask a question, “why does it even matter?” But Justice Alito, overriding Kagan, pointed out that there were 12 African-American soldiers’ names on the cross, and then asked Ms. Miller:
JUSTICE ALITO: And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?
Ms. Miller responded by stating that it was unclear how the names actually were chosen to be on the cross and that not all of them were from Prince George’s county.
While predictions from oral argument are always fraught, the majority of the Court seems poised to depart from Lemon and rather than articulate a new standard, stress the longstanding nature of the "monument" as in Van Orden.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
The Fourth Circuit rejected an eleventh-grade student's Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause claims against school administrators and the district for including lessons on Islam in a world history course. The ruling ends the challenge and leaves the lessons in place.
The case, Wood v. Arnold, involves a particular reading and a separate particular exercise in a "Muslim World" unit within a larger world history class. The reading, which appeared on a PowerPoint slide, said, "Most Muslim's [sic] faith is stronger than the average Christian." (Underlining in original.) The exercise required students to fill in the blanks for this statement: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah." (Underlined words were blank in the original.)
A student challenged the two lessons under the Establishment Clause and Free Speech Clause. The Fourth Circuit rejected those claims.
The court ruled that, given the larger context, the lessons did not violate the Lemon test: they had a sufficiently secular purpose (to study comparative religions); they did not inhibit or advance religion (applying the endorsement test as the second prong under Lemon, they merely "identif[ied] the views of a particular religion," and didn't endorse those views); and they did not entangle government and religion (because they were not religious in the first place).
As to free speech, the court said that the fill-in-the-blank exercise didn't violate the student's right against compelled speech, because it was a school exercise that didn't require her to adopt any particular view.
Friday, November 2, 2018
The Court has granted certiorari in Maryland-Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association centered on the constitutionality of a 40 foot "Latin Cross," owned and maintained by the state of Maryland and situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md.
Recall our earlier discussion regarding the divided decision in which the Fourth Circuit concluded that the government cross violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, reversing the district judge. In essence, the majority found that while there may be a legitimate secular purpose to the cross, considering that it was erected to local soldiers who died in World War I, the cross is specifically Christian and "the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones" in the display. A "reasonable observer" most likely viewing the 40 foot cross from the highway would fairly understand the Cross to have the primary effect of endorsing religion and entangles the State with religion.
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
Friday, June 1, 2018
The Seventh Circuit this week rebuffed a First Amendment challenge to the phrase "In God we Trust" on our currency by a non-theistic Satanist. The unsurprising ruling allows the government to continue to print that phrase on money.
The plaintiff challenged the phrase under the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Speech Clause, among others. The court rejected each.
As to the Establishment Clause, the court said that the phrase wasn't an endorsement of religion, that it didn't coerce religious beliefs, and that it wasn't based on a forbidden religious purpose. In short, the court said that the phrase is simply a part of our nation's heritage:
The inclusion of the motto on currency is similar to other ways in which secular symbols give a nod to the nation's religious heritage. Examples include the phrase "one nation under God," which has been in the Pledge of Allegiance since 1954, as well as the National Day of Prayer, which has existed in various forms since the dawn of the country and is now codified [in the U.S.C.]. Moreover, when the religious aspects of an activity account for "only a fraction," the possibility that anyone could see it as an endorsement of religion is diluted. In the case of currency, the motto is one of many historical reminders; others include portraits of presidents, state symbols, monuments, notable events such as the Louisiana Purchase, and the national bird. In this context, a reasonable observer would not perceive the motto on currency as a religious endorsement.
As to free exercise, the court said that the plaintiff's "claim fails because the motto's placement on currency has the secular purpose of recognizing the religious component of our nation's history."
As to free speech, the court rejected the plaintiff's claim that the phrase amounted to forced speech, because nobody would regard the phrase as the plaintiff's own speech.
The court also rejected the plaintiff's RFRA claim (no substantial burden on the plaintiff's practice of Satanism) and his equal protection claim (because the government had at least one legitimate objective, "acknowledging an aspect of our nation's heritage").
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
The Court heard oral arguments in Trump v. Hawai'i, releasing same-day audio in the case in recognition of its importance. Recall that the Court granted certiorari to the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump regarding Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017, also known as E.O 3, or Travel Ban 3.0, or Muslim Ban 3.0. The Ninth Circuit, affirming a district judge, found Travel Ban 3.0 unlawful under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Court also took certiorari on the Establishment Clause issue. There were also constitutional issues involves standing.
Arguing for the United States and President Trump, Solicitor General Noel Francisco opened and repeatedly stressed that E.O. 3 was the result of a "worldwide multi-agency review." Yet the person of President Trump was a definite, if at times implicit, presence in the argument. For example, during the Solicitor General's argument Justice Kagan posed a hypothetical:
So this is a hypothetical that you've heard a variant of before that the government has, at any rate, but I want to just give you.
So let's say in some future time a -a President gets elected who is a vehement anti-Semite and says all kinds of denigrating comments about Jews and provokes a lot of resentment and hatred over the course of a campaign and in his presidency and, in course of that, asks his staff or his cabinet members to issue a proc -- to issue recommendations so that he can issue a proclamation of this kind, and they dot all the i's and they cross all the t's.
And what emerges -- and, again, in the context of this virulent anti-Semitism – what emerges is a proclamation that says no one shall enter from Israel.
**** “this is a out-of-the-box kind of President in my hypothetical. And –
**** And -- and who knows what his heart of hearts is. I mean, I take that point. But the question is not really what his heart of hearts is. The question is what are reasonable observers to think -
This discussion takes place in the context of whether the deferential standard of Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972) should apply, but also applies to the Establishment Clause problem of whether the EO has a secular purpose under McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005).
Arguing for Hawai'i, Neal Katyal stated that Hawai'i did not rely on any campaign statements for intent, but only presidential statements, citing the President's "tweeting of these three virulent anti-Muslim videos" after the present EO was issued, and the presidential spokesperson being asked to explain these retweets saying, according to Katyal's argument, "The President has spoken about exactly this in the proclamation."
Chief Justice Roberts asked whether the taint of any presidential statements "applies forever." Katyal stressed that the President had not disavowed the statements or moved away from them.
Justice Breyer, among others, seemed concerned that the exceptions in the policy remained opaque, but Alito flatly stated that "it does not look at all like a Muslim ban."
Predicting outcomes from oral arguments is always a dubious enterprise, but this is undoubtedly a close case. Additionally, the Chief Justice's appearance at the President's State Dinner the evening before oral arguments has caused some to question his impartiality, or, at least the appearance of impartiality.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled last week on the constitutionality of local grants going to church improvements under the state Anti-Aid Amendment. The ruling balances the interests behind the Anti-Aid Amendment, on the one hand, and the Free Exercise Clause under Trinity Lutheran, on the other, and comes out with a cautious thumb on the scale in favor of anti-aid.
The case, Caplan v. Town of Acton, arose when a local church applied for and received two grants of public funds for church improvements--one for a "Master Plan for Historic Preservation," covering several renovation and preservation projects on the facilities, and one for restoration and preservation of the church's religious-themed stained-glass windows. Taxpayers sued under the state private-attorney-general provision, arguing that the grants violated the state constitutional Anti-Aid Amendment. That Amendment prohibits the "grant, appropriation or use of public money . . . for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society."
Two questions came to the court. First, does the Anti-Aid Amendment categorically bar the grants, or are the grants subject to a three-factor test that the state uses for a companion provision in the Amendment? (A categorical bar would prohibit the grants without further inquiry, whereas the three-factor test could permit the grants if they met certain factors.) Next, if the three-factor test applies, do the grants satisfy it?
The court ruled that the Anti-Aid Amendment isn't categorical, and is instead subject to its three-factor test. (That test looks to whether a motivating purpose of each grant was to aid the church; whether the grant would have the effect of substantially aiding the church; and whether the grant avoid the risks of the political and economic abuses that prompted the passage of the Amendment.) The court gave three reasons: (1) because the three-factor test applies to a companion provision in the Amendment, it made sense to apply it to this provision, too; (2) the Amendment by its own terms requires a case-by-case analysis, which is consistent with a three-factor test (but not a categorical approach); and (3) a categorical approach "invites the risk of infringing on the free exercise of religion" under Trinity Lutheran. As to that last reason, the court said that the three-factor test allowed it to account for the Amendment without violating free exercise, Trinity Lutheran style.
As to the application of the test, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their challenge to the stained-glass window grant, but remanded the case on the "Master Plan" grant.
Two justices concurred, and one dissented, arguing in different ways how the Amendment and the grants stacked up against Trinity Lutheran.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
In its 285 page opinions in IRAP v. Trump, the Fourth Circuit en banc majority has found that the so-called Travel Ban 3.0, Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017, is essentially intended as a Muslim Ban and thus there is a likelihood of success on the merits of the First Amendment Establishment Clause challenge meriting a preliminary injunction.
The majority is composed of nine judges, with four judges (including a Senior Judge) dissenting. Some judges in the majority also wrote concurring opinions that would also grant relief on the statutory claims.
Recall that in October, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang has issued a nationwide injunction against the so-called "Muslim Ban 3.0" in an almost 100 page opinion, shortly after Hawai'i District Judge Derrick Watson had issued a nationwide injunction based largely on statutory grounds, which the Ninth Circuit affirmed.
Recall also that SCOTUS granted certiorari to the Ninth Circuit's opinion, adding the Establishment Clause issue to the questions to be considered. Most likely this case will be added to the SCOTUS docket.
The majority opinion by Chief Judge Gregory, after setting out the litigation history and preliminary injunction standard, delves into the Establishment Clause issue. Chief Judge Gregory begins by finding both that there is standing and that the case is ripe.
On the merits, Chief Judge Gregory's opinion first considers whether the proffered reason for the government act is "facially legitimate and bona fide" under Kleindienst v. Mandel (1972). The court assumes without deciding that the reason is facially legitimate, but holds that it is not bona fide:
here the Government’s proffered rationale for the Proclamation lies at odds with the statements of the President himself. Plaintiffs here do not just plausibly allege with particularity that the Proclamation’s purpose is driven by anti-Muslim bias, they offer undisputed evidence of such bias: the words of the President. This evidence includes President Trump’s disparaging comments and tweets regarding Muslims; his repeated proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States; his subsequent explanation that he would effectuate this “Muslim” ban by targeting “territories” instead of Muslims directly; the issuance of EO-1 and EO-2, addressed only to majority-Muslim nations; and finally the issuance of the Proclamation, which not only closely tracks EO-1 and EO-2, but which President Trump and his advisors described as having the same goal as EO-1 and EO-2.
The President’s own words—publicly stating a constitutionally impermissible reason for the Proclamation—distinguish this case from those in which courts have found that the Government had satisfied Mandel’s “bona fide” prong.
Chief Judge Gregory then found that the Travel Ban 3.0 failed the Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) test which requires the government to show that its challenged action has a primary secular legislative purpose, and then, even if it does that its principal or primary effect neither advances nor inhibits religion and which does not foster ‘an excessive government entanglement with religion. Chief Judge Gregory's majority opinion concludes that Travel Ban 3.0 did not have a primary secular purpose but, like its previous incarnations, was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. Chief Judge Gregory noted the government's argument to disregard the President's pre-election statements was a difficult one to make, but stated it did not need to rely on any campaign statements "because the President’s inauguration did not herald a new day."
Among the incidents Chief Judge Gregory recounts is this one from November 28, 2017 (after the Travel Ban 3.0 September 24, 2017 Proclamation):
President Trump retweeted three disturbing anti-Muslim videos entitled: “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” The three videos were originally tweeted by an extremist political party whose mission is to oppose “all alien and destructive politic or religious doctrines, including . . . Islam.” When asked about the three videos, President Trump’s deputy press secretary Raj Shah responded by saying that the “President has been talking about these security issues for years now, from the campaign trail to the White House” and “the President has addressed these issues with the travel order that he issued earlier this year and the companion proclamation.” The Government does not—and, indeed, cannot—dispute that the President made these statements.
chose not to make the review publicly available and so provided a reasonable observer no basis to rely on the review. Perhaps in recognition of this, at oral argument before us the Government expressly disavowed any claim that the review could save the Proclamation. Instead, the Government conceded that the Proclamation rises and falls on its own four corners.
For the majority, then,
The contradiction between what the Proclamation says—that it merely reflects the results of a religion-neutral review—and what it does “raises serious doubts” about the Proclamation’s proffered purpose, and undermines the Government’s argument that its multi-agency review cured any earlier impermissible religious purpose.
Chief Judge Gregory's majority opinion summed up its reasoning:
Finally, on the scope of the injunction, the majority opinion arguably broadened it:
Our constitutional system creates a strong presumption of legitimacy for presidential action and we often defer to the political branches on issues related to immigration and national security. But the disposition in this case is compelled by the highly unusual facts here. Plaintiffs offer undisputed evidence that the President of the United States has openly and often expressed his desire to ban those of Islamic faith from entering the United States. The Proclamation is thus not only a likely Establishment Clause violation, but also strikes at the basic notion that the government may not act based on “religious animosity.”
To the extent that the district court held that IRAP, HIAS, and similar organizations categorically lack a qualifying bona fide relationship with their clients, we conclude that this would be an abuse of discretion. We see no need to read more into the Supreme Court’s grant of a stay than what it held: that refugees with formal assurances do not categorically enjoy a bona fide relationship with a U.S. entity. Instead, IRAP, HIAS, and other organizations that work with refugees or take on clients are subject to the same requirements as all other entities under the Supreme Court’s bona fide relationship standard: a relationship that is “formal, documented, and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose” of evading the travel restrictions imposed by the Proclamation.
Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit stayed its decision, in light of the Supreme Court’s order staying the district judge's injunction pending “disposition of the Government’s petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is sought."
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
The Seventh Circuit ruled this week that the First Amendment's ministerial exception barred a Hebrew teacher's Americans with Disabilities Act claim against her employer, a Jewish school. The ruling is the first time the Seventh Circuit applied the ministerial exception.
The case, Grussgott v. Milwaukee Jewish Day School, arose when Grussgott, a Hebrew teacher at the school, suffered memory and cognitive issues as a result of medical treatment for her brain tumor. During a call from a parent, Grussgott couldn't remember an event, and the parent taunted her about her memory loss. Grussgott's husband, who happens to be a rabbi, sent an e-mail from Grussgott's work account criticizing the parent for being disrespectful. The school fired her, and she sued under the ADA, arguing that she was fired because of her cognitive issues resulting from the brain tumor.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that the ministerial exception applied and dismissed the case. Applying the "fact-intensive analysis" of Hosanna-Tabor, the court held that while Grussgott's title and the "substance reflected in that title" both tilted against applying the ministerial exception, Grussgott's use of the title and the religious functions she performed both tilted in favor. The court explained:
But Hebrew teachers at Milwaukee Jewish Day School were expected to follow the unified Tal Am curriculum, meaning that the school expected its Hebrew teachers to integrate religious teachings into their lessons. Grussgott's resume also touts significant religious teaching experience, which the former principal said was a crucial factor in the school hiring her in 2013. Thus, the substance of Grussgott's title as conveyed to her and as perceived by others entails the teaching of the Jewish religion to students, which supports the application of the ministerial exception here.
Grussgott undisputedly taught her students about Jewish holidays, prayer, and the weekly Torah readings; moreover, she practiced the religion alongside her students by praying with them and performing certain rituals, for example.
The court was careful to say that its analysis is holistic and fact-intensive, and not a rigid and mathematical application of the four "factors" from Hasanna-Tabor. On the other hand, the court also rejected "a purely functional approach to determining whether an employee's role is ministerial."
We read the Supreme Court's decision to impose, in essence, a totality-of-the-circumstances test. And it is fair to say that, under the totality of the circumstances in this particular case, the importance of Grussgott's role as a "teacher of  faith" to the next generation outweighed other considerations.
Friday, December 22, 2017
In the latest installment in the continuing saga of President Trump's various efforts to promulgate a travel ban, often called a Muslim Ban, the Ninth Circuit opinion in Hawai'i v. Trump has largely affirmed the preliminary injunction issued by District Judge Derrick Watson enjoining the Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017.
Recall that the United States Supreme Court, over the stated disagreement of Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, issued a stay of the district judge's opinion earlier this month, as well as a stay in the related proceedings in the Fourth Circuit in IRAP v. Trump.
The unanimous Ninth Circuit panel does not disturb the status quo: "In light of the Supreme Court’s order staying this injunction pending 'disposition of the Government’s petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is sought,' we stay our decision today pending Supreme Court review." The Ninth Circuit does, however, narrow the district judge's injunction, to "give relief only to those with a credible bona fide relationship with the United States."
On the merits, the Ninth Circuit does not reach the constitutional claims including the Establishment Clause, unlike the Fourth Circuit in IRAP v. Trump, because it finds that the plaintiffs' statutory claims are sufficient to grant relief.
Yet the complex statutory framework of the Immigration and Nationality Act, INA, does implicitly invoke the scope of executive powers. In short, the Ninth Circuit finds that the Presidential Proclamation’s indefinite entry suspensions constitute nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas and therefore (in likelihood sufficient for the preliminary injunction) run afoul of 8 U.S.C. § 1152(a)(1)(A)’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination. As the Ninth Circuit opinion observes:
the Proclamation functions as an executive override of broad swaths of immigration laws that Congress has used its considered judgment to enact. If the Proclamation is—as the Government contends—authorized under [8 U.S.C.] § 1182(f), then § 1182(f) upends the normal functioning of separation of powers. Even Congress is prohibited from enabling “unilateral Presidential action that either repeals or amends parts of duly enacted statutes.” Clinton v. City of New York, 524 U.S. 417, 439 (1998). This is true even when the executive actions respond to issues of “first importance,” issues that potentially place the country’s “Constitution and its survival in peril.” Id. at 449 (Kennedy, J., concurring). In addressing such critical issues, the political branches still do not “have a somewhat free hand to reallocate their own authority,” as the “Constitution’s structure requires a stability which transcends the convenience of the moment” and was crafted in recognition that “[c]oncentration of power in the hands of a single branch is a threat to liberty.” Id. at 449–50.
And the Proclamation’s sweeping assertion of authority is fundamentally legislative in nature. . . .
Recall that a few months ago, after granting certiorari in Hawai'i v. Trump, the United States Supreme Court instructed the Ninth Circuit to dismiss as moot the challenge to Travel Ban 2.0. It looks as if the Court will now have its chance to consider version 3.o.
December 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Establishment Clause, Executive Authority, First Amendment, International, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
In an Order today the Court brought the litigation in Hawai'i v. Trump on Muslim Ban/Travel ban 2.0 to a close. The Order provides:
We granted certiorari in this case to resolve a challenge to the temporary suspension of entry of aliens and refugees under Section 2(c) and Section 6 of Executive Order No. 13,780. Because those provisions of the Order have “expired by [their] own terms,” the appeal no longer presents a “live case or controversy.” Burke v. Barnes, 479 U. S. 361, 363 (1987). Following our established practice in such cases, the judgment is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with instructions to dismiss as moot the challenge to Executive Order No. 13,780. United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U. S. 36, 39 (1950). We express no view on the merits.
Justice Sotomayor dissents from the order vacating the judgment below and would dismiss the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.
This Order replicates the Court's previous dismissal in IRAP v. Trump on October 10.
This does not end litigation on the issues.
Recall that so-called Muslim Ban/Travel Ban 2.0 has been replaced by so-called Muslim Ban/Travel Ban 3.0, Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017. Like the previous iterations, this has been enjoined by federal judges in Hawai'i (Hawai'i v. Trump) and in Maryland (IRAP v. Trump).
Thursday, October 19, 2017
The state of Maryland owns and maintains a 40 foot "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md. Reversing the district judge, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the government cross violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause in a divided opinion in American Humanist Association v. Maryland-Capital Park and Planning Commission.
The panel was unanimous in its conclusion that the challengers, both the association and individuals, had standing: The individuals, for example, alleged "specific unwelcome direct contact with the Cross; that is, they have each regularly encountered the Cross as residents while driving in the area, the Commission caused such injury by displaying the Cross, and the relief sought -- enjoining the display of the Cross -- would redress their injury."
The judges disagreed, however, regarding the application of the Establishment Clause. In the well-reasoned majority opinion by Judge Thacker, the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry (2005) is not conclusive, especially given Justice Breyer's concurrence which stressed factors for determining whether or not the monument should be deemed passive and further stressed that the well-established Lemon test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) remained a "useful guidepost." The majority thus analyzed the case "pursuant to the three-prong test in Lemon with due consideration given to the factors outlined in Van Orden."
The court first found that there was a legitimate secular purpose to the cross, considering that it was erected to local soldiers who died in World War I. As to the effect of advancing or inhibiting religion prong, the court engaged in a detailed analysis of the symbol of the cross, and found it specifically Christian. It rejected the argument that in Europe, the Latin Cross might be a neutral symbol for the war dead of World War I. Further, the fact that this cross had been in place for 90 years was not determinative and the secular symbols accompanying the cross were also not sufficient:
the sectarian elements easily overwhelm the secular ones. The Cross is by far the most prominent monument in the area, conspicuously displayed at a busy intersection, standing four stories tall, and overshadowing the other monuments, the tallest of which is only ten feet tall and located approximately 200 feet from the Cross. The other monuments composing the Veterans Memorial Park are anywhere from 200 feet away to a half-mile away. The immense size and prominence of the Cross necessarily “evokes a message of aggrandizement and universalization of religion, and not the message of individual memorialization and remembrance that is presented by a field of gravestones.”
Thus, a "reasonable observer" - - - most likely viewing the 40 foot cross from the highway - - - would fairly understand the Cross to have the primary effect of endorsing religion. This is even true, the court reasoned, if the reasonable observer knew the history of the cross as memoralizing the war dead, because then this reasonable observer would also know that the original private organizers of the cross monument pledged "devotion to faith in God, and that same observer knows that Christian-only religious activities have taken place at the Cross.
On the third "excessive entanglement" prong of Lemon, the court found that additionally
displaying the Cross, particularly given its size, history, and context, amounts to excessive entanglement because the Commission is displaying the hallmark symbol of Christianity in a manner that dominates its surroundings and not only overwhelms all other monuments at the park, but also excludes all other religious tenets. The display aggrandizes the Latin cross in a manner that says to any reasonable observer that the Commission either places Christianity above other faiths, views being American and Christian as one in the same, or both.
Dissenting, Chief Judge Gregory argued that
the majority misapplies Lemon and Van Orden to the extent that it subordinates the Memorial’s secular history and elements while focusing on the obvious religious nature of Latin crosses themselves; constructs a reasonable observer who ignores certain elements of the Memorial and reaches unreasonable conclusions; and confuses maintenance of a highway median and monument in a state park with excessive religious entanglement.
For the dissenting judge, the large size of the cross is only one factor that a reasonable observer would notice and the majority's opinion would lead to a rule that all "large crosses are unconstitutional despite any amount of secular history and context" if the the crosses were on government land.
Given the continuing and renewed debates about the entwinement of Christianity and government, this may be a plausible candidate for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
[image from the opinion's appendix].
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
A few hours after Hawai'i District Judge Derrick Watson granted a nationwide preliminary injunction in Hawai'i v. Trump in an extensive order based largely on statutory grounds, Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang has also issued a nationwide injunction against the so-called "Muslim Ban 3.0" in an almost 100 page opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump.
Recall that Judge Chuang had issued an injunction against the enforcement of Muslim Ban 2.0, which the en banc Fourth Circuit had affirmed finding that the plaintiffs have standing and that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause challenge to the Executive Order. The United States Supreme Court, having granted certiorari to the case (as well as Hawai'i v. Trump), had recently vacated the Fourth Circuit opinion given the Government's suspension of version 2.0 of the "Muslim Ban" (President's March 6, 2017 Executive Order "Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States" (now numbered EO 13,780), with Presidential Proclamation 9645, entitled “Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats”of September 24, 2017, known colloquially as "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban" or EO "3.0."
In short, although there are some differences in this third iteration, including the addition of nationals from the countries of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela, as well as Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Judge Chuang concluded that "Muslim Ban 3.0" suffered from the same constitutional infirmities as the previous bans.
Judge Chuang found that the Plaintiffs had standing and that parts on the Proclamation conflicted with the Immigration and Nationality Act, similar to the conclusions of Judge Watson in Hawai'i v. Trump. However, because the statutory claims were not sufficient to enjoin the challenge to nonimmigrantion visas, Judge Chuang proceeded to the constitutional claims.
On the Establishment Clause challenge, Judge Chuang ultimately concluded that the Plaintiffs had a likelihood of prevailing on the merits. The central question, as it had been previously, is the extent to which the President's motivation is a "Muslim Ban" and thus comes within the First Amendment's prohibition as most exemplified by McCreary County. v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005) and the first prong of the well-established test from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), essentially requiring a government act to have a secular purpose. Given that courts had previously held that the two previous iterations of the travel ban were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, Judge Chuang considered whether this new Proclamation was still tainted by that motivation or if it had been replaced by nuetral considerations such as national security. The "taint" does not persist forever, but neither should courts be "absentminded" as to the context.
Judge Chuang wrote:
Thus, while Defendants assert that the Proclamation’s travel ban was arrived at through the routine operations of the government bureaucracy, the public was witness to a different genealogy, one in which the President—speaking “straight to the American people,” — announced his intention to go back to and get even tougher than in EO-1 and EO-2. Notably, the June 5 tweet calling for a “much tougher version” reveals that even before President Trump had received any reports on the DHS Review that ostensibly identified the need for a travel ban, the first of which he received over a month later on July 9, 2017, the President had already decided that the travel ban would continue. His September 15, 2017 tweet calling for a “far larger, tougher” travel ban, issued the same day that that the final report was received, reinforced this position. . . . [The President's] statements
Here, those statements do not offer “persuasive” rejection of the President’s prior calls for a Muslim ban, or his stated intention to use a ban on certain “dangerous territory” to effectuate a Muslim ban, nor do they show that the stated intention to impose a Muslim ban has been “repealed or otherwise repudiated.” Rather, they cast the Proclamation as the inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban, and, in echoes of McCreary, convey the message that the third iteration of the ban—no longer temporary—will be the “enhanced expression” of the earlier ones.
[citations omitted]. Thus, Judge Chuang concluded that
where the Proclamation itself is not sufficiently independent of EO-2 to signal a purposeful, persuasive change in the primary purpose of the travel ban, and there were no other public signs that “as persuasively” as the original violation established a different primary purpose for the travel ban, it cannot find that a “reasonable observer” would understand that the primary purpose of the Proclamation’s travel ban is no longer the desire to impose a Muslim ban.
Having concluded that the Plaintiffs would likely prevail on the merits of the First Amendment claim, Judge Chuang did not discuss the Equal Protection challenge.
Judge Chuang issued an Order enjoining enforcement of section 2 of the Proclamation.
Like the injunction issued in Hawai'i v. Trump, this is sure to be appealed by the Trump Administration.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
The United States Supreme Court issued an Order in Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) bring the case to a close:
We granted certiorari in this case to resolve a challenge to“the temporary suspension of entry of aliens abroad under Section 2(c) of Executive Order No. 13,780.” Because that provision of the Order “expired by its own terms” on September 24, 2017, the appeal no longer presents a “live case or controversy.” Burke v. Barnes, 479 U. S. 361, 363 (1987). Following our established practice in such cases, the judgment is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit with instructions to dismiss as moot the challenge to Executive Order No. 13,780. United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U. S. 36, 39 (1950). We express no view on the merits.
Justice Sotomayor dissents from the order vacating the judgment below and would dismiss the writ of certiorari as improvidently granted.
Recall that the en banc Fourth Circuit concluded that the plaintiffs have standing and that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their Establishment Clause challenge to the Executive Order. The main opinion was authored by Chief Judge Roger Gregory with six other judges joining in full. The case had proceeded directly to en banc from Maryland District Judge Theodore Chuang's Opinion and nationwide injunction .
Most likely, a similar order disposing on Hawai'i v. Trump will follow.
However, the new "travel ban" - - - the third attempt by the Trump Administration - - - has already been challenged.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
The ACLU filed suit yesterday in the Northern District of California challenging the Trump Administration's roll-back of the contraception benefit under the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.
The lawsuit also illustrates the new approach to religion under this administration as stated yesterday in AG Sessions's principles of religious liberty.
The suit, which also includes SEIU-UHW as a plaintiff, argues that the roll-back in HHS's interim final regulations would permit religiously affiliated organizations that currently get an exemption from the contraception-coverage requirement to back out of the requirement altogether. (The exemption permits religiously affiliated organizations to pass the implementation off to their insurer or third-party administrator, so that the organization itself doesn't have anything to do with contraception, but so that employees and students of the organization still get direct and free access through the insurer or third-party administrator. The interim final rules would permit those organizations to deny contraception coverage entirely.)
The complaint argues that the move violates the Establishment Clause, equal protection, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the ACA itself:
By authorizing businesses, non-profit organizations, and universities to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and students, and rob women of health coverage that is otherwise guaranteed by law, the Religious Exemption [interim final rule] violates the Establishment Clause. Furthermore, by authorizing employers to block contraception coverage based on religious or other grounds, both [interim final rules] violate the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, because the [interim final rules] were promulgated without good cause for foregoing notice and comment and without providing a reasoned basis for the change in agency position as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, they violate federal statutory requirements that agencies not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner and observe procedures required by law. Finally, the [interim final rules] exceed the statutory authority given to the agencies by the Affordable Care Act.
As to the Establishment Clause, the complaint argues that the purpose and effect of the interim final rules were to advance religion, and that they foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
It's no coincidence that the interim final rules came out the same day as AG Sessions's principles on religious liberty.
But note that while the ACLU complaint speaks in terms of the Lemon test (purpose, effect, entanglement), AG Sessions's principles don't mention the case. The principles instead discuss the Establishment Clause barely (privileging free exercise) and only in terms of "establishing a religion and coercing Americans to follow it," "restrict[ing] government from interfering [in religion]," "prohibit[ing] government from officially favoring or disfavoring particular religious groups," and "neutrality towards religion."
In other words, AG Sessions's principles back off the Establishment Clause concerns about religious purpose and effect, and even excessive entanglement, and instead emphasize only more blunt forms of government establishment of religion (and downplay even those, in favor of free exercise concerns). It's thus hardly a surprise that HHS would issue these interim final rules, even with a religious purpose and effect: they fall squarely within AG Sessions's free exercise interpretation, and do not violate his (lesser important) establishment interpretation.
In yet other words, these interim regs are just a preview of what's to come under the Sessions approach to religion.