Wednesday, November 28, 2018

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument in Excessive Fines and Forefeiture Case

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Timbs v. Indiana, raising the issue of whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "excessive fines" is incorporated as against the States and how this relates to forfeitures. The underlying facts in the case involve the forfeiture of a Land Rover.  Recall that the Indiana Supreme Court rejected an excessive fines challenge under the Eighth Amendment concluding that "the Excessive Fines Clause does not bar the State from forfeiting Defendant's vehicle because the United States Supreme Court has not held that the Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment." 

As to the incorporation argument, some Justices seemed skeptical that there was any plausible argument that the Excessive Fines Clause should not be incorporated. Justice Gorsuch quickly intervened in the Indiana Solicitor General's argument: "can we just get one thing off the table? We all agree that the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the states." 

1600px-Bill_of_Rights_CarThe Indiana Solicitor General did not concede this point, even after being pressed. Instead, the Indiana Solicitor General argued that the question of incorporation — including the test of whether the right is so deeply rooted in this nation's history and traditions and whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty as to be fundamental — rests on the articulation of the right as including forfeiture as the Court held in Austin v. United States (1993). Indeed, the Indiana Solicitor General suggested that the Court should overrule Austin.

The relationship between the incorporation of the right and the scope of the right permeated the argument. As Justice Kagan observed to the Indiana Solicitor General, there were two questions:

And one question is incorporating the right, and the other question is the scope of the right to be incorporated.

And, really, what you're arguing is about the scope of the right.

On the other hand, Chief Justice Roberts, responding to the argument of Wesley Hottot on behalf of the petitioner Tyson Timbs, stated that the collapse of the two questions was to ask the Court to "buy a pig in a poke," to just hold that the right is incorporated and later figure out what it means.

In his rebuttal, Mr. Hottot argued that the case was about "constitutional housekeeping," adding that while the Court had "remarked" five times over the last 30 years that the "freedom from excessive economic sanctions should be applied to the states," it had never explicitly so held. 

If the oral argument is any indication, the Court seems poised to rule that the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.

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November 28, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 26, 2018

SCOTUS Oral Argument Preview: Excessive Fines and Forfeiture

On November 28, 2018, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Timbs v. Indiana, raising the issue of whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "excessive fines" is incorporated as against the States and arguably whether this includes forfeitures.

The Indiana Supreme Court's brief opinion clearly concluded that "the Excessive Fines Clause does not bar the State from forfeiting Defendant's vehicle because the United States Supreme Court has not held that the Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment." The Indiana Supreme Court cited footnote 13 of McDonald v. City of Chicago, in which a majority of the Court found that the Second Amendment was incorporated to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with a plurality relying on the Due Process Clause).  Recall that in footnote 12, Justice Alito's plurality opinion in McDonald listed the provisions of the Bill of Rights that had been incorporated with citations, while in footnote 13, Justice Alito listed the few remaining provisions not incorporated, also with citations.

Justice Alito's citation in footnote 14 of McDonald is to "Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt. v. Kelco Disposal (1989) (declining to decide whether the excessive-fines protection applies to the states)."  Yet as the Indiana Supreme Court notes, in its 2001 opinion in Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., the Court stated that the Fourteenth Amendment  made the "Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments applicable to the States." The Indiana Supreme Court decided that the Cooper Industries statement was dicta and that the McDonald footnote omission of Cooper supported that conclusion ("we will not conclude lightly that the Supreme Court whiffed on the existence or meaning of its precedent").

Whatever the status of precedent, however, the Court is poised to resolve the question of the incorporation of the Excessive Fines Clause to the States.  The amicus briefs tilt heavily in this direction.  One possible wrinkle is the relationship between forfeiture and excessive fines, with the State of Indiana arguing that the issue is whether there is a right to proportionality in forfeiture proceedings that is sufficiently fundamental to meet the incorporation test (whether the right is deeply rooted in this nation's history and traditions and whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty).

 

November 26, 2018 in Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 23, 2018

District Judge Enjoins Mississippi Abortion Law as Unconstitutional

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.

[footnotes omitted]. 

    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.

[footnotes omitted].

November 23, 2018 in Abortion, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 2, 2018

United States District Judge Issues Injunction in Georgia Vote Challenge

In an Order in Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda v. Kemp, United States District Judge Eleanor Ross has found that the challengers would be likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claim regarding Georgia's flagging of potential voters as noncitizens ineligible to vote.  Recall that a different district judge recently issued an injunction against Secretary of State Kemp — who is also a candidate for Governor — in a challenge to the "mismatch" of  voter names.

Here, Judge Ross articulated the appropriate framework as:

When deciding whether a state election law violates First and Fourteenth Amendment associational rights, we weigh the character and magnitude of the burden the State’s rule imposes on those rights against the interests the State contends justify that burden, and consider the extent to which the State’s concerns make the burden necessary.

Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358 (1997).

Judge Ross first found that the burden was "severe for those individuals who have been flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship." Discussing one particular person, Judge Ross stated that

it was not a nominal effort for him to vote; it was a burdensome process requiring two trips to the polls, his own research, and his hunting down a name and telephone number to give to election officials so that his citizenship status could be verified, all after he had already submitted proof of citizenship with his voter registration application. This is beyond the merely inconvenient.

Relying on Timmons, Judge Ross continued with a strict scrutiny analysis, finding that while the State's interest in ensuring only citizens vote was compelling, the specific means chosen were not narrowly tailored. Here, the focus was on the fact that 4 of the 5 ways in which the State proposed that persons could verify their citizenship required a "deputy registrar," which were derived from a previous settlement. However, Judge Ross declared that the court's hands were not tied as to this matter, and ultimately all 5 of the options "for allowing individuals with flags for citizenship to vote in the upcoming election, sweep broader than necessary to advance the State's interest, creating confusion as Election Day looms."

Judge Ross directed Brian Kemp in his official capacity as Secretary of State to:

  1. Allow county election officials to permit eligible voters who registered to vote, but who are inaccurately flagged as non-citizens to vote a regular ballot by furnishing proof of citizenship to poll managers or deputy registrars.

  2. Update the “Information for Pending Voters” on the Secretary of State’s website so that it provides (a) clear instructions and guidance to voters in pending status due to citizenship and (b) a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.

  3. Direct all county registrars, deputy registrars, and poll managers on how to verify proof of citizenship to ensure that they can properly confirm citizenship status consistent with this order. Issue a press release (a) accurately describing how an individual flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship may vote in the upcoming election, as set forth herein; and (b) providing a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.

  4. Issue a press release (a) accurately describing how an individual flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship may vote in the upcoming election, as set forth herein; and (b) providing a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.

  5. Direct the county boards of elections to post a list of acceptable documentation to prove citizenship, which includes a naturalization certificate, birth certificate issued by a state or territory within the United States, U.S. passport, and other documents or affidavits explicitly identified by Georgia law and listed on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, at polling places on Election Day.

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November 2, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Daily Read: Proposal to End Birthright Citizenship Unconstitutional

In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Neal Katayl and George Conway III argue that the president's publicized plan to end "birthright citizenship" by Executive Order would be unconstitutional.

1024px-Plaque_on_Dred_Scott_Case_-_Outside_Old_Courthouse_-_St._Louis_-_Missouri_-_USA_(41040335655)They argue that the EO's content contradicts the plain language of the first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States."  In addition to the text, they argue that any originalist understanding of this sentence — which "sprang from the ashes of the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history, Dred Scott v. Sandford,the 1857 decision that said that slaves, and the children of slaves, could not be citizens of the United States" — must support birthright citizenship except in the most narrow of circumstances.

Further, they argue that any EO by the president would exceed the scope of his authority, given that it is Congress  that is in the "driver’s seat" on issues of immigration, and they quote candidate Trump having recognized that at one time.

The op-ed seeks to bridge factions on this issue by touting its own authorship and the neutrality of the Constitution:

The fact that the two of us, one a conservative and the other a liberal, agree on this much despite our sharp policy differences underscores something it is critically important to remember during a time marked by so much rancor and uncivil discourse: Our Constitution is a bipartisan document, designed to endure for ages. Its words have meaning that cannot be wished away.

October 30, 2018 in Current Affairs, Fourteenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Federal Judge Grants Injunction in Challenge to Georgia "Mismatch" Ballots

In her Order & Opinion in Martin v. Kemp, United States District Judge Leigh Martin May stated she would enjoin county election officials from simply rejecting absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots due to an "alleged signature mismatch" but shall instead follow additional procedures. There has reportedly been some controversy regarding the Defendant Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, who is also a candidate for Governor, and the voter restrictions he oversees.

Judge May found that the plaintiffs and plaintiff organizations had standing, there was no laches, and that a facial challenge was appropriate. She also concluded that there was a substantial likelihood of success on the procedural due process challenge (and thus did not reach the other constitutional challenges).

Judge May quickly concluded that the plaintiffs had a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the right to vote by absentee ballot:

While Defendants correctly assert that the right to apply for and vote via absentee ballot is not constitutionally on par with the fundamental right to vote, once the state creates an absentee voting regime, they “must administer it in accordance with the Constitution.”  Indeed, the Supreme Court has long held that state- created statutory entitlements can trigger due process.  Having created an absentee voter regime through which qualified voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote, the State must now provide absentee voters with constitutionally adequate due process protection.

[citations omitted].

Turning to the issue of the process that is due, Judge May applied the well-known Mathews v. Edlridge (1976) factors. On the first factor weighing the private interest at issue, Judge May stated that the interest implicated the fundamental right to vote and as such was "entitled to substantial weight." On the second factor regarding the risk of erroneous deprivation and the probative value, if any, of additional procedural safeguards, Judge May found that while "the risk of an erroneous deprivation is by no means enormous, permitting an absentee voter to resolve an alleged signature discrepancy nevertheless has the very tangible benefit of avoiding disenfranchisement."  On the third and final factor requiring the court to examine the government’s interest, including “the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail,” Judge May concluded that "Defendants cannot cry foul with regard to the burden of additional procedures given that Defendants conceded at oral argument that counties already permit voters to verify their signatures through extrinsic evidence on an ad hoc basis." Further, the remedy of the voter simply showing up did not apply to voters who vote by mail because they cannot show up in person. Thus, Judge May found there was likely a procedural due process problem.

The judge's Order included a proposed injunction, giving the parties until noon on October 25 to object to the form of the injunction, stressing that this was not an "opportunity to readdress the propriety" of the injunction, only whether the language of the injunction would be confusing or unworkable for election officials.

 

 

October 24, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sixth Circuit Finds Candidate Trump's Speech Was Not Incitement

In its opinion  in Nwanguma v. Trump, a panel of the Sixth Circuit ruled that the complaint against Donald Trump and his campaign for damages based on "inciting to riot" during a Kentucky event should be dismissed. Recall that the district judge denied Trump's motion to dismiss the complaint's count of incitement to riot based on events during a campaign event in Louisville, Kentucky on March 1, 2016. The complaint alleged that the candidate told the crowd “Get ’em out of here,” when the plaintiffs were "peacefully protesting" at a campaign rally, and as  a result of the candidate's encouragement, three individual defendants pushed, shoved, and struck the three plaintiffs.  

The Sixth Circuit's opinion, authored by Judge David McKeague, agreed with the district judge that the relevant precedents were Brandenberg v. Ohio (1969),  Hess v. Indiana (1973), and the Sixth Circuit's  en banc decision in Bible Believers v. Wayne County (2015).  However, the Sixth Circuit criticized the district judge's analysis on some of the elements of the Kentucky incitement to riot statute as "decidedly thin."  For Judge McKeague, seemingly the most important fact of the Trump speech was that Trump's repeated statement “Get ’em out of here" was followed by "don't hurt 'em." Thus, "any implication of incitement to riotous violence is explicitly negated": "If words have meaning, the admonition 'don't hurt 'em' cannot reasonably be construed as an urging to "hurt 'em.'"

340px-Donald_Trump_August_19 _2015_(cropped)After considering the elements of the Kentucky incitement to riot statute, Judge McKeague then considers the First Amendment protection that inheres in the definition of incitement to riot. Yet on both issues, Trump's "don't hurt 'em" statement figures prominently.  Again, while in "the ears of some supporters, Trump's words may have had a tendency to elicit a physical response" they are undercut by the words "don't hurt 'em."

 Judge Helene White's short concurring opinion argues that the "majority opinion elides salient details of Trump's speech that make this a closer case" for her than for the majority opinion which "overemphasizes the legal significance of the 'don't hurt 'em' statement." However, Judge White concurs because she concludes that the allegations do not meet the Kentucky statute's definition, and therefore the court should not have reached the First Amendment issue.

 

September 11, 2018 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eighth Circuit: Missouri Constitutional Amendment Prohibiting Inter-PAC Contributions Violates First Amendment

In its brief opinion in Free and Fair Election Fund v. Missouri Ethics Commission, a panel of the Eighth Circuit agreed with the district judge that Mo. Const. Art. VIII §23.3 violates the First Amendment.

The Missouri constitutional provision, approved by voters in November 2016, prohibited political action committees (PACs) from receiving contributions from other political action committees.  The PAC Free and Fair Election Fund quickly challenged the constitutional amendment contending that the inter-PAC transfer ban violated the First Amendment. The district judge and appellate panel agreed, reasoning that restricting the recipients to whom a PAC can donate "limits the donor-PAC’s speech and associational rights under the First Amendment," and thus "the challenged law must advance a sufficiently important state interest and employ means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of First Amendment freedoms."

Quoting McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), the Eighth Circuit reasoned:

There is only one legitimate state interest in restricting campaign finances: “preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.” This interest is limited to preventing “only a specific type of corruption—‘quid pro quo’ corruption” or its appearance.  A large donation that is not made “in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to . . . quid pro quo corruption.”  Similarly, the general risk that a donor, through large donations, will “garner influence over or access to elected officials or political parties,” either in fact or in appearance, is insufficient to create quid pro quo corruption.  Instead, “the risk of quid pro quo corruption is generally applicable only to the narrow category of money gifts that are directed, in some manner, to a candidate or officeholder.”

[citations omitted].  The Eighth Circuit held that the inter-PAC transfer ban "does little, if anything, to further the objective of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption," distinguishing the 2016 Eleventh Circuit decision in Alabama Democratic Conference v. Attorney General of Alabama, because "unlike Alabama, Missouri limits the contributions that a PAC can make to a candidate, so the anti-corruption interest cited in support of the Alabama law is diminished here."

The Eighth Circuit further found that the transfer ban was not closely drawn: "the risk of corruption from PAC- to-PAC transfers is modest at best, and other regulations like contribution limits and disclosure requirements act as prophylactic measures against quid pro quo corruption."

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the injunction against the Missouri constitutional provision, perhaps setting up a circuit conflict on the constitutionality of inter-PAC transfers.

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September 11, 2018 in Campaign Finance, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

Seventh Circuit Rejects Procedural Due Process Claim for Denial of SORA

The Seventh Circuit's opinion in Beley v. City of Chicago finds no constitutional violation when the City of Chicago refuses to register sex offenders in certain circumstances (such as having no fixed address or an address outside of an approved zone) despite the requirement of the Illinois Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), making it a felony for a sex offender not to register in a new city, including Chicago.

For example, as the court described one plaintiff:

Douglas Montgomery is a sex offender who tried unsuccessfully to comply with SORA. After he completed a twenty- year sentence for aggravated criminal sexual assault, he re- ported to the Department to register. He was turned away, however, because he produced neither an identification card nor proof of a fixed address. When Montgomery told the in- take officer that he was homeless, the officer responded that the Department was “not registering homeless people right now.” Nearly seven months later, after arresting Montgomery for violating several ordinances, Chicago police discovered that he had failed to register under SORA. They charged him with that violation, though he was ultimately acquitted.

Catch22The Seventh Circuit rejected the procedural due process challenge to the city's policy by holding that the "ability" to register as a sex offender is not a cognizable liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment, so no due process is necessary.  The court rebuffed each of the plaintiffs' arguments that there was a liberty interest. First, the court stated that SORA's "registration requirement burdens sex offenders" rather than being "an aspect of their liberty." Second, the court stated that "the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees procedural protection for state action that deprives someone of a cognizable interest in life, liberty, or property, not for state action that jeopardizes that interest."  Third, the court rejected the argument that freedom from the threat of incarceration constituted a liberty interest. And fourth and finally, the fact that the two named plaintiffs actually were deprived of their liberty was not available because they chose "to define the deprivation as the denial of registration" and are "stuck with that theory," although the City owed them due process when they were arrested. 

Without a cognizable liberty interest, there was no need to determine what process was due.

August 24, 2018 in Fourteenth Amendment, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 6, 2018

Federal Judge Declares Cash Bail Practice in New Orleans Unconstitutional

 In his opinion in Caliste v. Cantrell, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana Eldon Fallon declared the bail practices of Judge Cantrell, an Orleans Parish Criminal District Magistrate Judge, unconstitutional as violative of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

After disposing of questions of justiciability and absention, Judge Fallon considered the cash bail practices in which the parish judge would never inquire regarding defendants' ability to post bail or provide reasoning for a rejection of alternative conditions of release, and would tell "public defenders that he would hold them in contempt when they have attempted to argue for lower bond amounts or RORs for their clients.” 

Judge Fallon found that the practices violated procedural due process, applying the well-settled balancing test of Matthews v. Eldridge (1976).  Judge Fallon concluded "that in the context of hearings to determine pretrial detention Due Process requires:

1) an inquiry into the arrestee’s ability to pay, including notice of the importance of this issue and the ability to be heard on this issue;
2) consideration of alternative conditions of release, including findings on the record applying the clear and convincing standard and explaining why an arrestee does not qualify for alternative conditions of release; and
3) representative counsel.

Judge Fallon also found there was a substantive due process violation, analyzing it in a section entitled "conflict of interest." Judge Fallon relied in part on Caperton v. Massey (2009), noting that there need not be proof of "actual bias," but there should be an inquiry “whether, ‘under a realistic appraisal of psychological tendencies and human weakness,’ the interest ‘poses such a risk of actual bias or prejudgment that the practice must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented.’”  In the Orleans parish, the problem was that the Orleans judge not only set bail but also managed "the Judicial Expense Fund, a portion of which comes from fees levied on commercial surety bonds." Judge Fallon found this was a conflict of interest rising to a due process violation: "Judge Cantrell’s institutional incentives create a substantial and unconstitutional conflict of interest when he determines their ability to pay bail and sets the amount of that bail."

Thus, the federal court entered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, declaring the cash bail practices of  the Orleans parish judge unconstitutional.

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August 6, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Federal Judge Declines to Dismiss Challenges to Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

In an extensive and scholarly opinion in New York v. United States Department of Commerce consolidated with New York Immigration Coalition v. United States Department of Commerce, federal judge Jesse Furman has denied in part motions to dismiss and allowed the case to proceed.

Recall that the United States Commerce Department's announcement that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950, has provoked several challenges including the one filed in the Southern District of New York, New York v. United States Department of Commerce, raising constitutional objections on behalf of seventeen state plaintiffs, the District of Columbia, as well as six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. The first count of the complaint is based on the "actual enumeration" requirement and avers that adding a citizenship question will "deter participation." The allegations in the complaint regarding the link between a citizenship demand and lower participation interestingly rely on the Census Bureau's own arguments and findings. The complaint alleges that consequences of lower participation is "an undercount" that will not reflect the accurate population of the plaintiffs, effecting their representation in the House of Representatives and the Electors.  Two additional counts are based on the Administration Procedure Act. 

The New York Immigration Coalition complaint has "five nongovernmental organizations" as plaintiffs, challenging the Secretary’s decision on the same grounds as the states' complaint but importantly on the additional ground of equal protection.

Judge Furman first found that the "government plaintiffs" and well as the "NGO plaintiffs" had standing and then rejected that the lawsuits were political questions barred from judicial review. As Judge Furman concluded:

the Court rejects Defendants’ attempts to insulate Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census from judicial review. Granted, courts must give proper deference to the Secretary, but that does not mean that they lack authority to entertain claims like those pressed here. To the contrary, courts have a critical role to play in reviewing the conduct of the political branches to ensure that the census is conducted in a manner consistent with the Constitution and applicable law.

However, Judge Furman concluded that the Plaintiffs' claims under the Enumeration Clause must be dismissed. For Judge Furman, the constitutional text's broad language combined with a historical practice that has allowed many demographic questions and once included citizenship questions leads to the result that the Secretary has power to include a citizenship query. But as Judge Furman repeatedly emphasized, this does not end the issue. For example, as Judge Furman wrote:

to say that the Secretary has authority under the Enumeration Clauseto ask about citizenship on the census is not to say that the particular exercise of that authority here was constitutional or lawful. The Secretary cannot exercise his authority in a manner that would violate individual constitutional rights, such as the right to equal protection of the laws. [citations omitted]. Nor, under the APA, may he exercise his authority in a manner that would be “arbitrary” and “capricious.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A);[citation omitted]. Plaintiffs here make both kinds of claims, and the Court’s holding that the Secretary’s decision was consonant with the Enumeration Clause does not resolve those claims.

In his discussion of the equal protection claim (under the Fifth Amendment's inclusion of equal protection), Judge Furman relegated the animus argument to a footnote stating that it need not be discussed because he found that there was a sufficient claim for a denial of equal protection on the basis of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997).  Judge Furman concluded that the allegations of discriminatory effect — that inclusion of the citizenship question for all respondents will bear, in the form of diminished political representation and reduced federal funding, more heavily on “Latinos, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, and other immigrant communities of color” because the non-response rate is likely to be higher in such communities — were sufficient.

As to the required intent, Judge Furman listed the Arlington Heights factors:

 (1) “[t]he historical background of the decision . . . particularly if it reveals a series of official actions taken for invidious purposes”; (2) “[t]he specific sequence of events leading up the challenged decision”; (3) “[d]epartures from the normal procedural sequence”; (4) “[s]ubstantive departures . . . , particularly if the factors usually considered important by the decisionmaker strongly favor a decision contrary to the one reached”; and (5) “[t]he legislative or administrative history . . . especially where there are contemporary statements by members of the decisionmaking body, minutes of its meetings, or reports.”

and then discussed each one, focusing on departures from normal procedures (which "include overruling career staff who strongly objected to including the citizenship question, failing to extensively test reintroduction of the question, and ignoring the recommendation of the Census Bureau’s advisory committee") and specific statements, including statements of the President. Judge Furman rejected the federal goverment's argument that consideration of such statements was improper after Trump v. Hawaii, writing that the government's invocation of the case "falls somewhere between facile and frivolous," especially given its practice of truncated quotation. Instead, Judge Furman found 

There is nothing in the Court’s opinion [in Trump v. Hawaii] to indicate that its deferential review applies outside of the “national security and foreign affairs context,”  let alone that the Court meant to unsettle decades of equal protection jurisprudence regarding the types of evidence a court may look to in determining a government actor’s intent. In fact, even with its “circumscribed judicial inquiry,” the Hawaii Court itself considered “extrinsic evidence” — namely, President Trump’s own statements.  If anything, therefore, Hawaii cuts against Defendants’ arguments rather than in their favor.

[citations omitted].

Judge Furman thus directed the parties to proceed with discovery, inform the court whether the cases should be consolidated, and whether a trial or summary judgment would be more appropriate.

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July 26, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Eleventh Circuit Allows Equal Protection Challenge to Alabama's Minimum Wage and Right to Work Act

In its opinion in Lewis v. Governor of Alabama, a unanimous panel of the Eleventh Circuit has reversed the dismissal of a claim that the Alabama Minimum Wage and Right to Work Act, preempting the City of Birmingham's ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10.10, violated the Equal Protection Clause.

After considering standing and Eleventh Amendment arguments, the panel's opinion, authored by Judge Charles Wilson, proceeded to the "heart of the matter" involving the district judge's dismissal of the plaintiffs' equal protection claims that the Minimum Wage Act purposely discriminates against Birmingham’s black citizens by denying them economic opportunities on account of their race;  and the Act violates the political-process doctrine by transferring control from the majority-black Birmingham City Council to the majority-white Alabama Legislature.

00a-promo-image-birmingham-alabama-travel-guideThe court found that plaintiffs stated a claim on the intentional discrimination claim, applying the factors of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997). The court found that there was definitely a racial impact and that the Act "bears more heavily on one race than another.”The court also considered  "the rushed, reactionary, and racially polarized nature of the legislative process; and Alabama’s historical use of state power to deny local black majorities authority over economic decision-making."  The court noted that the state's Act "responded directly to the legislative efforts of the majority-black Birmingham City Council, which represents more black citizens (and more black citizens living in poverty) than any other city in Alabama" and was "introduced by a white representative from Alabama’s least diverse area, with the help of fifty-two other white sponsors, and was objected to by all black members of the House and Senate. And it was accelerated through the legislative process in sixteen days with little or no opportunity for public comment or debate." The court concluded that these facts "plausibly imply discriminatory motivations were at play." Moreover, the court found that the district judge applied the incorrect legal standard when evaluating plaintiffs' complaint, a "clearest proof" standard "[r]ecklessly plucked from an unrelated line of precedent" and "contrary to decades of established equal protection jurisprudence."

However, the court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' equal protection claim based on political process, despite the facts, because "to the extent that the plaintiffs allege that the minimum wage policy was 'racialized' because the 'Birmingham African-American community strongly favored' it, that argument clashes with the Supreme Court’s clear instructions" in Schuette v. BAMN (2014). 

Thus, the case was remanded and can move forward on the "plausible claim that the Minimum Wage Act had the purpose and effect of depriving Birmingham’s black citizens equal economic opportunities on the basis of race, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

July 25, 2018 in Eleventh Amendment, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Federal Judge Enjoins Florida's Ban on Early Voting at College Facilities

In his opinion in League of Women Voters v. Detzner, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida found that the Florida Secretary of State's Opinion barring early voting on any university or college campus most likely violates the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments, and issued a preliminary injunction.

The issue involves an interpretation of the Florida's Division of Elections, under the Secretary of State, that Florida Statute §101.657(1)(a), passed in 2013, that permits supervisors of elections to “designate any city hall, permanent public library facility, fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as early voting sites.”  A question arose as to whether a particular hall on the University of Florida campus qualified and in response the state official issued an Opinion banning all university and college facilities for use in early voting.

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Judge Walker found that the state's interpretation of the early voting statute was constitutionally faulty. While early voting is not required and may be classified as a convenience, Judge Walker quoted Bush v. Gore (2000) — “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another" — to reason that constitutional problems emerge  "when conveniences are available for some people and affirmatively blocked for others."  Judge Walker began the opinion by noting that the number of people effected was substantial: more than 1.1 million "young men and women were enrolled in institutions of higher learning" in Florida in 2016, nearly 830,000 in public institutions, as well as there being another 107,000 staff members at the public institutions. To stress the number of people involved, Judge Walker wrote:

Put another way, the number of people who live and work on Florida’s public college and university campuses is greater than the population of Jacksonville, Florida—or the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.

Judge Walker first applied the the Anderson-Burdick  balancing test  for less than "severe restrictions." (Recall in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting).  Judge Walker stated that even assuming the state's opinion could be construed as a reasonable nondiscriminatory restriction, it imposed significant burdens on the plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to vote, categorically prohibiting the use of on-campus early voting and thus "lopsidedly impacts Florida's youngest voters," a class of voters "particularly invested in early voting" with approximately 43 percent of Florida's college students voting early in 2016.  These burdens were not justified by the state's interests — which the Judge stated "one must squint hard to identify"— in following state law, preventing parking issues, and avoiding on-campus disruption.

As to the Twenty-Sixth Amendment issue, Judge Walker found that while there was a "dearth of guidance on what test applies" when the claimed infringement is not a facial denial of voting for any citizen 18 years or older, the standard of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) was generally accepted. Judge Walker found that the state's approach revealed a stark pattern of discrimination unexplainable on grounds other than age. Judge Walker also compared the state's policy to earlier seemingly neutral attempts to effect African-American voters, noting that

This Court does not lightly compare contemporary laws and policies to more shameful eras of American history. But addressing intentional discrimination does not require kid gloves.

Having found that there was a likelihood that plaintiffs would prevail on the merits, Judge Walker also found the other requirements for a preliminary injunction were met. The judge instructed the Defendant Secretary of State to issue a directive to supervisors of elections that they retain discretion to implement the Florida statute including any sites that may be on university or college campuses.

July 25, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Daily Read: The Fourteenth Amendment (on its 150th Anniversary)

The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868. 

Here's the text:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

 

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[images National Archives via]

 

July 9, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Procedural Due Process, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Federal District Judge Enjoins Tennessee's Revocation of Drivers License for Failure to Pay Court Debt

In an opinion in Thomas v. Haslam, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Tennessee, Aleta Trauger, has held unconstitutional Tennessee Code §40-24-105(b) which revokes the driver's license of any person who has failed to pay court debt for a year or more.

Judge Trauger had issued an extensive opinion in March, appended to the current opinion, detailing the issues, holding the plaintiffs presented a justiciable claim, certifying the class, and allowing for additional briefing on the summary judgment motions on the constitutional issues.

The constitutional challenge to the driver's license revocation is grounded in Griffin v. Illinois (1956) and its progeny, which, as Judge Trauger explained "implicates both Due Process and Equal Protection principles in ways that defy an easy application of the Court’s more general precedents involving either constitutional guarantee alone" and should not be subject to a "pigeonhole analysis" of either strict scrutiny or rational basis review. However, Judge Trauger ruled that under Sixth Circuit precedent, rational basis must be applied, "which asks only whether the challenged policy is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose." Yet in the context of distinctions based on indigence, this rational basis should be one of "extra care" if "a statute treats the rich better than the poor in a way that will affirmatively make the poor poorer."

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Judge Trauger reasoned that while the state has a legitimate interest in seeking to recoup court debt, revoking the driver's license of a person unable to pay the debt is not "effective." Moreover,

 the law is not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive. If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it; he may, however, become able to pay it in the future. But taking his driver’s license away sabotages that prospect. For one thing, the lack of a driver’s license substantially limits one’s ability to obtain and maintain employment. Even aside from the effect on employment, however, the inability to drive introduces new obstacles, risks, and costs to a wide array of life activities, as the former driver is forced into a daily ordeal of logistical triage to compensate for his inadequate transportation. In short, losing one’s driver’s license simultaneously makes the burdens of life more expensive and renders the prospect of amassing the resources needed to overcome those burdens more remote.

Thus, while a lenient standard, Judge Trauger held that the lack of an indigent exception in the driver's license revocation penalty for failure to pay court debt fails rational basis scrutiny

Additionally, Judge Trauger held that the Tennessee statute does not afford procedural due process and that a "driver facing revocation for nonpayment of court debt is entitled to a pre-revocation notice and determination related to his indigence," to be developed by the state.

While issuing an injunction against the statute's future enforcement, Judge Trauger ordered the state to "submit a plan, within 60 days, for lifting the revocations of drivers whose licenses were revoked under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-24-105(b) and providing an appropriate process for reinstatement."

Or, of course, Tennessee could appeal.

July 3, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Federal Judge Dismisses Complaint Seeking Access to Literacy by School Children

In his opinion in Gary B. v. Snyder, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed a complaint alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit.

After finding the plaintiff students had standing and that the complaint against Governor Snyder and other officials was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, Judge Snyder dismissed the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims.

On the Due Process Clause claim, Judge Snyder noted that the constitutional right at issue is framed as "access to literacy" which "speaks to an opportunity" rather than simply literacy which is an "outcome of education." Using this definition, Judge Snyder distinguished the complaint from landmark cases such as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), rejecting "education" as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, applying the "standard" test to determine a fundamental right from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) — "fundamental rights are only those 'objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed'"— even through the lens of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Snyder reasoned that fundamental rights are generally only "negative rights."

Conceivably, a case like this one could be argued on either positive- or negative- right theories. As a positive right, access to literacy (i.e., a minimally adequate education) is so important that the state is compelled to provide it. As a negative right, access to literacy is so important that the state may not hinder Plaintiffs' attempts to secure it.  ***

But a violation of negative rights is not what the Complaint truly seems to argue. The Complaint explains, in great detail, that the instruction and resources in Plaintiffs' schools are inadequate.

  256px-Paul_Constant_Soyer_-_Little_Girl_Reading_-_Walters_371621Judge Snyder reasoned that the Supreme Court's understanding of a "fundamental right," requires finding that neither liberty nor justice would exist absent state-provided literacy access, which would be "difficult to square with the fact that '[t]here was no federal or state-run school system anywhere in the United States as late as 1830.'" Thus, for Judge Snyder, the "ordered liberty" prong is tantamount to historical roots:

School districts at the time of the Constitution's ratification were formed 'when a group of farms came together and decided to construct a public building for schooling, where their children could gather and be taught reading, writing, and moral codes of instruction.' [citation omitted]  The history evinces a deep American commitment to education, but runs counter to the notion that ordered society demands that a state provide one.

Thus, he concluded:

The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? Based on the foregoing analysis, the answer to the question is no.

Judge Murphy concluded that the Equal Protection Clause claim was similarly not founded. The court repeats that there is no fundamental right and further finds that there is no racial classification because there to be a "relevant comparator school" requires not only that the school in question have a different racial composition that the 97% African-American schools in Detroit but also that the school "experienced relevant state interventions" like the schools in Detroit. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applies at its most deferential — whether "there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification" — and the plaintiffs did not plead "specific decisions Defendants made concerning Plaintiffs' schools that could have been made differently" and were thus irrational.

The dismissal of the complaint makes it ripe for appeal.

[image: Paul-Constant Soyer, Little Girl Reading (1864) via]

 

July 2, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 25, 2018

Closely Divided SCOTUS Decides Texas Racial Gerrymander in Favor of Texas

In its 5-4 opinion in Abbott v. Perez, regarding the constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause and the validity under the Voting Rights Act of the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013, the Court's majority decision by Justice Alito concluded that only one district in the redistricting plan was unlawful.

Both the majority opinion (joined by the Chief Justice, Kennedy, Thomas, and Gorusch) and the dissenting opinion by Justice Sotomayor (joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) first spent substantial effort on the jurisdictional issue which had also preoccupied the Court during the oral arguments. The jurisdictional question involves the status of the three judge court order and whether it is actually a reviewable order with the majority concluding it was reviewable and the dissent arguing it was not.

On the merits of the Equal Protection Clause issue Justice Alito's opinion for the Court faulted the three judge court's detailed decision for committing a "fundamental legal error" when it concluded the Texas legislature engaged on intentional racial discrimination violating the Fourteenth Amendment.  For the majority, the three judge court did not recognize that when "a challenger claims that a state law was enacted with discriminatory intent, the burden of proof lies with the challenger, not the State," a standard with "special significance" in redistricting cases in which there is a "presumption of legislative good faith." This standard, the Court emphasized, does not change when there has been past racial discrimination but remains only one of the factors of showing intent under Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Development Corp. (1997). Instead, the majority finds that Texas did have a legitimate intent, that of bringing the litigation about the redistricting to an end.

The dissenting opinion on the Equal Protection Clause issue criticizes the majority for selectively misreading (and misquoting) the three judge court opinion, arguing that the three judge court did not remove the burden from the challengers and did rigorously apply the Arlington Heights factors (contending that the majority did not). The "historical background" factor is an evidentiary source of intent which the majority recognized but did not credit, essentially substituting its own judgment for the three judge court.

On the Voting Rights Act (VRA) issue, which is limited to §2 given that the United States Supreme Court held §5 unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder, decided five years ago, the majority discussed the factors from Thornburg v. Gingles (1986), and essentially found that only one district — HD90 —was an impermissible racial gerrymander.  A brief concurring opinion by Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, argued that §2 should not apply to redistricting. Again, the dissent argued that on the other districts the majority was essentially substituting its own judgment for that of the three judge court rather than reviewing the factual findings only for clear error.

The difference in the rhetorical approaches of the majority and the dissent is striking. In Alito's opinion for the Court, federal the application of the Equal Protection Clause in redistricting is "complicated," equal protection and the VRA pull in opposite directions, and in "technical terms" the Court has assumed that complying with the VRA is a compelling state interest. In Sotomayor's opinion for the dissenting Justices, the "Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and §2 of the Voting Rights Act secure for all voters in our country, regardless of race, the right to equal participation in our political processes," a "fundamental right" which courts should remain vigilant in protecting including "curbing States’ efforts to undermine the ability of minority voters to meaningfully exercise that right." 

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June 25, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Third Circuit Upholds School Policy on Gender Identity Use of Facilities

In its opinion in Doe v. Boyertown Area School District a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit upheld the school district's gender policy for facilities, affirming the district judge, against a challenge by some students that the inclusive policy violated their constitutional "bodily privacy" rights and Title IX.

The school policy allowed "transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the students’ gender identities as opposed to the sex they were determined to have at birth." The court rejected the argument of some non-transgender students that the policy violated their right to privacy. Even if the school policy were to be subject to strict scrutiny, there was a compelling interest in the protection of transgender students and the means chosen were narrowly tailored. In assessing the claim of the cisgendered students who challenged the school policy, the court stated:

we decline to recognize such an expansive constitutional right to privacy—a right that would be violated by the presence of students who do not share the same birth sex. Moreover, no court has ever done so. As counsel for the School District noted during oral argument, the appellants are claiming a very broad right of personal privacy in a space that is, by definition and common usage, just not that private. School locker rooms and restrooms are spaces where it is not only common to encounter others in various stages of undress, it is expected. The facilities exist so that students can attend to their personal biological and hygienic needs and change their clothing.

Moreover, the court rejected the challengers' reliance on "a case involving an adult stranger sneaking into a locker room to watch a fourteen year-old girl shower," noting that it was "simply not analogous to the present situation "involving transgender students using facilities aligned with their gender identities after seeking and receiving approval from trained school counselors and administrators."

The court likewise rejected the Title IX and state tort law claims, again affirming the district judge.

While the court discusses and relies upon Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, in which the Seventh Circuit in 2017 affirmed a preliminary injunction requiring the school to allow transgender students to access facilities consistent with their gender identity, the policy upheld here was the Boyertown school district's affirmative policy allowing such access. Thus, there seems to be a clear path for school districts to avoid losing if there is litigation.

 

June 18, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Dodges Partisan Gerrymandering Challenges in Gill and Benisek

In its opinion in Gill v. Whitford involving a challenge to Wisconsin's alleged partisan gerrymandering the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with a concurring opinion by Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor), found that the plaintiffs did not prove sufficient Article III standing to sustain the relief granted in the divided decision by the three judge court.  Additionally, in a per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, involving a challenge to alleged political gerrymandering in Maryland, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant to a preliminary injunction.

Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Gill admits that

Over the past five decades this Court has been repeat­edly asked to decide what judicially enforceable limits, if any, the Constitution sets on the gerrymandering of voters along partisan lines. Our previous attempts at an answer have left few clear landmarks for addressing the question.

The  Chief Justice's Gill opinion does little, if anything, to remedy this lack of "landmarks" in the doctrine. However, the Chief Justice's opinion continues that the Court's "efforts to sort through those considerations have generated conflict­ing views both of how to conceive of the injury arising from partisan gerrymandering and of the appropriate role for the Federal Judiciary in remedying that injury" and it is this set of "conflicting views" that the Chief Justice's opinion sets out to resolve. The 1024px-The_Gerry-Mander_Editresolution seems simple: to the extent that plaintiffs' "alleged harm is the dilution of their votes" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, "that injury is district specific." In sum, the injury must be an individual one that arises from an individual's vote being diluted by the voter's placement in a "cracked" or "packed" district.  The Chief Justice's opinion concludes that while the individual plaintiffs had "pleaded a particularized burden along such lines," they failed to prove those facts at trial.

Yet this simplicity is less straightforward when combined with Justice Kagan's concurring opinion, which correctly notes that in addition to the Equal Protection Clause claim of vote dilution, "at some points in this litigation, the plaintiffs complained of a different injury — an infringement of their First Amendment right of association." [Indeed, the opinion for the three judge court seems to combine the equal protection and First Amendment claims.] On the First Amendment claim, Kagan writes:

when the harm alleged is not district specific, the proof needed for standing should not be district specific either. And the associational injury flowing from a statewide partisan gerrymander, whether alleged by a party member or the party itself, has nothing to do with the packing or cracking of any single district’s lines. The complaint in such a case is instead that the gerrymander has burdened the ability of like-minded people across the State to affiliate in a political party and carry out that organization’s activities and objects. Because a plaintiff can have that complaint without living in a packed or cracked district, she need not show what the Court demands today for a vote dilution claim. Or said otherwise: Because on this alternative theory, the valued association and the injury to it are statewide, so too is the relevant standing requirement.

Moreover, even on the equal protection vote dilution claim, Kagan's opinion instructs that the Court's determination of remand rather than dismissal means that

the plaintiffs—both the four who initially made those assertions and any others (current or newly joined)—now can introduce evidence that their individual districts were packed or cracked. And if the plaintiffs’ more general charges have a basis in fact, that evidence may well be at hand. Recall that the plaintiffs here al­leged—and the District Court found —that a unified Republican government set out to ensure that Republicans would control as many State Assembly seats as possible over a decade (five consecutive election cycles). To that end, the gov­ernment allegedly packed and cracked Democrats throughout the State, not just in a particular district (see, e.g., Benisek v. Lamone) or region. Assuming that is true, the plaintiffs should have a mass of packing and cracking proof, which they can now also present in district-by-district form to support their standing. In other words, a plaintiff residing in each affected district can show, through an alternative map or other evidence, that packing or cracking indeed occurred there.

 [emphasis added].  The Court remanded and declined to "direct dismissal" given that this "is not the usual case" because the it "concerns an unsettled kind of claim," the "contours and justiciability of which are unresolved." Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, wrote separately to disagree with the remand, arguing there is "nothing unusual" about the case and that the matter should be dismissed.

In the five page per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's denial of a motion for preliminary injunction. Seemingly without irony, the Court noted that one rationale for the three judge court's denial of a preliminary injunction was its concern about assessing the merits of the partisan gerrymandering claim and its prediction it would be "better equipped to make that legal determination and to chart a wise course" after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Gill. However, the per curiam opinion of the Court also reasoned that even if the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits, the  other factors in a preliminary injunction decision including the balance of equities and the public interest "tilted against" the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

In sum, the decisions in Gill and Benisek leave the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering as unsettled as before.

[image: "the gerrymander" via]

 

June 18, 2018 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Second Circuit: Police Use of LRAD May Violate Fourteenth Amendment

In its unanimous opinion in Edrei v. Maguire (Bratton), a panel of the Second Circuit upheld the the denial of a motion to dismiss a complaint alleging excessive force under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause by police officers using a LRAD - - - long-range acoustic device - - - during a protest. The defendants claimed both that the LRAD did not constitute excessive force and that they were entitled to qualified immunity because it had not been clearly established at the time of the 2014 protest that using a LRAD could be excessive force.

Chief Judge Robert Katzmann's opinion discussed LRAD, noting that the New York Police Department was using a "portable Model 100X, which also has loudspeaker and area denial functions."

The 100X’s product sheet boasts that it has a maximum volume of 136 decibels at one meter and the manufacturer guidelines caution not to use it within 10 to 20 meters of people. A diagram on the 100X’s control panel shows a red beam emanating from the front of the device and instructs: “DO NOT ENTER WITHIN 10 METERS DURING CONTINUOUS OPERATION.”

The plaintiffs, who were subjected to the LRAD during a protest in New York after "a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the NYPD officer who placed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, in a fatal chokehold." During the protest,

with no warning, NYPD officers discharged pepper spray. Several plaintiffs who had been watching the arrests began to flee. Seconds later the wail of a high‐pitched alarm began pulsing though the streets. The defendants had activated the LRAD’s area denial function. According to plaintiffs, they had not been ordered to disperse and no such order is audible on the video.

900px-Long_Range_Acoustic_Device_500X_in_New_York_CityThe plaintiffs reported physical injuries, including significant ear pain, prolonged migraines, vertigo, and ringing in the ears, and most sought medical treatment.

Judge Katzmann's opinion rejected the defendants' argument that the LRAD could not constitute "excessive force."  The opinion relied on the "shocks the conscience" test as it had been explained in the Second Circuit with regard to excessive force as considering several factors: “the need for the application of force, the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, the extent of the injury inflicted, and whether the force was . . . [inflicted] maliciously or sadistically.”  The court held that this Second Circuit precedent was not changed by Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466 (2015), decided after the 2014 protest. Moreover, applying the standard to the allegations, the security threat was low, the proportionality of the force used was "stark," there were significant injuries, and there are no allegations that the police officers attempted to temper their use of force.

The court also rejected the police officers' claim to qualified immunity. The defendants argued that it was not clearly established at the time of the 2014 protest that "using force in crowd control violates due process."

But that is like saying police officers who run over people crossing the street illegally can claim immunity simply because we have never addressed a Fourteenth Amendment claim involving jaywalkers. This would convert the fair notice requirement into a presumption against the existence of basic constitutional rights. Qualified immunity doctrine is not so stingy.

Additionally, the court discussed the protestors First Amendment rights and stated that "Were this not enough, a wealth of cases inform government officials that protesters enjoy robust constitutional protections."

The court did stress that the opinion was a "narrow" one.  As an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a motion to dismiss, this is expected. Nevertheless, the opinion is certainly a victory for the plaintiffs in their due process challenge to the use of LRAD.

[image: LRAD 500 x in NYC during 2011 via]

 

June 13, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)