Friday, June 21, 2019
In its opinion in North Carolina Dept of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that a state's taxation of a trust based solely on the residence of a beneficiary — even where the beneficiary did not receive any income — violates due process.
Recall our discussion of the view from Professors Bridget Crawford and Michelle Simon that "Kaestner Trust is the most important due process case involving trusts that the Court has decided in over sixty years; it bears directly on the fundamental meaning of due process," and their discussion of the facts and merits of the case. They urged the Supreme Court to affirm the conclusion of the North Carolina Supreme Court that the state lacked the power to tax consistent with due process and that's what the Court did.
Justice Sotomayor's succinct 16 page opinion is a model of clarity and analysis. The Court's conclusion clearly rests on the fact that there was no actual income or entitlement to distribution of any income from the trust managed by an out-of-state trustee:
We hold that the presence of in-state beneficiaries alone does not empower a State to tax trust income that has not been distributed to the beneficiaries where the beneficiaries have no right to demand that income and are uncertain ever to receive it. In limiting our holding to the specific facts presented, we do not imply approval or disapproval of trust taxes that are premised on the residence of beneficiaries whose relationship to trust assets differs from that of the beneficiaries here.
The opinion sets out the doctrine:
The Due Process Clause provides that “[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Clause “centrally concerns the fundamental fairness of governmental activity.”
In the context of state taxation, the Due Process Clause limits States to imposing only taxes that “bea[r] fiscal relation to protection, opportunities and benefits given by the state.” The power to tax is, of course, “essential to the very existence of government,” but the legitimacy of that power requires drawing a line between taxation and mere unjustified “confiscation.” That boundary turns on the “[t]he simple but controlling question . . . whether the state has given anything for which it can ask return.”
The Court applies a two-step analysis to decide if a state tax abides by the Due Process Clause. First, and most relevant here, there must be “‘some definite link, some minimum connection, between a state and the person, property or transaction it seeks to tax.’ ” Second, “the ‘income attributed to the State for tax purposes must be rationally related to “values connected with the taxing State.”’”
To determine whether a State has the requisite “minimum connection” with the object of its tax, this Court borrows from the familiar test of International Shoe Co. v. Washington (1945). A State has the power to impose a tax only when the taxed entity has “certain minimum contacts” with the State such that the tax “does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’” The “minimum contacts” inquiry is “flexible” and focuses on the reasonableness of the government’s action. Ultimately, only those who derive “benefits and protection” from associating with a State should have obligations to the State in question.
Applying this doctrine to a trust involving an instate resident — whether beneficiary, settlor, or trustee—the Court stated that the
Due Process Clause demands attention to the particular relationship between the resident and the trust assets that the State seeks to tax. Because each individual fulfills different functions in the creation and continuation of the trust, the specific features of that relationship sufficient to sustain a tax may vary depending on whether the resident is a settlor, beneficiary, or trustee. When a tax is premised on the in- state residence of a beneficiary, the Constitution requires that the resident have some degree of possession, control, or enjoyment of the trust property or a right to receive that property before the State can tax the asset. Otherwise, the State’s relationship to the object of its tax is too attenuated to create the “minimum connection” that the Constitution requires.
Here, where the only instate resident was a beneficiary who did not receive any income and did not have a right to demand any distribution, the "minimum connection" was not sufficient.
Justice Alito wrote a brief concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch, to stress that "the opinion of the Court merely applies our existing precedent and that its decision not to answer questions not presented by the facts of this case does not open for reconsideration any points resolved by our prior decisions" and the "Court's discussion of the peculiarities of this trust does not change the governing standard, nor does it alter the reasoning applied in our earlier cases."
Friday, June 7, 2019
In its unanimous opinion in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, the Washington Supreme Court concluded there was no First Amendment infringement when the state found Arlene's Flowers violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), by refusing to sell wedding flowers to a same-sex couple.
Recall that in June 2018, the United States Supreme Court without opinion, in Arlene's Flowers v. Washington, granted the petition for writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court, and remanded the case for consideration in light of its decision earlier than month in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm'n. Given the holding in Masterpiece Cakeshop that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, or one specific commissioner, exhibited "hostility" to the cakemaker in that case, the Washington Supreme Court was now tasked with determining whether there was a similar hostility towards the religion of the florist in Arlene's Flowers, Baronnelle Stutzman, and if so, applying strict scrutiny.
The Washington Supreme Court, on page 2 of its 76 page opinion, proclaimed: "We now hold that the answer to the Supreme Court's question is no; the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination . . . ."
The Washington Supreme Court's lengthy opinion admittedly includes passages from its 2017 opinion which thoroughly discussed and applied the First Amendment standards, but it also carefully delves into the question of government hostility toward religion. The court found irrelevant one contested incident involving the Attorney General of Washington which occurred after the Washington Supreme Court's 2017 opinion, noting that the issue was one of adjudicatory animus and not executive branch animus; any claim that there was selective prosecution lacked merit. The Washington Supreme Court also rejected Stutzman's claim that the scope of the injunction in the 2017 opinion mandated that Stutzman "personally attend and participate in same-sex weddings."
The Washington Supreme Court's opinion concludes that "After careful review on remand, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. We again affirm the trial court's rulings."
It is a solid well-reasoned unanimous opinion, but given this hard-fought and well-financed litigation, it's likely that Arlene's Flowers will again petition the United States Supreme Court for certiorari.
image: Vincent Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase, circa 1887, via.
June 7, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, April 26, 2019
In its extensive opinion in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that the right to abortion in protected under its state constitution and regulations of the fundamental right should be subject to strict scrutiny.
The per curiam opinion is exceedingly clear that the opinion rests on independent state constitutional grounds and that it is interpreting §1 of the Kansas state Constitution, adopted in 1859: "All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The court specifically finds that this provision creates judicially enforceable "natural rights" such as the right to "personal autonomy" to make decisions regarding our bodies, health care, family formation, and family life, including a woman's right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.
Having held that the right to an abortion is encompassed within the fundamental right bodily autonomy, the Kansas Supreme Court held that strict scrutiny should apply, which the court articulated as prohibited the state from restricting that right unless it can show it is doing so to further a compelling government interest and in a way that is narrowly tailored to that interest.
At issue in the case is Kansas S.B. 95, passed in 2015, now K.S.A. 65-6741 through 65-6749, which prohibits physicians from performing a specific abortion method referred to in medical terms as Dilation and Evacuation (D & E) except when "necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman" or to prevent a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."
The trial court had issued a preliminary injunction, which the Kansas Supreme Court upheld, but remanded the case for a fuller evidentiary hearing applying strict scrutiny.
via & caption: Kansas Supreme Court
Seated left to right: Hon. Marla J. Luckert, Hon. Lawton R. Nuss, Chief Justice; Hon. Carol A. Beier.
Standing left to right: Hon. Dan Biles, Hon. Eric S. Rosen, Hon. Lee A. Johnson, and Hon. Caleb Stegall.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Dan Biles argued that the majority should be more explicit in articulating how strict scrutiny should be applied in the abortion context, suggesting what "our state test should look like using an evidence-based analytical model taken from Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt" (2016). Justice Biles provided a very detailed roadmap that would be attractive to the trial court. Justice Biles also placed the decision within developments in state constitutional law on abortion:
It is also worth mentioning our court has not gone rogue today. By my count, appellate courts in 17 states have addressed whether their state constitutions independently protect a pregnant woman's decisions regarding her pregnancy from unjustifiable government interference. Of those, 13 have plainly held they do. [citations omitted].
The sole dissenting Justice of the seven Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court (pictured above) was Justice Caleb Stegall, who relied on numerous dissenting opinions in both the United States Supreme Court and Kansas Supreme Court. He began his opinion by stating "This case is not only about abortion policy—the most divisive social issue of our day—it is more elementally about the structure of our republican form of government." In essence, he considers the majority to be taking an activist stance. The majority opinion does devote more than a little attention to refuting and engaging with the dissent's arguments.
Because the case cannot be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court (given that the state's highest court decided it on the independent ground of its state constitution, unless it is argued it infringes on another constitutional right), subsequent constitutional law issues will be concentrated on what happens in the trial court and what might happen in other states.
April 26, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 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)
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in North Carolina Dept of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust posing the question of whether a state's taxation of a trust based solely on the residence of a beneficiary violates due process.
Professors Bridget Crawford (pictured left) and Michelle Simon (pictured below) in their article in UCLA Law Review Discourse compellingly argue that the Court should hold that a state has no constitutional authority to impose a tax on trust income where the trust’s only connection with the forum state is the residence of a contingent beneficiary. In The Supreme Court, Due Process and State Income Taxation of Trusts they contend that "Kaestner Trust is the most important due process case involving trusts that the Court has decided in over sixty years; it bears directly on the fundamental meaning of due process."
Crawford and Simon also provide a useful primer on the law and facts relevant to the issues of due process. They state that for some "lawyers and lucky individuals," a "list of common verbal triads includes the words 'grantor, trustee, and beneficiary,'" which will be just as familiar as other words that "seem to roll off the tongue naturally in threes" such as tic-tac-toe, snap, crackle, pop; Larry, Curly, and Moe; and peas porridge hot. However, if one is not one of those "lucky individuals" and perhaps is even a bit shy of trusts and taxation, the article proves itself a patient and trustworthy guide.
The article's well-earned conclusion states:
Justice Harry Blackmun famously said that he knew he was “in the doghouse” with the Chief Justice if he received an assignment to write the opinion in a tax case. But Kaestner Trust is no dog of a case. It broadly implicates basic principles of due process. There are many reasons to allow each state to implement its own tax (and strong arguments in favor of a more uniform approach), but it would be fundamentally unfair to require a trust to pay income tax to a jurisdiction solely on the basis of the residence of a discretionary trust beneficiary who does not actually receive any trust distributions. Once the beneficiary receives trust income, it is reasonable in all respects to subject that income to taxation. The Court’s decision in Kaestner Trust will have lasting impact on the future of due process jurisprudence.
Ultimately, trusts are creatures of legal fiction. They exist because the law tolerates the idea that it is possible to split legal and equitable title to property. Trusts are not the inevitable consequence of some right to control property; their existence reflects the acceptance of the story of split ownership. In the case of trust law, fiction is already strange enough. State income taxation should hew close enough to material reality that a trust is taxed only when the trust has some meaningful connection with the jurisdiction. An accident of fate—such as where a wholly discretionary beneficiary decides to live—should not trigger income taxation.
A must-read for ConLawProfs seeking to understand Kaestner Trust and for whichever Justice (and clerks) assigned to write the opinion.
Friday, December 28, 2018
In its opinion in Alliance for Open Society International v. United States Agency for International Development, the Second Circuit split in its application of the United States Supreme Court's 2013 opinion in the same case.
Recall that United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International involved a First Amendment challenge to a provision of a federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work. In the relative brief opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held the spending conditions of requiring an "anti-prostitution pledge" were unconstitutional because they were not limits of the government spending program itself that specified the activities that Congress wants to subsidize, but were "conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself."
The subsequent litigation revolved around the reach of this holding. For the district judge and the majority of the Second Circuit panel, the holding included the plaintiff organizations and their "foreign affiliates." For dissenting Judge Chester Straub, the "foreign affiliates" possess "no constitutional rights" and the United States government was free to deny them funding for failure to comply with an otherwise unconstitutional condition. For Judge Straub, the majority misconstrued the United States Supreme Court's opinion, extending it to some vague and ill-defined set of "closely aligned" ("whatever that may mean") foreign entities. But the majority opinion, authored by Judge Barrington Parker, rejoined that it is not the First Amendment rights of the foreign entities that are violated, but the domestic organization's speech that is compelled. For the majority, if the government — and by extension, the dissenting Judge — "is right, then Chief Justice Roberts was wrong."
Friday, November 23, 2018
In an opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves enjoined the Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks as unconstitutional.
Judge Reeves had previously entered a temporary restraining order, which this order and opinion makes permanent. Judge Reeves holds that Mississippi's H.B. 1510 is a clearly unconstitutional violation of due process under Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) which makes viability the marker before which states may not ban abortions. Judge Reeves's opinion then asks "So, why are we here?" The opinion answers its own query by explaining that "the State of Mississippi contends that every court who ruled on a case such as this “misinterpreted or misapplied prior Supreme Court abortion precedent," and argues that the bill only "regulates" abortions. Judge Reeves concluded that the State "characterization" of the law as a regulation was incorrect; the law's very title stated it was "to prohibit." Additionally, Judge Reeves concluded:
The State is wrong on the law. The Casey court confirmed that the “State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child” and it may regulate abortions in pursuit of those legitimate interests.Those regulations are constitutional only if they do not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion.But “this ‘undue burden’/‘substantial obstacle’ mode of analysis has no place where, as here, the state is forbidding certain women from choosing pre-viability abortions rather than specifying the conditions under which such abortions are to be allowed.”There is no legitimate state interest strong enough, prior to viability, to justify a ban on abortions.
Judge Reeves also expressed "frustration" with the Mississippi legislature passing a law it knew was unconstitutional, "aware that this type of litigation costs the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money," to "endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade." Judge Reeves chastised the Mississippi Legislature for its "disingenuous calculations," augmented with a footnote (n.40) that begins "The Mississippi Legislature has a history of disregarding the constitutional rights of its citizens," and followed by citation and parenthetical explanations of a half-dozen cases.
Judge Reeves' concluding section to the seventeen page opinion reiterates some of these concerns and adds that "With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court, it may be that the State believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation. Time will tell." Judge Reeves specifically mentions the amicus brief of women in the legal profession regarding their abortions in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), and also adds:
The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the Court. As Sarah Weddington argued to the nine men on the Supreme Court in 1971 when representing “Jane Roe,” “a pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life.”As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
In his opinion in Brackeen v. Zinke, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, Reed O'Connor, entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs and found that portions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA are unconstitutional, specifically violating equal protection, the non-delegation doctrine of Article I, and the commandeering principle of the Tenth Amendment. Passed in 1978, the general purpose of ICWA is to prevent Native children from being removed from their families and tribes based on a finding that "an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families [were being] broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies” as Judge O'Connor's opinion acknowledged, quoting Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013) (quoting 25 U.S.C. § 1901(4)).
Judge Reed O'Connor, however, accepts an argument that was sidestepped by the United States Supreme Court in Baby Girl: that ICWA violates equal protection (applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment) by making a racial classification that does not survive strict scrutiny. Recall that in some briefs as well as in the oral argument, the specter of the racial classification was raised. In United States District Judge O'Connor's opinion, that specter is fully embodied. Judge O'Connor found that ICWA does make a racial classification, rejecting the government's view that the classification at issue was a political category. Judge O'Connor reasoned that ICWA defines Indian child not only by membership in an Indian child, but extends its coverage to children "simply eligible for membership who have a biological Indian parent." Thus, Judge O'Connor reasoned, ICWA's definition "uses ancestry as a proxy for race" and therefore must be subject to strict scrutiny. Interestingly, the United States government did not offer any compelling governmental interest or argued that the classification is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. Judge O'Connor nevertheless credited the Tribal Defendants/Intervenors assertion of an interest in maintaining the Indian child's relationship with the tribe, but found that the means chosen was overinclusive, concluding that
The ICWA’s racial classification applies to potential Indian children, including those who will never be members of their ancestral tribe, those who will ultimately be placed with non-tribal family members, and those who will be adopted by members of other tribes.
On the non-delegation claim, Judge Reed O'Connor found it fatal that ICWA allows Tribes to change the child placement preferences selected by Congress and which then must be honored by the states in child custody proceedings.
On the Tenth Amendment claim, Judge Reed O'Connor relied on the Court's recent decision in Murphy v. NCAA holding unconstitutional a federal law prohibiting states from allowing sports gambling regarding anti-commandeering, concluding that
Congress violated all three principles [articulated in Murphy] when it enacted the ICWA. First, the ICWA offends the structure of the Constitution by overstepping the division of federal and state authority over Indian affairs by commanding States to impose federal standards in state created causes of action. See 25 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Second, because the ICWA only applies in custody proceedings arising under state law, it appears to the public as if state courts or legislatures are responsible for federally-mandated standards, meaning “responsibility is blurred.” Third, the ICWA shifts “the costs of regulations to the States” by giving the sole power to enforce a federal policy to the States. Congress is similarly not forced to weigh costs the States incur enforcing the ICWA against the benefits of doing so. In sum, Congress shifts all responsibility to the States, yet “unequivocally dictates” what they must do.
[citations to Murphy omitted].
October 10, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Nondelegation Doctrine, Opinion Analysis, Race, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 7, 2018
In his Order in L. v. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Southern District of California United States District Judge Dana Sabraw denied the government's motion to dismiss the constitutional claim challenging ICE's separation of plaintiff parents and children at the border.
Judge Sabraw first found that the complaint was not moot because the government defendants "have not shown that Ms. L. was released from detention and reunited with her daughter for reasons other than this litigation," and thus "the voluntary cessation exception applies to this case."
In considering whether the complaint's allegations of a denial of due process under the Fifth Amendment should be dismissed, Judge Sabraw discussed the bedrock principles that the Constitution applies to non-citizens within the United States and that the Due Process Clause includes a "right to family integrity or to familial association." Judge Sabraw distinguished other cases in the immigration context finding that here the plaintiffs were detained with their children:
Here, the Court is faced with Plaintiffs who present different circumstances, but each Plaintiff has demonstrated that the right to family integrity encompasses her particular situation. According to the allegations in the Amended Complaint, Ms. L. did everything right. She and her child presented at the port of entry and requested asylum. She passed a credible fear screening interview, was taken out of expedited removal proceedings, and placed in removal proceedings before an IJ to pursue her asylum claim. Ms. C., by contrast, did not do everything right. She committed a crime by entering the United States illegally, and was prosecuted and imprisoned for her transgression: 25 days in custody for misdemeanor violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1325 (illegal entry). However, having served her sentence, Ms. C. was then returned to ICE detention to pursue her asylum claim, as she too had passed a credible fear screening. Ms. C., therefore, is on equal footing with Ms. L. for purposes of pursuing her due process claim. Ms. L.’s claim is based on the initial separation from her child, while Ms. C.’s claim is based on the continued separation from her child. Both claims focus on government conduct in separating families during removal proceedings.
Judge Sabraw applied the "shocks the conscience" test for due process and elaborated that due process protects against "governmental conduct that violates the “decencies of civilized conduct," interferes with rights “‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty," and is so “‘brutal’ and ‘offensive’ that it [does] not comport with traditional ideas of fair play and decency"(citing cases).
Judge Sabraw recounted the allegations of trauma for both parents and children, and concluded:
These allegations call sharply into question the separations of Plaintiffs from their minor children. This is especially so because Plaintiffs allegedly came to the United States seeking shelter from persecution in their home countries, and are seeking asylum here. For Plaintiffs, the government actors responsible for the “care and custody” of migrant children have, in fact, become their persecutors. This is even more problematic given Plaintiffs’ allegations and assertions that there is a government practice, and possibly a forthcoming policy, to separate parents from their minor children in an effort to deter others from coming to the United States. This alleged practice is being implemented even when parents like Ms. L. and Ms. C. have passed credible fear interviews, and therefore, are positioned to present asylum claims meriting consideration by an IJ in their removal proceedings. These allegations sufficiently describe government conduct that arbitrarily tears at the sacred bond between parent and child, and is emblematic of the “exercise of power without any reasonable justification in the service of an otherwise legitimate governmental objective[.]” [citation omitted] Such conduct, if true, as it is assumed to be on the present motion, is brutal, offensive, and fails to comport with traditional notions of fair play and decency. At a minimum, the facts alleged are sufficient to show the government conduct at issue “shocks the conscience” and violates Plaintiffs’ constitutional right to family integrity. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ due process claim is denied.
Judge Sabraw did dismiss the counts alleging a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (finding "Plaintiffs have failed to allege facts sufficient to show “final agency action” subject to review under the APA") and a violation of the Asylum Act (finding no authority for a private right of action).
But the claim for a Due Process Clause violation will proceed as the United States government seems to arguing family separation is a permanent policy.
[image: "Cloak of Conscience" by Anna Chromy, via]
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in which the Ninth Circuit upheld the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act).
The California law requires that licensed pregnancy-related clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, must disseminate a notice stating the existence of publicly- funded family-planning services, including contraception and abortion, and requires that unlicensed clinics disseminate a notice stating that they are not licensed by the State of California. The California legislature had found that the approximately 200 CPCs in California employ “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices [that] often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women from making fully-informed, time-sensitive decisions about critical health care.”
The California law is not unique, but as we previously discussed when certiorari was granted, other courts have consider similar provisions with mixed conclusions.
The arguments raised several questions but one that recurred was the relevance of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) in which the Court upheld the informed consent provisions of a state law mandating "providing information about medical assistance for childbirth, information about child support from the father, and a list of agencies which provide adoption and other services as alternatives to abortion." Justice Breyer's invocation of the maxim "sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander" pointed to the question of why California could not also mandate that CPC's provide notice. Arguing for the challengers, Michael Farris argued that the distinction was that the CPC's were not medical, although there was much discussion of this including the definition of medical procedures such as sonograms and pregnancy tests.
Appearing for neither party, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall nevertheless strongly advocated against the California law. Near the end of Wall's argument, Justice Alito raised the subject of professional speech proposed by the United States brief, stating that it "troubles me" and seemed inconsistent with United States v. Stevens (2010) regarding not recognizing new categories of unprotected speech. (Recall that Alito was the lone dissent in the Court's conclusion that criminalizing "crush porn" violated the First Amendment). Alito also referenced the Fourth Circuit's "fortune teller" case, in which the court upheld special regulations aimed at fortune tellers. For Wall, laws that mandate disclosures by historically regulated professions such as doctors and lawyers should be subject only to minimal scrutiny.
The main issue raised regarding California's position was whether or not the statute was targeted at pro-life clinics, especially given the "gerrymandered" nature of the statute's exceptions. The Justices also directed questions to Deputy Solicitor of California Joshua Klein regarding the advertising requirements and disclaimers: must a facility state it is not licensed even if it is not advertising services, but simply has a billboard "Pro Life"?
Will it be sauce for the goose as well as for the gander?
The intersection of First Amendment principles and abortion jurisprudence makes the outcome even more difficult to predict than notoriously difficult First Amendment cases.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
In a 55 page opinion in the consolidated cases of Vidal v. Nielsen and New York v. Trump, United States District Judge Nicholas Garaufis granted a preliminary injunction against the rescission of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, covering 800,000 people in the United States who are not citizens but who have been residents since childhood.
Recall that New York, joined by 15 other states and D.C. filed a complaint last September alleging the DACA rescission violated the constitution as well as being unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Judge Garaufis's Order is based on a violation of the APA finding the rescission arbitrary and capricious based in part on the Attorney General Jefferson Sessions's memo finding the DACA program unconstitutional.
After an extended analysis of Sessions's Letter, Judge Garaufis writes
To the extent the decision to end the DAGA program was based on the Attorney General's determination that the program is unconstitutional, that determination was legally erroneous, and the decision was therefore arbitrary and capricious. The court does not address whether the DACA program might be unconstitutional on grounds other than those identified by the Attorney General, as any such grounds are not fairly before the court.
Judge Garaufis also made clear the limited scope of the preliminary injunction:
This order does not hold that the rescission of DACA was unlawful. That question is for summary judgment, not motions for a preliminary injunction. Cf. Hamilton Watch Co. v. Benrus Watch Co., 206 F.2d 738, 742 (2d Cir. 1953) (“[A] preliminaiy injunction . . . is, by its very nature, interlocutory, tentative, provisional, ad interim, impermanent, mutable, not ﬁxed or ﬁnal or conclusive, characterized by its for-the-time-beingness.”).
This order does not hold that Defendants may not rescind the DACA program. Even if the court ultimately ﬁnds that Defendants’ stated rationale for ending the DACA program was legally deﬁcient, the ordinary remedy is for the court to remand the decision to DHS for reconsideration. On remand, DHS “might later, in the exercise of its lawful discretion, reach the same result for a different reason.
This order does not require Defendants to grant any particular DACA applications or renewal requests. Restoring the DACA program to the status quo as of September 4, 2017, does not mean that every DACA recipient who requests renewal of his or her deferred action and work authorization will receive it. The DACA program identiﬁed “criteria [that] should be satisﬁed before an individual is considered for an exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” (2012 DACA Memo at 1.) It did not require immigration ofﬁcials to defer action against any individuals who met these criteria; to the contrary, the 2012 DACA Memo stated that DHS would exercise prosecutorial discretion “on an individual basis” and would not “provide any assurance that relief will be granted in all cases.” Preserving the status quo means only that Defendants must continue considering DACA applications and renewal requests, not that they must grant all such applications and requests. This order does not prevent Defendants’ from revoking individual DACA recipients’ deferred action or work authorization. Under the 2012 DACA Memo, DHS may terminate a DACA recipient’s deferred action “at any time, with or without a Notice of Intent to Terminate, at [its] discretion.” Maintaining the status quo does nothing to alter that.
Monday, February 12, 2018
In its opinion in Perez v. City of Roseville, a panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed a district judge's granting of summary judgment to the government on a constitutional challenge by Janelle Perez to her termination from the City of Roseville after an internal affairs investigation into her "romantic relationship" with a fellow officer. The investigation noted that both officers "are married and have young children."
Authored by Judge Reinhardt, the opinion noted that its conclusion was required by Thorne v. City of El Segundo, 726 F.2d 459 (9th Cir. 1983), in which the Ninth Circuit held that the city violated Thorne's constitutional rights when it relied on her private, non-job-related sexual conduct as a clerk-typist in refusing to hire her as an officer, without “any showing that [her] private, off-duty personal activities ... [had] an impact upon [her] on-the-job performance,” or contravened “specific policies with narrow implementing regulations.” Likewise, Roseville failed to "introduce sufficient evidence that Perez’s affair had any meaningful impact upon her job performance."
Interestingly, the Ninth Circuit identifies a circuit split on the issue: We recognize that, since Thorne, at least two other circuits have adopted rules that appear to be in some tension with our case. See Coker v. Whittington, 858 F.3d 304, 306 (5th Cir. 2017) (concluding Constitution not violated where two sheriff’s deputies were fired for moving in with each other’s wives before finalizing divorce from their current wives because the Sheriff’s policies were supported by a rational basis); Seegmiller v. LaVerkin City, 528 F.3d 762, 770 (10th Cir. 2008) (upholding termination of officer on basis of extramarital affair under rational basis test because there is no “fundamental liberty interest ‘to engage in a private act of consensual sex’”). > However, the Ninth Circuit rejects the "approach taken by the Fifth and Tenth Circuits" for two reasons. First, there is the "binding precedent" of Thorne:
Because the State’s actions in this case “intrude on the core of a person’s constitutionally protected privacy and associational interests,” we must analyze them under “heightened scrutiny.” Thorne, 726 F.2d at 470. Moreover, even if we were to agree that the Department’s action here need only satisfy rational basis review, Thorne explains that it cannot survive any level of scrutiny without either a showing of a negative impact on job performance or violation of a constitutionally permissible, narrowly drawn regulation. Id. at 471. Under our precedent, the Department must do more than cite a broad, standardless rule against “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Second, the "Fifth and Tenth Circuits fail to appreciate the impact of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), on the jurisprudence of the constitutional right to sexual autonomy."
"Lawrence did much more than merely conclude that Texas’ anti-sodomy law failed the rational basis test. Instead, it recognized that intimate sexual conduct represents an aspect of the substantive liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. As such, the constitutional infirmity in Texas’ law stemmed from neither its mere irrationality nor its burdening of a fundamental right to engage in homosexual conduct (or even private consensual sexual conduct, Rather, Texas’ law ran afoul of the Constitution’s protection of substantive liberty by imposing a special stigma of moral disapproval on intimate same-sex relationships in particular. As the Court explained, the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause must extend equally to all intimate sexual conduct between consenting adults, regardless of whether they are of the same sex or not, married or unmarried. . . . Lawrence makes clear that the State may not stigmatize private sexual conduct simply because the majority has “traditionally viewed a particular practice,” such as extramarital sex, “as immoral.” Thus, without a showing of adverse job impact or violation of a narrow, constitutionally valid departmental rule, the Constitution forbids the Department from expressing its moral disapproval of Perez’s extramarital affair by terminating her employment on that basis.
Thus, the Ninth Circuit holds that Thorne, decided 20 years before Lawrence was correct and the Fifth and Tenth Circuit opinions, both decided after Lawrence, do not give Lawrence proper effect.
Concurring, Judge Tashima stresses that Perez was a probationary police officer and thus the government need not have provided reasons. However, when the government did provide reasons "those reasons all arose in such short order after the internal affairs review that a reasonable inference may be drawn that they may have been pretextual." Additionally, the majority opinion held that the government had no right to qualified immunity because the rights were clearly established, again relying on Thorne, decided in 1983.
The majority panel opinion rejected a procedural due process claim and a gender discrimination claim.The court thus reversed the summary judgment in favor of the government and remanded the case for further proceedings given the factual disputes regarding the actual reasons Perez was termination.
Monday, January 29, 2018
In its opinion in C.J.L.G. v. Sessions, a panel of the Ninth Circuit held that neither the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment nor the Immigration & Nationality Act includes a right to court-appointed counsel for minors.
C.J., a thirteen year old, fled Honduras with his mother after being threatened at gunpoint to join a gang, and arrived in the United States without documentation. Neither spoke English. In the removal proceedings, his mother was informed she could obtain an attorney, but she stated that she could not afford one. She filled out forms to request relief. Eventually an immigration judge held a brief hearing and issued a written denial of the application for asylum. withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture, finding the minor had not demonstrated a well-founded fear of persecution or membership in a protected group, and that there was fear of torture or acquiescence of the government.
In a very brief concurring opinion, Judge John Owens notes that C.J., who was with his mother, was not an unaccompanied minor: "The opinion does not hold, or even discuss, whether the Due Process Clause mandates counsel for unaccompanied minors. That is a different question that could lead to a different answer."
Nevertheless, in the opinion by Judge Consuelo M. Callahan for what is essentially a unanimous panel, C.J.'s mother is not an advantage for C.J. Indeed, as the court's opinion states,
In C.J.’s case, the onus was almost entirely on the IJ [immigration judge] to develop the record. C.J.’s mother was ill-equipped to understand the proceedings or to comprehend C.J.’s burden in establishing eligibility for relief, and the government asked no questions. Thus, it was up to the IJ to discover any facts that might support C.J.’s asylum claim.
Judge Callahan notes that "alien minors" have the same Due Process rights as any other persons, and that there is a right to counsel under the federal statute and regulations, it is a different question whether C.J. is "entitled to court- appointed counsel at government expense—a privilege that Congress has not conferred." Additionally, to prevail C.J. must demonstrate that the denial of an attorney "prejudiced the outcome of his removal proceeding."
The court distinguished previous Ninth Circuit precedent regarding counsel who was inadequate, concluding that this did not include a right to court-appointed counsel. The court also refused to extend In re Gault (1967), holding that minors are entitled to court appointed counsel in some juvenile proceedings:
Nothing in Gaultor its progeny compels the outcome that minors in civil immigration proceedings who do not face the threat of incarceration are categorically entitled to court-appointed counsel. Indeed, “the [Supreme] Court has [never] determined that due process principles of fundamental fairness categorically require counsel in any context outside criminal proceedings.” Turner[ v. Rogers], 564 U.S. at 454 (Thomas, J., dissenting). We therefore hold that it is not established law that alien minors are categorically entitled to government- funded, court-appointed counsel.
The court then engaged in a Matthews v. Eldridge balancing test for procedural due process, to “determine what process is due by balancing (1) the private interest at stake, (2) ‘the risk of an erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional safeguards,’ and (3) the government’s interest, including the burdens of any additional process.” The court found some appeal with the government's argument that there was only a slight private interest because C.J. had only been in the United States a few days, but concluded that C.J. did meet the first factor because the gang "attempted to recruit him under duress—at gunpoint no less—before he fled provides reason to believe that C.J. would encounter similar threats and perhaps worse upon his return."
As to the second Matthews factor, the court acknowledged that an attorney usually makes a difference in removal proceedings for minors, but considered whether here the Immigration Judge provided a "full and fair hearing" but considering the elements of the claim and the evidence. Although the court stated that "To be sure, C.J.’s removal proceeding was not a paragon of procedural decorum" and the "IJ should have more clearly explained the standard for asylum relief," the court nevertheless concluded that "C.J. falls well short of accomplishing this Herculean task [of satisfying this factor] because he fails to show that the process Congress prescribed is categorically inadequate to vindicate an alien minor’s right to due process. The second Mathews factor favors the government."
Friday, January 19, 2018
The United States Supreme Court has granted the Trump Administration's petition for 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 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 United States Supreme Court will also be considering the Establishment Clause issue. Recall that the Ninth Circuit did not reach the Establishment Clause issue. However, the United States Supreme Court's grant of certiorari states that the parties are directed to brief and argue Question 3 presented by the opposition brief of Hawai'i. That question presented is simply phrased: "Whether Proclamation 9645 violates the Establishment Clause."
Recall that the United States Supreme Court previously granted certiorari in Hawai'i v. Trump, as well as IRAP v. Trump from the Fourth Circuit regarding Travel Ban 2.0, but then remanded the cases to be dismissed as moot when that Executive Order was replaced by the current incarnation.
One important issue in the Establishment Clause litigation is whether the travel ban "targets" a particular religion. Somewhat similarly, an important issue under the Immigration and Nationality Act is whether the travel ban constitutes "nationality discrimination."
These issues have involved consideration of whether the "taint" of statements from candidate Trump and President Trump during the earliest days of the Administration would continue to be viable to this third iteration of the travel ban. It is also likely that much more recent statements allegedly made by the President regarding immigration will be raised.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
The Court heard oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission with extensive arguments from the attorney for the cakeshop (Kristen Waggoner), the Solicitor General, the Colorado Solicitor General, and the attorney for the would-be customers (David Cole).
As predictable, the oral argument was filled with the expansiveness or limits of any doctrine that would permit the cakemaker to refuse to bake a cake for the same-sex wedding reception. Early on, Justices Ginsburg and Kagan asked Waggoner about florists and invitation designers, who Waggoner stated would be engaging in speech, but said "absolutely not" for the hair stylist. Drawing the line - - - what about the chef? the sandwich artist? - - - preoccupied this initial portion of the argument. However, another limitation that permeated the case was whether the cakemaker's refusal could apply to racial or other identities as well as sexual orientation, or perhaps, whether it was based on identity at all. For Kennedy, the issue could be that "there's basically an ability to boycott gay marriage."
Also for Kennedy, however, the question is whether Colorado had been "tolerant" or "respectful" of the cakemaker's religious beliefs. This invocation of the Free Exercise Clause was given heft by a statement by one of the Commissioners of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as quoted by Kennedy that "freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric." Kennedy asks the Colorado Solicitor General to "disavow or disapprove" of that statement. Kennedy characterizes the statement as expressing a hostility to religion and later lectures the Colorado attorney:
Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it's mutual.
It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs.
In Waggoner's rebuttal, Justice Sotomayor proffered a different view:
Counsel, the problem is that America's reaction to mixed marriages and to race didn't change on its own. It changed because we had public accommodation laws that forced people to do things that many claimed were against their expressive rights and against their religious rights.
It's not denigrating someone by saying, as I mentioned earlier, to say: If you choose to participate in our community in a public way, your choice, you can choose to sell cakes or not. You can choose to sell cupcakes or not, whatever it is you choose to sell, you have to sell it to everyone who knocks on your door, if you open your door to everyone.
While it's always perilous to predict the outcome of a decision based n oral argument, if Justice Kennedy is the deciding vote, his attention to the religious aspects of the challenge could make the free speech argument less consequential.
Monday, December 4, 2017
Preview of Masterpiece Cakeshop Argument on First Amendment Challenge to Anti-Discrimination Statute
Set for oral argument Tuesday, December 5, 2017, the high visibility case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission can be seen as a clash of constitutional principles of individual conscience vs. equality, or as a federalism case, or as part of the backlash to LGBTQ rights, or as part of the rise of religiously-motivated challenges to secular laws.
Recall that a cake-maker seeks the right to refuse to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, asserting an exemption from Colorado's anti-discrimination law on the basis of the First Amendment's Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses. In the state proceedings, the Colorado Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) rejected the contention that "preparing a wedding cake is necessarily a medium of expression amounting to protected 'speech,' " or that compelling the treatment of "same-sex and heterosexual couples equally is the equivalent of forcing" adherence to “an ideological point of view.” The ALJ continued that while there "is no doubt that decorating a wedding cake involves considerable skill and artistry," the "finished product does not necessarily qualify as 'speech.'" On the Free Exercise claim, the ALJ rejected the contention that it merited strict scrutiny, noting that the anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test. A Colorado appellate court affirmed in a lengthy opinion, rejecting the First Amendment claims.
On the First Amendment speech claim, the initial hurdle for the cakemaker is establishing that the cake constitutes speech. The cakemaker argues that he is a "cake artist." The Court has held that symbolic speech needs to convey a particularized and understood message, Spence v. Washington (1974), but that includes the "unquestionably shielded painting of Jackson Pollock, music of Arnold Schonberg, or Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll," Hurley v. Irish American Gay Group of Boston (1995). The cakemaker has also argued that the cake itself is so central to the wedding as to be a participant. Thus, the cakemaker as business owner should be able to refuse to make cakes for events with which he disagrees otherwise his speech is being compelled, akin to the landmark flag salute case of West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette (1943).
On the religious claim, the cakemaker essentially argues that the Colorado anti-discrimination law is not a law of neutral and general applicability because it includes sexual orientation as a protected ground and therefore targets (certain) religions, and thus strict scrutiny applies.
On both claims, the oral arguments will most likely include explorations of the slippery slopes. If the cake is art, then what about restaurant dinners? Photography? Bed and breakfasts? If the cake is akin to a participant in the wedding celebration, then would the rule extend to birthdays? And can the exemption for individual conscience be limited to sexual orientation? What about race? Ethnicity or national origin? Gender?
There are a little less than 50 amicus briefs on each side. The Court has allowed the Solicitor General of the United States to participate in oral argument on the side of the cakemaker, and for the respondents (the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the original would-be customers) to both participate.
The case has attracted extensive commentary (here's a good round-up by Edith Roberts on SCOTUSBlog) and there is certainly much more to come.
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.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
In its opinion in McLaughlin v. McLaughlin (Jones), the Arizona Supreme Court interpreted the United States Constitution to require that the statutory presumption of parentage applies to a woman in a same-sex marriage in the same way as would to a man in a different-sex marriage.
The Arizona Supreme Court relied on the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges as well as the Court's per curiam opinion a few months ago in Pavan v. Smith, reversing the Arkansas Supreme Court's divided decision to deny a same-sex parent's name be listed on the child's birth certificate. The Arizona Supreme Court in McLaughlin, echoing Pavan, quoted Obergefell as constitutionally requiring same-sex married couples be afforded the “constellation of benefits the States have linked to marriage.”
The majority opinion of the Arizona Supreme Court, authored by Chief Justice Scott Bales, rejected the interpretation of Obergefell advanced by Kimberly McLaughlin, the biological mother, that "Obergefell does not require extending statutory benefits linked to marriage to include same-sex couples; rather, it only invalidates laws prohibiting same-sex marriage." Instead, Chief Justice Bales wrote that that such a "constricted reading is precluded by Obergefell itself ad the Supreme Court's recent decision in Pavan v. Smith." Moreover, as in Pavan, the statute itself did not rest on biology but sought to sideline it. The marital presumption assigns paternity based on marriage to the birth mother, not biological relationship to the child. Thus, any differential treatment cannot be justified and the statute was unconstitutional as applied.
As a remedy, Judge Bales' opinion concluded that the extension of the presumption rather than striking the presumption was proper, relying on yet distinguishing the Court's recent decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana. It was on this issue that one Justice dissented, contending that the court was rewriting the statute. Two other Justices wrote separately to concur on the remedy issue, noting that the majority must follow the United States Supreme Court and "circumstances require us to drive a remedial square peg into a statutory round hole," but "nothing in the majority opinion prevents the legislature from fashioning a broader or more suitable solution by amending or revoking" the statute.
Perhaps the Arizona legislature will see fit to abolish the marital presumption for all children?
September 20, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, September 3, 2017
In its unanimous panel opinion in D.T. v. Patton (and the Denver Department of Health and Human Services), the Tenth Circuit recognized a claim for substantive due process and rejected qualified immunity based on a social worker's removal of the adolescent child, D.T., from his mother and recommending to the court that D.T. be placed with his father, who sexually abused him.
The court distinguished the landmark case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989), in which the United States Supreme Court held, in somewhat similar circumstances, that state officials are not liable for private-violence under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court relied on the "danger-creation" exception to the DeShaney doctrine, which allows liability if “a state actor affirmatively acts to create, or increase a plaintiff’s vulnerability to, danger from private violence." The court cited the Tenth Circuit's 2001 decision in Currier v. Doran, noting that "all circuits" have carved out a similar exception (in addition to the special-relationship exception), although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on such exceptions.
Writing for the majority, Judge Scott Matheson extensive opinion discussed both DeShaney and Currier, including the elements developed in Currier:
- the charged state entity and the charged individual actors created the danger or increased plaintiff’s vulnerability to the danger in some way;
- plaintiff was a member of a limited and specifically definable group;
- defendants’ conduct put plaintiff at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm;
- the risk was obvious or known;
- defendants acted recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk; and
- such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking.
Judge Matheson's opinion then analyzed analyzed each of these. Of central importance was the fact that the social worker knew of the father's previous conviction of attempted sexual assault on a minor, his step-daughter, as well as the father's violation of probation for contacting her and his failure to fulfill his sex offender treatment with regard to that conviction, in addition to "other charged offenses including misdemeanor wrongs to minors and misdemeanor domestic violence." The social worker omitted these facts as well as her concerns about them from the court because of her supervisor's comments and her resultant fear she would be terminated from her employment if she shared these facts. Moreover, she failed to investigate D.T.'s situation once he was placed in his father's home, and recorded her visits to the home that did not actually occur.
On qualified immunity, the court found that Currier clearly established a right that she violated. The court rejected the social worker's arguments attempting to draw lines between her pre-placement and post-placement conduct. The court also rejected the social worker's claims to avoid responsibility by sharing it with her "team" or assigning it to her supervisor. The court found that she was the major actor and withheld facts from her team. And while her supervisor might also be liable,
Ms. Patton’s reasons for deleting parts of her initial report to the juvenile court that outlined her concerns about T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson (i.e., to avoid being fired) support that she knew of the danger posed to T.D. in Mr. Duerson’s home and that she consciously disregarded that risk.
The court thus affirmed the grant of summary judgment to D.T. by the district judge.
Concurring, Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, who has been on the Tenth Circuit since 1995, expressed her belief that Currier was wrongly decided in 2001 and conflicts with DeShaney. For Judge Briscoe,
As a general matter, I find it hard to conclude that a social worker can be “responsible for” the independent decision of a judge who ultimately orders a change of custody. But, even if we assume such responsibility exists, we cannot transform omissions or failures to act into affirmative conduct merely by considering them “in the general context of” a custody recommendation. The only affirmative act that could be found in Currier is the recommendation itself, which, in my view is no different from the affirmative recommendation in DeShaney that Joshua be returned to his father’s custody. . . . This makes the state the permanent guarantor of a child's safety.
Yet the United States Supreme Court failed to grant certiorari in Currier and there is little here to make it likely that a petition for certiorari would not have the same result.
[image "Young Boy Singing" circa 1650 via]
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Federal Judge Declares Louisiana's Restriction on Non-Native Born Marriage Applicants Unconstitutional
In an opinion in Vo v. Gee, Senior United States District Ivan L.R. Lemelle declared Louisiana's Act 436 violates both the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Act 436 amended the requirements to obtain a Louisiana marriage license so that an applicant born outside of the United States must submit a copy of the person's birth certificate under the raised seal or stamp of the vital statistics registration authority of the person's place of birth, with additional requirements if the document is not in English, and a valid and unexpired passport or an unexpired visa accompanied by a Form I-94 issued by the United States, verifying that the applicant is lawfully in the United States. Viet "Victor" Ahn Vo, naturalized as a United States citizen at the age of 8, was nevertheless denied a marriage license because he did not have a birth certificate. Vo was born in Indonesia in a refugee camp to parents who were Vietnamese nationals, relocating to Louisiana when Vo was three months of age.
On the equal protection issue, Judge Lemelle stated that the "birth certificate provisions that the Louisiana legislature enacted creates classifications that distinguish between United States citizens on the basis of their national origin," and thus merits strict scrutiny, requiring a compelling government interest which the statute serves by narrowly tailored means. Without discussing any interests put forward by the state, Judge Lemelle concluded that the "State of Louisiana fails to demonstrate in their opposition that this classification based on national origin furthers a compelling governmental interest." The judge therefore concluded there was an equal protection violation.
On the due process challenge, Judge Lemelle cited the "fundamental right to marry" under Obergefell v. Hodges as well as the Zablocki v. Redhail (1978) test of directly and substantially interfering with marriage as warranting strict scrutiny. The judge rejected Louisiana's claim that a subsequent amendment to the act that allows for a judicial waiver in some cases cures the constitutional defects or rendered the case moot. (Recall that in Zablocki itself the statute allowed a judicial waiver of the bar for past due child support payments as an impediment to marriage). Instead, Judge Lemelle noted that "the failure of the State of Louisiana to proffer any evidence of why this regulation passes constitutional muster" and held it violated due process.
The bulk of Judge Lemelle's relatively brief opinion addresses the more procedural issues of summary judgment and injunction standards, perhaps because the constitutional issues were clear as Louisiana seemingly conceded. Nevertheless, this is an important opinion regarding the issue of differential treatment for non-native born citizens.