Friday, October 18, 2019
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)
Sunday, October 6, 2019
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)
Friday, May 31, 2019
Responding to Justice Thomas's concurring opinion from a denial of certiorari in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana, legal commentator Imani Gandy (pictured) writes When It Comes to Birth Control and Eugenics, Clarence Thomas Gets It All Wrong.
Specifically, Gandy takes on the history of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), who she states is not necessarily a present-day "infallible feminist hero" and certainly had the same abelist views that the Court credited in Buck v. Bell.
But, on the subject of race, Gandy writes:
The framing of Thomas’ concurrence, however, suggests that she [Sanger] did want to reduce the Black population. This framing extends to his description of the Negro Project, which Sanger created in conjunction with some of the most prominent Black civil rights leaders of the time—Franklin Frazier, Walter White, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Mary McLeod Bethune, and W.E.B DuBois—in order to bring birth control to the South. Thomas writes as if her mere advocacy for birth control was in and of itself racial eugenics. And he virtually ignores that Black women in the South wanted birth control and had taken their reproduction into their own hands since the days of enslavement, when women would self-induce abortions or even kill their newborns in order to save them from a life of slavery.
Gandy's commentary also provides an interesting critique of Thomas's use of a Sanger quotation by providing larger context. Gandy writes: "What Thomas leaves out is the very next sentence that Sanger wrote . . ." and thus invites the reader to think more deeply about the history of birth control.
Predictably, Thomas's concurring opinion is provoking other commentaries, but Gandy's piece is among the most insightful.
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)
Monday, March 18, 2019
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)
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
In his essay review of the new book Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America's Journey from Slavery to Segregation by Steve Luxenberg, critic Louis Menand retells the history of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision: infamous in hindsight but unnoticed in its time. Menand remarks, “even when principal figures in the case died, years later, their obituaries made no mention of it.” Menand contextualizes the case within the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow south and examines Plessy’s role in enshrining white supremacy.
Menand provides a rich discussion of Luxenberg’s hefty book (at 624 pages) which focuses its narrative on three key players in Plessy v. Ferguson: “Albion Tourgée, one of Plessy’s lawyers; Henry Billings Brown, the Justice who wrote the majority opinion; and John Marshall Harlan, who filed the lone dissent.” Menand’s assessment of the book is mixed. For example, Menand writes that the book is
deeply researched, and it wears its learning lightly. It’s a storytelling kind of book, the kind of book that refers to Albion Tourgée as Albion and John Harlan as John, and that paints the scene for us (“On a bright and beautiful night in late October 1858 . . . ”). Luxenberg does not engage in psychological interpretation. He doesn’t mention, for instance, that [Justice Henry Billings] Brown’s Yale classmates called him Henrietta because they thought he was effeminate—which might have contributed to Brown’s eagerness not to appear like a man who didn’t belong. And he dismisses in a footnote speculation that Robert Harlan, a man of mixed race who grew up as a member of John Harlan’s family, might have been a half brother. Even if he wasn’t in fact related to John, however, it might have mattered if John believed otherwise.
In short, Menand concludes that while the book is a "different way to tell the story," it "does not give us a new story," and observes that it "does seem a misjudgment to tell the story of an important civil-rights case as the story of three white men."
But while Menand argues that the book doesn't ultimately help with "the big historical questions," it is clear from Menand's review that the book offers deep insights into the case that constitutionalized racial segregation as equality. In Plessy, the United States Supreme Court betrayed the promise — and meaning — of the the Fourteenth and Thirteenth Amendments to the Constitution. By focusing at the legal actors who participated in the case, including Tourgée who argued for Plessy, Luxenberg's book is sure to attract attention from constitutional scholars and students. I look forward to reading it.
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
In its opinion in Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs v. Attorney General of New Jersey, a divided panel of the Third Circuit rejected a challenge to New Jersey's prohibition of large capacity magazines (LCM), defined as magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:39-1(y), 2C:39-3(j). The challengers sought a preliminary injunction based on violations of the Second Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Fifth Amendment's Taking Clause; after an evidentiary hearing the district judge denied the injunction.
On the Second Amendment claim, the Third Circuit majority agreed with the general analysis laid out by the Second Circuit in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass’n, Inc. v. Cuomo (2015). Judge Patty Shwartz, writing for the majority, first determined that a "magazine" is an arm regulated under the Second Amendment. Judge Shwartz then considered whether the regulation of a specific type of magazine, namely an LCM, “imposes a burden on conduct falling within the scope of the Second Amendment’s guarantee," by inquiring whether the type of arm at issue is commonly owned, and “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes." The court noted that the record showed there were "millions" of such magazines and then assumed "without deciding that LCMs are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and that they are entitled to Second Amendment protection." The court then turned to the level of scrutiny to be applied — a question left open by the Court in Heller v. D.C. — by inquiring how severely the challenged regulation "burdens the core Second Amendment right."
Here, the court held that the New Jersey law did not severely burden the core Second Amendment right to self-defense in the home for five reasons and thus determined that intermediate scrutiny should apply. The court then held that the State of New Jersey has, undoubtedly, a significant, substantial and important interest in protecting its citizens’ safety," including reducing the lethality of active shooter and mass shooting incidents. The court rejected the challengers' argument that the rarity of such incidents should negate the state's interest, finding instead that the "evidence adduced before the District Court shows that this statement downplays the significant increase in the frequency and lethality of these incidents." The court further found that the LCM ban was a sufficiently close fit to the state's interest in promoting safety.
It was on the Second Amendment issue that Judge Stephanos Bibas dissenting, arguing that strict scrutiny should apply and that even if it does not, the New Jersey statute fails intermediate scrutiny. For Judge Bibas, although the majority stands in good company: five other circuits have upheld limits on magazine sizes," the courts err "in subjecting the Second Amendment to different, watered-down rules and demanding little if any proof."
While the Second Amendment challenge was at the heart of the case, the majority also rejected the challengers' claims under the Takings Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. On the Takings Clause, the majority held that there is not actual taking, and no "regulatory taking because it does not deprive the gun owners of all economically beneficial or productive uses of their magazines." On the Equal Protection Clause, the challengers faulted the Act because it allows retired law enforcement officers to possess LCMs while prohibiting retired military members and ordinary citizens from doing so.The majority did not engage in a robust analysis, but held that "retired law enforcement officers are not similarly situated to retired military personnel and ordinary citizens, and therefore their exemption from the LCM ban does not violate the Equal Protection Clause."
In short, the Third Circuit's opinion is part of a trend of determining that intermediate scrutiny applies to various regulations of high capacity firearms or magazines and upholding state regulation. Most likely a petition for certiorari will follow this opinion and it will be interesting to see whether the United States Supreme Court continues its own trend of denying such petitions.
[image: double-drum magazine, which holds 100 rounds, via]
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Timbs v. Indiana, raising the issue of whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "excessive fines" is incorporated as against the States and how this relates to forfeitures. The underlying facts in the case involve the forfeiture of a Land Rover. Recall that the Indiana Supreme Court rejected an excessive fines challenge under the Eighth Amendment concluding that "the Excessive Fines Clause does not bar the State from forfeiting Defendant's vehicle because the United States Supreme Court has not held that the Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment."
As to the incorporation argument, some Justices seemed skeptical that there was any plausible argument that the Excessive Fines Clause should not be incorporated. Justice Gorsuch quickly intervened in the Indiana Solicitor General's argument: "can we just get one thing off the table? We all agree that the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated against the states."
The Indiana Solicitor General did not concede this point, even after being pressed. Instead, the Indiana Solicitor General argued that the question of incorporation — including the test of whether the right is so deeply rooted in this nation's history and traditions and whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty as to be fundamental — rests on the articulation of the right as including forfeiture as the Court held in Austin v. United States (1993). Indeed, the Indiana Solicitor General suggested that the Court should overrule Austin.
The relationship between the incorporation of the right and the scope of the right permeated the argument. As Justice Kagan observed to the Indiana Solicitor General, there were two questions:
And one question is incorporating the right, and the other question is the scope of the right to be incorporated.
And, really, what you're arguing is about the scope of the right.
On the other hand, Chief Justice Roberts, responding to the argument of Wesley Hottot on behalf of the petitioner Tyson Timbs, stated that the collapse of the two questions was to ask the Court to "buy a pig in a poke," to just hold that the right is incorporated and later figure out what it means.
In his rebuttal, Mr. Hottot argued that the case was about "constitutional housekeeping," adding that while the Court had "remarked" five times over the last 30 years that the "freedom from excessive economic sanctions should be applied to the states," it had never explicitly so held.
If the oral argument is any indication, the Court seems poised to rule that the Excessive Fines Clause is incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
Monday, November 26, 2018
On November 28, 2018, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Timbs v. Indiana, raising the issue of whether the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of "excessive fines" is incorporated as against the States and arguably whether this includes forfeitures.
The Indiana Supreme Court's brief opinion clearly concluded that "the Excessive Fines Clause does not bar the State from forfeiting Defendant's vehicle because the United States Supreme Court has not held that the Clause applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment." The Indiana Supreme Court cited footnote 13 of McDonald v. City of Chicago, in which a majority of the Court found that the Second Amendment was incorporated to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (with a plurality relying on the Due Process Clause). Recall that in footnote 12, Justice Alito's plurality opinion in McDonald listed the provisions of the Bill of Rights that had been incorporated with citations, while in footnote 13, Justice Alito listed the few remaining provisions not incorporated, also with citations.
Justice Alito's citation in footnote 14 of McDonald is to "Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt. v. Kelco Disposal (1989) (declining to decide whether the excessive-fines protection applies to the states)." Yet as the Indiana Supreme Court notes, in its 2001 opinion in Cooper Industries, Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., the Court stated that the Fourteenth Amendment made the "Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments applicable to the States." The Indiana Supreme Court decided that the Cooper Industries statement was dicta and that the McDonald footnote omission of Cooper supported that conclusion ("we will not conclude lightly that the Supreme Court whiffed on the existence or meaning of its precedent").
Whatever the status of precedent, however, the Court is poised to resolve the question of the incorporation of the Excessive Fines Clause to the States. The amicus briefs tilt heavily in this direction. One possible wrinkle is the relationship between forfeiture and excessive fines, with the State of Indiana arguing that the issue is whether there is a right to proportionality in forfeiture proceedings that is sufficiently fundamental to meet the incorporation test (whether the right is deeply rooted in this nation's history and traditions and whether the right is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty).
Friday, November 23, 2018
In an opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier, United States District Judge Carlton Reeves enjoined the Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks as unconstitutional.
Judge Reeves had previously entered a temporary restraining order, which this order and opinion makes permanent. Judge Reeves holds that Mississippi's H.B. 1510 is a clearly unconstitutional violation of due process under Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) which makes viability the marker before which states may not ban abortions. Judge Reeves's opinion then asks "So, why are we here?" The opinion answers its own query by explaining that "the State of Mississippi contends that every court who ruled on a case such as this “misinterpreted or misapplied prior Supreme Court abortion precedent," and argues that the bill only "regulates" abortions. Judge Reeves concluded that the State "characterization" of the law as a regulation was incorrect; the law's very title stated it was "to prohibit." Additionally, Judge Reeves concluded:
The State is wrong on the law. The Casey court confirmed that the “State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child” and it may regulate abortions in pursuit of those legitimate interests.Those regulations are constitutional only if they do not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion.But “this ‘undue burden’/‘substantial obstacle’ mode of analysis has no place where, as here, the state is forbidding certain women from choosing pre-viability abortions rather than specifying the conditions under which such abortions are to be allowed.”There is no legitimate state interest strong enough, prior to viability, to justify a ban on abortions.
Judge Reeves also expressed "frustration" with the Mississippi legislature passing a law it knew was unconstitutional, "aware that this type of litigation costs the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money," to "endorse a decades-long campaign, fueled by national interest groups, to ask the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade." Judge Reeves chastised the Mississippi Legislature for its "disingenuous calculations," augmented with a footnote (n.40) that begins "The Mississippi Legislature has a history of disregarding the constitutional rights of its citizens," and followed by citation and parenthetical explanations of a half-dozen cases.
Judge Reeves' concluding section to the seventeen page opinion reiterates some of these concerns and adds that "With the recent changes in the membership of the Supreme Court, it may be that the State believes divine providence covered the Capitol when it passed this legislation. Time will tell." Judge Reeves specifically mentions the amicus brief of women in the legal profession regarding their abortions in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), and also adds:
The fact that men, myself included, are determining how women may choose to manage their reproductive health is a sad irony not lost on the Court. As Sarah Weddington argued to the nine men on the Supreme Court in 1971 when representing “Jane Roe,” “a pregnancy to a woman is perhaps one of the most determinative aspects of her life.”As a man, who cannot get pregnant or seek an abortion, I can only imagine the anxiety and turmoil a woman might experience when she decides whether to terminate her pregnancy through an abortion. Respecting her autonomy demands that this statute be enjoined.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
In his opinion in Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. Detzner, United States District Judge Mark Walker, Chief Judge for the Northern District of Florida, has granted the motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered Florida to "allow voters who have been belatedly notified they have submitted a mismatched-signature ballot to cure their ballots by November 17, 2018, at 5:00 p.m."
After finding that the plaintiffs had standing and were not barred by laches, Judge Walker reached the question of whether the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their constitutional claims on the infringement of the right to vote. Judge Walker decided that the standard derived from Anderson-Burdick should be applied:
Under Anderson-Burdick, a court considering a challenge to a state election law “must weigh ‘the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate’ against ‘the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule,’ taking into consideration ‘the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’s rights.’ ” Burdick. When an election law imposes only reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions upon the constitutional rights of voters, the states’ important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify the restrictions. Id. But, “[h]owever slight the burden may appear . . . it must be justified by relevant and legitimate state interests sufficiently weighty to justify the limitations.” Common Cause/Ga. v. Billups, 554 F.3d 1340, 1352 (11th Cir. 2009). This is not a litmus test, rather the court must balance these factors and make hard judgments. Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, 190 (2008). Finally, “Anderson/Burdick balancing . . . should not be divorced from reality, and  both the burden and legitimate regulatory interest should be evaluated in context.”
[some citations omitted]
Judge Walker found that the "injury is the deprivation of the right to vote based on a standardless determination made by laypeople that the signature on a voters’ vote-by-mail or provisional ballot does not match the signature on file with the supervisor of elections." The judge noted that there are "dozens of reasons a signature mismatch may occur, even when the individual signing is in fact the voter," and concluded that disenfranchisement of "approximately 5,000 voters based on signature mismatch is a substantial burden." While Judge Walker found that Florida's interests "to prevent fraud, to efficiently and quickly report election results, and to promote faith and certainty in election results" were compelling, the "use of signature matching is not reasonable and may lead to unconstitutional disenfranchisement."
Judge Walker extended the period for voters to address a potential signature mismatch by noting that the previous opportunity to cure has "proved illusory."
Provisional ballot voters are provided no opportunity to cure under the law. Without this Court’s intervention, these potential voters have no remedy. Rather, they are simply out of luck and deprived of the right to vote. What is shocking about Florida law is that even though a voter cannot challenge a vote rejected as illegal, any voter or candidate could challenge a vote accepted as legal. The burden on the right to vote, in this case, outweighs the state’s reasons for the practice. Thus, under Anderson-Burdick, this scheme unconstitutionally burdens the fundamental right of Florida citizens to vote and have their votes counted.
Additionally, Judge Walker noted that although the plaintiffs' claims rested on the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he was also troubled by the lack of procedural due process, citing the Georgia mismatch decision in Martin v. Kemp.
Judge Walker's 34 page opinion did not cite Bush v. Gore (2000).
The Florida recount, like the Georgia recount continues, more than a week after election day.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
In his opinion in Brackeen v. Zinke, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, Reed O'Connor, entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs and found that portions of the Indian Child Welfare Act, ICWA are unconstitutional, specifically violating equal protection, the non-delegation doctrine of Article I, and the commandeering principle of the Tenth Amendment. Passed in 1978, the general purpose of ICWA is to prevent Native children from being removed from their families and tribes based on a finding that "an alarmingly high percentage of Indian families [were being] broken up by the removal, often unwarranted, of their children from them by nontribal public and private agencies” as Judge O'Connor's opinion acknowledged, quoting Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013) (quoting 25 U.S.C. § 1901(4)).
Judge Reed O'Connor, however, accepts an argument that was sidestepped by the United States Supreme Court in Baby Girl: that ICWA violates equal protection (applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment) by making a racial classification that does not survive strict scrutiny. Recall that in some briefs as well as in the oral argument, the specter of the racial classification was raised. In United States District Judge O'Connor's opinion, that specter is fully embodied. Judge O'Connor found that ICWA does make a racial classification, rejecting the government's view that the classification at issue was a political category. Judge O'Connor reasoned that ICWA defines Indian child not only by membership in an Indian child, but extends its coverage to children "simply eligible for membership who have a biological Indian parent." Thus, Judge O'Connor reasoned, ICWA's definition "uses ancestry as a proxy for race" and therefore must be subject to strict scrutiny. Interestingly, the United States government did not offer any compelling governmental interest or argued that the classification is narrowly tailored to serve that interest. Judge O'Connor nevertheless credited the Tribal Defendants/Intervenors assertion of an interest in maintaining the Indian child's relationship with the tribe, but found that the means chosen was overinclusive, concluding that
The ICWA’s racial classification applies to potential Indian children, including those who will never be members of their ancestral tribe, those who will ultimately be placed with non-tribal family members, and those who will be adopted by members of other tribes.
On the non-delegation claim, Judge Reed O'Connor found it fatal that ICWA allows Tribes to change the child placement preferences selected by Congress and which then must be honored by the states in child custody proceedings.
On the Tenth Amendment claim, Judge Reed O'Connor relied on the Court's recent decision in Murphy v. NCAA holding unconstitutional a federal law prohibiting states from allowing sports gambling regarding anti-commandeering, concluding that
Congress violated all three principles [articulated in Murphy] when it enacted the ICWA. First, the ICWA offends the structure of the Constitution by overstepping the division of federal and state authority over Indian affairs by commanding States to impose federal standards in state created causes of action. See 25 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Second, because the ICWA only applies in custody proceedings arising under state law, it appears to the public as if state courts or legislatures are responsible for federally-mandated standards, meaning “responsibility is blurred.” Third, the ICWA shifts “the costs of regulations to the States” by giving the sole power to enforce a federal policy to the States. Congress is similarly not forced to weigh costs the States incur enforcing the ICWA against the benefits of doing so. In sum, Congress shifts all responsibility to the States, yet “unequivocally dictates” what they must do.
[citations to Murphy omitted].
October 10, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Nondelegation Doctrine, Opinion Analysis, Race, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, September 6, 2018
In its unanimous judgment and opinions in Johar v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India has declared that §377 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibited "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" is unconstitutional. The Court overruled the 2013 judgment in Koushal v. NAZ Foundation which we discussed here.
The opinions of the Court, totaling just short of 500 pages, rest the decision on Articles
- 14 (equality)
- 15 (prohibition of discrimination, including sex)
- 19 (protection of speech and association) and
- 21 (protection of liberty against deprivation without due process)
of the Constitution of India. The opinions include extensive discussions of cases from other nations and jurisdictions finding that criminalization of same-sex relations is unconstitutional, including Lawrence v. Texas (2003) in the United States, overruling Bowers v. Hardwick (1986).
History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality. The mis-application of this provision denied them the Fundamental Right to equality guaranteed by Article 14. It infringed the Fundamental Right to non-discrimination under Article 15, and the Fundamental Right to live a life of dignity and privacy guaranteed by Article 21. The LGBT persons deserve to live a life unshackled from the shadow of being ‘unapprehended felons’.
The choice of "history" as being held accountable rather than the Court (and its previous opinion) may be deflective, but it is more of an acknowledgement that the United States Supreme Court gave in Lawrence (and which would have been arguably very appropriate).
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Check out Prof. Michael Morley's new piece, Prophylactic Redistricting? Congress's Section 5 Power and the New Equal Protection Right to Vote, in the William & Mary Law Review.
Morley argues that traditional remedial features of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act are getting squeezed from two sides: (1) Boerne and reduced congressional authority to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments mean that the Court will likely give a narrower reading to Section 2 (focusing only on intentional discrimination); and (2) the Court's shift to a "pro-equality" (and away from a "pro-vote") approach to the right to vote mean that courts will likely say that any legislative expansions of the franchise have to be shared equally by all. Here's what to do about it:
Courts may apply section 2 more aggressively to defendant jurisdictions or officials that have a recent history of engaging in intentional racial discrimination concerning the right to vote. They should also be more willing to allow prophylactic applications of section 2 in circumstances where direct evidence of constitutional violations (that is, intentional discrimination) would be impracticable or impossible to uncover. Finally, remedies under section 2 should not be broader than necessary to achieve its important prophylactic purposes. Section 2 runs a risk: the more it deviates from the mandates of the Court's developing conception of equal protection, and does so in a race-conscious manner that almost invariably inures to the benefit of a particular political party, the greater skepticism it will trigger in the courts. It places courts in the difficult position of reshaping both the rules of elections and the shape of electoral districts to attempt to replicate what a fair electoral outcome in the absence of past and present society discrimination would look like. Such awesome power demands careful use.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
In his opinion in League of Women Voters v. Detzner, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida found that the Florida Secretary of State's Opinion barring early voting on any university or college campus most likely violates the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments, and issued a preliminary injunction.
The issue involves an interpretation of the Florida's Division of Elections, under the Secretary of State, that Florida Statute §101.657(1)(a), passed in 2013, that permits supervisors of elections to “designate any city hall, permanent public library facility, fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as early voting sites.” A question arose as to whether a particular hall on the University of Florida campus qualified and in response the state official issued an Opinion banning all university and college facilities for use in early voting.
Judge Walker found that the state's interpretation of the early voting statute was constitutionally faulty. While early voting is not required and may be classified as a convenience, Judge Walker quoted Bush v. Gore (2000) — “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another" — to reason that constitutional problems emerge "when conveniences are available for some people and affirmatively blocked for others." Judge Walker began the opinion by noting that the number of people effected was substantial: more than 1.1 million "young men and women were enrolled in institutions of higher learning" in Florida in 2016, nearly 830,000 in public institutions, as well as there being another 107,000 staff members at the public institutions. To stress the number of people involved, Judge Walker wrote:
Put another way, the number of people who live and work on Florida’s public college and university campuses is greater than the population of Jacksonville, Florida—or the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.
Judge Walker first applied the the Anderson-Burdick balancing test for less than "severe restrictions." (Recall in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting). Judge Walker stated that even assuming the state's opinion could be construed as a reasonable nondiscriminatory restriction, it imposed significant burdens on the plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to vote, categorically prohibiting the use of on-campus early voting and thus "lopsidedly impacts Florida's youngest voters," a class of voters "particularly invested in early voting" with approximately 43 percent of Florida's college students voting early in 2016. These burdens were not justified by the state's interests — which the Judge stated "one must squint hard to identify"— in following state law, preventing parking issues, and avoiding on-campus disruption.
As to the Twenty-Sixth Amendment issue, Judge Walker found that while there was a "dearth of guidance on what test applies" when the claimed infringement is not a facial denial of voting for any citizen 18 years or older, the standard of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) was generally accepted. Judge Walker found that the state's approach revealed a stark pattern of discrimination unexplainable on grounds other than age. Judge Walker also compared the state's policy to earlier seemingly neutral attempts to effect African-American voters, noting that
This Court does not lightly compare contemporary laws and policies to more shameful eras of American history. But addressing intentional discrimination does not require kid gloves.
Having found that there was a likelihood that plaintiffs would prevail on the merits, Judge Walker also found the other requirements for a preliminary injunction were met. The judge instructed the Defendant Secretary of State to issue a directive to supervisors of elections that they retain discretion to implement the Florida statute including any sites that may be on university or college campuses.
Monday, July 9, 2018
The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 9, 1868.
Here's the text:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
[images National Archives via]
July 9, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, History, Privileges or Immunities: Fourteenth Amendment , Procedural Due Process, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 2, 2018
In his opinion in Gary B. v. Snyder, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed a complaint alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit.
After finding the plaintiff students had standing and that the complaint against Governor Snyder and other officials was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, Judge Snyder dismissed the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims.
On the Due Process Clause claim, Judge Snyder noted that the constitutional right at issue is framed as "access to literacy" which "speaks to an opportunity" rather than simply literacy which is an "outcome of education." Using this definition, Judge Snyder distinguished the complaint from landmark cases such as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), rejecting "education" as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, applying the "standard" test to determine a fundamental right from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) — "fundamental rights are only those 'objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed'"— even through the lens of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Snyder reasoned that fundamental rights are generally only "negative rights."
Conceivably, a case like this one could be argued on either positive- or negative- right theories. As a positive right, access to literacy (i.e., a minimally adequate education) is so important that the state is compelled to provide it. As a negative right, access to literacy is so important that the state may not hinder Plaintiffs' attempts to secure it. ***
But a violation of negative rights is not what the Complaint truly seems to argue. The Complaint explains, in great detail, that the instruction and resources in Plaintiffs' schools are inadequate.
Judge Snyder reasoned that the Supreme Court's understanding of a "fundamental right," requires finding that neither liberty nor justice would exist absent state-provided literacy access, which would be "difficult to square with the fact that '[t]here was no federal or state-run school system anywhere in the United States as late as 1830.'" Thus, for Judge Snyder, the "ordered liberty" prong is tantamount to historical roots:
School districts at the time of the Constitution's ratification were formed 'when a group of farms came together and decided to construct a public building for schooling, where their children could gather and be taught reading, writing, and moral codes of instruction.' [citation omitted] The history evinces a deep American commitment to education, but runs counter to the notion that ordered society demands that a state provide one.
Thus, he concluded:
The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? Based on the foregoing analysis, the answer to the question is no.
Judge Murphy concluded that the Equal Protection Clause claim was similarly not founded. The court repeats that there is no fundamental right and further finds that there is no racial classification because there to be a "relevant comparator school" requires not only that the school in question have a different racial composition that the 97% African-American schools in Detroit but also that the school "experienced relevant state interventions" like the schools in Detroit. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applies at its most deferential — whether "there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification" — and the plaintiffs did not plead "specific decisions Defendants made concerning Plaintiffs' schools that could have been made differently" and were thus irrational.
The dismissal of the complaint makes it ripe for appeal.
[image: Paul-Constant Soyer, Little Girl Reading (1864) via]
Monday, June 25, 2018
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.
Shortly 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.
In its 5-4 opinion in Abbott v. Perez, regarding the constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause and the validity under the Voting Rights Act of the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013, the Court's majority decision by Justice Alito concluded that only one district in the redistricting plan was unlawful.
Both the majority opinion (joined by the Chief Justice, Kennedy, Thomas, and Gorusch) and the dissenting opinion by Justice Sotomayor (joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) first spent substantial effort on the jurisdictional issue which had also preoccupied the Court during the oral arguments. The jurisdictional question involves the status of the three judge court order and whether it is actually a reviewable order with the majority concluding it was reviewable and the dissent arguing it was not.
On the merits of the Equal Protection Clause issue Justice Alito's opinion for the Court faulted the three judge court's detailed decision for committing a "fundamental legal error" when it concluded the Texas legislature engaged on intentional racial discrimination violating the Fourteenth Amendment. For the majority, the three judge court did not recognize that when "a challenger claims that a state law was enacted with discriminatory intent, the burden of proof lies with the challenger, not the State," a standard with "special significance" in redistricting cases in which there is a "presumption of legislative good faith." This standard, the Court emphasized, does not change when there has been past racial discrimination but remains only one of the factors of showing intent under Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Development Corp. (1997). Instead, the majority finds that Texas did have a legitimate intent, that of bringing the litigation about the redistricting to an end.
The dissenting opinion on the Equal Protection Clause issue criticizes the majority for selectively misreading (and misquoting) the three judge court opinion, arguing that the three judge court did not remove the burden from the challengers and did rigorously apply the Arlington Heights factors (contending that the majority did not). The "historical background" factor is an evidentiary source of intent which the majority recognized but did not credit, essentially substituting its own judgment for the three judge court.
On the Voting Rights Act (VRA) issue, which is limited to §2 given that the United States Supreme Court held §5 unconstitutional in Shelby County v. Holder, decided five years ago, the majority discussed the factors from Thornburg v. Gingles (1986), and essentially found that only one district — HD90 —was an impermissible racial gerrymander. A brief concurring opinion by Thomas, joined by Gorsuch, argued that §2 should not apply to redistricting. Again, the dissent argued that on the other districts the majority was essentially substituting its own judgment for that of the three judge court rather than reviewing the factual findings only for clear error.
The difference in the rhetorical approaches of the majority and the dissent is striking. In Alito's opinion for the Court, federal the application of the Equal Protection Clause in redistricting is "complicated," equal protection and the VRA pull in opposite directions, and in "technical terms" the Court has assumed that complying with the VRA is a compelling state interest. In Sotomayor's opinion for the dissenting Justices, the "Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and §2 of the Voting Rights Act secure for all voters in our country, regardless of race, the right to equal participation in our political processes," a "fundamental right" which courts should remain vigilant in protecting including "curbing States’ efforts to undermine the ability of minority voters to meaningfully exercise that right."
Monday, June 4, 2018
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.