Monday, February 24, 2020

SCOTUS Grants Certiorari on First Amendment Challenge to Anti-Discrimination Foster Care Policy

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.

Recall that 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. 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 [1990] 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.”

The litigation attracted much attention and the grant of certiorari may indicate that some of the Justices are willing to overturn Smith or to extend the holding of Masterpiece Cakeshop.

February 24, 2020 in Establishment Clause, Family, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 23, 2020

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on Montana Blaine Amendment for School Scholarship

The Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships as violating the First Amendment's religion clauses and the equal protection clause.

Under the original Tax Credit Program, the law provided a taxpayer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit based on the taxpayer’s donation to a Student Scholarship Organization. However, Montana has a constitutional provision, Art. X §6, which prohibits aid to sectarian schools, so the department of revenue added "Rule 1" to the state tax credit scheme excluding from the definition of "qualified education provider" eligible under the scheme "a church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, literary or scientific institution, or any other sectarian institution owned or controlled in whole or in part by any church, religious sect, or denomination."  Parents challenged the constitutionality of Rule 1, but when the litigation reached the Montana Supreme Court, it held that the Tax Credit Program was unconstitutional under Art. X §6 and therefore it did not need to reach the issue regarding Rule 1:

Having concluded the Tax Credit Program violates Article X, Section 6, it is not necessary to consider federal precedent interpreting the First Amendment’s less-restrictive Establishment Clause. Conversely, however, an overly-broad analysis of Article X, Section 6, could implicate free exercise concerns. Although there may be a case where an indirect payment constitutes “aid” under Article X, Section 6, but where prohibiting the aid would violate the Free Exercise Clause, this is not one of those cases. We recognize we can only close the “room for play” between the joints of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses to a certain extent before our interpretation of one violates the other.

In the oral argument, Justice Ginsberg characterized the option exercised by the Montana Supreme Court as leveling down: "When a differential is challenged, the court inspecting the state law can level up or level down. And here it leveled down." (This "leveling down" approach occurred in Justice Ginsburg's opinion for the Court in Sessions v. Santana-Morales (2017)). And here that leveling down effected questions of standing which troubled Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in their early questions to the attorney for the petitioners — the parents and original plaintiffs — who are "three levels removed" from any injury as Sotmayor stated.

The Montana Supreme Court assumed center stage at times, with Justice Alito for example questioning not simply whether the court was wrong but whether it was discriminatory:

isn't the crucial question why the state court did what it did?

If it did what it did for an unconstitutionally discriminatory reason, then there's a problem under Village of Arlington Heights.

So I'll give you an example. The state legislature sets up a scholarship fund, and after a while, people look at the – the recipients of the scholarships, and some people say: Wow, these are mostly going to blacks and we don't like that and that's contrary to state law. So the state supreme court says: Okay,that discrimination is -- we're going to strike down the whole thing.

Is that constitutional?

The attorney for Montana, Adam Unikowsky rejected "the race analogy" stating that "we just don't think that race and religion are identical for all constitutional reasons."

Justice Breyer explained, "what he's saying is that, look, the court took the case in the Prince Edward County thing -- " or "the equivalent and said they couldn't do that. They can't shut down all the schools, even though the Constitution they didn't say had a right and so that's the similarity."

This question of the race-religion analogy persisted, with the motivation behind the Montana state constitutional provision, often known as a Blaine Amendment, being "rooted in -- in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics," as Justice Kavanaugh phrased it. Justice Kagan seemingly rejected the notion that the court's striking down the entire program must be motivated by animus towards religion:

And I can think of many reasons why you would strike down the whole program that have nothing to do with animus toward religion. You might actually think that funding religion imposes costs and burdens on religious institutions themselves. You might think that taxpayers have conscientious objections to funding religion. You might think that funding religion creates divisiveness and conflict within a society, and that for all those reasons, funding religious activity is not a good idea and that you would rather level down and fund no comparable activity, whether religious or otherwise, than fund both. Now, none of those things have anything to do with animus towards religion . . . .

Yet soon after, Chief Justice Roberts returned to the race analogy. Later, Justice Breyer would ask:

can we--can you or could I say this: Yes, race is different from religion. Why? There is no Establishment Clause in regard to race.

The specific doctrinal arguments revolve around the extension of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, decided in 2017, involving Missouri's state constitutional Blaine Amendment and the denial of funds to a church school playground.  And more deeply, the "play in the joints" notion from Locke v. Davey — which was itself divisive in Trinity Lutheran — is implicated. At stake is the possibility that Free Exercise Clause will now overwhelm any anti-Establishment concerns.

 

January 23, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 23, 2019

SCOTUS to Hear Ministerial Exception Cases

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to two Ninth Circuit cases and consolidated them: Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrisey-Berru and St. James School v. Biel

Both cases involve an application of the First Amendment's "ministerial exception" first accepted by the Court in 2012 in Hosana-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.  In the unanimous decision in Hosanna-Tabor, the Court found that the school teacher Cheryl Perich was tantamount to a minister. Thus, under both Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, as a "minister" her employment relations with her church school employer were eligible for a "ministerial exception" to the otherwise applicable employment laws, in that case the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

But who is a "ministerial" employee subject to the exemption from employment laws?

Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Hosanna-Tabor declined to provide a test for deciding whether or not an employee was within the ministerial exception. However, the Court did extensively analyze Cheryl Perich's employment. And the lower courts have been struggling with how to analogize to the Court's conclusions regarding the "called teacher" Perich.

In the unpublished and very brief panel opinion in Morrisey-Berru, the court stated that the Court in Hosanna-Tabor considered four factors in analyzing whether the exception applied:

  • (1) whether the employer held the employee out as a minister by bestowing a formal religious title;
  • (2) whether the employee’s title reflected ministerial substance and training;
  • (3) whether the employee held herself out as a minister; and
  • (4) whether the employee’s job duties included “important religious functions.”

Applying those factors, the Ninth Circuit panel stated:

Considering the totality of the circumstances in this case, we conclude that the district court erred in concluding that Morrissey-Berru was a “minister” for purposes of the ministerial exception. Unlike the employee in Hosanna-Tabor, Morrissey-Berru’s formal title of “Teacher” was secular. Aside from taking a single course on the history of the Catholic church, Morrissey-Berru did not have any religious credential, training, or ministerial background. Morrissey-Berru also did not hold herself out to the public as a religious leader or minister.

Morrissey-Berru did have significant religious responsibilities as a teacher at the School. She committed to incorporate Catholic values and teachings into her curriculum, as evidenced by several of the employment agreements she signed, led her students in daily prayer, was in charge of liturgy planning for a monthly Mass, and directed and produced a performance by her students during the School’s Easter celebration every year. However, an employee’s duties alone are not dispositive under Hosanna-Tabor’s framework. See Biel v. St. James Sch. (9th Cir. 2018). Therefore, on balance, we conclude that the ministerial exception does not bar Morrissey-Berru’s ADEA claim.

Biel, relied upon in Morrisey-Berru's unpublished opinion, was much more contentious. Reversing the district court, the Ninth Circuit panel's opinion in Biel similarly considered four factors from Hosanna-Tabor and applying them to the school teacher Kristen Biel concluded that she was not a ministerial employee. For the panel in Biel, she

by contrast, has none of Perich’s credentials, training, or ministerial background. There was no religious component to her liberal studies degree or teaching credential. St. James had no religious requirements for her position. And, even after she began working there, her training consisted of only a half-day conference whose religious substance was limited. Unlike Perich, who joined the Lutheran teaching ministry as a calling, Biel appears to have taken on teaching work wherever she could find it: tutoring companies, multiple public schools, another Catholic school, and even a Lutheran school.

***

Also in contrast to Perich, nothing in the record indicates that Biel considered herself a minister or presented herself as one to the community. She described herself as a teacher and claimed no benefits available only to ministers.

Only with respect to the fourth consideration in Hosanna-Tabor do Biel and Perich have anything in common: they both taught religion in the classroom. Biel taught lessons on the Catholic faith four days a week. She also incorporated religious themes and symbols into her overall classroom environment and curriculum, as the school required. We do not, however, read Hosanna-Tabor to indicate that the ministerial exception applies based on this shared characteristic alone. If it did, most of the analysis in Hosanna-Tabor would be irrelevant dicta, given that Perich’s role in teaching religion was only one of the four characteristics the Court relied upon in reaching the conclusion that she fell within the ministerial exception.

And even Biel’s role in teaching religion was not equivalent to Perich’s.. . .

The panel's opinion in Biel was not unanimous. A dissenting judge would have held that Biel was a minister in large part because her teaching duties at a Catholic school included religious teachings; the judge was "struck by the importance of her stewardship of the Catholic faith to the children in her class. Biel’s Grade 5 Teacher title may not have explicitly announced her role in ministry, but the substance reflected in her title demonstrates that she was a Catholic school educator with a distinctly religious purpose."

The petition for rehearing en banc was denied, but with a lengthy dissenting opinion  by Judge R. Nelson joined by an addition eight Ninth Circuit Judges - - - that's nine Judges dissenting.  Judge Nelson's opinion argues that the panel opinion in Biel (as well as the opinion in Morrisey-Berru) had taken the narrowest possible interpretation of Hosanna-Tabor, so narrow as to have "excised the ministerial exception, slicing through constitutional muscle and now cutting deep into core constitutional bone." For the dissenting judges, 

In turning a blind eye to St. James’s religious liberties protected by both Religion Clauses, we exhibit the very hostility toward religion our Founders prohibited and the Supreme Court has repeatedly instructed us to avoid.

Chalk_Lessons_or_The_Blackboard_in_the_Sunday_School_by_Frank_Beard_1896With the Court's grant of certiorari in Biel and Morrisey-Berru, perhaps there will be more clarity regarding the factors of Hosanna-Tabor and how they should be applied to teachers in private schools run by religious organizations. 

The facts of Biel may strike many as particularly sympathetic: Kristen Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer and terminated when she said she would have to take some time off work when she underwent chemotherapy. St. James's principal, Sister Mary Margaret, told Biel it was not "fair" "to have two teachers for the children during the school year.” If she had worked for a nonreligious school, Biel would have been protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Court is set to decide whether Biel and seemingly almost every teacher at a private school operated by a religious organization should be excluded from the employment protections afforded other workers.

[image "Chalk Lessons, or the Black-board in the Sunday School. A Practical Guide for Superintendents and Teachers" by Frank Beard (1896), via]

December 23, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Disability, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Third Circuit Upholds Philadelphia's Refusal to Refer Foster Children to Organizations that Discriminates on Basis of Sexual Orientation

In its opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents.

Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents.  Once Philadelphia became aware of the CSS policy, through investigative reporting, the city eventually suspended foster care referrals to CSS in accordance with the city's nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation.  The plaintiffs, including individuals about whom the Third Circuit had standing doubts, sued for a preliminary injunction, which the district judge denied after a three day hearing.  On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on their First Amendment claims under the Free Exercise Clause, as well as the Establishment Clause and the Speech Clause.

Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be.  Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission  and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case.  As the court stated:

CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of  [Employment Division v. ] Smith that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”

On the Establishment Clause, Judge Ambro briefly concluded that there was no evidence that Philadelphia was attempting to impose its preferred version of Catholic teaching on CSS.

And in a similarly brief discussion of the free speech claim, Judge Ambro's opinion found there was no viable compelled speech claim or retaliation claim.

Finally, the Third Circuit opinion considered whether there was a possibly successful claim under Pennsylvania's RFRA statute and found that there was little chance of success on the merits, even given the higher standard of review.

This litigation has attracted much interest, with intervenors and amici, and the plaintiffs filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court for an injunction pending appeal or an immediate grant of certiorari in 2018, which was denied.  Another certiorari petition is almost sure to follow the Third Circuit's decision.

 

 

April 23, 2019 in Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Fourth Circuit Rebuffs Rastafarian-Prisoner's Claim for Communal Feasts

The Fourth Circuit ruled today that a Rastafarian prisoner in North Carolina couldn't show that prison officials denied his religious-exercise rights when they rejected his request to celebrate Rastafarian holy days through communal feasts and gatherings. 

The case, Wright v. Lassiter, arose when a Rastafarian prisoner asked for communal feasts as part of his religious practice. When officials declined, he sued, arguing that officials violated his free-exercise rights under RLUIPA and the Free Exercise Clause.

But according to the court there was one problem: The plaintiff was the only Rastafarian, and the only prisoner who would attend the communal feasts and gatherings, in the prison. This meant that the officials didn't cause or impose a substantial burden on his religious exercise (the trigger for both RLUIPA and free exercise claims); instead, the absence of any other Rastafarian did:

Wright's causation problem stems from the fact that he has requested communal gatherings and feasts. There is no such thing as a community of one, and Wright agreed at oral argument tha the was not seeking a feast for himself alone. He therefore had to show that, but for the policies that allegedly prohibit the requested holiday gatherings, other inmates would join in the gatherings. To put it in the negative, if other inmates would not join in his gatherings, then the prison's restrictive policies would not be a factual cause of the burden he claims to have experienced.

Absent causation, the court said, it didn't even need to evaluate under strict scrutiny (under RLUIPA) or rational basis review (under the Free Exercise Clause). 

April 17, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

D.C. Circuit Denies Injunction Against Transit Rule Banning Religious Content

The D.C. Circuit ruled yesterday in Archdiocese of Washington v. WMATA that the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority rule that bans religious content advertising on buses did not likely violate free speech. The court denied the Archdiocese's motion for a preliminary injunction.

Judge Kavanaugh was an original member of the panel, but recused himself from the ruling.

The ruling sides with the government on a key free-speech question: Is religious content necessarily a viewpoint? The court said no.

The case involves WMATA's Guideline 12, which closes the public-transit authority's advertising space to issue-oriented ads, including political, religious, and advocacy ads. (Importantly, the Guideline banned by pro- and con- ads on each topic.) When WMATA, acting pursuant to the Guideline, rejected the Archdiocese's request to place religious ads on buses, the Archdiocese sued, arguing that the denial violated free speech, the Free Exercise Clause, and RFRA, among others. The Archdiocese moved for a preliminary injunction, but yesterday the D.C. Circuit rejected that request.

The court ruled that the Archdiocese was unlikely to succeed on its free speech claim, because buses are a non-public forum, and Guideline 12 permissibly discriminates based on the content, not viewpoint, of the message.

The court rejected the Archdiocese's argument that any content restriction on religious speech was necessarily a viewpoint based restriction on speech because there's a religious viewpoint on any matter. "Notably, there is no principled limit to the Archdiocese's conflation of subject-matter restrictions with viewpoint-based restrictions as concerns religion. Were the Archdiocese to prevail, WMATA (and other transit systems) would have to accept all types of advertisements to maintain viewpoint neutrality, including ads criticizing and disparaging religion and religious tenets or practices."

The court distinguished Rosenberger, Lamb's Chapel, and Good News Club--all of which struck government bans on religious speech as viewpoint-based discrimination. The court said that those cases involved religious-viewpoint discrimination within a defined content of speech. But here, the government simply banned the content of all religious speech, again, both pro- and con- (or otherwise). 

[F]ar from being an abrogation of the distinction between permissible subject matter rules and impermissible viewpoint discrimination, each of these cases represents an application of the Supreme Court's viewpoint discrimination analysis, of which Guideline 12 does not run afoul. In each, the Court held that the government had engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination because the challenged regulation operated to exclude religious viewpoints on otherwise includable topics. An examination of each case demonstrates the contrast between the breadth of subjects encompassed by the forums at issue and WMATA's in which, unlike the restrictions struck down by the Court, Guideline 12 does not function to exclude religious viewpoints but rather proscribes advertisements on the entire subject matter of religion.

The court also said that the Archdiocese didn't demonstrate a likelihood of success on its other claims. As to Free Exercise, the court said that Guideline 12 was merely a religiously-neutral rule of general applicability, with no evidence of religious animus, and therefore valid under rational basis review.

August 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 25, 2018

SCOTUS Remands Arlene's Flowers on Same-Sex Wedding Refusal

The 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 Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm'n.

Recall that in 2017 the Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Washington Law Against Discrimination including sexual orientation as applied to a business that refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding. Artlene's Flowers had several First Amendment claims and on the Free Exercise claim, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument that the Washington ant-discrimination law was not a neutral one of general applicability and should therefore warrant strict scrutiny.  Instead, the court applied the rational basis standard of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, which the Washington anti-discrimination easily passed. 

Philippe_de_Marlier_Nelkenstrauss_in_GlasvaseShortly after the Court's decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop, in which the Court found that the Colorado  Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of the case had "some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his [the cakemaker's] objection," the florist in Arlene's Flowers, Baronnelle Stutzman, filed a Supplemental Brief seeking "at least" remand and alleging:

in ruling against Barronelle, the state trial court—at the urging of Washington’s attorney general—compared Barronelle to a racist “owner of a 7-Eleven store” who had “a policy” of refusing “to serve any black[]” customers. Pet. App. 107a–109a & 108a n.16 (emphasis added). The state, in short, has treated Barronelle with neither tolerance nor respect.

Thus the Washington Supreme Court is now tasked with determining whether there was hostility towards the Arlene's Flowers woner's religion, and if so, applying strict scrutiny.

Relatedly, in a challenge to Arizona's non-discrimination statute by a company, Brush & Nib, that sells "pre-fabricated and design artwork for home décor, weddings, and special events," an Arizona Court of Appeals found that there would be no Free Exercise claim in its opinion in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix. Yet because Brush & Nib was a pre-enforcement challenge, the emphasis was on the statute rather than on Brush & Nib's actions.

 

 

June 25, 2018 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 4, 2018

SCOTUS Finds Colorado Civil Rights Commission Hostile to Religion in Masterpiece Cakeshop

In its opinion today authored by Justice Kennedy in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Court found that the cakeshop owner's First Amendment Free Exercise Clause right was infringed upon by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Recall that the Civil Rights Commission had found the cakemaker violated the state equal accommodations statute protection on the basis of sexual orientation when the cakemaker refused to be employed for a same-sex wedding cake.

Justice Kennedy's opinion decides the controversy on the basis of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), in which the Court found that the City of Hialeah's prohibition of killing animals was aimed at the religion of Santeria, especially given the numerous exceptions in the ordinance. Here, Kennedy's opinion for the Court rejects the ALJ's conclusion that the Colorado anti-discrimination statute was a neutral law of general applicability (and thus should be evaluated under a rational basis test), finding instead that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in its adjudication of this case was not neutral but expressed hostility:  "The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his [the cakemaker's] objection."

These expressions of hostility surfaced in the oral argument as we noted in a specific statement from Kennedy  quoting one of the civil rights commissioners ( "freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric") which Kennedy asked counsel to disavow. This foreshadowed the opinion's quotation of the commissioner  "Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be—I mean, we—we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination. And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to—to use their religion to hurt others.”

The opinion then stated:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere. The commissioner even went so far as to compare [cakemaker] Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust. This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti- discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

With the decision based on this, the Court admittedly sidesteps the more contentious issues and widespread issues of the case:

The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.

Perhaps another limiting factor is that the Court observes that the cakebaker's refusal occurred before Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) when Colorado law did not authorize same-sex marriages. However, the Court also pointed to language in Obergefell that religious objections to same-sex marriage are protected by the First Amendment.

Yet there is also the issue of arguably inconsistent rulings from the civil rights commission.

Justice Kagan, in a brief concurring opinion joined by Justice Breyer, stressed the fault found with the Civil Rights Commission that did not give the cakemaker's religious views “neutral and respectful consideration.” She argued that any "inconsistent" rulings could be explained: the cakemakers in other cases objected to placing words on the cakes that they found offensive; in Masterpiece, the cakemaker objected to the customers who were purchasing sentiments he would provide for others.

In dissent, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sotomayor, concluded that there was not sufficient evidence of "hostility" neither in the arguably inconsistent rulings nor in the statements.  As to the statements,

Whatever one may think of the statements in historical context, I see no reason why the comments of one or two Commissioners should be taken to overcome Phillips’ refusal to sell a wedding cake to Craig and Mullins. The proceedings involved several layers of independent decisionmaking, of which the Commission was but one.

First, the Division had to find probable cause that Phillips violated CADA. Second, the ALJ entertained the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. Third, the Commission heard Phillips’ appeal. Fourth, after the Commission’s ruling, the Colorado Court of Appeals considered the case de novo. What prejudice infected the determinations of the adjudicators in the case before and after the Commission?

For Ginsburg, then, this was "far removed from the only precedent upon which the Court relies, Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), where the government action that violated a principle of religious neutrality implicated a sole decisionmaking body, the city council."

Certainly, the Court's opinion rests on narrow grounds, perhaps unique to this case. But it nevertheless represents the Court chipping away at equality on the basis of sexual orientation.

 

 

 

 

June 4, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 1, 2018

Seventh Circuit Upholds "In God We Trust" on Currency

The Seventh Circuit this week rebuffed a First Amendment challenge to the phrase "In God we Trust" on our currency by a non-theistic Satanist. The unsurprising ruling allows the government to continue to print that phrase on money.

The plaintiff challenged the phrase under the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Speech Clause, among others. The court rejected each.

As to the Establishment Clause, the court said that the phrase wasn't an endorsement of religion, that it didn't coerce religious beliefs, and that it wasn't based on a forbidden religious purpose. In short, the court said that the phrase is simply a part of our nation's heritage:

The inclusion of the motto on currency is similar to other ways in which secular symbols give a nod to the nation's religious heritage. Examples include the phrase "one nation under God," which has been in the Pledge of Allegiance since 1954, as well as the National Day of Prayer, which has existed in various forms since the dawn of the country and is now codified [in the U.S.C.]. Moreover, when the religious aspects of an activity account for "only a fraction," the possibility that anyone could see it as an endorsement of religion is diluted. In the case of currency, the motto is one of many historical reminders; others include portraits of presidents, state symbols, monuments, notable events such as the Louisiana Purchase, and the national bird. In this context, a reasonable observer would not perceive the motto on currency as a religious endorsement.

As to free exercise, the court said that the plaintiff's "claim fails because the motto's placement on currency has the secular purpose of recognizing the religious component of our nation's history."

As to free speech, the court rejected the plaintiff's claim that the phrase amounted to forced speech, because nobody would regard the phrase as the plaintiff's own speech.

The court also rejected the plaintiff's RFRA claim (no substantial burden on the plaintiff's practice of Satanism) and his equal protection claim (because the government had at least one legitimate objective, "acknowledging an aspect of our nation's heritage").

June 1, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Massachusetts High Court on Public Funding of Churches and the State Anti-Aid Amendment

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled last week on the constitutionality of local grants going to church improvements under the state Anti-Aid Amendment. The ruling balances the interests behind the Anti-Aid Amendment, on the one hand, and the Free Exercise Clause under Trinity Lutheran, on the other, and comes out with a cautious thumb on the scale in favor of anti-aid.

The case, Caplan v. Town of Acton, arose when a local church applied for and received two grants of public funds for church improvements--one for a "Master Plan for Historic Preservation," covering several renovation and preservation projects on the facilities, and one for restoration and preservation of the church's religious-themed stained-glass windows. Taxpayers sued under the state private-attorney-general provision, arguing that the grants violated the state constitutional Anti-Aid Amendment. That Amendment prohibits the "grant, appropriation or use of public money . . . for the purpose of founding, maintaining or aiding any church, religious denomination or society."

Two questions came to the court. First, does the Anti-Aid Amendment categorically bar the grants, or are the grants subject to a three-factor test that the state uses for a companion provision in the Amendment? (A categorical bar would prohibit the grants without further inquiry, whereas the three-factor test could permit the grants if they met certain factors.) Next, if the three-factor test applies, do the grants satisfy it?

The court ruled that the Anti-Aid Amendment isn't categorical, and is instead subject to its three-factor test. (That test looks to whether a motivating purpose of each grant was to aid the church; whether the grant would have the effect of substantially aiding the church; and whether the grant avoid the risks of the political and economic abuses that prompted the passage of the Amendment.) The court gave three reasons: (1) because the three-factor test applies to a companion provision in the Amendment, it made sense to apply it to this provision, too; (2) the Amendment by its own terms requires a case-by-case analysis, which is consistent with a three-factor test (but not a categorical approach); and (3) a categorical approach "invites the risk of infringing on the free exercise of religion" under Trinity Lutheran. As to that last reason, the court said that the three-factor test allowed it to account for the Amendment without violating free exercise, Trinity Lutheran style.

As to the application of the test, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their challenge to the stained-glass window grant, but remanded the case on the "Master Plan" grant.

Two justices concurred, and one dissented, arguing in different ways how the Amendment and the grants stacked up against Trinity Lutheran.

March 14, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Seventh Circuit Applies Ministerial Exception to Hebrew Teacher at Jewish School

The Seventh Circuit ruled this week that the First Amendment's ministerial exception barred a Hebrew teacher's Americans with Disabilities Act claim against her employer, a Jewish school. The ruling is the first time the Seventh Circuit applied the ministerial exception.

The case, Grussgott v. Milwaukee Jewish Day School, arose when Grussgott, a Hebrew teacher at the school, suffered memory and cognitive issues as a result of medical treatment for her brain tumor. During a call from a parent, Grussgott couldn't remember an event, and the parent taunted her about her memory loss. Grussgott's husband, who happens to be a rabbi, sent an e-mail from Grussgott's work account criticizing the parent for being disrespectful. The school fired her, and she sued under the ADA, arguing that she was fired because of her cognitive issues resulting from the brain tumor.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the ministerial exception applied and dismissed the case. Applying the "fact-intensive analysis" of Hosanna-Tabor, the court held that while Grussgott's title and the "substance reflected in that title" both tilted against applying the ministerial exception, Grussgott's use of the title and the religious functions she performed both tilted in favor. The court explained:

But Hebrew teachers at Milwaukee Jewish Day School were expected to follow the unified Tal Am curriculum, meaning that the school expected its Hebrew teachers to integrate religious teachings into their lessons. Grussgott's resume also touts significant religious teaching experience, which the former principal said was a crucial factor in the school hiring her in 2013. Thus, the substance of Grussgott's title as conveyed to her and as perceived by others entails the teaching of the Jewish religion to students, which supports the application of the ministerial exception here.

***

Grussgott undisputedly taught her students about Jewish holidays, prayer, and the weekly Torah readings; moreover, she practiced the religion alongside her students by praying with them and performing certain rituals, for example.

The court was careful to say that its analysis is holistic and fact-intensive, and not a rigid and mathematical application of the four "factors" from Hasanna-Tabor. On the other hand, the court also rejected "a purely functional approach to determining whether an employee's role is ministerial."

We read the Supreme Court's decision to impose, in essence, a totality-of-the-circumstances test. And it is fair to say that, under the totality of the circumstances in this particular case, the importance of Grussgott's role as a "teacher of [] faith" to the next generation outweighed other considerations.

February 14, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

ACLU Sues to Halt Trump Administration Roll-Back of ACA's Contraception Benefits

The ACLU filed suit yesterday in the Northern District of California challenging the Trump Administration's roll-back of the contraception benefit under the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief.

The lawsuit also illustrates the new approach to religion under this administration as stated yesterday in AG Sessions's principles of religious liberty.

The suit, which also includes SEIU-UHW as a plaintiff, argues that the roll-back in HHS's interim final regulations would permit religiously affiliated organizations that currently get an exemption from the contraception-coverage requirement to back out of the requirement altogether. (The exemption permits religiously affiliated organizations to pass the implementation off to their insurer or third-party administrator, so that the organization itself doesn't have anything to do with contraception, but so that employees and students of the organization still get direct and free access through the insurer or third-party administrator. The interim final rules would permit those organizations to deny contraception coverage entirely.)

The complaint argues that the move violates the Establishment Clause, equal protection, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the ACA itself:

By authorizing businesses, non-profit organizations, and universities to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and students, and rob women of health coverage that is otherwise guaranteed by law, the Religious Exemption [interim final rule] violates the Establishment Clause. Furthermore, by authorizing employers to block contraception coverage based on religious or other grounds, both [interim final rules] violate the right to equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, because the [interim final rules] were promulgated without good cause for foregoing notice and comment and without providing a reasoned basis for the change in agency position as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, they violate federal statutory requirements that agencies not act in an arbitrary and capricious manner and observe procedures required by law. Finally, the [interim final rules] exceed the statutory authority given to the agencies by the Affordable Care Act.

As to the Establishment Clause, the complaint argues that the purpose and effect of the interim final rules were to advance religion, and that they foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

It's no coincidence that the interim final rules came out the same day as AG Sessions's principles on religious liberty.

But note that while the ACLU complaint speaks in terms of the Lemon test (purpose, effect, entanglement), AG Sessions's principles don't mention the case. The principles instead discuss the Establishment Clause barely (privileging free exercise) and only in terms of "establishing a religion and coercing Americans to follow it," "restrict[ing] government from interfering [in religion]," "prohibit[ing] government from officially favoring or disfavoring particular religious groups," and "neutrality towards religion."

In other words, AG Sessions's principles back off the Establishment Clause concerns about religious purpose and effect, and even excessive entanglement, and instead emphasize only more blunt forms of government establishment of religion (and downplay even those, in favor of free exercise concerns). It's thus hardly a surprise that HHS would issue these interim final rules, even with a religious purpose and effect: they fall squarely within AG Sessions's free exercise interpretation, and do not violate his (lesser important) establishment interpretation.

In yet other words, these interim regs are just a preview of what's to come under the Sessions approach to religion.

October 7, 2017 in Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, News, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 26, 2017

SCOTUS in Trinity Lutheran Finds Missouri's Denial of Funding to Church Playground Violates First Amendment

 In its opinion in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision, a so-called Blaine Amendment, prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations. 

Recall that at the oral arguments, most Justices seemed skeptical of Missouri's argument.  However, recall that the Eighth Circuit had concluded that Trinity Church sought an unprecedented ruling -- that a state constitution violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause if it bars the grant of public funds to a church."  The Eighth Circuit relied in part on Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology."  For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.  

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Church Interior, Missouri, image via

In the Trinity Lutheran opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court characterized the Missouri policy as one that "expressly discriminates against otherwise eligible recipients by disqualifying them from a public benefit solely because of their religious character."  Relying on the Free Exercise precedent it had discussed, it concluded that if such cases "make one thing clear, it is that such a policy imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that triggers the most exacting scrutiny."  The Court added that "Trinity Lutheran is not claiming any entitlement to a subsidy. It instead asserts a right to participate in a government program without disavowing its religious character."

Yet the question of subsidy or funding caused some consternation amongst the Justices who joined the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court.  Footnote 3, which provides in full "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination" is joined only by a plurality - - - Justices Thomas and Gorsuch explicitly exempted this footnote.  In two brief concurring opinions, one by Thomas joined by Gorsuch and one by Gorsuch joined by Thomas, the continued vitality of Locke v. Davey is questioned.

In the Court's opinion, Locke v. Davey is distinguished because "Davey was not denied a state-funded scholarship of who he was but because of what he proposed to do - to use the funds to prepare for the ministry." (emphasis in original).  For Gorsuch, this status-use distinction is not sufficient.

Justice Sotomayor's dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, and almost twice as long as the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court, is rich with originalist history as well a discussion of Locke v. Davey and a citation to the 38 state constitutional provisions similar to the Missouri one.  For Sotomayor,

Missouri has recognized the simple truth that, even absent an Establishment Clause violation, the transfer of public funds to houses of worship raises concerns that sit exactly between the Religion Clauses. To avoid those concerns, and only those concerns, it has prohibited such funding. In doing so, it made the same choice made by the earliest States centuries ago and many other States in the years since. The Constitution permits this choice.

Sotomayor points to the possible ramifications of the opinion, including the troublesome footnote 3:

The Court today dismantles a core protection for religious freedom provided in these Clauses. It holds not just that a government may support houses of worship with taxpayer funds, but that—at least in this case and perhaps in others, see ante at 14, n. 3—it must do so whenever it decides to create a funding program. History shows that the Religion Clauses separate the public treasury from religious coffers as one measure to secure the kind of freedom of conscience that benefits both religion and government. If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot, or at the very least need not, tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship. The Court today blinds itself to the outcome this history requires and leads us instead to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment. I dissent.

It dies seem that Trinity Lutheran opens the floodgates for claims by religious entities that they are being "discriminated" against whenever there are secular provisions for funding.

June 26, 2017 in Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, History, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Trinity Lutheran Church Free Exercise Challenge

The nine Justice Court heard oral arguments this morning in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer, involving a First Amendment Free Exercise Clause challenge to a denial of state funding that was based on Missouri's state constitutional provision prohibiting any state funds from being awarded to religious organizations. 

The state Department of Natural Resources had denied the grant application of Trinity Lutheran Church for funds to purchase of recycled tires to resurface its preschool playground.  The state officials had reasoned that supplying such funds would violate the state constitutional provision, a provision often called a Blaine Amendment, and which the attorney for Trinity Lutheran Church noted was often rooted in "anti-Catholic bigotry."  In upholding the Missouri denial of resources the Eighth Circuit had relied in part on Locke v. Davey (2004), in which "the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology."  For the Eighth Circuit, "while there is active academic and judicial debate about the breadth of the decision, we conclude that Locke" supported circuit precedent that foreclosed the challenge to the Missouri state constitutional provision.   

Locke v. Davey arose frequently in the argument. The attorney for the church argued that Locke's "play in the joints" was pertinent, but distinguished the program in Locke as being more inclusive of religion.  Justice Kennedy seemed to distinguish Locke v. Davey, stating that "this is quite different than Locke, because this is a status-based statute."  Later, Chief Justice Roberts broached Locke, in a colloquy with James Layton, representing Missouri, who argued that Locke was a closer case than the present one because here the state's money was a "direct payment" to the church rather a scholarship to a student as in Locke.  But Justice Kagan, evoking Locke, seemed troubled by Missouri's argument:

JUSTICE KAGAN: But here's the deal. You're right that this is a selective program. It's not a general program in which everybody gets money. But still the question is whether some people can be disentitled from applying to that program and from receiving that money if they are qualified based on other completely nonreligious attributes, and they're disqualified solely because they are a religious institution doing religious things. Even though they're not --they could --they could promise you, we're not going to do religious things on this playground surface, and you're still saying, well, no, you --you can't get the money.

Soon thereafter, Justice Kagan stated:

JUSTICE KAGAN: But I don't understand -I --I think I understand how the States' interests might differ some, but essentially this is a program open to everyone. Happens to be a competitive program, but everyone is open to compete on various neutral terms, and you're depriving one set of actors from being able to compete in the same way everybody else can compete because of their religious identification.

Layton, representing the State, also had his own status and the status of the litigation to discuss.

    [Sotomayor]:  Mr. Layton, I'm --I'm --I know the Court is very grateful that you took up the request of the Missouri Attorney General to defend the old position, but I --I am worried about the, if not the mootness, the adversity in this case. If the Attorney General is in favor of the position that your adversary is taking, isn't his appointment of you creating adversity that doesn't exist?
MR. LAYTON: Well, I don't know the answer to that --that, but let me --let me give some of the factual background here.
The Attorney General himself is recused because he actually appears on one of the briefs on the other side. The first assistant in this instance is the Acting Attorney General, and the Acting Attorney General, at a time before governor --the governor gave his new instruction, asked me to defend the position, because at that point, it was still the position of the State, and was not being disavowed.

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Well, but that's the question. It doesn't appear to be the position of the State right now. Reading through the lines of the Acting Attorney General to us, it doesn't appear that he believes that you're taking the right position.

The problem of whether the case is moot because the Governor of Missouri announced this week a change of policy was the subject of a Court instruction to the attorneys to respond by letter regarding the issue.  It dominated very little of the discussion, but Chief Justice Roberts did ask this:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: You --do you agree that this --this Court's voluntary cessation policies apply to the mootness question?
MR. LAYTON: I agree . . .

Justice Gorsuch, new to the bench this week, then brought the matter back to the substantive issue.

Whether or not the Court will dismiss the case or rule on the merits was not evident from the oral argument, although it did seem as if there was not much enthusiasm for Missouri's now-previous position that prevailed in the Eighth Circuit.

 

April 19, 2017 in Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Washington Supreme Court Denies Constitutional Claims of Florist in Same-Sex Wedding Refusal

In its unanimous opinion in State v. Arlene's Flowers, the Supreme Court of Washington upheld the Washington Law Against Discrimination including sexual orientation as applied to a business that refused to provide wedding flowers for a same-sex wedding. 

The owner of Arlene's Flowers argued that the anti-discrimination statute was not applicable to her and if it did, it violated her constitutional rights of free speech, free exercise, and free association under the First Amendment as well as under the Washington state constitution.

On the First Amendment claims, the court found that Arlene's Flowers argument regarding compelled speech failed because the owner's flower arranging did not meet the threshold of expression.  The court relied on Rumsfeld v. FAIR to hold that the owner's

decision to either provide or refuse to provide flowers for a wedding does not inherently express a message about that wedding. As [she] acknowledged at deposition, providing flowers for a wedding between Muslims would not necessarily constitute an endorsement of Islam, nor would providing flowers for an atheist couple endorse atheism. [She] also testified that she has previously declined wedding business on "[m]ajor holidays, when we don't have the staff or if they want particular flowers that we can't get in the time frame they need."  Accordingly, an outside observer may be left to wonder whether a wedding was declined for one of at least three reasons: a religious objection, insufficient staff, or insufficient stock.

Roses_-_Vincent_van_GoghThe court rejected the applicability of Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston (1985), as well as a litany of other United States Supreme Court cases regarding this threshold of expression.  In essence, the court emphasized that it was the sale of all flowers from her shop rather than any particular floral arrangement that was at issue in the case. 

On the Free Exercise claim, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument that the Washington ant-discrimination law was not a neutral one of general applicability and should therefore warrant strict scrutiny.  Instead, the court applied the rational basis standard of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, which the Washington anti-discrimination easily passed.

However, the analysis of free exercise under the Washington state constitution, article I §11 was not so simple because Washington has not always adopted the Smith standard when reviewing claims under its state constitution.  Nevertheless, the court found that even subjecting the Washington anti-discrimination law to strict scrutiny, the statute survives.  The court "emphatically" rejected the claim that there was no compelling interest of the state in flowers for weddings: the "case is no more about access to flowers than civil rights cases in the 1960s were about access to sandwiches." 

Finally, the court rejected Arlene's Flowers' argument regarding free association, noting that all of the cases upon which she relied were not businesses.  As to the business itself, the court also upheld a finding of personal liability of the owner, the person who had refused service.

The United States Supreme Court has denied petitions for writ of certiorari in similar cases, but it is highly likely that a petition for certiorari will follow, especially given the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Court.

 

February 16, 2017 in Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Federal District Judge Enjoins "Muslim Ban" in Washington v. Trump

In a Temporary Restraining Order, United States District Judge James Robart enjoined the federal government from enforcing sections 3(c), 5(a), 5(b), 5(c), and 5(e) of the Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, commonly known as the "Muslim Ban" or "Travel Ban." 

Judge Hobart's Order is brief and concludes that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, although it does not specify which of the claims is likely to succeed.  Washington State's complaint contains 7 counts claiming violations of constitutional guarantees of Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, and Procedural Due Process, as well as statutory violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (2 counts), Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act, the Administrative Procedure Act (2 counts), and the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA).

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Mt. Baker, Washington, by Murray Foubister via

The Judge's finding that Washington faces the "immediate and irreparable injury" requirement for preliminary relief might also be a comment on the merits of Washington's standing (which we first discussed here) to bring the suit, and would be pertinent to the standing of the state of Hawai'i, which has also sued. Judge Robart found:

The Executive Order adversely affects the States’ residents in areas of employment, education, business, family relations, and freedom to travel. These harms extend to the States by virtue of their roles as parens patriae of the residents living within their borders.  In addition, the States themselves are harmed by virtue of the damage that implementation of the Executive Order has inflicted upon the operations and missions of their public universities and other institutions of higher learning, as well as injury to the States" operations, tax bases, and public funds.

Additionally, in the Order's one paragraph Conclusion, Judge Robart implicitly invokes the Marbury v. Madison aspects of the controversy.  Here is the entire last paragraph:

Fundamental to the work of this court is a vigilant recognition that it is but one of   three equal branches of our federal government. The work of the court is not to create policy or judge the wisdom of any particular policy promoted by the other two branches. That is the work of the legislative and executive branches and of the citizens of this   country who ultimately exercise democratic control over those branches. The work of the Judiciary, and this court, is limited to ensuring that the actions taken by the other two branches comport with our country’s laws, and more importantly, our Constitution. The narrow question the court is asked to consider today is whether it is appropriate to enter a TRO against certain actions taken by the Executive in the context of this specific lawsuit. Although the question is narrow, the court is mindful of the considerable impact its order may have on the parties before it, the executive branch of our government, and the country’s citizens and residents. The court concludes that the circumstances brought before it today are such that it must intervene to fulfill its constitutional role in our tripart government. Accordingly, the court concludes that entry of the above-described TRO is necessary, and the States’ motion (Dkt. ## 2, 19) is therefore GRANTED.

 The morning after the Judge's Order, the President from his vacation home "tweeted" his disapproval, maligning the judge but seemingly committed to pursue further judicial process.
 

February 4, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Race, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Hawai'i Challenges the "Muslim Ban" in Federal Court

Joining the more than 15 other cases filed across the nation challenging Trump's Executive Order Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, now available on the whitehouse.gov site here, today Hawai'i filed a Complaint in Hawai'i v. Trump, accompanied by a  lengthy motion for Temporary Restraining Order and supporting Memorandum of Law.

Hawai'i asserts standing as a state based on its diversity in ethnic population, its high number of noncitizen residents including business owners and students, and its tourism-based economy. Washington state previously brought suit (with an oral ruling granting a TRO); Virginia is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit there.

The constitutional claims are by now familiar from suits such as the first one in Darweesh v. Trump and the one filed by CAIR, Sarsour v. Trump, including Equal Protection claims as we analyzed here. Other constitutional claims generally include First Amendment Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause and Procedural Due Process.  There have also been constitutional claims based on the Emoluments Clause (Mohammed v. United States, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, with Temporary Restraining Order entered) and a substantive due process right to familial association (Arab American Civil Rights League v. Trump , filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, with an injunction entered.  Again, Lawfare is maintaining a collection of all the primary source documents.

The Hawai'i complaint includes an innovative count alleging a violation of the substantive due process right to international travel. According to the supporting memo, the right to travel abroad is  “part of the ‘liberty’” protected by the Due Process Clause; as the Court stated in Kent v. Dulles (1958), “Freedom of movement is basic in our scheme of values.” The EO fails to satisfy the applicable due process standard for the same reasons it fails the equal protection analysis.

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The Attorney General has not been confirmed and the Acting AG was terminated by the President when she stated the Muslim Ban was indefensible, but the DOJ attorneys seem to be vigorously defending these suits.

February 3, 2017 in Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Race, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Muslim Advocacy Group CAIR Files Complaint Challenging Presidential "Muslim Ban"

In a complaint filed today in Sarsour v. Trump, attorneys with CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have challenged the constitutionality of President Trump's late Friday EO, Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States, now available on the whitehouse.gov site here.   Recall that the EO was fairly quickly subject to a partial stay by a federal judge and encountered "judicial resistance" as Jonathan Hafetz over at Balkinization observes. There  are now several cases pending; a very helpful updated post with litigation documents from Qunita Juresic is over at Lawfare here. In addition to litigation, the EO has sparked nationwide protests, as well as criticism from other Republicans and 16 State Attorney Generals

In Sarsour, the complaint acknowledges that the text of the EO does not contain the words "Islam" or "Muslim," but argues in its Introduction that:

the Executive Order has already gained national and international media attention and nationwide protests, and has been dubbed uniformly as the “Muslim Ban” because its apparent and true purpose and underlying motive—which is to ban Muslims from certain Muslim‐majority countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) (hereinafter the “Muslim majority countries”)—has been broadcast to the general public by the Trump Administration

and that the EO is a

fulfillment of President Trump’s longstanding promise and boasted intent to enact a federal policy that overtly discriminates against Muslims and officially broadcasts a message that the federal government disfavors the religion of Islam, preferring all other religions instead.

The complaint has three constitutional claims, as well as a a fourth count alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act.

2017.01.29_No_Muslim_Ban_Protest,_Washington,_DC_USA_00270_(32442762652)Front and center are the First Amendment Religion Clauses claims. The first count is labeled an Establishment Clause violation, but also argues that Islam is being singled out for disfavored treatment as "uniquely threatening and dangerous."  A discussion of the Establishment Clause arguments from David Cole, Legal Director of the ACLU, is over at Just Security here.  In the second count, the claim is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause as it relates to the John and Jane Doe plaintiffs who are residents but non-citizens originating from the Muslim-majority countries at issue in the EO. Interestingly, there is not a statutory Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim; there would seem to a good argument that RFRA's "persons" includes noncitizens as well as corporations as the Court held in Hobby Lobby.[Update: In Ruiz-Diaz v. United States, the Ninth Circuit applied RFRA to non-citizen in the United States on  five-year religious worker visas, ultimately concluding RFRA was not violated].

In addition to the First Amendment counts, the complaint includes a Fifth Amendment Equal Protection claim on behalf of the John and Jane Doe plaintiffs, contending that by preventing the non-citizen lawful resident Muslims originating from these specific Muslim-majority nations "from engaging in international travel and returning home in the United States" and from "applying for immigration benefits" under the federal statute and international human rights law including political asylum, the EO is unconstitutional.  We've previously discussed the Equal Protection issues involved in the EO here.

The EO is certainly going to attract additional judicial challenges, as well as legislative ones. 

[image via]

January 30, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Review in Sexual Conversion Ban Case

In the continuing - - - yet seemingly concluding - - - saga of challenges to the constitutionality of California's SB 1172, prohibiting licensed therapists from performing what is known variously as sexual conversion therapy, reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) on minors under the age of 18, the Ninth Circuit's opinion today in Welch v. Brown revisited its August opinion upholding the law.  Today's opinion announces that the Ninth Circuit will not rehear the case en banc - - - "no judge of the court" having requested a vote on the petition for rehearing en banc - - - and issues an amended opinion.

The change from the August opinion is slight, adding an example in the opinion's description of the challengers' argument in one paragraph:

Plaintiffs first argue that, under the Establishment Clause, SB 1172 excessively entangles the State with religion. Their argument rests on a misconception of the scope of SB 1172. For example, Plaintiffs assert that Dr. Welch may not “offer certain prayers or quote certain Scriptures to young people” even “while working as a minister for Skyline Church” within “the four walls of the church . . ., while engaging in those religious activities.” The premise of this Establishment Clause argument is mistaken, and the argument fails, because SB 1172 regulates conduct only within the confines of the counselor-client relationship.

[Added language underlined; italics in both opinions].

With such a small revision, it would seem there was little contention about the case.  Recall that Welch itself is a sequel to Pickup v. Brown, in which the Ninth Circuit declined en banc review (albeit more divisively), to other First Amendment challenges to the California statute. Meanwhile, the Third Circuit in King v. Christie rejected a challenge to New Jersey's similar SOCE-ban statute.  The United States Supreme Court has denied certiorari in both Pickup and King, making prospects for a grant of certiorari in Welch v. Brown rather slim, especially for an eight Justice Court.

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October 4, 2016 in Family, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)