Thursday, March 26, 2020

First Circuit Strikes DOJ's Restrictions on Sanctuary Cities

The First Circuit this week became the latest appellate court to rule that the Administration lacked statutory authority to rein in and punish sanctuary cities. The court ruled that the Justice Department exceeded its statutory authority in imposing conditions on a DOJ law-enforcement grant program (the Byrne JAG program) for local jurisdictions.

The ruling was the latest victory for sanctuary jurisdictions. At the same time, it deepens a split: the First, Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits have all now struck DOJ's conditions; only the Second Circuit has upheld them. The ruling comes closely on the heels of the Trump Administration's announcement that it'll start withholding Byrne JAG funds from noncomplying jurisdictions based on the Second Circuit ruling.

We last posted, on the Second Circuit ruling, here.

The cases all involve three DOJ-imposed conditions on local jurisdictions' continued receipt of Byrne JAG funds: (1) a "notice" condition that requires grant recipients to provide notice to federal immigration authorities when they release particular (undocumented) individuals from custody; (2) an "access" condition that requires local authorities to grant access to prisons, jails, and the like to federal immigration enforcement officers; and (3) a "certification" condition that requires local authorities to certifiy compliance with 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373, which prohibits state and local governments from restricting their officers from communicating with federal immigration enforcement officers. Under DOJ's order, if cities don't comply with the new conditions, they'll lose funding. 

In each of the cases, sanctuary jurisdictions sued, arguing that DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the conditions, that the conditions violated the Administrative Procedure Act, and that the conditions violated the Constitution (separation of powers, because Congress, not the Administration, gets to impose conditions; and federalism principles). 

The First Circuit ruled that DOJ lacked statutory authority to impose the conditions, and therefore didnt' touch the APA or constitutional claims. In short, the court said that "DOJ's kitchen-sink-full of clever legal arguments" didn't cut it--that DOJ doesn't have statutory authority to unilaterally impose these conditions. The court took specific issue with the analysis by the Second Circuit, sharpening the points of dispute.

The ruling makes it even surer now (if that's possible) that this issue is headed to the Supreme Court--assuming, that is, that the Administration doesn't change in the 2020 election, or that this Administration doesn't change its position.

March 26, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Court Kicks Copyright Case Against State, Says No Abrogation of State Sovereign Immunity

The Supreme Court ruled today in Allen v. Cooper that North Carolina enjoyed Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity against a claim under the federal Copyright Remedy Clarification Act. The Court held that in enacting the CRCA Congress did not validly abrogate the state's sovereign immunity.

The ruling is a victory for North Carolina and other states who seek to avoid CRCA liability for copyright violations. More generally, it's a victory for states' sovereign immunity. At the same time, it continues a line of cases that restrict congressional authority to abrogate states' Eleventh Amendment immunity--and limit that power to federal acts under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment that are proportional and congruent to a constitutional problem or evil in the states that Congress seeks to address.

The case arose when videographer Frederick Allen sued North Carolina for posting some of his copyright-protected videos and pictures online. North Carolina moved to dismiss, arguing that it enjoyed sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment--and that it hadn't waived immunity, and that Congress didn't validly abrogate immunity. The Supreme Court agreed.

The Court held under College Savings Bank v. Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. that Congress couldn't abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity using its Article I powers. So if Congress enacted the CRCA under the Intellectual Property Clause (in Article I), then Congress didn't validly abrogate. (The Court acknoweldged that it upheld congressional abrogation under the Bankruptcy Clause in Central Va. Community College v. Katz, but held that Katz was a good-for-one-abrogation ticket based on the unique characteristics and history of the Bankruptcy Clause.)

The Court went on to say that Congress didn't validly abrogate under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that the CRCA wasn't proportional and congruent to any constitutional evil that Congress sought to address. That's because for a state to violate the Fourteenth Amendment by infringing a copyright, it'd have to do it intentionally, and provide no state remedy for the violation. (Due Process would be the relevant clause under Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.) The Court said that Congress found no evidence of such infringements by the states--that is, no constitutional evil--and so the CRCA couldn't be proportional and congruent to that (non-)problem.

Justice Thomas concurred. He wrote separately to argue that the Court set too high a bar for stare decisis, and that the Court went too far in suggesting that Congress might in the future abrogate state sovereign immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment by actually addressing a constitutional evil.

Justice Breyer concurred, too, joined by Justice Ginsburg. He argued (consistent with his longstanding position) that "someting is amiss" with "our sovereign-immunity precedents." He said that the Court "went astray" in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, holding that Congress lacked authority under Article I to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity, and again in Florida Prepaid.

March 23, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 13, 2020

D.C. Circuit Vacates McGahn Ruling, Sets for Rehearing En Banc

The full D.C. Circuit voted to reconsider the question whether a House committee has standing to sue a former executive branch officer. The court ordered rehearing in Committee on the Judiciary v. McGahn (and House of Representatives v. Mnuchin, which raises the same standing question) and vacated the panel's earlier ruling that the Committee lacked standing.

Recall that the panel held that the Judiciary Committee lacked standing to sue McGahn, a former executive branch official. In short, the court said that federal courts can't hear pure disputes between the coordinate branches; instead, there must be a plaintiff who was personally harmed in order to get the claim into federal court.

Today's order undoes that ruling and sets the case for rehearing before the entire D.C. Circuit.

This doesn't bode well for McGahn (and Mnuchin, and the Trump Administration). But whatever the en banc court ultimately says, this case is surely headed to the Supreme Court.

March 13, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 12, 2020

D.C. Circuit Authorizes Release of Full Mueller Report to House

The D.C. Circuit this week upheld a district court ruling that auhorized release of the full, unredacted Mueller Report to the House Judiciary Committee. The ruling, if upheld on inevitable appeal, means that the Committee'll get its hands on the full report, plus other, supporting grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation.

The ruling deals a sharp blow to the Trump Administration and DOJ. It means that the Committee can decide for itself, based on the full Mueller Report and additional grand jury materials, whether Administration witnesses lied to Congress or to the Mueller team, and the extent to which AG Barr misrepresented the full Report. It also means that the Committee can see for itself the full extent of any collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia, and campaign and Administration efforts to conceal any collaboration or otherwise to obstruct congressional investigations.

But don't think that this means that we'll see the full Report anytime soon. First, there's the matter of the inevitable application for a stay, and appeal. Second, the court's holding hinges, in part, on the Committee's plan to protect the material from public release and to use only those portions that it needs.

The case arose when, July 26, 2019, the Committee filed an application for release of certain grand jury materials from the Mueller investigation with the federal district court. The Committee sought release of three categories of grand jury materials: (1) all portions of the Mueller Report that were redacted pursuant to the general grand-jury secrecy rule in Rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, (2) any portions of grand jury materials (transcripts, exhibits) that were referenced in those redactions, and (3) any other underlying grand jury material that related directly to certain individuals and events described in the Mueller Report.

The Committee sought release pursuant to the "judicial proceeding" exception, in Rule 6(e)(3)(E)(i), to the general rule of grand jury secrecy. The exception allows for release of grand jury materials in a "judicial proceeding," where the requesting party can demonstrate a particularized need for the material. After in camera review of a portion (but not all) of the requested materials, the district court held that the Senate's impeachment trial of President Trump met the "judicial proceeding" requirement, and that the Committee demonstrated a particularized need for the material. The court authorized release of the first two categories of grand jury material requested by the Committee.

(You might wonder how the Committee request for release relates to impeachment. Here's how: The Committee Report on Impeachment said that the conduct in the Articles of Impeachment was consistent with President Trump's behavior with regard to Russia and the Mueller investigation. Moreover, the Committee's impeachment investigation related to the Mueller report is ongoing, and may lead to addition articles of impeachment.)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed. The court held that the Senate's impeachment trial is, indeed, a "judicial proceeding" under Rule 6(e) (and that the Committee's investigation is part of, preliminary to, a Senate trial). It held that constitutional text and history, circuit precedent, and past practice all uniformly supported this conclusion. (On this point, "[i]t is only the President's categorical resistance and the Department's objection that are unprecedented.")

The court went on to say that the Committee demonstrated a particuularized need, because, among other things, the Committee may yet issue more articles of impeachment related to the President's behavior with regard to Russia and the Mueller investigation. 

Judge Rao dissented. She argued that the lower court actually made two moves--one to "authorize" release of the material, and the other to "order" DOJ to release it. She agreed that the court could authorize release, but she argued that it couldn't order DOJ to release the material, because the Committee lacked standing to bring a claim against the Executive Branch under the court's recent ruling in the McGahn case.

Both the court and Judge Griffith, in concurrence, wrote that the district court did no such thing. They both reminded that grand jury materials are judicial records, and that DOJ only holds them. As a result, this wasn't a dispute between the Committee and the Executive Branch. Instead, it was merely an application by the Committee to the courts, which the Executive Branch decided to oppose.

March 12, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Daily Read: Attorney General Barr's Reputation at Issue in Mueller Report FOIA Litigation

The issue of the Attorney General's candor is central to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation seeking the unredacted Mueller Report. In the consolidated cases of Electronic Freedom Foundation v. DOJ, and Jason Leopold & BuzzFeed News v. DOJ, the plaintiffs essentially challenge the basis of FOIA exemptions which DOJ has listed as justifying the numerous redactions.

In his Opinion today, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia, Reggie Walton, granted the plaintiffs' requests that the court conduct in camera review of the unredacted version of the Mueller Report. What makes the Opinion noteworthy is Judge Walton's explicit statements regarding the untrustworthiness of the Attorney General that justified the need for in camera review. After a detailed discussion of the circumstances, Judge Walton wrote:

Although Attorney General Barr can be commended for his effort to expeditiously release a summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions in the public interest, the Court is troubled by his hurried release of his March 24, 2019 letter well in advance of when the redacted version of the Mueller Report was ultimately made available to the public. The speed by which Attorney General Barr released to the public the summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s principal conclusions, coupled with the fact that Attorney General Barr failed to provide a thorough representation of the findings set forth in the Mueller Report, causes the Court to question whether Attorney General Barr’s intent was to create a one-sided narrative about the Mueller Report—a narrative that is clearly in some respects substantively at odds with the redacted version of the Mueller Report.

As noted earlier, the Court has reviewed the redacted version of the Mueller Report, Attorney General Barr’s representations made during his April 18, 2019 press conference, and Attorney General Barr’s April 18, 2019 letter. And, the Court cannot reconcile certain public representations made by Attorney General Barr with the findings in the Mueller Report. The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.

These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility and in turn, the Department’s representation that “all of the information redacted from the version of the [Mueller] Report released by [ ] Attorney General [Barr]” is protected from disclosure by its claimed FOIA exemptions. In the Court’s view, Attorney General Barr’s representation that the Mueller Report would be “subject only to those redactions required by law or by compelling law enforcement, national security, or personal privacy interests” cannot be credited without the Court’s independent verification in light of Attorney General Barr’s conduct and misleading public statements about the findings in the Mueller Report, id., Ex. 7 (April 18, 2019 Letter) at 3, and it would be disingenuous for the Court to conclude that the redactions of the Mueller Report pursuant to the FOIA are not tainted by Attorney General Barr’s actions and representations.

[brackets in original; bolding added].

Later in the opinion, Judge Walton continued:

Here, although it is with great consternation, true to the oath that the undersigned took upon becoming a federal judge, and the need for the American public to have faith in the judicial process, considering the record in this case, the Court must conclude that the actions of Attorney General Barr and his representations about the Mueller Report preclude the Court’s acceptance of the validity of the Department’s redactions without its independent verification. Adherence to the FOIA’s objective of keeping the American public informed of what its government is up to demands nothing less.

Judge Walton, who was appointed to the federal court in 2001 and who has interestingly served as Judge and Presiding Judge of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ordered the DOJ to

submit the unredacted version of the Mueller Report to the Court for in camera review. If, after reviewing the unredacted version of the Mueller Report, the Court concludes that all of the information has been appropriately withheld under the claimed FOIA exemptions, it will issue a supplemental Memorandum Opinion and Order granting the Department’s motion for summary judgment on that ground and denying the plaintiffs’ cross- motions. On the other hand, if the Court concludes after its in camera review that any of the redacted information was inappropriately withheld, it will issue a supplemental Memorandum Opinion and Order that comports with that finding.

A federal judge's opinion that the Attorney General's "lack of candor" supports an independent judicial examination of redacted material implicates separation of powers issues, to be sure, but it is also yet another indication of the lack of confidence in the Attorney General.

March 5, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Interpretation, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Second Circuit Upholds Fed's Anti-Sanctuary Cities Conditions

The Second Circuit last week upheld the Justice Department's efforts to clamp down on sanctuary cities against by-now-familiar constitutional and statutory challenges. The ruling conflicts with cases from the Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits, and, as if there were ever any doubt, puts the issue on track for Supreme Court review.

The case, like the others, arose when AG Sessions unilaterally imposed three conditions on local governments receiving law-enforcement grants under DOJ's Byrne program. Sessions required grant recipients (1) to comply with federal law prohibiting state and local restrictions on their officers from communicating with federal authorities about a person's immigration status (in 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373), (2) to provide federal authorities with release dates of unauthorized aliens, and (3) to give federal immigration officers access to incarcerated unauthorized aliens.

The conditions were designed to clamp down on sanctuary jurisdictions.

State and local governments sued, arguing that the conditions violated the separation of powers (because only Congress, not the Executive Branch, has authority to place conditions on federal funds), the Tenth Amendment (because 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1373 tells state and local governemnts what they can't do (restrict communication between their officers and the feds) in violation of the anti-commandeering principle, and the Administrative Procedure Act (becuase the conditions, even if authorized by statute, are arbitrary and capricious). 

The Second Circuit is the first circuit court to side with the government. 

The court ruled that the Byrne program, in 34 U.S.C. Sec. 10153, gave the AG broad authority to implement the program, including broad enough authority to impose the three conditions. As a result, the court held that the conditions didn't violate the APA's prohibition on unlawful agency action or the separation of powers.

As to the first condition--the one that requires Byrne grant recipients to certify comliance with Section 1373--the court rejected the plaintiffs' Tenth Amendment challenge. The court held that the amount of money at issue wasn't enough to "turn pressure into compulsion" for the plaintiffs to comply with Section 1373, and therefore certification of compliance with Section 1373 was a constitutionally permissible condition on the receipt of federal funds.

March 5, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 1, 2020

District Court Rules Cuccinelli Appointment Violates Law and Strikes his Restrictive Asylum Orders

Judge Randolph D. Moss (D.D.C.) ruled today that Ken Cuccinelli's appointment as Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 and struck two of his orders restricting certain asylum processes.

The ruling is a significant blow to the administration, USCIS, and Cuccinelli. It also puts the brakes on the then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security's effort to side-step the FVRA and get Cuccinelli into office under the radar. (If affirmed, the ruling also forecloses any similar efforts to work around the FVRA in Homeland Security or other agencies.)

Moreover, the ruling could also affect other asylum claimants and other Cuccinelli decisions, if other cases follow. (Judge Moss was careful to limit relief to only the plaintiffs in this case, which was not a class action. But the reasoning extends to other asylum applicants and other Cuccinelli decisions in his role as acting Director.)

The case arose when certain asylum claimants challenged Cuccinelli's orders to limit the time allotted for asylum seekers to consult with others prior to their credible-fear interviews from 72 or 48 hours to "one full calendar day from the date of arrival at a detention facility," and prohibited asylum officers from granting extensions to prepare for credible-fear interviews "except in the most extraordinary of circumstances." They argued, among other things, that Cuccinelli lacked authority to issue the orders, because his appointment as Acting Director was invalid under the FVRA.

The court agreed. The court noted that after the Senate-confirmed Director of the USCIS resigned, and after the Deputy Director (the Director's "first assistant") took over pursuant to the FVRA, the Secretary of Homeland Security simultaneously appointed Cuccinelli as a newly created Principal Deputy Director and revised the USCIS order of succession to designate the new Principal Deputy Director as the new "first assistant" to the Director.

The moves were designed to put Cuccinelli in the Acting Director's spot over the Deputy Director. (The FVRA specifies that when there's a vacancy in a Senate-confirmed job, the "first assistant" assumes the acting role, unless the President appoints a person under other provisions in the FVRA, not relevant here.)

But in addition to the bald effort to work around the FVRA, there was this weirdness, underscoring the fact that the Acting Secretary was trying to side-step the FVRA: the Acting Secretary specified that the order designating the Principal Deputy Director as "first assistant" "will terminate automatically, without further action, upon the appointment of a new Director of USCIS by the President."

The court held that the attempted work-around of the FVRA didn't work. In short, Cuccinelli "never did and never will serve in a subordinate role--that is, as an "assistant"--to any other USCIS official," because his appointment as Principal Deputy automatically elevated him to the Acting Director job. "For this reason alone, Defendants' contention that his appointment satisfies the FVRA cannot be squared with the text, structure, or purpose of the FVRA."

The court thus ruled that Cuccinelli's two orders were issued without authorization and set them aside. It went on to limit relief to the plaintiffs in the case, however, and noted that the case wasn't a class action. As a result, the court vacated the plaintiffs' negative credible-fear determinations and remanded their cases to USCIS for further proceedings under the pre-order rules.

March 1, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Privilege, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 28, 2020

D.C. Circuit Tosses House Judiciary Committee Suit to Compel McGahn Testimony

The D.C. Circuit dismissed the House Judiciary Committee's lawsuit seeking to compel the testimony of former White House Counsel Don McGahn. The court held that the Committee failed to assert a judicially cognizable injury, and that the case was therefore not justiciable under Article III.

The ruling deals a sharp blow to Congress's authority to compel testimony of, and to obtain information from, Executive Branch officials. It means that congressional lawsuits against Executive Branch officials to compel testimony are nonjusticiable, and that Congress will have to use its own powers (appropriations, appointments, contempt, impeachment) to obtain that testimony and information. As we've seen, however, those tools often don't do the job.

In short, the ruling invites presidential noncooperation with congressional oversight and investigations and, as a practical matter, with a noncooperative president, could all but mark the end of effective congressional oversight of the administration. Having said that, this'll surely be appealed.

We posted on the district court ruling here.

The court, in an opinion penned by Judge Griffith, ruled that the Committee lacked a judicially cognizable injury, and therefore lacked standing under Article III. It said that the courts have no business refereeing a pure dispute between Congress and the Executive Branch. It distinguished cases where the courts have ruled in inter-branch disputes, saying that those cases always involved a direct, cognizable harm to an individual, not a branch of government.

In this case, the Committee's dispute with the Executive Branch is unfit for judicial resolution because it has no bearing on the "rights of individuals" or some entity beyond the federal government. The Committee is not a private entity seeking vindication of its "constitutional rights and liberties . . . against oppressive or discriminatory government action." Nor does the Committee seek the "production or nonproduction of specified evidence . . . in a pending criminal case"--the "kind of controversy" threatening individual liberty that "courts traditionally resolve."

Instead, the Committee claims that the Executive Branch's assertion of a constitutional privilege is "obstructing the Committee's investigation." That obstruction may seriously and even unlawfully hinder the Committee's efforts to probe presidential wrongdoing, but it is not a "judicially cognizable" injury.

Judge Henderson concurred, but added that McGahn's arguments on both justiciability and the merits went too far:

First, McGahn urges us to foreclose Article III standing when the Congress, or a House thereof, asserts any institutional injury in any interbranch dispute; I do not believe, however, Supreme Court precedent supports a holding of that scope. Second, McGahn's assertion of absolute testimonial immunity against compelled congressional process is, in my opinion, a step too far, again, under Supreme Court precedent.

Judge Rogers dissented:

The House comes to the court in light of the President's blanket and unprecedented order that no member of the Executive Branch shall comply with the subpoena duly issued by an authorized House Committee. Exercising jurisdiction over the Committee's case is not an instant of judicial encroachment on the prerogatives of another Branch, because subpoena enforcement is a traditional and commonplace function of the federal courts. The court removes any incentive for the Executive Branch to engage in the negotiation process seeking accommodation, all but assures future Presidential stonewalling of Congress, and further impairs the House's ability to perform its constitutional duties.

February 28, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 27, 2020

High Court Rebuffs Cross-Border Killing Case

The Supreme Court this week dismissed a case by parents of a Mexican youth against a U.S. Border Patrol agent for shooting and killing their son. The ruling declined to extend a Bivens remedy (a constitutional claim against a federal officer) to the cross-border killing and dismissed the case. The ruling ends the case and (if there were any doubt) underscores just how little is left of Bivens.

The case, Hernandez v. Mesa, arose after a U.S. Border Patrol agent shot and killed Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, a 15-year old Mexican national, while he was playing with friends in the concrete culvert that runs between the U.S.-Mexico border. The child's parents sued Agent Jesus Mesa, Jr., under Bivens for violating the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

A 5-4 Court, divided along conventional ideological lines, ruled that Bivens didn't extend to the case. The Court, in an opinion by Justice Alito, ruled that the case raised a new Bivens context, and that the special factors of foreign affairs, national security, and Congress's failure to provide a remedy for this or similar claims all counseled against extending a Bivens remedy to this new context.

The ruling wasn't surprising, given the Court's most recent foray into Bivens, in Ziglar v. Abbasi. In that case, the Court limited Bivens to all but the precise three contexts where the Court has recognized a Bivens remedy (Bivens itself, a congressional staffer's Fifth Amendment claim of dismissal based on sex, and a federal prisoner's Eighth Amendment claim for failure to provide adequate medical treatment). Just to underscore how little remains of Bivens, the Court there noted that if these claims came up today, the Court would likely rule differently.

Justice Thomas concurred, joined by Justice Gorsuch, arguing that the Court should do away with Bivens entirely.

Justice Ginsburg dissented, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She argued that the case did not arise in a new Bivens context, and even if it did, special factors don't counsel against a Bivens remedy. After all, she argued, the case is about whether a federal officer violated the Constitution when he shot and killed the child while on U.S. soil, under U.S. law--and does not intrude on the other branches' conduct of foreign affairs or national security.

February 27, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 24, 2020

Daily Read: Justice Sotomayor on Role of the Court

Dissenting from the grant of a stay in Wolf v. Cook County, Illinois, involving the controversial "public charge" immigration rule of the Trump Administration, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Court has been "too quick" to grant the United States government's requests for stays especially as compared to not granting stays in other circumstances, including executions. Importantly, the stay at issue was not related to a nationwide injunction:

Sonia_SotomayorIts public-charge rule is set to go into effect in 49 of 50 States next week. The Seventh Circuit is set to consider the Illinois-specific injunction next week as well, with a decision to follow shortly thereafter. And the Government is unable to articulate how many cases—if any—this narrow injunction would affect in the meantime. In sum, the Government’s only claimed hardship is that it must enforce an existing interpretation of an immigration rule in one State—just as it has done for the past 20 years—while an updated version of the rule takes effect in the remaining 49. The Government has not quantified or explained any bur- dens that would arise from this state of the world. Indeed, until this Court granted relief in the New York cases, the Government itself did not consider this Illinois-specific harm serious enough to warrant asking this Court for relief.

These facts—all of which undermine the Government’s assertion of irreparable harm—show two things, one about the Government’s conduct and one about this Court’s own. First, the Government has come to treat “th[e] exceptional mechanism” of stay relief “as a new normal.” Barr v. East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, 588 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting from grant of stay) (slip op., at 5). Claiming one emergency after another, the Government has recently sought stays in an unprecedented number of cases, demanding immediate attention and consuming lim- ited Court resources in each. And with each successive application, of course, its cries of urgency ring increasingly hollow. Indeed, its behavior relating to the public-charge rule in particular shows how much its own definition of ir- reparable harm has shifted. Having first sought a stay in the New York cases based, in large part, on the purported harm created by a nationwide injunction, it now disclaims that rationale and insists that the harm is its temporary inability to enforce its goals in one State.

Second, this Court is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process. That is because the Court—in this case, the New York cases, and many others—has been all too quick to grant the Government’s “reflexiv[e]” requests. Ibid. But make no mistake: Such a shift in the Court’s own behavior comes at a cost.

After discussing the extensive time and resources that stay applications involve, Justice Sotomayor continued:

Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions—where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life—to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.” Murphy v. Collier, 587 U. S. ___, ___ (2019) (second statement of KAVANAUGH, J.) (slip op., at 4); see also id., at ___ (ALITO, J., joined by THOMAS and GORSUCH, JJ., dissenting from grant of stay) (slip op., at 6) (“When courts do not have ad- equate time to consider a claim, the decisionmaking process may be compromised”); cf. Dunn v. Ray, 586 U. S. ___ (2019) (overturning the grant of a stay of execution). Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances— where the Government itself chose to wait to seek relief, and where its claimed harm is continuation of a 20-year status quo in one State. I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.

In brief, Justice Sotomayor has argued that some of her colleagues have been biased toward the Trump Administration's petitions.

 

February 24, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, News, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Eleventh Circuit: Florida Law Mandating Indigent Voters Pay Fines and Fees Violates Equal Protection Clause

In an extensive opinion in Jones v. Governor of Florida, the Eleventh Circuit found that the Florida legislature's imposition of payment of all fines, fees, and restitution connected with a felony conviction as a necessary precondition for re-enfranchisement violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

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." 

Recall that in October 2019, 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, providing that persons affected should have the opportunity to prove their inability to pay.

The Eleventh's Circuit per curiam opinion of 78 pages concluded that the statute's requirement of payment of "legal financial obligations" (known as LFO) could not be sustained under heightened scrutiny.  While wealth classifications in equal protection do not generally merit heightened scrutiny, the Eleventh Circuit noted that

But the Supreme Court has told us that wealth classifications require more searching review in at least two discrete areas: the administration of criminal justice and access to the franchise. M.L.B. [ v. S.L.J.], 519 U.S. at 123  [1996] (“[O]ur cases solidly establish two exceptions to that general rule [of rational basis for wealth classifications]. The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license. Nor may access to judicial processes in cases criminal or ‘quasi criminal in nature’ turn on ability to pay.” (citations omitted)). Because Florida’s re-enfranchisement scheme directly implicates wealth discrimination both in the administration of criminal justice and in access to the franchise, we are obliged to apply some form of heightened scrutiny. Florida has implemented a wealth classification that punishes those genuinely unable to pay fees, fines, and restitution more harshly than those able to pay—that is, it punishes more harshly solely on account of wealth—and it does so by withholding access to the franchise. The observation that Florida may strip the right to vote from all felons forever does not dictate that rational basis review is proper in this case. To the contrary, settled Supreme Court precedent instructs us to employ heightened scrutiny where the State has chosen to “open the door” to alleviate punishment for some, but mandates that punishment continue for others, solely on account of wealth.

Further,

The Supreme Court has also determined that a state may not extend punishment on account of inability to pay fines or fees. See Bearden, 461 U.S. at 672–73 (holding that a state may not revoke probation—thereby extending a prison term—based on the failure to pay a fine the defendant is unable, through no fault of his own, to pay); Tate, 401 U.S. at 399 (holding that a state cannot imprison under a fine-only statute on the basis that an indigent defendant cannot pay a fine); Williams, 399 U.S. at 240–41 (holding that a period of imprisonment cannot be extended beyond the statutory maximum on the basis that an indigent cannot pay a fine).

1024px-2018_Florida_Amendment_4.svgFor the Eleventh Circuit, disenfranchisement is clearly punishment, and also clearly a "continuing form of punishment." (emphasis in original). The Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that while felon disenfranchisment schemes are generally only subject to rational basis review, here, the long and short of it is that:

 once a state provides an avenue to ending the punishment of disenfranchisement—as the voters of Florida plainly did—it must do so consonant with the principles of equal protection and it may not erect a wealth barrier absent a justification sufficient to overcome heightened scrutiny.

The court then applied the form heightened scrutiny from Bearden v. Georgia (1983) including its four considerations: (1) “the nature of the individual interest affected”; (2) “the extent to which it is affected”; (3) “the rationality of the connection between legislative means and purpose”; and (4) “the existence of alternative means for effectuating the purpose.” The court rather expeditiously analyzed the individual's interests as great, the state's interests as minor, and noted the lack of realistic alternatives.

Further, the court rejected Florida's argument that the plaintiffs must demonstrate discriminatory intent:

This is a wealth discrimination case. And the Supreme Court has squarely held that [Washington v.] Davis’s intent requirement is not applicable in wealth discrimination cases. See M.L.B., 519 U.S. at 126–27 (rejecting, in the context of a wealth discrimination claim, the argument that Washington v. Davis requires proof of discriminatory intent).

The Eleventh Circuit opinion concluded that although to the "extent a felon can pay LFOs, he or she must," but clearly affirmed the district court's order enjoining the state "from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations."

[image: Florida vote on Amendment 4 via]

February 19, 2020 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

D.C. Circuit Rebuffs HHS's Approval of Arkansas Work Requirements for Medicaid

The D.C. Circuit last week ruled that HHS Secretary Azar's approval of Arkansas's proposed work required for Medicaid recipients was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. The ruling vacates the Secretary's approval and means that the work requirements can't move forward, at least unless and until the Secretary provides an explanation for authorization that's consistent with the Medicaid Act.

We last posted on this case (and a similar case out of Kentucky) here. (After the district court ruled against Kentucky's approval, that state dropped its program and moved for voluntary dismissal.)

The case arose when Arkansas sought HHS approval for a work-requirement demonstration project for its Medicaid program. The project would mean that Medicaid recipients in the state would have to work, with some exceptions, in order to continue to receive Medicaid.

HHS Secretary Azar approved the project. State residents sued, arguing that the approval was arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. The district court agreed, and last week the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

Like the district court, the circuit court said that Secretary Azar's explanation for approving the project didn't square with the purpose of Medicaid, to provide medical assistance. Here's the long and short of it:

Instead of analyzing whether the demonstration would promote the objective of providing coverage, the Secretary identified three alternative objectives: "whether the demonstration as amended was likely to assist in improving health outcomes; whether it would address behavioral and social factor that influence health outcomes; and whether it would incentivize beneficiaries to engage in their own health care and achieve better health outcomes." These three alternative objectives all point to better health outcomes as the objective of Medicaid, but that alternative objective lacks textual support. Indeed, the statute makes no mention of that objective.

While furnishing health care coverage and better health outcomes may be connected goals, the text specifically addresses only coverage. . . . That means that Congress selected to achieve the objectives of Medicaid was to provide health care coverage to populations that otherwise could not afford it. 

February 18, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Executive Authority, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 7, 2020

D.C. Circuit Tosses Congressional Members' Foreign Emoluments Suit Against Trump

The D.C. Circuit ruled today that 215 Members of Congress who brought a suit against President Trump for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause lacked standing to sue. As a result, the court ordered the case dismissed.

The ruling is a significant victory for President Trump. But it wasn't a ruling on the merits, and other Emoluments Clause cases are still pending against the President in two other circuits.

We last posted on the case here. In short, Members argued that President Trump failed to gain congressional approval and thus violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause for taking money from foreign governments for stays and services at his properties. President Trump moved to dismiss for lack of standing, among other reasons. The district court denied the motion; the D.C. Circuit today reversed.

The ruling was concise. The court simply held that the case was governed by Raines v. Byrd, in which the Supreme Court held that Members of Congress lacked standing to challenge the Line Item Veto Act. Here's how the D.C. Circuit applied Raines:

This case is really no different from Raines. The Members were not singled out--their alleged injury is shared by the 320 members of the Congress who did not join this lawsuit--and their claim is based entirely on the loss of political power. . . .

The Supreme Court's recent summary reading of Raines that "individual members" of the Congress "lack standing to assert the institutional interests of a legislature" in the same way "a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole," Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, puts paid to any doubt regarding the Members' lack of standing.

The plaintiffs can appeal to the full D.C. Circuit and to the Supreme Court.

February 7, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

High Court Declines to Take Up Expedited Review of Fifth Circuit's Obamacare Ruling

The Supreme Court issued a one-sentence order today denying a motion by Obamacare defenders to expedite review of the Fifth Circuit's ruling last month holding the individual mandate unconstitutional.

Recall that the Fifth Circuit ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional (because Congress zeroed out the penalty), but remanded the case to determine whether the mandate is severable from the rest of the Act--and therefore whether any other portions of the Act can stand. The district court previously ruled that the mandate was not severable, and that the entire Act must fall.

The Court's order means that the Court won't rule on the case until after the 2020 presidential election, if at all.

January 21, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Ninth Circuit Rules on Court Processes and Media Right to Access

The Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday that a media plaintiff had a First Amendment right to access nonconfidential civil complaints, and that one court policy violated that right, where another court policy didn't. The ruling sets a test and clarifies the law in the Ninth Circuit.

The case, Courthouse News Service v. Planet, arose when CNS challenged the process of releasing nonconfidential complaints to the press in Ventura County Superior Court. That process, dubbed "no access before process," meant that the court put newly filed civil complaints through a seven-step administrative process before releasing them to the media. That could take a couple days, so CNS sued, seeking immediate access. (Venture County doesn't use electronic filing; it's all paper.)

As the case worked its way through the federal courts, Ventura County changed its practice to a "scanning policy." Under the scanning policy, the court scanned complaints and made them available the same day (in most cases) on court computers. CNS still wanted immediate access, however, so the case moved on.

The Ninth Circuit said that CNS has a qualified First Amendment right of access to newly filed, nonconfidential civil complaints, and that the "no access before process" violated it, while the "scanning policy" didn't. The Ninth Circuit held that courts could adopt reasonable restrictions on access resembling time, place, and manner regulations. These could result in incidental delays in access, so long as they are content-neutral, narrowly tailored and necessary to serve the court's important interest in the fair and orderly administration of justice. Or: "Ventura County must demonstrate first that there is a 'substantial probability' that its interest in the fair and orderly administration of justice would be impaired by immediate access, and second, that no reasonable alternatives exist to 'adequately protect' that government interest."

As to the "no access before process" policy, the court said that it resulted in significant delays, but didn't serve (and in fact were entirely unrelated to) the stated interests in privacy and confidentiality, complying with accounting protocols, controlling quality and accuracy, promoting efficient court administration, or promoting the integrity of court records. It also said that the policy "caused far greater delays than were necessary to protect [these interests]."

As to the scanning policy, the court said that it directly related to the court's asserted interests and that, after the court changed its filing hours, the policy resulted in "near perfect" same-day access to the complaints. (Before the court changed its filing hours, there wasn't near perfect same-day access, but the Ninth Circuit gave the court a pass, because it faced resource constraints.)

The ruling leaves the current scanning policy in place.

Judge Smith concurred in part, arguing that the majority wrongly applied strict scrutiny, and instead should have applied "reasonable time, place and manner restrictions."

January 20, 2020 in Courts and Judging, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

District Court Halts Trump Order Allowing Cities, States to Veto Refugee Resettlement

Judge Peter J. Messitte (D. Md.) entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of President Trump's executive order that effectively authorized state and local governments to veto federal resettlement of refugees. The ruling, while preliminary, deals a sharp blow to President Trump's effort to empower state and local governments to restrict refugee resettlement. At the same time, it's a significant victory for refugees and the refugee-rights community.

President Trump's EO provides that the federal government "should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees under the Department of State's Reception and Placement Program." The EO effectively allowed state and local governments to veto resettlement.

The court ruled that this likely violated 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1522, which sets out the "conditions and considerations" for refugee resettlement and assistance programs:

[The statute] speaks in terms of "consulting" and "consultation" between and among the Resettlement Agencies and the State and Local Governments; establishes that the Resettlement Agencies and State and Local Governments must regularly "meet" to "plan and coordinate"; even acknowledges that "maximum consideration" be given to "recommendations" States make to the Federal Government. The challenged Order definitely appears to undermine this arrangement. As to States or Local Governments that refuse to give written consents, there will be no consultation, no meetings with the Resettlement Agencies, not just "recommendations." Those State and Local Governments can simply give or withhold their written consents to the resettlement of refugees within their borders.

The court also held that the EO "appears to run counter to the Refugee Act's stated purpose" and the congressional intent. (A report on the bill from the House Judiciary Committee couldn't have been clearer: "The Committee emphasizes that these requirements [of the act] are not intended to give States and localities any veto power over refugee placement decisions, but rather to ensure their input into the process and to improve their resettlement planning capacity.")

The court also held that individual government officials' enforcement of the EO was likely arbitrary and capricious, and thus invalid, under the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling preliminarily prohibits enforcement of the EO. But it also telegraphs the court's conclusion on the merits: the EO is unlawful.

January 15, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Executive Authority, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 10, 2020

SCOTUS Will Hear First Amendment Challenge to Federal Robo-Call Law

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Barr v. Political Consultants involving a First Amendment challenge to a provision of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (the “TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A).

The federal law prohibits calls to cell phones by use of an automated dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice, subject to three statutory exemptions including one added in 2015 for automated calls that relate to the collection of debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government.

The challengers, political consultants and similar entities, argued that this exemption violated the First Amendment as a content regulation that could not survive strict scrutiny and further that the exemption could not be severed from the TCPA.

The district judge held that the TCPA exemption was content-based but satisfied strict scrutiny review. The Fourth Circuit's opinion agreed that the exemption was content-based, applying the rubric from Reed v. Town of Gilbert (2015).  Like the district judge, the panel rejected the government's contention that it was not content-based but only relationship-based.  The panel stated:

Instead, the exemption regulates on the basis of the content of the phone call. Under the debt-collection exemption, the relationship between the federal government and the debtor is only relevant to the subject matter of the call. In other words, the debt-collection exemption applies to a phone call made to the debtor because the call is about the debt, not because of any relationship between the federal government and the debtor.

Candlestick_Telephone_with_Note_PadImportantly, as the district judge noted:

a private debt collector could make two nearly identical automated calls to the same cell phone using prohibited  technology, with the sole distinction being that the first call relates to a loan guaranteed  by the federal government, while the second call concerns a commercial loan with no government guarantee.

Unlike the district judge, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the exemption failed strict scrutiny:

It is fatally underinclusive for two related reasons. First, by authorizing many of the intrusive calls that the automated call ban was enacted to prohibit, the debt-collection exemption subverts the privacy protections underlying the ban. Second, the impact of the exemption deviates from the purpose of the automated call ban and, as such, it is an outlier among the other statutory exemptions.

However, the Fourth Circuit agreed with the government that the exemption was severable, citing NFIB v. Sebelius (2012), and reasoning that severing the debt-collection exemption will not undermine the automated call ban. given that for twenty-four years, from 1991 until 2015, until the exemption was added,  the automated call ban was “fully operative.”

The United States Supreme Court has now added this case to its 2019-2020 Term.

January 10, 2020 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Eleventh Circuit Rebuffs Eleventh Amendment Immunity Defense in ADA Claim

The Eleventh Circuit ruled in National Association of the Deaf v. Florida that Congress validly abrogated state sovereign immunity in enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, insofar as it requires the state to provide captioning for live and archived videos of Florida legislative proceedings. The ruling means that the plaintiffs' case can move forward on the merits.

The case arose when plaintiffs challenged the Florida legislature's practice of live-streaming and archiving videos of legislative sessions without captioning. The plaintiffs argued that this violated Title II of the ADA and the Rehab Act (more on that below). The state moved to dismiss, arguing that it was immune under the Eleventh Amendment and that Congress did not validly abrogate immunity in enacting the ADA.

The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. The court ruled that Congress, in enacting the ADA, sought to protect the fundamental right to participate in the democratic process, and that the state denied that very right to the plaintiffs:

Here, deaf citizens are being denied the opportunity to monitor the legislative actions of their representatives because Defendants have refused to provide captioning for legislative proceedings. Without access to information about the legislative actions of their representatives, deaf citizens cannot adequately "petition the Government for a redress of greivances," because they cannot get the information necessary to hold their elected officials accountable for legislative acts. This type of participation in the political process goes to the very core of the political system embodied in our Constitution.

The court went on to say that Congress also validly abrogated immunity even if only a non-fundamental right were at stake. 

The court said that Congress enacted Title II against a backdrop of a "pattern of unequal treatment in the administration of a wide range of public services, programs, and activities," and that Title II was an "appropriate response" to this pattern:

The burden of adding captioning to legislative videos--which are already provided to the public--removes a complete barrier to this information for a subset of citizens with a remedy we expect can be accomplished with limited cost and effort. In this way, the remedy is a proportionate and "reasonable modification" of a service that is already provided, and it does not change the "nature" of the service whatsoever. Finally, if the cost or effort should prove to be prohibitively burdensome, the Defendants have available the affirmative defenses in Title II.

The court also held that the plaintiffs could pursue injunctive relief under Ex Parte Young for the ongoing violation of Title II. Finally, it remanded for further proceedings on whether state legislative defendants received federal financial funds, and were therefore on the hook for Rehab Act violations (as a federal conditioned spending program--federal funds in exchange for a state's agreement not to discriminate by disability). 

January 8, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Eleventh Amendment, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

District Court Tosses Kupperman's Suit Over Congressional Subpoena, Absolute Privilege

Judge Richard Leon (D.D.C.) this week tossed former Deputy National Security Advisor and Acting National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman's lawsuit asking the court to determine which prevailed: a congressional subpoena, or the White House's instruction not to testify under an absolute privilege theory.

The ruling ends the case. It also means that we don't get another district court say-so on the White House theory of absolute privilege for senior presidential advisors. That means that we now have (1) a district court ruling from late November rejecting absolute privilege with respect to former White House Counsel Don McGahn's compelled testimony and (2) a 2008 district court ruling rejecting absolute privilege with respect to White House Counsel Harriet Mier's compelled testimony. No circuit court has yet to weigh in. We also have a series of Office of Legal Counsel memos, starting with the 1971 memo through the most recent McGahn memo. The district courts have flatly rejected the reasoning in these memos.

We previously posted on the case here.

Just a wee little bit of background (more on our earlier posted, link above): Kupperman, a former White House official, received a subpoena to testify in the impeachment inquiry from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; but the White House instructed him not to testify, claiming an absolute privilege against compelled congressional testimony. Kupperman sued, asking the court to resolve his dilemma. But the House moved forward with impeachment without his testimony, and the Committee argued that his case was moot.

Judge Leon agreed. The court said that there's no longer a case or controversy over the matter, that the matter isn't "capable or repetition but evading review" (because the House has said unequivocally that it won't re-issue a subpoena, ever), and that there's no chance of enforcement against Kupperman.

January 1, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Federal Judge Enjoins North Carolina's Voter-ID Law

In her opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Cooper, Judge Loretta Biggs of the Middle District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s voter ID-requirements, known as S.B. 824.

Judge Biggs found that plaintiffs’ claim that SB 824 violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause had a likelihood of success. Although the voter-ID law was facially neutral, Judge Biggs found that it enacted a racial classification. As she explained, in Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Dev. Corp. (1977),

the Supreme Court set forth a non-exhaustive list of factors to guide this delicate investigation. Reviewing courts should consider: (1) the law’s historical background; (2) the specific sequence of events leading up to the law’s enactment, including any departures from normal legislative procedure; (3) the law’s legislative and administrative history; and (4) whether the law’s effect “bears more heavily on one race than another.” The Court further cautioned that, because legislative bodies are “[r]arely . . . motivated solely by a single concern,” a challenger need only demonstrate that “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor.” (emphasis added). “[T]he ultimate question,” then, is whether a law was enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” the discriminatory effect it would likely produce.

Applying the Arlington Heights factors, Judge Biggs found that the “historical background” of the law “weighs in favor of a finding of discriminatory intent with respect to S.B. 824’s enactment”:  “North Carolina has a sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression stretching back to the time of slavery, through the era of Jim Crow, and, crucially, continuing up to the present day.”

On the “sequence of events,” Judge Biggs found the record “mixed.” While the  “parliamentary requirements” were met, when “viewed with a wider lens, the circumstances surrounding S.B. 824 are unusual.” A majority of the Republican legislators who supported a previous bill on voter-ID declared unconstitutional by the Fourth Circuit “also voted for S.B. 824, and the same legislative leaders spearheaded both bills. "Further,she found it noteworthy that "those legislators were elected, at least in part, by way of district maps which were declared unconstitutional." Additionally, "after voters ratified the voter-ID amendment, S.B. 824 was enacted along (virtually) strict party lines and over the Governor’s veto.”

As to the legislative history, including statements, Judge Biggs considered the statements of legislators after the previous bill was declared unconstitutional as well as changes proposed or adopted, and “the decision not to include public-assistance IDs as an acceptable form of identification,” despite the Fourth Circuit’s criticism.  

Finally, Judge Biggs concluded that there was (or was likely to be) a racially disparate impact. Examining the specific provisions of the bill, including what types of identification were accepted and which were not:

the important metric for the Court’s purposes isn’t so much the variety of IDs as how readily they are possessed by North Carolinians of different backgrounds. In this sense, what is most striking about the state’s newly expanded list of IDs is that it continues to primarily include IDs which minority voters disproportionately lack, and leaves out those which minority voters are more likely to have.

One example was federal government identification, which was excluded. For Judge Biggs, these disparate types of identification mean not only that “minority voters will bear this effect more severely than their white counterparts,” but also that “a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic” North Carolina citizens “could be deterred from voting or registering to vote because they lack, or believe they lack, acceptable identification and remain confused by or uninformed about S.B. 824’s exceptions.”

Thus, Judge Biggs found that the law was racially motivated. She further found that it was not supported by any of the proffered government interests.

Given that the Governor had vetoed this bill and the Fourth Circuit's decision holding a previous similar law unconstitutional, the prospects for an appeal will certainly be closely monitored.

December 31, 2019 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)