Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Writing for the Court, Alito's opinion — joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that although the teachers in these cases were not actually "ministers" by title and did not have as much as religious training as the teacher in Hosanna-Tabor, they are encompassed in the same exception from enforcement of anti-discrimination laws. The Court stated that the First Amendment protects a religious institution's independence on matters of "faith and doctrine" without interference from secular authorities, including selection of its "ministers." But who should qualify as a "minister" subject to this exemption? Recall that the factors of Hosanna-Tabor figured in the oral argument (and recall also that they figured in the Ninth Circuit's opinions). But here, the Court stated that while there may be factors, "What matters, at bottom, is what an employee does," rather than what the employee is titled. Moreover, the "religious institution's explanation of the role of such employees in the life of the religion" is important. Indeed, the religious institution's "explanation" seems determinative. The Court rejected a "rigid formula" for determining whether an employee is within the ministerial exception, concluding instead that:
When a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.
The brief concurring opinion by Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, argues that the Court should go further and essentially make the implicit more explicit: the Court should decline to ever weigh in "on the theological question of which positions qualify as 'ministerial.' "
Sotomayor dissenting opinion, joined by Ginsburg, begins:
Two employers fired their employees allegedly because one had breast cancer and the other was elderly. Purporting to rely on this Court’s decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC (2012), the majority shields those employers from disability and age-discrimination claims. In the Court’s view, because the employees taught short religion modules at Catholic elementary schools, they were “ministers” of the Catholic faith and thus could be fired for any reason, whether religious or nonreligious, benign or bigoted, without legal recourse. The Court reaches this result even though the teachers taught primarily secular subjects, lacked substantial religious titles and training, and were not even required to be Catholic. In foreclosing the teachers’ claims, the Court skews the facts, ignores the applicable standard of review, and collapses Hosanna-Tabor’s careful analysis into a single consideration: whether a church thinks its employees play an important religious role. Because that simplistic approach has no basis in law and strips thousands of school- teachers of their legal protections, I respectfully dissent.
For the dissent, the Court's conclusion has "grave consequences," noting that it is estimated that over 100,000 secular teachers employed by religiously-affiliated schools are now without employment protections. Further, it contrasts Esponiza v. Montana Dept of Revenue, decided this Term, in which the Court "lamented a perceived 'discrimination against religion,'" but here "it swings the pendulum in the extreme opposite direction, permitting religious entities to discriminate widely and with impunity for reasons wholly divorced from religious beliefs." The dissent concludes with a hope that the Court will be "deft" enough to "cabin the consequences" of this ministerial exception, but given the current composition of the Court, that hope seems a narrow one.
Monday, July 6, 2020
A unanimous Supreme Court today upheld a state law that punishes "faithless electors." The ruling means that states can continue to impose fines on individuals appointed to vote in the Electoral College who pledge their vote to one candidate, but actually vote for another. In a companion case (in a brief per curiam opinion), the Court held that a state could remove and replace a faithless elector with an elector who would vote for the winner of the state's popular vote.
The case, Chiafalo v. Washington, arose when three Washington electors who pledged to support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election actually voted for someone else. (They hoped that they could encourage other electors to do the same, and deny Donald Trump the presidency.) The state imposed a $1000 fine for each "faithless elector" for violating their pledge to support the candidate who won the state's popular vote.
The pledge wasn't a problem. The Court in 1952 upheld a pledge requirement, and a state's power to appoint only those electors who would vote for the candidate of the winning political party. But that case, Ray v. Blair, didn't answer the question whether a state could punish a faithless elector.
Today's ruling says yes.
Justice Kagan wrote for the Court. She noted first that the appointment power in Article II, Section 1, authorizes each state to appoint electors "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." This power to appoint "includes a power to condition [the] appointment--that is, to say what the elector must do for the appointment to take effect," including requiring the elector to pledge to cast a vote in the Electoral College that reflects the popular vote in the state. Then: "And nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits States from taking away presidential electors' voting discretion as Washington does." In short, "a law penalizing faithless voting (like a law merely barring that practice) is an exercise of the State's power to impose conditions on the appointment of electors."
The Court also wrote that the practice of punishing a faithless elector is consistent with "long settled and established practice." "Washington's law, penalizing a pledge's breach, is only another in the same vein. It reflects a tradition more than two centuries old. In that practice, electors are not free agents; they are to vote for the candidate whom the State's voters have chosen."
Justice Thomas concurred, joined by Justice Gorsuch. Justice Thomas argued that the question isn't answered by Article II (or anything else in the Constitution), and so gets its answer from the federalism formula in the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
SCOTUS Holds Free Exercise Clause Bars Application of State's No-Aid to Religious Institutions Clause in State Constitution
In its opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships, the majority held that the scheme must be afforded to religious schools so that the Free Exercise Clause was not violated.
Recall that the Montana Supreme Court held that the tax credit program's application to religious schools was unconstitutional under its state constitution, Art. X §6 , which prohibits aid to sectarian schools. This type of no-aid provision is often referred to as (or similar to) a Blaine Amendment and frequently appears in state constitutions.
In a closely-divided decision, the Court decided that the Montana Supreme Court's decision that the tax credit program could not be extended to religious schools should be subject to struct scrutiny under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and did not survive. (The Court therefore stated it need not reach the equal protection clause claims). The Court essentially found that this case was more like Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017) (involving playground resurfacing) and less like Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology. The Court distinguishes Locke v. Davey as pertaining to what Davey proposed "to do" (become a minister) and invoking a "historic and substantial” state interest in not funding the training of clergy. Instead, the Court opined that like Trinity Lutheran, Esponiza "turns expressly on religious status and not religious use."
The Court's opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, is relatively compact at 22 pages. In addition to taking time to distinguish Locke v. Davey, the opinion devotes some discussion to federalism, invoking the Supremacy Clause and Marbury v. Madison in its final section. But the opinion also engages with the dissenting Justices' positions in its text and its footnotes. Along with the concurring opinions, the overall impression of Espinoza is a fragmented Court, despite the carefully crafted majority opinion.
The concurring opinion of Thomas — joined by Gorsuch — reiterates Thomas's view that the Establishment Clause should not apply to the states; the original meaning of the clause was to prevent the federal establishment of religion while allowing states to establish their own religions. While this concurring opinion criticizes the Court's Establishment Clause opinions, it does not confront why a state constitution would not be free to take an anti-establishment position.
Gorsuch also wrote separately, seemingly to emphasize that the record contained references to religious use (exercise) and not simply religious status. Gorsuch did not discuss the federalism issues he stressed in his opinion released yesterday in June Medical Services.
Alito's thirteen page concurring opinion is an exegesis on the origins of the Montana constitutional provision as biased. Alito interestingly invokes his dissenting opinion in Ramos v. Louisiana decided earlier this Term in which he argued that the original motivation of a state law should have no bearing on its present constitutionality: "But I lost, and Ramos is now precedent. If the original motivation for the laws mattered there, it certainly matters here."
(Noteworthy perhaps is that Roberts joined Alito's dissenting opinion in Ramos and Roberts's opinion in Esponiza does spend about 3 pages discussing the Blaine amendments' problematical history, but apparently this was insufficient for Alito).
Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, joined by Kagan, pointed to an issue regarding the applicability of the Court's opinion:
By urging that it is impossible to apply the no-aid provision in harmony with the Free Exercise Clause, the Court seems to treat the no-aid provision itself as unconstitutional. Petitioners, however, disavowed a facial First Amendment challenge, and the state courts were never asked to address the constitutionality of the no- aid provision divorced from its application to a specific government benefit.
Breyer, joined in part by Kagan, essentially argued that the majority gave short-shrift to Locke v. Davey and its "play-in-the-joints" concept authored by Rehnquist as expressing the relationship between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Breyer's opinion is almost as long as the majority opinion, and the majority takes several opportunities to express its disagreement with Breyer, including in a two paragraph discussion, his implicit departure from precedent (e.g., "building on his solo opinion in Trinity Lutheran").
Sotomayor's dissent, also criticized by the majority in text, argues that the Court is "wrong to decide the case at all" and furthermore decides it wrongly. The Court's reframing incorrectly addressed (or seemingly addressed?) whether the longstanding state constitutional provision was constitutional. Thus, she argues, the Court has essentially issued an advisory opinion. On the merits, she contends, "the Court’s answer to its hypothetical question is incorrect." She concludes that the majority's ruling is "perverse" because while the Court once held that "the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs,” it now departs from that balanced view.
The Court's opinion is much more divided than it seems at first blush. And the future of state constitutional provisions that prohibit taxpayer money from being used to support religious institutions remains in doubt.
June 30, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 29, 2020
In its highly anticipated opinion in June Medical Services v. Russo (formerly Gee), the United States Supreme Court reversed the Fifth Circuit's controversial decision upholding Louisiana's abortion restrictions despite their similarity to the ones held unconstitutional in the Court's most recent abortion case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016).
Justice Breyer, who also wrote the Court's opinion in Whole Woman's Health, wrote the plurality opinion in June Medical, joined by Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan (None of the women Justices wrote separately, meaning that the abortion opinions in today's case are all by men).
Breyer's plurality opinion concluded that there is standing; recall that the United States argued that the physicians should not have standing to raise the constitutional rights of their patients despite this long standing practice. Breyer's plurality opinion carefully rehearses the findings of fact by the district court (which applied Whole Women's Health) and ultimately concluded that the "evidence on which the District Court relied in this case is even stronger and more detailed" than in Whole Woman's Health. The Fifth Circuit, Breyer's plurality opinion concluded, misapplied the correct standard of review of these findings: the appellate court should have applied the deferential clear-error standard.
Chief Justice Roberts, who dissented in Whole Woman's Health, concurred in June Medical on the basis of stare decisis:
I joined the dissent in Whole Woman’s Health and continue to believe that the case was wrongly decided. The question today however is not whether Whole Woman’s Health was right or wrong, but whether to adhere to it in deciding the present case . . . .
The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike. The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.
The Chief Justice's sixteen page concurring opinion, necessary to constitute the majority reversing the Fifth Circuit and upholding Whole Woman's Health is bound to be highly analyzed.
The dissenting opinions are somewhat fragmented. Thomas's dissenting opinion and Alito's dissenting opinion, joined by Gorsuch, and in part by Thomas and Kavanaugh, tracks ground familiar from Whole Woman's Health, with additional discussions of stare decisis. Gorsuch, who was not on the Court when Whole Woman's Health was decided in 2016, penned an opinion accusing the Court of having "lost" its way in a "highly politicized and contentious arena" by not paying due deference to the state legislature. Kavanaugh, who replaced Kennedy who had joined the majority in Whole Woman's Health, not only joined portions of Alito's dissent but wrote separately to stress his agreement with the portions of Alito's opinion that the case should be remanded, and in a footnote also stated that "the District Court on remand should also address the State’s new argument (raised for the first time in this Court) that these doctors and clinics lack third-party standing."
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
A unanimous Supreme Court yesterday ruled in Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico v. Auerelius Investment, LLC, that the President's appointment of members to the Financial Oversight Board, without Senate advice and consent, didn't violate (or even implicate) the Appointments Clause.
The ruling is a win for the Board and its authority to carry Puerto Rico through bankruptcy.
The Court said first that the Appointments Clause applies to all officers of the United States, including officers who operate within territories. But it went on to say that Board members in this case aren't officers of the United States, and the Appointments Clause therefore doesn't restrict their appointment.
The Court looked functionally to the Board's powers and duties and concluded that they're local, not national. The Court said that Board members therefore aren't officers of the United States covered by the Appointments Clause.
Justice Thomas concurred. He argued that the Court should have looked to the original public meaning of the Appointments Clause, not the "ill-defined path" that it took, and come out with the same result.
Justice Sotomayor concurred, too. She argued that given Puerto Rico's history--and, in particular, the compact between Puerto Rico and the federal government that established home rule for the island--it wasn't clear that Congress could create the Board at all. But nevertheless concurred, because the parties hadn't raised that issue:
These cases raise serious questions about when, if ever, the Federal Government may constitutionally exercise authority to establish territorial officers in a Territory like Puerto Rico, where Congress seemingly ceded that authority long ago to Puerto Rico itself. . . .
The Board members, tasked with determining the financial fate of a self-governing Territory, exist in a twilight zone of accountability, neither selected by Puerto Rico itself nor subject to the strictures of the Appointments Clause. I am skeptical that the Constitution countenances this freewheeling exercise of control over a population that the Federal Government has explicitly agreed to recognize as operating under a government of their own choosing, pursuant to a constitution of their own choosing. . . . Nevertheless, because these issues are not properly presented in these cases, I reluctantly concur in the judgment.
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Chiafalo v. Washington and Colorado v. Baca, both testing whether and how states can control the votes of their presidential electors. Both cases involved "faithless electors"--electors who, in violation of state law, voted for individuals in the 2016 election who did not win the state's popular vote.
Maybe the only thing that was clear from the arguments today is that . . . nothing is clear. Text doesn't answer the question. Original understanding is equivocal. Past practice can be manipulated by both sides. Even the practical effect of a ruling either way is uncertain, or at least reasonably disputed. The Court searched for a limiting principle from both sides, in both cases, but came up blank.
All this indeterminacy only served to illustrate how screwed up our system of electing a president really is. As the arguments revealed, that system, the Electoral College, appears to have no firm or settled basis in any variety of democratic theory, or any theory of federalism. If it did, we'd at least have some guidance on the question.
Given the indeterminacy, we might expect the Court to punt on cases like these under the political question doctrine. Indeed, the issue bears a remarkable resemblance to partisan gerrymandering--no settled constitutional test, could benefit or harm either major party--on which the Court declined to rule most recently in Rucho v. Common Cause. If anything, the text, history, and precedent are even less determinate here than in partisan gerrymandering cases.
So: Look for the Court to leave things as they are--to allow the states to control their electors, or allow the states to set them free, as the states wish. As Justice Kagan asked, "What would you say if I said that if I think that there's silence, the best thing to do is leave it to the states and not impose any constitutional requirement on them?"
The Fifth Circuit yesterday upheld the state sovereign immunity waiver for state recipients of Title IX funding. The ruling means that state recipients of Title IX can be sued for monetary damages in federal court for violations of Title IX.
That's the same result that's long been on the books in the Fifth Circuit and all others to have considered the question.
But this case is notable because it rejects a novel claim by Louisiana (LSU was the defendant) that the Supreme Court's Medicaid ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius changed the landscape as to Title IX waiver. In particular, the state claimed that under NFIB the Title IX waiver was unduly coercive.
Not so, said the court. The court said that NFIB "does not unequivocally alter Dole's conditional-spending analysis," under which the Court previously upheld the Title IX waiver. Moreover, "[t]he threat of LSU losing what amounts to just under 10% of its funding is more like the 'relatively mild encouragement' of a state losing 5% of its highway funding . . . than the 'gun to the head' of a state losing all of its Medicaid funding [in NFIB]."
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Vance, the cases testing congressional authority and a local D.A.'s authority, respectively, to subpoena President Trump's financial records from his accounting firm and bank.
As usual, it's hard to say where the Court is going to land based on oral arguments. (It might be even harder than usual, given the teleconference format.) But based on questioning, it seems likely that the Court in Mazars could issue a split decision, upholding one or two subpoenas while overturning the other(s). In both cases, the Court'll seriously balance the interference (or not) of the subpoenas with the President's ability to do the job. Look for that balance to split along conventional ideological lines, with Chief Justice Roberts right in the center.
Another possibility: the Court could set a new standard for these subpoenas and remand for reconsideration.
Whatever the Court does, two things seem very likely. First, the rulings will have a dramatic effect on the separation of powers and checks and balances, likely shifting power and immunities (to some degree, more or less) to the President. Second, likely the only way we see President Trump's financial records and taxes before the 2020 election is if the Court outright upholds one of the House Committee's subpoenas. (Even if the Court rules against the President in Vance, grand jury secrecy rules mean that we probably may not see those records until after the election.)
The two cases raise very different questions. Mazars is all about the separation of powers--congressional authority to issue subpoenas to third parties for the President's personal information--while Vance is about federalism and presidential immunities--a local prosecutor's authority, through a grand jury, to subpoena that same material, and the President's claim of absolute immunity from any criminal process.
Despite the differences, though, much of the arguments in both cases focused on how the subpoenas, wherever they came from, would, or would not, "interfere" with the President's execution of the Article II powers. The President's attorneys argued repeatedly that allowing subpoenas in this case could open the door to free-flowing subpoenas from every congressional committee and every local prosecutor, and would thus impede the President's ability to do the job. On the other hand, attorneys for the Committees and the D.A. noted that these particular subpoenas are directed at a third party and don't require the President to do anything.
Look for the Court to incorporate this into its reasoning--the extent to which the subpoenas interfere with the President's job, either in fact (where there's no real evidence that President Trump has actually been distracted by these subpoenas) or in theory (where we can imagine that a future President might be distracted by a flurry of future subpoenas).
Questions in Mazars also focused on the three committees' precise authorities and reasons for their subpoenas. Did they have authority under the House's standing rules? Did the House's subsequent "ratification" of them suffice to demonstrate that the whole House supported them? Were the reasons within a "legitimate legislative purpose"?
These questions suggest that the Court may examine each subpoena separately, and could well uphold one or two, while overturning the other(s).
We also heard some pretty breathtaking claims by the President's attorneys about the scope of presidential powers and immunities. In Mazars we heard that Congress can't regulate the President at all (even if it can regulate other offices in the Executive Branch), and therefore can't investigate (and subpoena) material to help enact law that would regulate the President. In Vance, we heard that the President is absolutely immune from all criminal processes.
The government, weighing in as amicus in both cases in support of the President, dialed back the President's most extreme and categorical positions, and argued instead for a more stringent test for subpoenas directed at the President's personal information. This could give the Court an attractive "middle" position. (This isn't really a middle position. But the President's extreme claims make the government's position look like a middle position.)
On the other side, Congress's attorney in Mazars struggled to identify a limit to Congress's power to subpoena--an issue that several Justices thumped on. The lack of a limiting principle could come back to bite the House Committees, even if these particular subpoenas might've come well within a reasonable limiting principle. That's because if the Court rules for the Committees, it'll have to say why--knowing that the reason will apply to all future congressional subpoenas. If the Committees can't give the Court a limiting principle, the Court could conclude that they see no limit on their authority. And that may be reason enough for at least some of the Justices to rule against them.
Monday, May 11, 2020
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument tomorrow in Trump v. Vance, the case testing whether the President is immune from a state grand jury subpoena for his records that have nothing to do with his official duties. Here's my Preview, from the ABA Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, with permission:
In the summer of 2018, the New York County District Attorney’s Office (the Office) opened an investigation into possible criminal misconduct in activities connected to the Trump Organization. The Office obtained information about transactions and tax strategies by individuals and organizations that raised the prospect that a continuing pattern of criminal activity might have occurred within the Office’s jurisdiction and within the statute of limitations. Importantly, the Office has not eliminated President Trump himself as a potential target.
These transactions include the now-familiar “hush money” payments during the 2016 presidential campaign that President Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, paid to two women with whom President Trump had extra-marital affairs. Cohen admitted that he violated campaign finance laws in coordination with, and at the direction of, a person later identified as President Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges and is now serving a prison sentence.
Around the time of Cohen’s guilty plea, at the request of federal prosecutors and in order to avoid disruption of the ongoing federal investigation, the Office deferred its own investigation. After the Office learned in July 2019 that the federal investigation had concluded without any further charges, the Office then resumed its investigation.
On August 1, 2019, the Office served the Trump Organization with a grand jury subpoena for records and communications concerning certain financial transactions. The Office later informed the Trump Organization’s attorney that the subpoena also required production of certain tax returns. Over the next several months, the Trump Organization produced responsive documents, but not the tax returns.
On August 29, 2019, the Office served a grand jury subpoena on Mazars USA, LLP, President Trump’s accounting firm, for financial and tax records from January 1, 2011, to the date of the subpoena, including records for President Trump himself and entities he owned before becoming President. The Office largely patterned the Mazars subpoena on a similar subpoena to Mazars issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The Office’s Mazars subpoena does not seek any official government communications or involve any official presidential conduct.
Soon after the Office issued the Mazars subpoena, the Trump Organization informed the Office that they believed that the request for tax records implicated constitutional considerations. The Office agreed to temporarily suspend the tax portion of the subpoena to allow the Trump Organziation to challenge it.
President Trump then sued the Office and Mazars, seeking preliminary injunctive relief to stop Mazars from complying with the subpoena. (The “Vance” in the case name refers to Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., District Attorney of the County of New York.) President Trump argued that as sitting President he enjoyed absolute immunity from any form of “criminal process” or “investigation,” including a subpoena issued to a third party like Mazars.
The district court dismissed the case, ruling that it belonged in state court, not federal court. Alternatively, the district court denied injunctive relief, holding that the President’s claim of absolute immunity from criminal process “finds no support in the Constitution’s text or history” or in the Court’s precedents. The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s ruling that the case belonged in state court, but affirmed its alternative ruling on the merits. This appeal followed.
The Supreme Court has ruled in a series of cases that the President enjoys certain privileges and immunities from various judicial processes. For example, the Court held in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), that the President had an “executive privilege” against disclosure of confidential presidential communications. At the same time, however, the Court ruled that a sufficiently important countervailing need for the information (like a federal court’s need for evidence in a criminal trial, as in that case) could outweigh the President’s interest in confidential communications.
As to immunities, the Court held in Nixon v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 731 (1982), that the President is absolutely immune from civil liability for official acts taken while in office. But the Court held in Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997), that the President is not immune from civil suits for unofficial actions taken before he came to office.
The Department of Justice has long held the position that the President is immune from criminal prosecution while in office. But the Supreme Court has never addressed that question, or the related question whether the President is immune from any criminal process that might lead up to a prosecution. That last question is what this case is all about.
President Trump argues that as sitting President he is absolutely immune from any criminal process that targets him, including the Office’s subpoena to a third party like Mazars. President Trump claims that subjecting him to any criminal process at all would interfere with the President’s “unparalleled responsibilities to defend the nation, manage foreign and domestic affairs, and execute federal law.” Moreover, he contends that subjecting the President to any criminal process would “stigmatize the President in ways that will frustrate his ability to effectively represent the United States in both domestic and foreign affairs.” President Trump says that Congress can hold the President to account through impeachment, and that state and federal prosecutors can hold the President to account through criminal processes after he leaves office, but that the President is absolutely immune from criminal process while in office. President Trump asserts that this is consistent with the text, structure, and history of the Constitution and with the longstanding position of the Justice Department.
President Trump argues that the need for absolute immunity from criminal processes is particularly acute when it comes to state and local prosecutors. He says that these processes (unlike federal criminal processes, from which the President also claims absolute immunity) threaten federal supremacy under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. In particular, President Trump contends that without absolute immunity, state and local prosecutors, motivated only by their own parochial and political interests, could impede the work of the President and the President’s duties to the entire, undivided nation.
President Trump argues that the Mazars subpoena violates all of these principles. He says that there is “no dispute” that the Mazars subpoena targets him, given that it specifically seeks his records. And he says that it doesn’t matter that his compliance with this subpoena would not burden his official duties (because it is directed as Mazars, not him); instead, he claims that the President’s absolute immunity is based on the mere threat of a like subpoena (or other criminal process) by every state and local prosecutor.
President Trump argues that the Court’s precedents support his position. He points to Nixon v. Fitzgerald, where the Court held that a former President was immune from a suit for civil damages based on the President’s official acts. He says that subjecting the President to criminal processes would be even more burdensome. President Trump distinguishes Clinton and United States v. Nixon, arguing that both cases arose from federal, not state, proceedings, and that they involved different kinds of behavior or processes. Finally, President Trump argues that at the very least United States v. Nixon requires that a prosecutor show a “demonstrated, specific need” for material sought in a subpoena directed at the President, and that the Office failed to show this.
The government weighs in to support President Trump and echoes many of these themes. The government, however, stops short of arguing for absolute immunity from all criminal processes and instead argues only that President Trump is immune from “any process that would risk impairing the independence of his office or interfering with the performance of its functions.” In evaluating any particular process, the government contends that the Court should apply, at a minimum, the “heightened standard of need” in United States v. Nixon. It says that the Mazars subpoena does not meet this standard.
The Office argues in response that the President has no absolute immunity from a state grand jury subpoena for documents unrelated to the President’s official duties. The Office claims that the Court’s precedents extend immunity only to official acts (not private acts), and that the “mere risk of interference” with the President’s official functions cannot support immunity from this kind of subpoena. The Office contends that the Mazars subpoena only seeks information related to President Trump’s private acts, and only raises, at most, a “risk of interference” with the President’s official functions (because it’s directed at Mazars, not President Trump), and so the President is not immune from it.
The Office argues that this result is not altered by the President’s arguments in support of absolute immunity from all criminal processes. It says that responding to a subpoena is far less burdensome than facing indictment or prosecution, and does not stigmatize the President the way an official accusation of wrongdoing might. By way of comparison, it claims that the burdens on the President in United States v. Nixon were far greater, yet the Court still ruled against the President’s claim of privilege.
As to President Trump’s federalism claims, the Office argues that these lack merit. It says that state and local prosecutors are on the front lines of criminal law enforcement in the country, and that they are “cloaked with a presumption of regularity that makes federal interference particularly inappropriate.” Moreover, it asserts that there are other procedural safeguards—including a prohibition on state investigation of official presidential conduct—that protect the President from abusive state and local criminal processes. In any event, the Office contends that the Court already considered and dismissed President Trump’s worry that state and local prosecutors could hassle the President for political reasons when it rejected a similar argument for immunity from a private civil suit against the President in Clinton.
The Office argues further that there are good policy reasons not to provide absolute immunity to the President. For one, such immunity could effectively immunize the President from any post-office indictment and prosecution, because evidence may go stale and statutes of limitations may run. For another, immunity may impede other, related criminal investigations and prosecutions.
In short, the Office argues that there is no basis for absolute presidential immunity from all criminal processes, that there are good reasons not to provide such sweeping immunity, and that in any event the President has plenty of opportunities to claim immunities on a case-specific (and not absolute, categorical) basis.
The Office argues that the alternative test for immunity, the government’s “heightened standard of need,” derives from the Court’s test in evaluating claims of executive privilege, and has no application here. According to the Office, that’s because the subpoena here does not seek privileged material or material related to official conduct. Moreover, it says that the mere risk of the subpoena’s burden on the President is insufficient to justify a heightened standard. And it claims that such a standard would impede state and local law enforcement.
Finally, the Office argues that President Trump has failed to demonstrate that the Mazars subpoena suffers from any of the problems that may immunize the President from it. In particular, the Office says that President Trump has failed to show that it was issued in bad faith, or that it would be overly burdensome. (The Office notes that the district court already ruled on this last point, and that President Trump hasn’t produced any new evidence.)
This case has obvious and much-rehearsed (maybe too much rehearsed) political significance. In short, President Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns has been a central issue of political debate since at least the 2016 primaries. A ruling for President Trump would close this particular channel that could eventually lead to public release. A ruling against him, on the other hand, would require Mazars to turn over President Trump’s taxes to the Office, and thus leave open this channel which could lead to public release. It’s not entirely clear how much this matters, however, given that so many voters are stuck in their support of or opposition to President Trump, whatever his taxes might reveal. In any event, the ruling (which will likely come down this summer) will fast become political fodder for both sides and will certainly play some role in the presidential election.
The case and its companions, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG, raise the specter of a secondary political effect, which is likely far more significant. That is: these cases, as much as any other this Term (given the high-profile role that President Trump’s taxes and finances continue to play in our politics), will put the Court front and center in the ongoing political debates and the 2020 presidential election. Whatever the Court says, polls on one side or the other will claim that our Supreme Court justices are really only politicians masquerading in robes. That inevitable claim could have extra resonance here, in this explosive political environment and on this uniquely red-hot political issue, and could do serious and lasting damage to our collective faith in the judiciary and to the separation of powers.
And speaking of the separation of powers, this case could fundamentally reshape our structural constitution. The Court has never come close to endorsing the President’s claimed sweeping and absolute privilege against all criminal processes. If it creates such a privilege here, the ruling will mark a dramatic shift of power away from Congress, the judiciary, and even the states—and to the Executive Branch. This is big enough that we’ll almost feel the shift in our constitutional tectonic plates.
One final point. This case, of course, is linked with Trump v. Mazars and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG, the two cases testing congressional authority to get President Trump’s taxes. While those cases raise the same practical bottom-line question—Can anybody get at President Trump’s taxes and financial records?—they involve very different constitutional issues, and therefore have their own (also quite weighty) constitutional significance.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
Check out Claire Finkelstein and Richard Painter's piece in the NYT, Trump's Bid to Stand Above the Law--a primer on the oral arguments next week in Trump v. Vance (testing the Manhattan D.A.'s subpoena to President Trump's accountants for his financial records), including President Trump's claim of absolute executive privilege in that case.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
In a divided panel opinion in Gary B. v. Whitmer, the Sixth Circuit held that there is a fundamental right to a "basic minimum education" providing "access to literacy" as a substantive due process right under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Recall that in July 2018, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed the complaint in Gary B. alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit. For Judge Murphy, the constitutional right alleges here of "access to literacy" was sufficient to seemingly distinguish it from San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), in which the Court rejected "education" as a fundamental right, but not ultimately distinguishable. The district judge found any right to access literacy was not cognizable as a fundamental right under the "standard" articulated in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) and the complaint was furthermore seeking recognition of a prohibited "positive right" given that the Constitution only recognizes "negative" rights.
On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed this conclusion. (The Sixth Circuit did affirm the district court's finding that the claims for equal protection merited dismissal).
The 60 page opinion by Judge Eric Clay, joined by Judge Jane Branstetter Stranch, is impressively well-written and well-structured. After an extensive discussion of the facts and procedural history, the court articulates the standard for its review of a motion to dismiss and disposes of the mootness and sovereign immunity arguments. The court also relatively quickly dispatches the equal protection claim based on the pleadings as well as the claim that the state's compulsory education mandate gives rise to a due process claim (seemingly a "negative right" backup to the argument that the complaint failed as only seeking "positive" rights). The court reaches the central issue of the fundamental right to a basic minimum education, "meaning one that provides access to literacy" at about midway through the opinion.
The court first articulates the two-pronged Glucksberg test and then rehearses the United States Supreme Court's education cases, beginning with this overview:
Beyond the general framework for assessing whether an asserted right is fundamental, the Supreme Court has also, in a series of cases, addressed the extent of constitutional rights with respect to state-provided education. Its education jurisprudence teaches several lessons. First, the Court has found that there is no broad, general right to education. Rodriguez. Second, while no general right to education exists, the Supreme Court has specifically distinguished and left open “whether a minimally adequate education is a fundamental right.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 285 (1986); see also Rodriguez. Third, education is, at minimum, highly important to “maintaining our basic institutions,” and so the denial of public education to a discrete group of students “must be justified by a showing that it furthers some substantial state interest.” Plyler [v. Doe (1982)]. And fourth, the Court has addressed the critical link between education and race discrimination in America. We discuss the Court’s relevant education cases in turn, beginning chronologically.
[some citations and Sixth Circuit references omitted].
After its detailed discussion of Rodriguez and Plyler, incorporating the parties' arguments, the court discussed the lesser-known cases of Papasan v. Allain and Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools (1988). The court notes that the plaintiffs in Papasan did argue that they were deprived an opportunity to acquire basic minimal skills under the state's funding scheme, but the Court did not reject their claim as a matter of substantive due process: "Instead, the Court found that, assuming such a right existed, the plaintiffs had failed to allege sufficient facts in support of their claim." This, the Sixth Circuit reasoned, was an "answer on pleadings, sure, but not on constitutional law." Similarly, the Sixth Circuit found that the "Court essentially repeated this non-answer in Kardmas." Kardmas involved a fee charged for the bus transportation to attend public schools, but given that the plaintiffs were attending school "despite the bus fee," their claim was interpreted not as a denial of education but for wealth-discrimination based the payment of the bus fee. The Sixth Circuit quotes Justice Marshall's dissent in Kardmas as stating that the Court had still not decided whether there was a fundamental right to a minimal education.
That is the question that the Sixth Circuit panel takes up, using the framework of the Glucksberg prongs, and finds that access to a minimal education is a fundamental right.
In its discussion of whether the right to a basic minimum education is "deeply rooted in our Nation's history and traditions," the Sixth Circuit finds that the historical prevalence of education makes it "deeply rooted in our history and tradition, even under an originalist view." The opinion then notes that 92% of the population lived under mandated state-policies of public education at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment, and further declares that "history should not be viewed only as a static point," discussing the expansion of education. Most interestingly, perhaps, Judge Clay's opinion for the Sixth Circuit majority then develops an argument that "Our nation's history of racial discrimination further reveals the historical and lasting importance of education and the significance of its modern ubiquity." At the conclusion of that discussion, including the criminalization of teaching enslaved persons to read, the court concludes:
There are two main takeaways from this history of racial discrimination in education, as well as from past interventions by the courts. First, access to literacy was viewed as a prerequisite to the exercise of political power, with a strong correlation between those who were viewed as equal citizens entitled to self-governance and those who were provided access to education by the state. Second, when faced with exclusion from public education, would-be students have repeatedly been forced to rely on the courts for relief. The denials of education seen in these cases and beyond are now universally accepted as serious injustices, ones that conflict with our core values as a nation. Furthermore, the substantial litigation devoted to addressing these exclusions reveals the unparalleled value assigned to literacy, which is viewed by our society as essential for students to obtain even a chance at political and economic opportunity.
As to the second Glucksberg prong, which looks for the right to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, the Sixth Circuit notes that the belief that education is a means of achieving equality is a belief that has persisted in the nation "since the days of Thomas Jefferson," and concludes that providing a basic minimal education is necessary to prevent arbitrary denials to children based on no fault of their own, which is "so essential to our concept of ordered liberty."
The Sixth Circuit opinion then takes up the counter-arguments, including those made by the dissenting judge, Eric Murphy (recently appointed to the Sixth Circuit and seemingly no relation to district judge Eric Murphy). The Sixth Circuit majority refutes the judicial restraint argument with an articulation, if unlabeled, of a representation-reinforcement argument, with a footnote discussing its applicability to due process as well as equal protection:
But it is unsurprising that our political process, one in which participation is effectively predicated on literacy, would fail to address a lack of access to education that is endemic to a discrete population. The affected group—students and families of students without access to literacy—is especially vulnerable and faces a built-in disadvantage at seeking political recourse. The lack of literacy of which they complain is exactly what prevents them from obtaining a basic minimal education through the normal political process. This double bind provides increased justification for heightened judicial scrutiny and the recognition of the right as fundamental.
The Sixth Circuit majority also takes up the positive/negative rights dichotomy, first arguing that the constitutional tort at issue in DeShaney v. Winnebago County of Department of Social Services (1989), has no applicability to public education, and that even if it did, it is the state that is "creating the danger" here (rather than a private actor), thus bringing the case within the state-created danger exception.
Finally, with due recognition that the case is before the Sixth Circuit on a motion to dismiss, the majority acknowledged that it would be difficult to "define the exact limits of what constitutes a basic minimum education" sufficient to provide access to literacy. However, the majority stated that it would seem to include at least three basic components: facilities, teaching, and educational materials (e.g., books). The case is therefore remanded to the district court to proceed.
But how the case will proceed is uncertain. In a usual scenario, the State would seek review. The Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel, however has stated that she is "overjoyed" with the Sixth Circuit's decision. (It was originally defended under a previous Michigan administration). There is also some lack of clarity regarding the proper defendant or appellant, given that the school district is now under more local control (an issue that the Sixth Circuit discussed in its mootness analysis). If a party does not seek review, there is the possibility that the en banc Sixth Circuit may decide to consider the case. Under Sixth Circuit rules and internal operating procedures, 6 I.O.P. 35(e), "any member of the en banc court may sua sponte request a poll for hearing or rehearing en banc before a party files an en banc petition" and the "clerk will immediately circulate voting forms to the en banc court." The en banc judges are judges in "regular active service" (meaning not senior judges) and including the panel judges no matter their status. It's quite possible that the dissenting judge would request a poll.
Thursday, March 26, 2020
The First Circuit this week became the latest appellate court to rule that the Administration lacked statutory authority to rein in and punish sanctuary cities. The court ruled that the Justice Department exceeded its statutory authority in imposing conditions on a DOJ law-enforcement grant program (the Byrne JAG program) for local jurisdictions.
The ruling was the latest victory for sanctuary jurisdictions. At the same time, it deepens a split: the First, Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits have all now struck DOJ's conditions; only the Second Circuit has upheld them. The ruling comes closely on the heels of the Trump Administration's announcement that it'll start withholding Byrne JAG funds from noncomplying jurisdictions based on the Second Circuit ruling.
The cases all involve three DOJ-imposed conditions on local jurisdictions' continued receipt of Byrne JAG funds: (1) a "notice" condition that requires grant recipients to provide notice to federal immigration authorities when they release particular (undocumented) individuals from custody; (2) an "access" condition that requires local authorities to grant access to prisons, jails, and the like to federal immigration enforcement officers; and (3) a "certification" condition that requires local authorities to certifiy compliance with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local governments from restricting their officers from communicating with federal immigration enforcement officers. Under DOJ's order, if cities don't comply with the new conditions, they'll lose funding.
In each of the cases, sanctuary jurisdictions sued, arguing that DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the conditions, that the conditions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the conditions violated the Constitution (separation of powers, because Congress, not the Administration, gets to impose conditions; and federalism principles).
The First Circuit ruled that DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the conditions, and therefore didnt' touch the APA or constitutional claims. In short, the court said that "DOJ's kitchen-sink-full of clever legal arguments" didn't cut it--that DOJ doesn't have statutory authority to unilaterally impose these conditions. The court took specific issue with the analysis by the Second Circuit, sharpening the points of dispute.
The ruling makes it even surer now (if that's possible) that this issue is headed to the Supreme Court--assuming, that is, that the Administration doesn't change in the 2020 election, or that this Administration doesn't change its position.
Monday, March 23, 2020
The Supreme Court ruled today in Allen v. Cooper that North Carolina enjoyed Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity against a claim under the federal Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. The Court held that in enacting the CRCA Congress did not validly abrogate the state's sovereign immunity.
The ruling is a victory for North Carolina and other states who seek to avoid CRCA liability for copyright violations. More generally, it's a victory for states' sovereign immunity. At the same time, it continues a line of cases that restrict congressional authority to abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment immunity--and limit that power to federal acts under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment that are proportional and congruent to a constitutional problem or evil in the states that Congress seeks to address.
The case arose when videographer Frederick Allen sued North Carolina for posting some of his copyright-protected videos and pictures online. North Carolina moved to dismiss, arguing that it enjoyed sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment--and that it hadn't waived immunity, and that Congress didn't validly abrogate immunity. The Supreme Court agreed.
The Court held under College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. that Congress couldn't abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity using its Article I powers. So if Congress enacted the CRCA under the Intellectual Property Clause (in Article I), then Congress didn't validly abrogate. (The Court acknoweldged that it upheld congressional abrogation under the Bankruptcy Clause in Central Va. Community College v. Katz, but held that Katz was a good-for-one-abrogation ticket based on the unique characteristics and history of the Bankruptcy Clause.)
The Court went on to say that Congress didn't validly abrogate under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the CRCA wasn't proportional and congruent to any constitutional evil that Congress sought to address. That's because for a state to violate the Fourteenth Amendment by infringing a copyright, it'd have to do it intentionally, and provide no state remedy for the violation. (Due Process would be the relevant clause under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.) The Court said that Congress found no evidence of such infringements by the states--that is, no constitutional evil--and so the CRCA couldn't be proportional and congruent to that (non-)problem.
Justice Thomas concurred. He wrote separately to argue that the Court set too high a bar for stare decisis, and that the Court went too far in suggesting that Congress might in the future abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment by actually addressing a constitutional evil.
Justice Breyer concurred, too, joined by Justice Ginsburg. He argued (consistent with his longstanding position) that "someting is amiss" with "our sovereign-immunity precedents." He said that the Court "went astray" in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, holding that Congress lacked authority under Article I to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity, and again in Florida Prepaid.
Tuesday, February 11, 2020
The Department of Justice yesterday filed three separate lawsuits seeking to halt various immigration-related and sanctuary policies in California, New Jersey, and King County, Washington.
The three suits are directed as different policies, as so plead slightly different violations, but they all plead some form of federal supremacy and preemption in immigration policy.
In the California case, DOJ takes on California's ban on the operation of private detention facilities in the state. In short, DOJ says that "California, of course, is free to decide that it will no longer use private detention facilities for its state prisoners and detainees. But it cannot dictate that choice for the Federal Government, especially in a manner that discriminates against the Federal Government and those with whom it contracts." Here's the complaint; here's the motion for a preliminary and permanent injunction.
In the King County case, DOJ seeks to halt a local order that closes the airport for the "deportation of immigration detainees (except for federal government aircraft), to the maximum extent permitted by applicable law." Here's the complaint.
Finally, in the New Jersey case, DOJ takes on a law enforcement directive that limits state and local cooperation with "federal immigration authorities." Here's the complaint.
New York yesterday sued Homeland Security officials for dropping the state from the Customs and Border Patrol's Trusted Traveler program in retribution for the state adopting its Green Light Law. That Law allows unauthorized aliens to get a drivers license in the state, and, in order to facilitate that, prohibits state officials from sharing an applicant's personal information from the DMV database with federal immigration authorities, except where disclosure is pursuant to a lawful court order or judicial warrant.
New York argues in that CBP's move violates the "equal state sovereignty" principle in the Tenth Amendment; that it's unduly coercive in violation of the Tenth Amendment; that it is wholly irrational in violation of due process; and that it violates the Administrative Procedure Act (for lack of notice-and-comment rulemaking, for being arbitrary and capricious, and for violating federal law).
On that last point--violating federal law--New York contends that the move violates the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and implementing regulations. That's because the IRTPA directs the Secretary to "ensure that the international trusted traveler program includes as many participants as practicable," yet CBP's move takes millions of New Yorkers out of the program. Moreover, nothing in the program requires applicants to submit state drivers license information, and CBP can get any information they need to run background checks from other state sources, which New York readily shares with the FBI. In other words: CBP doesn't need information from New York's DMV database.
The complaint asks the court to declare CBP's move unconstitutional and in violation of the APA, and to enjoin enforcement of it.
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, January 15, 2020
Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of President Trump's executive order that effectively authorized state and local governments to veto federal resettlement of refugees. The ruling, while preliminary, deals a sharp blow to President Trump's effort to empower state and local governments to restrict refugee resettlement. At the same time, it's a significant victory for refugees and the refugee-rights community.
President Trump's EO provides that the federal government "should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program." The EO effectively allowed state and local governments to veto resettlement.
The court ruled that this likely violated 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1522, which sets out the "conditions and considerations" for refugee resettlement and assistance programs:
[The statute] speaks in terms of "consulting" and "consultation" between and among the Resettlement Agencies and the State and Local Governments; establishes that the Resettlement Agencies and State and Local Governments must regularly "meet" to "plan and coordinate"; even acknowledges that "maximum consideration" be given to "recommendations" States make to the Federal Government. The challenged Order definitely appears to undermine this arrangement. As to States or Local Governments that refuse to give written consents, there will be no consultation, no meetings with the Resettlement Agencies, not just "recommendations." Those State and Local Governments can simply give or withhold their written consents to the resettlement of refugees within their borders.
The court also held that the EO "appears to run counter to the Refugee Act's stated purpose" and the congressional intent. (A report on the bill from the House Judiciary Committee couldn't have been clearer: "The Committee emphasizes that these requirements [of the act] are not intended to give States and localities any veto power over refugee placement decisions, but rather to ensure their input into the process and to improve their resettlement planning capacity.")
The court also held that individual government officials' enforcement of the EO was likely arbitrary and capricious, and thus invalid, under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The ruling preliminarily prohibits enforcement of the EO. But it also telegraphs the court's conclusion on the merits: the EO is unlawful.
Wednesday, January 8, 2020
The Eleventh Circuit ruled in National Association of the Deaf v. Florida that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, insofar as it requires the state to provide captioning for live and archived videos of Florida legislative proceedings. The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case can move forward on the merits.
The case arose when plaintiffs challenged the Florida legislature's practice of live-streaming and archiving videos of legislative sessions without captioning. The plaintiffs argued that this violated Title II of the ADA and the Rehab Act (more on that below). The state moved to dismiss, arguing that it was immune under the Eleventh Amendment and that Congress did not validly abrogate immunity in enacting the ADA.
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that Congress, in enacting the ADA, sought to protect the fundamental right to participate in the democratic process, and that the state denied that very right to the plaintiffs:
Here, deaf citizens are being denied the opportunity to monitor the legislative actions of their representatives because Defendants have refused to provide captioning for legislative proceedings. Without access to information about the legislative actions of their representatives, deaf citizens cannot adequately "petition the Government for a redress of greivances," because they cannot get the information necessary to hold their elected officials accountable for legislative acts. This type of participation in the political process goes to the very core of the political system embodied in our Constitution.
The court went on to say that Congress also validly abrogated immunity even if only a non-fundamental right were at stake.
The court said that Congress enacted Title II against a backdrop of a "pattern of unequal treatment in the administration of a wide range of public services, programs, and activities," and that Title II was an "appropriate response" to this pattern:
The burden of adding captioning to legislative videos--which are already provided to the public--removes a complete barrier to this information for a subset of citizens with a remedy we expect can be accomplished with limited cost and effort. In this way, the remedy is a proportionate and "reasonable modification" of a service that is already provided, and it does not change the "nature" of the service whatsoever. Finally, if the cost or effort should prove to be prohibitively burdensome, the Defendants have available the affirmative defenses in Title II.
The court also held that the plaintiffs could pursue injunctive relief under Ex Parte Young for the ongoing violation of Title II. Finally, it remanded for further proceedings on whether state legislative defendants received federal financial funds, and were therefore on the hook for Rehab Act violations (as a federal conditioned spending program--federal funds in exchange for a state's agreement not to discriminate by disability).
Thursday, December 26, 2019
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Walden v. State of Nevada that a state waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes a case based on federal claims from state to federal court, even when Congress hasn't abrogated immunity for those federal claims. The ruling means that the state of Nevada must defend a federal Fair Labor Standards Act case in federal court, after it removed the case from state court.
The ruling extends Supreme Court and circuit precedent to extend waiver by removal.
The case arose when correctional officers sued the state in state court for FLSA violations. The state removed to federal court and moved to dismiss based on state sovereign immunity.
The Ninth Circuit held that by removing, the state waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity. The court noted that the Supreme Court ruled in Lapides v. Board of Regents that a state waives Eleventh Amendment immunity when it removes a case involving state-law claims over which it previously waived immunity in state court. It further noted that circuit law extended Lapides to certain federal law claims--those involving federal law where Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity.
Walden extends the principle one step further, to a federal claim (the FLSA) where Congress did not abrogate state sovereign immunity. "Even though [circuit law] expressly left open the question whether removing a State defendant remains immunized from certain federal claims like those under the FLSA, [the] strong preference for a straightforward, easy-to-administer rule supports our holding that removal waives Eleventh Amendment immunity for all federal claims."
Friday, December 6, 2019
Judge Randolph D. Moss (D.D.C.) ruled this week that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority enjoyed Eleventh Amendment immunity from a former employee's suit under the National Transit Systems Security Act. In so ruling, Judge Moss held that the NTSSA wasn't included in the state-sovereign-immunity-waiver provision in the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. The ruling dismisses the case.
The case arose when a former WMATA employee sued the Authority for violating the NTSSA. That Act, a whistleblower-protection act, prohibits public transportation agencies from "discharg[ing]" or otherwise "discriminat[ing] against an employee" based "in whole or in part" on the employee's "lawful, good faith" provision of information relating to conduct that "the employee reasonably believes constitutes a violation of any Federal law, rule, or regulation relating to public safety or security" to "a person with supervisory authority over the employee."
WMATA, a creature of a compact between Maryland, Virginia, and D.C., moved to dismiss on state sovereign immunity grounds.
The plaintiff countered that WMATA waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity under the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. The CRREA provides that
[a] State shall not be immune under the Eleventh Amendment . . . from suit in Federal court for a violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or the provisions of any other Federal statute prohibiting discrimination by recipients of Federal financial assistance.
The plaintiff argued that the NTSSA fell within the catch-all provision, because it specifically prohibits discrimination. He claimed that WMATA therefore waived immunity under the CRREA.
The court rejected this argument. The court acknowledged that the NTSSA banned "discrimination," but said that the discrimination outlawed in the NTSSA was not the same type of discrimination covered in CRREA, and that it therefore didn't fall within the CRREA's catch-all:
Each of the enumerated statutes [in the CRREA] prohibits class-based discrimination--that is, discrimination based on a personal characteristic, such as race, national origin, age, sex, or disability. Each is fairly described as a civil rights statute--the presumptive target of the Civil Rights Remedies Equalization Act. And each ensures that the benefits of federally funded programs are equally available to all, regardless of their race, national origin, sex, or disability. The NTSSA, in contrast, is a public safety statute, designed to ensure that employees of public transportation agencies and their contractors and subcontractors are not dissuaded from flagging potential violations of federal safety or security rules . . . . Although the NTSSA uses the word "discriminate," it does so in [a] very different manner than the CRREA and the enumerated statutes.