Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Daily Read: Chief Justice's Year-End Report on the Judiciary
For his 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice Roberts chose to include in his brief introductory remarks some words about democracy:
It is sadly ironic that John Jay’s efforts to educate his fellow citizens about the Framers’ plan of government fell victim to a rock thrown by a rioter motivated by a rumor. Happily, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay ultimately succeeded in convincing the public of the virtues of the principles embodied in the Constitution. Those principles leave no place for mob violence. But in the ensuing years, we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside. In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital. The judiciary has an important role to play in civic education, and I am pleased to report that the judges and staff of our federal courts are taking up the challenge.
[emphasis added]. The emphasized bolded language, seeming to blame the population of the United States for taking democracy for granted and social media for spreading rumors did not sit well with some commentators who argued that Roberts should consider his own contributions to undermining democracy: Shelby County (regarding voting rights); Rucho (decided in June of this year holding partisan gerrymandering is a political question not suitable for the federal courts); McCutcheon (finding campaign finance regulations unconstitutional). For others, Roberts's language regarding civic education is welcome and demonstrates his recognition of the divides in the nation.
Noticeably absent from Roberts's remarks was any reference to the impeachment trial which looms in the Senate over which he will preside. Also absent was any update on the sexual misconduct claims against members of the judiciary which he mentioned in last year's report.
January 1, 2020 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Political Question Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, December 31, 2019
Federal Judge Enjoins North Carolina's Voter-ID Law
In her opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Cooper, Judge Loretta Biggs of the Middle District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s voter ID-requirements, known as S.B. 824.
Judge Biggs found that plaintiffs’ claim that SB 824 violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause had a likelihood of success. Although the voter-ID law was facially neutral, Judge Biggs found that it enacted a racial classification. As she explained, in Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Dev. Corp. (1977),
the Supreme Court set forth a non-exhaustive list of factors to guide this delicate investigation. Reviewing courts should consider: (1) the law’s historical background; (2) the specific sequence of events leading up to the law’s enactment, including any departures from normal legislative procedure; (3) the law’s legislative and administrative history; and (4) whether the law’s effect “bears more heavily on one race than another.” The Court further cautioned that, because legislative bodies are “[r]arely . . . motivated solely by a single concern,” a challenger need only demonstrate that “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor.” (emphasis added). “[T]he ultimate question,” then, is whether a law was enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” the discriminatory effect it would likely produce.
Applying the Arlington Heights factors, Judge Biggs found that the “historical background” of the law “weighs in favor of a finding of discriminatory intent with respect to S.B. 824’s enactment”: “North Carolina has a sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression stretching back to the time of slavery, through the era of Jim Crow, and, crucially, continuing up to the present day.”
On the “sequence of events,” Judge Biggs found the record “mixed.” While the “parliamentary requirements” were met, when “viewed with a wider lens, the circumstances surrounding S.B. 824 are unusual.” A majority of the Republican legislators who supported a previous bill on voter-ID declared unconstitutional by the Fourth Circuit “also voted for S.B. 824, and the same legislative leaders spearheaded both bills. "Further,she found it noteworthy that "those legislators were elected, at least in part, by way of district maps which were declared unconstitutional." Additionally, "after voters ratified the voter-ID amendment, S.B. 824 was enacted along (virtually) strict party lines and over the Governor’s veto.”
As to the legislative history, including statements, Judge Biggs considered the statements of legislators after the previous bill was declared unconstitutional as well as changes proposed or adopted, and “the decision not to include public-assistance IDs as an acceptable form of identification,” despite the Fourth Circuit’s criticism.
Finally, Judge Biggs concluded that there was (or was likely to be) a racially disparate impact. Examining the specific provisions of the bill, including what types of identification were accepted and which were not:
the important metric for the Court’s purposes isn’t so much the variety of IDs as how readily they are possessed by North Carolinians of different backgrounds. In this sense, what is most striking about the state’s newly expanded list of IDs is that it continues to primarily include IDs which minority voters disproportionately lack, and leaves out those which minority voters are more likely to have.
One example was federal government identification, which was excluded. For Judge Biggs, these disparate types of identification mean not only that “minority voters will bear this effect more severely than their white counterparts,” but also that “a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic” North Carolina citizens “could be deterred from voting or registering to vote because they lack, or believe they lack, acceptable identification and remain confused by or uninformed about S.B. 824’s exceptions.”
Thus, Judge Biggs found that the law was racially motivated. She further found that it was not supported by any of the proffered government interests.
Given that the Governor had vetoed this bill and the Fourth Circuit's decision holding a previous similar law unconstitutional, the prospects for an appeal will certainly be closely monitored.
December 31, 2019 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, October 18, 2019
Federal Judge Enjoins Florida's Statute Conditioning Right to Vote on Payment of Finess and Fees
In an opinion in Jones v. DeSantis, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined.
Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4. Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:
any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.
Fla. Const. Art. VI §4. After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole."
Judge Hinkle first addressed Florida's motion to dismiss based on lack of standing and motion to abstain, finding them without merit. Judge Hinkle then discussed whether or not Amendment 4 authorized the statute extending the conditions to all restitution, fines, and fees, acknowledging that "the last word will belong to the Florida Supreme Court," on the matter of that interpretation. However, for purposes of the issue of constitutionality at this stage, the judge assumed that " “all terms of sentence” includes fines and restitution, fees even when unrelated to culpability, and amounts even when converted to civil liens, so long as the amounts are included in the sentencing document."
While the court acknowledged that a state can deny persons convicted of a felony the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment as construed by the Court in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974), here the state had amended its constitution not to do so, but with an exception for those persons convicted of felonies who could not meet their financial obligations. Thus, the Equal Protection Clause is implicated. On this point, Judge Hinkle found Eleventh Circuit precedent was clear, citing Johnson v. Governor of Florida, 405 F.3d 1214 (11th Cir. 2005) (en banc). The court quotes the en banc court in Johnson stating:
Access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources. Under Florida’s Rules of Executive Clemency, however, the right to vote can still be granted to felons who cannot afford to pay restitution. . . . Because Florida does not deny access to the restoration of the franchise based on ability to pay, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on these claims.
[emphasis in original]. For Judge Hinkle, this is both the "starting point of the analysis of this issue, and pretty much the ending point."
As support for Johnson and further explication of the standard of review under equal protection doctrine, Judge Hinkle reasoned:
Johnson does not lack Supreme Court support; it is consistent with a series of Supreme Court decisions.
In one, M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102 (1996), the Court noted the “general rule” that equal-protection claims based on indigency are subject to only rational-basis review. This is the same general rule on which the Secretary [of State of Florida] places heavy reliance here. But in M.L.B. the Court said there are two exceptions to the general rule.
The first exception, squarely applicable here, is for claims related to voting. The Court said, “The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license.” The Court cited a long line of cases supporting this principle. In asserting that the Amendment 4 and SB7066 requirement for payment of financial obligations is subject only to highly deferential rational-basis scrutiny, the Secretary ignores this exception.
The second exception is for claims related to criminal or quasi-criminal processes. Cases applying this exception hold that punishment cannot be increased because of a defendant’s inability to pay. See, e.g., Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983) (holding that probation cannot be revoked based on failure to pay an amount the defendant is financially unable to pay). Disenfranchisement of felons has a regulatory component, see, e.g., Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 96-97 (1958), and when so viewed, disenfranchisement is subject only to the first M.L.B. exception, not this second one. But when the purpose of disenfranchisement is to punish, this second exception applies. If, after adoption of Amendment 4, the purported justification for requiring payment of financial obligations is only to ensure that felons pay their “debt to society”—that is, that they are fully punished—this second M.L.B. exception is fully applicable.
Another case applying these principles is Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), which was cited in both M.L.B. and the Johnson footnote. In Harper the Supreme Court said “[v]oter qualification has no relation to wealth.” The Court continued, “[w]ealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.” And the Court added, “[t]o introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor.” The Secretary says none of this is true when the voter is a felon, but the Secretary does not explain how a felon’s wealth is more relevant than any other voter’s. And Johnson plainly rejected the Secretary’s proposed distinction.
[some citations omitted]
Judge Hinkle's remedy was not to entirely enjoin the enforcement of the statute. Instead, Florida must follow its procedures and amend them if need be to allow indigent persons to demonstrate their inability to pay any restitution, fines, or fees. Nevertheless, this is a victory for those who have argued that the Florida statute undermined Amendment 4.
October 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 7, 2019
SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Unanimous Jury Case
Recall that the issue of which rights in the Bill of Rights are incorporated to the states has received recent attention: in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), a 5-4 Court held that the Second Amendment is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with four Justices finding this occurred through the Due Process Clause and Justice Thomas stating the proper vehicle was the Privileges or Immunities Clause). And just last Term, in Timbs v. Indiana, the United States Supreme Court unanimously concluded that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment is applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
But embedded in Timbs was a dispute about whether the "right" and the "substance of the right" must be similar, a question that the Court did not address. That dispute is at the heart of the incorporation doctrine surrounding the right to have a unanimous jury verdict. Justice Alito explained the problem in footnote 14 of McDonald, after stating in the text that the general rule is that rights "are all to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.”
There is one exception to this general rule. The Court has held that although the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires a unanimous jury verdict in federal criminal trials, it does not require a unanimous jury verdict in state criminal trials. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404 (1972).
The precedential value of Apodaca, a case in which the Justices split 4-1-4, was at the center of the oral argument, although at times not as central as might be predicted. The reliance of Louisiana on Apodaca in stare decisis considerations was certainly discussed at length,including the issue of how many inmates would be effected by the Court's ruling. It was unclear how many persons were currently serving sentences under less than unanimous jury verdicts, although petitioner's counsel stated there were currently 36 cases on direct appeal.
However the Solicitor General of Louisiana largely advanced a different argument. She vigorously argued that the Sixth Amendment should not be read to require unanimous jury verdicts at all — whether or not in the context of incorporation. She stated that "nothing in the text, structure, or history of the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous jury verdicts." There seemed to be little support for this construction, although the Justices and opposing counsel did discuss the differences between unanimity and the "12" requirement which the Court has held is not constitutionally required.
There was little indication the Court was likely to revise its Sixth Amendment jurisprudence. And more indication that the Court would continue its trend of incorporating rights in the Bill of Rights as against the states, which would mean overruling Apodaca.
October 7, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Interpretation, Oral Argument Analysis, Seventh Amendment, Sixth Amendment, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)
Sunday, October 6, 2019
SCOTUS Terms Begins With LGBTQ Title VII Cases
The United States Supreme Courts 2019 Term begins with oral arguments in three cases that will impact LGBTQ equality. To be clear, the Court is not considering constitutional law issues. Instead all three cases involve statutory interpretation of the prohibition of discrimination "because of sex" in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et. seq.
The two consolidated cases both involve sexual orientation discrimination. In Altitude Express v. Zarda, the Second Circuit en banc held that sexual orientation discrimination constituted a form of discrimination "because of sex" under Title VII, overruling previous Second Circuit decisions, and provoking the dissent of four judges. Reaching the opposite conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit in Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners, clung to its previous precedent, first in an unpublished opinion affirming the dismissal of the complaint, and then in a denial of rehearing en banc requested by a member of the court, with two judges issuing a dissenting opinion.
In deciding whether or not sexual orientation discrimination is included in Title VII's "because of sex" language, the primary precedent for the Court is its unanimous opinion in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), authored by the late Justice Scalia. The claim involved same-sex sexual harassment and the Court held:
We see no justification in the statutory language or our precedents for a categorical rule excluding same-sex harassment claims from the coverage of Title VII. As some courts have observed, male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII. But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed. Title VII prohibits “discriminat[ion] . . . because of . . . sex” in the “terms” or “conditions” of employment. Our holding that this includes sexual harassment must extend to sexual harassment of any kind that meets the statutory requirements.
The third case LGBTQ Title VII case to be considered by the Court in the Term's opening days is R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. The Sixth Circuit, in its unanimous panel opinion reversing the district judge, found that discrimination "against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII" under the "because of sex" discrimination prohibition. The court found that the "Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex" and that the religious claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb–1, raised by the funeral home's owner failed because "Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination."
While the Court has not previously decided a case of transgender discrimination under Title VII, the Court's opinion in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) held that sex-stereotyping is included within the prohibition of discrimination "because of sex" under Title VII. Hopkins is a fractured opinion, and none of the Justices who decided the case remain on the Court.
These statutory interpretation cases will provide an indication of the Court's views on LGBTQ equality, a subject last at the Court in the closely-divided same-sex case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), decided under the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, these three Title VII cases may illuminate how the Court is considering precedent.
Finally, no matter how the Court decides these Title VII issues, Congress retains ultimately authority. In 2019, the House of Representatives passed "The Equality Act" which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate has yet to take up this legislation.
October 6, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 15, 2019
SCOTUS Theater Event NYC August 18
Theatrical Performance featuring readings from
Department of Commerce v. New York
August 15, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Fourteenth Amendment, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 21, 2019
SCOTUS Finds State Cannot Tax Trust Beneficiary's "Income" Consistent With Due Process
In its opinion in North Carolina Dept of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that a state's taxation of a trust based solely on the residence of a beneficiary — even where the beneficiary did not receive any income — violates due process.
Recall our discussion of the view from Professors Bridget Crawford and Michelle Simon that "Kaestner Trust is the most important due process case involving trusts that the Court has decided in over sixty years; it bears directly on the fundamental meaning of due process," and their discussion of the facts and merits of the case. They urged the Supreme Court to affirm the conclusion of the North Carolina Supreme Court that the state lacked the power to tax consistent with due process and that's what the Court did.
Justice Sotomayor's succinct 16 page opinion is a model of clarity and analysis. The Court's conclusion clearly rests on the fact that there was no actual income or entitlement to distribution of any income from the trust managed by an out-of-state trustee:
We hold that the presence of in-state beneficiaries alone does not empower a State to tax trust income that has not been distributed to the beneficiaries where the beneficiaries have no right to demand that income and are uncertain ever to receive it. In limiting our holding to the specific facts presented, we do not imply approval or disapproval of trust taxes that are premised on the residence of beneficiaries whose relationship to trust assets differs from that of the beneficiaries here.
The opinion sets out the doctrine:
The Due Process Clause provides that “[n]o State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Clause “centrally concerns the fundamental fairness of governmental activity.”
In the context of state taxation, the Due Process Clause limits States to imposing only taxes that “bea[r] fiscal relation to protection, opportunities and benefits given by the state.” The power to tax is, of course, “essential to the very existence of government,” but the legitimacy of that power requires drawing a line between taxation and mere unjustified “confiscation.” That boundary turns on the “[t]he simple but controlling question . . . whether the state has given anything for which it can ask return.”
The Court applies a two-step analysis to decide if a state tax abides by the Due Process Clause. First, and most relevant here, there must be “‘some definite link, some minimum connection, between a state and the person, property or transaction it seeks to tax.’ ” Second, “the ‘income attributed to the State for tax purposes must be rationally related to “values connected with the taxing State.”’”
To determine whether a State has the requisite “minimum connection” with the object of its tax, this Court borrows from the familiar test of International Shoe Co. v. Washington (1945). A State has the power to impose a tax only when the taxed entity has “certain minimum contacts” with the State such that the tax “does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.’” The “minimum contacts” inquiry is “flexible” and focuses on the reasonableness of the government’s action. Ultimately, only those who derive “benefits and protection” from associating with a State should have obligations to the State in question.
Applying this doctrine to a trust involving an instate resident — whether beneficiary, settlor, or trustee—the Court stated that the
Due Process Clause demands attention to the particular relationship between the resident and the trust assets that the State seeks to tax. Because each individual fulfills different functions in the creation and continuation of the trust, the specific features of that relationship sufficient to sustain a tax may vary depending on whether the resident is a settlor, beneficiary, or trustee. When a tax is premised on the in- state residence of a beneficiary, the Constitution requires that the resident have some degree of possession, control, or enjoyment of the trust property or a right to receive that property before the State can tax the asset. Otherwise, the State’s relationship to the object of its tax is too attenuated to create the “minimum connection” that the Constitution requires.
Here, where the only instate resident was a beneficiary who did not receive any income and did not have a right to demand any distribution, the "minimum connection" was not sufficient.
Justice Alito wrote a brief concurring opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Gorsuch, to stress that "the opinion of the Court merely applies our existing precedent and that its decision not to answer questions not presented by the facts of this case does not open for reconsideration any points resolved by our prior decisions" and the "Court's discussion of the peculiarities of this trust does not change the governing standard, nor does it alter the reasoning applied in our earlier cases."
June 21, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
SCOTUS Finds Batson Equal Protection Violation in Flowers v. Mississippi
In its opinion in Flowers v. Mississippi, the Court reversed the decision of a divided Mississippi Supreme Court that there was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the selection of jurors under Batson v. Kentucky (1986).
The Court's opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan, stressed the "extraordinary facts" of Flowers and stated the decision sought to simply "enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it" here. Indeed, the jury selection at issue was in the sixth trial of Flowers all prosecuted by the same lead prosecutor. The Mississippi Supreme Court had reversed one conviction for prosecutorial misconduct, had reversed two other convictions for Batson violations, and two other trials had resulted in "hung juries." The Court concluded that four "critical facts, taken together" led to the conclusion:
- First, in the six trials combined, the State employed its peremptory challenges to strike 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors that it could have struck—a statistic that the State acknowledged at oral argument in this Court.
- Second, in the most recent trial, the sixth trial, the State exercised peremptory strikes against five of the six black prospective jurors.
- Third, at the sixth trial, in an apparent effort to find pretextual reasons to strike black prospective jurors, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors.
- Fourth, the State then struck at least one black prospective juror, Carolyn Wright, who was similarly situated to white prospective jurors who were not struck by the State.
The Court's opinion rehearsed the Equal Protection Clause doctrine that led to Batson, starting as far back as Strauder v. West Virginia (1880). The Court relied on its most recent Batson case, also a capital case, Foster v. Chatman (2016), and outlined the types of evidence relevant in a Batson challenge. It then discussed the evidence in detail as guided by the "critical facts" above. While the Court's opinion repeated that the case was "extraordinary" and that it was the combination of facts, Justice Alito wrote separately to stress the "unique combinations of circumstances present" as his reason for joining the Court's opinion.
Justice Thomas dissented in an opinion joined in large part by Justice Gorsuch. In Parts I-III of Thomas's dissenting opinion, joined by Gorsuch, Thomas starts by recounting the crime alleged and then argues that there was "no evidence whatsoever of purposeful race discrimination by the State in selecting the jury during the trial below." Further: "Each of the five challenged strikes was amply justified on race- neutral grounds timely offered by the State at the Batson hearing. None of the struck black jurors was remotely comparable to the seated white jurors. And nothing else about the State’s conduct at jury selection—whether trivial mistakes of fact or supposed disparate questioning— provides any evidence of purposeful discrimination based on race." As in the Court's opinion, the dissenting opinion then discusses the facts, drawing different conclusion. Yet these conclusions exist in the shade of Part IV of Thomas's dissenting opinion — the portion Gorusch did not join — criticizing Batson as disregarding limitations on standing and "giving a windfall to a convicted criminal" who "suffered no injury." Thomas concludes by stating that the "State is perfectly free to convict Curtis Flowers again" and that while the "Court's opinion might boost its self-esteem, it also needlessly prolongs the suffering of four victims’ families." As the only Black Justice on the Court, Thomas's rejection of Batson is sure to prompt discussion.
June 21, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 20, 2019
SCOTUS Decides Large Cross on Public Land in Maryland Does Not Violate Establishment Clause
In its fractured opinions in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association), a majority of the Court concluded that a 32 foot high "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., originally erected in 1919 to honor the dead of World War I, does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Recall that during oral argument, one question was whether the cross should be evaluated by applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) or whether it should be deemed more of a "passive monument" under Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Recall also that in the Fourth Circuit decision finding the cross violated the Establishment Clause, the majority found that the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry was not conclusive and stressed that the well-established Lemon test remained a "useful guidepost."
Writing for the majority, Justice Alito's opinion was joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. However, two portions of Justice Alito's opinion garnered only a plurality: Kagan did not join sections §IIA and §IID, the first essentially involving a critique of Lemon's usefulness and the second relying upon the divided town counsel prayer case of Town of Greece to conclude that "categories of monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history" are constitutional. Breyer — who wrote an important concurring opinion in the passive monument case of Van Orden — wrote a separate concurring opinion in which Kagan joined. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, again arguing that the Establishment Clause is not incorporated as against the states. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a separate concurring opinion, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing based on their status as "offended observers" and contending Lemon should be "shelved" and was a "misadventure." While joining Justice Alito's opinion in full, Kavanaugh also concurred separately to reprise a critique of Lemon as inconsistent with by the Court's decisions in five categories of Establishment Clause cases. Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Sotomayor.
So what does the majority "hold"? Alito's opinion for the majority concludes that this specific cross "carries special significance in commemorating World War I," which it had at the time of its erection and "acquired additional layers of historical meaning in subsequent years" and has become "part of the community." Certainly, "the cross originated as a Christian symbol and retains that meaning in many contexts," but this "does not change the fact that the symbol took on added secular meaning when used in World War I memorials." Alito's opinion specifically rejected arguments that the cross "disrespected" Jewish or Black veterans, and specifically mentions that "one of the local leaders responsible" for the cross was a "Jewish veteran" and that the memorial includes the names of black and white soldiers. Recall that this had been broached in the oral argument, with Justice Alito asking counsel: "And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?"
Justice Ginsburg, dissenting in a 21 page opinion including an appendix of images (including the headstones in a military cemetery, right) joined by Sotomayor, disputed the cross as a secular symbol. "Just as the Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation." Disputing the contention that the Latin cross is a well-established secular symbol commemorating World War I military casualties, Ginsburg relates disputes in the War Department in 1919, arguing that everyone involved "saw the Latin cross as a Christian symbol, not a universal or secular one." A true secular symbol was the "mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statute," of which there was one in Prince George's county, the cross being an "aberration" even at the time. Ginsburg confronts the slippery slope argument that a contrary decision would eliminate all commemorative crosses by arguing that the in the context of a cemetery, individual markers are acceptable because they convey individuality rather than government endorsement, and that in this case, the solution could be a transfer of the cross to private rather than government property.
The decision leaves lower courts and advocates in the same doctrinal landscape that they inhabited before, although with an even clearer message that longstanding religious monuments with religious symbols, no matter how imposing, will be upheld under the Establishment Clause.
June 20, 2019 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 17, 2019
SCOTUS Finds Virginia House Lacks Standing to Appeal Racial Gerrymandering
In its divided opinion in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the Court concluded that the Virginia House of Delegates, one of two chambers in the state legislature, did not have standing to appeal the judgment of the three judge district court that eleven districts in its 2011 redistricting plan were racially gerrymandered and violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall that in its previous appearance before the United States Supreme Court, Virginia's 2011 redistricting plan caused the Court to clarify the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections (2017), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts. It was on this remand that the three-judge court found that these other eleven districts also violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Recall also that at oral argument, the questions of standing to appeal were intermixed with the factually-intense merits, so that details about the processes leading to the actual redistricting map and its impacts complexified the arguments.
The Court did not reach the merits, but decided the case on lack of standing to appeal. As Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, phrased it, after the 2018 three-judge court decision, Virginia decided it "would rather stop than fight on," and Virginia did not appeal. However, the Virginia House of Delegates did pursue an appeal. Ginsburg — joined by Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch — held that the House of Delegates did not have standing to appeal.
The majority held that the House of Delegates had no standing to represent the interests of the State of Virginia. A State has the authority to designate the entities to represent it and in the case of Virginia it has given this authority exclusively to the state Attorney General.
Further, the majority held that the Virginia House of Delegates did not have standing in its own right, as it did not have a distinct injury. "Just as individual members of Congress do not have standing to assert the institutional interests of the legislature, "a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole." The Court also rejected specific injury to the House of Delegates because redrawing district lines would harm it.
Justice Alito, writing the dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer and Kavanaugh, argued that the House of delegates did experience specific injury in fact, given that a representative represents a specific set of constituents with specific interests and this would be changed by redistricting.
The contentious redistricting in Virginia (as well as other states) is not brought any closer to resolution by the Court's decision, but it does mean that Virginia's choice to end this round of the litigation must be a unitary one.
image: map of Virginia circa 1612 via
June 17, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
SCOTUS: No State Action in First Amendment Challenge to Public Access Channel
In its divided opinion in Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck, a majority of the United States Supreme Court held that the actions of a private nonprofit corporation operating a public access television channel did not constitute sufficient state action warranting application of the First Amendment.
Recall that in the Second Circuit's divided opinion (2018), the majority concluded that the "public access TV channels in Manhattan are public forums and the MCAC's employees were sufficiently alleged to be state actors taking action barred by the First Amendment to prevent dismissal" of the complaint, thus reversing the district judge. Importantly, the public access channels are part of Time Warner's cable system and Time Warner is a private company. At the heart of the First Amendment claim are allegations that the Manhattan Community Access Corporation, known as Manhattan Neighborhood Network, MNN, suspended the plaintiffs, Halleck and Melendez, from airing programs over the MNN public access channels because of disapproval of the content. During oral argument the Justices grappled with the question of doctrines: whether general constitutional state action doctrine applied or whether public forum doctrine under the First Amendment applied or whether there is a convergence of the two doctrines.
Writing for the majority, Justice Kavanaugh, joined by C.J. Roberts, and Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, concluded that general constitutional state action doctrine was the threshold — and determinative — issue. The Court rearticulated the applicable state action doctrine governing when a private entity can qualify as a state actor as limited to a few circumstances:
(i) when the private entity performs a traditional, exclusive public function (citing Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co. (1982));
(ii) when the government compels the private entity to take a particular action (citing Blum v. Yarestsky (1982);
(iii) when the government acts jointly with the private entity (citing Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co. (1982)).
Interestingly, neither the majority nor dissenting opinion cited Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co. (1991), in which a six-Justice majority articulated a test for meeting the state action threshold when there was a private actor involved.
Justice Kavanaugh's opinion focused on the first circumstance, and stressed that the requirement means that the government must have traditionally and exclusively performed the function. Given that the relevant function was defined as the "operation of public access channels on a cable system," the Court had little difficulty in concluding that the requirement was not met under a "commonsense principle":
Providing some kind of forum for speech is not an activity that only governmental entities have traditionally performed. Therefore, a private entity who provides a forum for speech is not transformed by that fact alone into a state actor. After all, private property owners and private lessees often open their property for speech. Grocery stores put up community bulletin boards. Comedy clubs host open mic nights.
The majority further rejected the plaintiffs' argument that state action was present because New York City designated MNN to operate the public access channels and New York state heavily regulates public access channels. The majority stated, however, that even where there is a contract or monopoly, the private actor is not converted into a private actor into a state actor "unless the private entity is performing a traditional, exclusive government function."
The majority also rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the public access channels are the "property" of the state of New York rather than the property of the cable network (Time Warner) or of MNN itself. The majority found, however, that "nothing in the franchise agreements" suggests that the city "possesses any property interest" in Time Warner's cable system or in the public access channels operated by Time Warner. The government could have decided to operate the public access channels itself, in which case that might be different, but that did not happen here.
Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, argued that the majority misconstrued the case before the Court and this case is actually "about an organization appointed to administer a constitutional public forum" and not simply "about a private property owner that simply opened up its property to others." For the dissenting Justices, when MNN accepted the contractual agency relationship, it "stepped into the City's shoes and thus qualifies as a state actor, subject to the First Amendment like any other." The dissent argued that MNN was not simply a private actor that "simply sets up shop against a regulatory backdrop," but that it occupies its role because it was asked by New York City to do so, and was deputized by the city to administer the public access channels. The dissent also argued that the requirement that the private actor be performing a traditional and exclusive function only applies when the "private actor ventures of its own accord into territory shared (or regulated) by the government." Otherwise, the doctor hired to provide medical care to state prisoners would not be a state actor, unlike the Court's unanimous holding in West v. Atkins (1988), because "Nobody thinks that orthopedics is a function 'traditionally exclusively reserved to the State.'"
The Court's divided opinion reveals an established political rift in state action doctrine and theory. In the penultimate paragraph in Justice Kavanaugh's opinion for the majority, he writes:
It is sometimes said that the bigger the government, the smaller the individual. Consistent with the text of the Constitution, the state-action doctrine enforces a critical boundary between the government and the individual, and thereby protects a robust sphere of individual liberty. Expanding the state-action doctrine beyond its traditional boundaries would expand governmental control while restricting individual liberty and private enterprise. We decline to do so in this case.
On the other hand, Justice Sotomayor for the four dissenting Justices concludes:
This is not a case about bigger governments and smaller individuals; it is a case about principals and agents. New York City opened up a public forum on public- access channels in which it has a property interest. It asked MNN to run that public forum, and MNN accepted the job. That makes MNN subject to the First Amendment, just as if the City had decided to run the public forum itself.
While the majority emphasizes that its decision is narrow and factbound, that does not make it any less misguided. It is crucial that the Court does not continue to ignore the reality, fully recognized by our precedents, that private actors who have been delegated constitutional responsibilities like this one should be accountable to the Constitution’s demands. I respectfully dissent.
Thus, while the decision seems narrow, it could be a harbinger of a narrowing of state action doctrine to release private entities that contract with the state from constitutional constraints unless the entities are performing a traditional and exclusive function of the government, even if the entities are "in the shoes" of the state.
June 17, 2019 in Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, June 7, 2019
Washington Supreme Court on Remand in Arlene's Flowers: No First Amendment Violation
In its unanimous opinion in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, the Washington Supreme Court concluded there was no First Amendment infringement when the state found Arlene's Flowers violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), by refusing to sell wedding flowers to a same-sex couple.
Recall that in June 2018, the United States Supreme Court without opinion, in Arlene's Flowers v. Washington, granted the petition for writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court, and remanded the case for consideration in light of its decision earlier than month in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm'n. Given the holding in Masterpiece Cakeshop that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, or one specific commissioner, exhibited "hostility" to the cakemaker in that case, the Washington Supreme Court was now tasked with determining whether there was a similar hostility towards the religion of the florist in Arlene's Flowers, Baronnelle Stutzman, and if so, applying strict scrutiny.
The Washington Supreme Court, on page 2 of its 76 page opinion, proclaimed: "We now hold that the answer to the Supreme Court's question is no; the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination . . . ."
The Washington Supreme Court's lengthy opinion admittedly includes passages from its 2017 opinion which thoroughly discussed and applied the First Amendment standards, but it also carefully delves into the question of government hostility toward religion. The court found irrelevant one contested incident involving the Attorney General of Washington which occurred after the Washington Supreme Court's 2017 opinion, noting that the issue was one of adjudicatory animus and not executive branch animus; any claim that there was selective prosecution lacked merit. The Washington Supreme Court also rejected Stutzman's claim that the scope of the injunction in the 2017 opinion mandated that Stutzman "personally attend and participate in same-sex weddings."
The Washington Supreme Court's opinion concludes that "After careful review on remand, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. We again affirm the trial court's rulings."
It is a solid well-reasoned unanimous opinion, but given this hard-fought and well-financed litigation, it's likely that Arlene's Flowers will again petition the United States Supreme Court for certiorari.
image: Vincent Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase, circa 1887, via.
June 7, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Seventh Circuit Upholds Ballot Access Requirement
The Seventh Circuit this week upheld a signatures requirement to get on the ballot in the Cook County sheriff's race.
The case, Acevedo v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board, arose when Acevedo, a would-be candidate for Cook County sheriff, failed to obtain the necessary signatures of 0.5% of qualified voters in Cook County. Acevedo noted that the signatures formula for Cook County sheriff required him to obtain more signatures (0.5% of qualified voters equals 8,236 signatures) than candidates for statewide offices (who must get only 5,000 signatures). He claimed that the signatures requirement for Cook County therefore violated strict scrutiny (because the lower signatures requirement for statewide offices showed that the government could meet its interest in a less burdensome way).
The Seventh Circuit rejected the claim. Applying the Anderson-Burdick balancing test, the court said that strict scrutiny was far too high a standard, and that the government easily met it:
We have stressed before that "[w]hat is ultimately important is not the absolute or relative number of signatures required by whether a 'reasonably diligent candidate could be expected to be able to meet the requirements and gain a place on the ballot.'" If the burden imposed is slight, Anderson and Burdick make clear that no justification beyond the state's interest in orderly and fair elections is necessary--even if less burdensome alternatives are available.
The ruling ends this challenge and upholds the signatures requirement for Cook County sheriff.
June 7, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, April 26, 2019
Kansas Supreme Court Finds Fundamental Right to Abortion Under State Constitution
In its extensive opinion in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that the right to abortion in protected under its state constitution and regulations of the fundamental right should be subject to strict scrutiny.
The per curiam opinion is exceedingly clear that the opinion rests on independent state constitutional grounds and that it is interpreting §1 of the Kansas state Constitution, adopted in 1859: "All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The court specifically finds that this provision creates judicially enforceable "natural rights" such as the right to "personal autonomy" to make decisions regarding our bodies, health care, family formation, and family life, including a woman's right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.
Having held that the right to an abortion is encompassed within the fundamental right bodily autonomy, the Kansas Supreme Court held that strict scrutiny should apply, which the court articulated as prohibited the state from restricting that right unless it can show it is doing so to further a compelling government interest and in a way that is narrowly tailored to that interest.
At issue in the case is Kansas S.B. 95, passed in 2015, now K.S.A. 65-6741 through 65-6749, which prohibits physicians from performing a specific abortion method referred to in medical terms as Dilation and Evacuation (D & E) except when "necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman" or to prevent a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."
The trial court had issued a preliminary injunction, which the Kansas Supreme Court upheld, but remanded the case for a fuller evidentiary hearing applying strict scrutiny.
via & caption: Kansas Supreme Court
Seated left to right: Hon. Marla J. Luckert, Hon. Lawton R. Nuss, Chief Justice; Hon. Carol A. Beier.
Standing left to right: Hon. Dan Biles, Hon. Eric S. Rosen, Hon. Lee A. Johnson, and Hon. Caleb Stegall.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Dan Biles argued that the majority should be more explicit in articulating how strict scrutiny should be applied in the abortion context, suggesting what "our state test should look like using an evidence-based analytical model taken from Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt" (2016). Justice Biles provided a very detailed roadmap that would be attractive to the trial court. Justice Biles also placed the decision within developments in state constitutional law on abortion:
It is also worth mentioning our court has not gone rogue today. By my count, appellate courts in 17 states have addressed whether their state constitutions independently protect a pregnant woman's decisions regarding her pregnancy from unjustifiable government interference. Of those, 13 have plainly held they do. [citations omitted].
The sole dissenting Justice of the seven Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court (pictured above) was Justice Caleb Stegall, who relied on numerous dissenting opinions in both the United States Supreme Court and Kansas Supreme Court. He began his opinion by stating "This case is not only about abortion policy—the most divisive social issue of our day—it is more elementally about the structure of our republican form of government." In essence, he considers the majority to be taking an activist stance. The majority opinion does devote more than a little attention to refuting and engaging with the dissent's arguments.
Because the case cannot be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court (given that the state's highest court decided it on the independent ground of its state constitution, unless it is argued it infringes on another constitutional right), subsequent constitutional law issues will be concentrated on what happens in the trial court and what might happen in other states.
April 26, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Third Circuit Upholds Philadelphia's Refusal to Refer Foster Children to Organizations that Discriminates on Basis of Sexual Orientation
In its opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents.
Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents. Once Philadelphia became aware of the CSS policy, through investigative reporting, the city eventually suspended foster care referrals to CSS in accordance with the city's nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation. The plaintiffs, including individuals about whom the Third Circuit had standing doubts, sued for a preliminary injunction, which the district judge denied after a three day hearing. On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on their First Amendment claims under the Free Exercise Clause, as well as the Establishment Clause and the Speech Clause.
Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be. Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case. As the court stated:
CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of [Employment Division v. ] Smith that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”
On the Establishment Clause, Judge Ambro briefly concluded that there was no evidence that Philadelphia was attempting to impose its preferred version of Catholic teaching on CSS.
And in a similarly brief discussion of the free speech claim, Judge Ambro's opinion found there was no viable compelled speech claim or retaliation claim.
Finally, the Third Circuit opinion considered whether there was a possibly successful claim under Pennsylvania's RFRA statute and found that there was little chance of success on the merits, even given the higher standard of review.
This litigation has attracted much interest, with intervenors and amici, and the plaintiffs filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court for an injunction pending appeal or an immediate grant of certiorari in 2018, which was denied. Another certiorari petition is almost sure to follow the Third Circuit's decision.
April 23, 2019 in Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, March 30, 2019
Federal Judge Finds Charter School's Gendered Dress Code Violates Equal Protection
In his opinion in Peltier v. Charter Day School, Inc., Senior United States District Judge Malcolm J. Howard in the Eastern District of North Carolina held that the dress code of the Charter Day School corporation mandating that girl students wear skirts violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The bulk of Judge Howard's 36 page opinion concerned the threshold matter of state action given that Charter Day School (CDS) is a private nonprofit corporation. CDS described itself as a "traditional values" charter school and operated under North Carolina statutes allowing and regulating charter schools. Judge Howard determined that CDS had responsibility for the dress code (unlike another defendant), was viewed as a public school under state law, was performing an historical, exclusive, and traditional state function, and was subject to pervasive regulation including regarding suspensions for dress code violations.
On the Equal Protection Clause issue, Judge Howard noted that grooming and dress codes did not fit neatly into the doctrine of sex discrimination articulated in United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), noting that the CDS argued that intermediate scrutiny should not apply, but rather a "comparable burden" analysis. However, Judge Howard determined that even under a "comparative burden" analysis, the skirts requirement for girls did not "pass muster." Judge Howard stated that the skirts requirement was not consistent with community norms: women and girls have worn both pants and skirts in school and professional settings since the 1970s.
In considering the interests CDS asserted, including that the skirts requirement "helps the students act appropriately toward the opposite sex," Judge Howard found that there was no evidence to substantiate this, including a comparison to the days when there were exceptions to the only-skirts requirement. Moreover, the CDS board members could not explain when deposed how the skirts requirement furthered the goal. And while CDS stressed their students' good performance, there was no link between the performance and the skirts policy.
As Judge Howard implied, mandating girl students wear skirts has become anachronistic. However, as Judge Howard also noted, this does not mean that all gender-specific dress codes violate equal protection. For more about school dress codes and enforcing gender norms, see Dressing Constitutionally.
image: girls in pants in Minneapolis, 1929, via
March 30, 2019 in Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, State Action Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, March 18, 2019
SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument on Virginia Racial Gerrymandering, Bethune-Hill Redux
The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill involving the ultimate issue of whether the redistricting plan of Virginia is racial gerrymandering in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Like many states, the redistricting legal landscape in Virginia is complex; a good explainer from Loyola-Los Angeles Law School is here.
Recall that two years ago, in March 2017, the Court in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.
On remand, the three-judge court divided, with the detailed and extensive opinion authored by Judge Barbara Milano Keenan for the majority ultimately concluding that the "Commonwealth of Virginia's House of Delegates Districts numbers 63, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95 as drawn under the 2011 Redistricting Plan, Va. Code Ann. § 24.2—3o4.03, violate the Equal Protection Clause. "
During that proceeding, the Virginia House of Delegates — one house of the Virginia legislature — was allowed to intervene, but a question on appeal to the United States Supreme Court is whether the House of Delegates, represented by Paul Clement, has standing to appeal, especially given that the Virginia Board of Elections, represented by Toby Heytens, the appellate the first time the case reached the United States Supreme Court, is now the appellee in agreement with Bethune-Hill, represented by Marc Elias. Morgan Ratner, an assistant Solicitor General, appeared on behalf of the United States and fully supported neither party, but did argue that the House of Delegates lacked standing, because "the House as an institution isn't harmed by changes to individual district lines, and while states can authorize legislatures to represent them in court, Virginia hasn't done so." While Justice Alito seemed to take the position that all the House of Delegates needed to establish was some injury on fact, such as the cost of publishing a new map showing the new districts, with Justice Sotomayor labeling Clement's statement that Virginia had "forfeited" the ability to object to the appeal as an "extreme" view. There was seemingly some sympathy to Toby Heytens' view that the Court was essentially being asked to referee a dispute between branches of the Virginia state government, with Justice Alito also asking whether or not the question of which entity may represent the state is not a question that should be certified to the Virginia Supreme Court. The precedential value and applicability of Minnesota State Senate v. Beens (1972), which Justice Ginsburg pointed out has not been cited in 30 years and was from an era in which standing was more "relaxed" and which others distinguished in terms of the impact on the legislative body.
On the merits, one issue was credibility of witnesses and deference to the court's factual determinations, especially given that the first three judge court had reached some opposite conclusions, including in some districts whether or not racial considerations predominated (and thus strict scrutiny would apply). This might seemingly be explained by the different standard articulated by the Court's previous decision in Bethune-Hill before remand, but this did not seem to be addressed. As typical, the precise facts in the map-making and the interplay between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause made the argument exceedingly detailed. For example, there are particular questions about the BVAP [Black Voting Age Population] in specific districts and what percentage is acceptable in each district as individualized or as comparative to other districts.
If the Court does not resolve the case on lack of standing, one can expect another highly specific opinion regarding racial gerrymandering in the continuing difficult saga of racial equality in voting.
[image: Virginia House of Delegates 2012 via]
March 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
SCOTUS Agrees to Hear Unanimous Jury Incorporation Challenge
The United States Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in Ramos v. Louisiana posing the question whether the right to a unanimous jury verdict is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.
Recall that in McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), in which a 5-4 Court held that the Second Amendment is incorporated as against the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with four Justices finding this occurred through the Due Process Clause and Justice Thomas stating the proper vehicle was the Privileges or Immunities Clause), Justice Alito writing for the plurality discussed the state of incorporation doctrine in some detail. In footnote 12, Alito's opinion discussed the provisions of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that had been incorporated, providing citations, and in footnote 13, the opinion discussed the provisions that had not yet been incorporated, other than the Second Amendment then under consideration:
- the Third Amendment’s protection against quartering of soldiers;
- the Fifth Amendment’s grand jury indictment requirement;
- the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases; and
- the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on excessive fines.
Just this term in February, the Court whittled this small list down to three, deciding unanimously in Timbs v. Indiana that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on excessive fines is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, following an oral argument in which some Justices expressed wonderment that the issue of incorporation was even arguable in 2018.
But embedded in Timbs was a dispute about whether the "right" and the "substance of the right" must be similar, a question that the Court did not address. That dispute is at the heart of the incorporation doctrine surrounding the right to have a unanimous jury verdict. Justice Alito explained the problem in footnote 14 of McDonald, after stating in the text that the general rule is that rights "are all to be enforced against the States under the Fourteenth Amendment according to the same standards that protect those personal rights against federal encroachment.”
There is one exception to this general rule. The Court has held that although the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury requires a unanimous jury verdict in federal criminal trials, it does not require a unanimous jury verdict in state criminal trials. See Apodaca v. Oregon, 406 U. S. 404 (1972); see also Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U. S. 356 (1972) (holding that the Due Process Clause does not require unanimous jury verdicts in state criminal trials). But that ruling was the result of an unusual division among the Justices, not an endorsement of the two-track approach to incorporation. In Apodaca, eight Justices agreed that the Sixth Amendment applies identically to both theFederal Government and the States. See Johnson, supra, at 395 (Brennan, J., dissenting). Nonetheless, among those eight, four Justices took the view that the Sixth Amendment does not require unanimous jury verdicts in either federal or state criminal trials, Apodaca, 406 U. S., at 406 (plurality opinion), and four other Justices took the view that the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous jury verdicts in federal and state criminal trials, id., at 414–415 (Stewart, J., dissenting); Johnson, supra, at 381–382 (Douglas, J., dissenting). Justice Powell’s concurrence in the judgment broke the tie, and he concluded that the Sixth Amendment requires juror unanimity in federal, but not state, cases. Apodaca, therefore, does not undermine the well-established rule that incorporated Bill of Rights protections apply identically to the States and the Federal Government. See Johnson, supra, at 395–396 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (footnote omitted) (“In any event, the affirmance must not obscure that the majority of the Court remains of the view that, as in the case of every specific of the Bill of Rights that extends to the States, the Sixth Amendment’s jury trialguarantee, however it is to be construed, has identical application against both State and Federal governments.")
Thus, in Ramos v. Louisiana, the Court is set to address this "exception to the general rule" and decide whether jury unanimity is required in a criminal case in state court to the same extent as in federal court pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.
March 18, 2019 in Criminal Procedure, Due Process (Substantive), Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
Sixth Circuit En Banc Majority Upholds Ohio's Ban on Funding Planned Parenthood
In its en banc opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Hodges, the Sixth Circuit reversed a permanent injunction by the district judge against Ohio Rev. Code §3701.034 which bars any state funding — including government-sponsored health and education programs that target sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer and cervical cancer, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, and sexual violence — to any organization that performs or promotes abortion.
In less than 12 pages, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for the 11 judge majority, rejected the claim that the Ohio statute was an unconstitutional condition on the due process right encompassing the right to abortion by stating that Planned Parenthood had no substantive due process right to provide abortions: "The Supreme Court has never identified a freestanding right to perform abortions." Moreover, Sutton's opinion rejected the argument that
the Ohio law will deprive Ohio women of their constitutional right of access to abortion services without undue burden, because it will lead Planned Parenthood and perhaps other abortion providers to stop providing them. Maybe; maybe not. More to the point, the conclusion is premature and unsupported by the record.
In this way, the majority distinguished the United States Supreme Court's most recent abortion case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), albeit briefly (with one "cf." citation and one "see" citation).
In the dissenting opinion, Judge Helene White writing for 6 judges, criticizes the majority for not mentioning "much less" applying,
the test the Supreme Court has recently articulated governing the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine. That doctrine prohibits the government from conditioning the grant of funds under a government program if: (1) the challenged conditions would violate the Constitution if they were instead enacted as a direct regulation; and (2) the conditions affect protected conduct outside the scope of the government program.
citing Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (2013) [the "prostitution pledge" case].
The dissent concludes that because "(1) the funding conditions in this case would result in an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain nontherapeutic abortions if imposed directly, and (2) the six federal programs have nothing to do with Plaintiffs’ performing abortions, advocating for abortion rights, or affiliating with organizations that engage in such activity, all on their own 'time and dime,' " the Ohio statute should be unconstitutional.
The dissenting opinion also discusses the First Amendment argument, which the district court judge had credited but which the majority discounted because to prevail Ohio need only show that one limitation satisfied the Constitution and because "the conduct component of the Ohio law does not impose an unconstitutional condition in violation of due process, we need not reach the free speech claim." For the dissent, the free speech claim was not mooted and should be successful as in Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (2013).
March 12, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 25, 2019
SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument in Public Access Television and State Action Case
The Court heard oral arguments in Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck, presenting the question of when (if ever) the actions of a private nonprofit corporation operating a public access television channel constitute sufficient state action warranting application of the First Amendment. As we discussed in our preview, the doctrinal question revolves around whether it is general constitutional state action doctrine or public forum doctrine under the First Amendment or whether there is a convergence of the two doctrines. The Second Circuit held that there were sufficient allegations of state action and First Amendment violations to prevent dismissal of the complaint.
Recall that the case involves a claim that Manhattan Community Access Corporation, known as Manhattan Neighborhood Network, MNN, suspended the plaintiffs, Halleck and Melendez, from airing programs over the MNN public access channels because of disapproval of the content in violation of the First Amendment, which requires state action.
In oral argument, Michael DeLeeuw, arguing for MNN, began by stating that MNN could not be deemed a state actor under any of the Court's state action tests. On the other hand, in the conclusion to his argument on behalf of the original plaintiffs, Paul Hughes stated that his "argument is limited to the context of public forums and the administration of public forums being state action" and "goes no further than that."
In between, the Justices probed factual questions regarding the composition of the MNN board, MNN's ability to curate content (or whether it must adhere to first-come-first-served), the practice with other public access channels, the agreement scheme between the city and MNN as well as regulations, and searched for analogies in railroads, "private prisons," and schools opening their facilities. Early in the argument, Chief Justice Roberts asked whether facts about MNN's ability to curate content was disputed, with counsel for MNN responding that they were, and Chief Justice Roberts responding that the case was before the Court on the pleadings. At several points, Justice Breyer focused on specific facts, noting that certain facts tended toward or against there being state action or the creation of a public forum.
On the whole, the argument seemed to favor a very particularized analysis. So while the Court could certainly articulate a broad new standard for state action, it seems more likely that the Court's decision will be a narrow one focused on the rather unique circumstances of this public access arrangement.
February 25, 2019 in First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, State Action Doctrine, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)