Thursday, June 20, 2019
In its fractured opinions in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association (consolidated with Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association), a majority of the Court concluded that a 32 foot high "Latin Cross" situated on a traffic island taking up one-third of an acre at the busy intersection of Maryland Route 450 and U.S. Route 1 in Bladensburg, Md., originally erected in 1919 to honor the dead of World War I, does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Recall that during oral argument, one question was whether the cross should be evaluated by applying Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) or whether it should be deemed more of a "passive monument" under Van Orden v. Perry (2005). Recall also that in the Fourth Circuit decision finding the cross violated the Establishment Clause, the majority found that the passive monument rule of the plurality in Van Orden v. Perry was not conclusive and stressed that the well-established Lemon test remained a "useful guidepost."
Writing for the majority, Justice Alito's opinion was joined by the Chief Justice, and Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Kavanaugh. However, two portions of Justice Alito's opinion garnered only a plurality: Kagan did not join sections §IIA and §IID, the first essentially involving a critique of Lemon's usefulness and the second relying upon the divided town counsel prayer case of Town of Greece to conclude that "categories of monuments, symbols, and practices with a longstanding history" are constitutional. Breyer — who wrote an important concurring opinion in the passive monument case of Van Orden — wrote a separate concurring opinion in which Kagan joined. Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment, again arguing that the Establishment Clause is not incorporated as against the states. Justice Gorsuch also wrote a separate concurring opinion, arguing that the plaintiffs had no standing based on their status as "offended observers" and contending Lemon should be "shelved" and was a "misadventure." While joining Justice Alito's opinion in full, Kavanaugh also concurred separately to reprise a critique of Lemon as inconsistent with by the Court's decisions in five categories of Establishment Clause cases. Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Sotomayor.
So what does the majority "hold"? Alito's opinion for the majority concludes that this specific cross "carries special significance in commemorating World War I," which it had at the time of its erection and "acquired additional layers of historical meaning in subsequent years" and has become "part of the community." Certainly, "the cross originated as a Christian symbol and retains that meaning in many contexts," but this "does not change the fact that the symbol took on added secular meaning when used in World War I memorials." Alito's opinion specifically rejected arguments that the cross "disrespected" Jewish or Black veterans, and specifically mentions that "one of the local leaders responsible" for the cross was a "Jewish veteran" and that the memorial includes the names of black and white soldiers. Recall that this had been broached in the oral argument, with Justice Alito asking counsel: "And do you think that the -- that the situation of -- of African Americans in Prince George's County at that time was worse -- was better than the situation for Jews?"
Justice Ginsburg, dissenting in a 21 page opinion including an appendix of images (including the headstones in a military cemetery, right) joined by Sotomayor, disputed the cross as a secular symbol. "Just as the Star of David is not suitable to honor Christians who died serving their country, so a cross is not suitable to honor those of other faiths who died defending their nation." Disputing the contention that the Latin cross is a well-established secular symbol commemorating World War I military casualties, Ginsburg relates disputes in the War Department in 1919, arguing that everyone involved "saw the Latin cross as a Christian symbol, not a universal or secular one." A true secular symbol was the "mass-produced Spirit of the American Doughboy statute," of which there was one in Prince George's county, the cross being an "aberration" even at the time. Ginsburg confronts the slippery slope argument that a contrary decision would eliminate all commemorative crosses by arguing that the in the context of a cemetery, individual markers are acceptable because they convey individuality rather than government endorsement, and that in this case, the solution could be a transfer of the cross to private rather than government property.
The decision leaves lower courts and advocates in the same doctrinal landscape that they inhabited before, although with an even clearer message that longstanding religious monuments with religious symbols, no matter how imposing, will be upheld under the Establishment Clause.
Friday, June 14, 2019
D.C. Circuit Finds Federal Policy Barring Abortion for Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Unconstitutional
In its opinion in Jane Doe v. Azar, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the trial court's injunction against the federal government's 2017 policy banning abortion access for any unaccompanied immigrant minor in federal custody. As the per curiam opinion for the majority explained:
The claim of one minor in this case brings the policy’s breadth and operation into stark relief. She had been raped in her country of origin. After her arrival here and her placement in government custody, she learned she was pregnant as a result of the rape. She repeatedly asked to obtain a pre-viability abortion, to no avail. She remained in government custody as an unaccompanied minor because there was no suitable sponsor to whom she could be released. Nor was there any viable prospect of her returning to her country of origin: indeed, she eventually received a grant of asylum (and lawful status here) due to her well-founded fear of persecution in her country of origin. Still, the government sought to compel this minor to carry her rape-induced pregnancy to term.
She is one of the named plaintiffs who brought this challenge to the government’s policy on behalf of a class of pregnant unaccompanied minors. The district court granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiffs, and the government now appeals. We initially agree with the district court that the case is not moot, and we find no abuse of discretion in the court’s certification of a plaintiffs’ class consisting of pregnant unaccompanied minors in the government’s custody. On the merits, we sustain the district court’s preliminary injunction in principal part.
The bulk of the per curiam majority's opinion is devoted to the class action certification and mootness issues. The government contended that because the named representatives had obtained abortions, their claims were moot, and rendered them inadequate class representatives (both because of the mootness and because not all pregnant minors would choose abortions). The government further contended that other requirements for class certification were not met and that the class should be narrowed so that joinder of individual plaintiffs seeking an abortion would be possible. The majority found the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class.
On the merits of the constitutional claim, the majority stated it was clear that there is a constitutional right to access abortion adjudicated under the undue burden standard and that it extends to minors, although there can be a parental consent requirement if there is a judicial bypass provision. The federal government agreed that a state could not simply ban a minor's access to abortion, but how then, the opinion asked, can the federal government defend the abortion ban policy of the ORR, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a program in the Department of Health and Human Services, bears responsibility for the “care and placement” of unaccompanied immigrant minors (known as UACs, "Unaccompanied Alien Children")? The government offered three arguments, each of the which the majority rejected.
* "First, the government contends that permitting unaccompanied minors in its custody to access pre-viability abortions requires it to “facilitate” abortions, which the government says it is not obligated to do." The court, however, noted that the problem was not the government not wanting to remove barriers not of its own creation (such as poverty), but here the government creates the conditions itself: "an unaccompanied minor’s abortion hinges on ORR’s drafting and executing approval documents only because ORR itself has conditioned abortion access on its execution of approval documents." Further, the court ruled that what the government deems the “facilitation” that it wants to steer clear of giving to an unaccompanied minor, "is something it willingly gives to all others in federal custody."
* Second, the government asserts that unaccompanied minors may voluntarily depart the country and that the ban thus does not impose any cognizable burden. But, the court noted that"voluntary departure" is not freely available, but is at government discretion, and actually operates as a "second government veto." Moreover, even if the government were to grant a voluntary departure upon request, there is no indication of how long that process might take, and requires the minor to abandon all other requests for relief.
* Third, the government argues that, because many unaccompanied minors are released to sponsors, banning abortions while in ORR custody does not impose an undue burden. The court found that the sponsorship argument was "ultimately no more persuasive than its voluntary-departure one. Those arguments share important parallels. In both, the central idea is that an unaccompanied minor may find herself no longer in ORR custody—either because she voluntarily departs the country or because she is released to a sponsor—in which event she would be free to access an abortion without the burden of ORR’s policy."
Thus, the majority found that the ORR policy violated the Fifth Amendment right to due process and affirmed the district court's injunction against its enforcement.
The court remanded another portion of the district court's injunction, however, on the basis that the ORR policies involved were not necessarily clear. At issue were any policies that required disclosure of pregnancy or abortion access. This issue was at times conflated with the access to abortion issue, and the court remanded so that the district court could "give a more fulsome account of its findings and conclusions in that regard."
In a dissenting opinion, Senior Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman devoted most of his opinion to the class certification issue, but on the merits relied heavily on the dissenting opinion of then-judge and now-Justice Kavanaugh in Garza v. Hargan (2017), concluding that the majority is "endorsing abortion on demand – at least as far as the federal Government is concerned." Thus, the stage is set for the federal government's petition for certiorari.
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.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019
In its brief opinion in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit's conclusion that Indiana's "fetal remains" statute was unconstitutional and denied certiorari to the question of the whether the Seventh Circuit correctly found unconstitutional the limitation on abortion based on sex, race, or disability.
On the "fetal remains" issue, the Court's opinion stated that the Seventh Circuit's conclusion that a rational basis test was satisfied was incorrect. The Court stressed:
in challenging this provision, respondents have never argued that Indiana’s law imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. This case, as litigated, therefore does not implicate our cases applying the undue burden test to abortion regulations.
Justice Ginsburg, in a brief opinion, dissented on this issue, stating that the judgment should not be summarily reversed when "application of the proper standard would likely yield restoration of the judgment." Thus, it can be expected that the statute will be quickly challenged on this basis.
On the denial of certiorari to the second issue, Justice Thomas's concurring opinion is notable. Thomas concludes that the Court's decision to allow the issue to "percolate" should not be mistaken for acceptance:
Enshrining a constitutional right to an abortion based solely on the race, sex, or disability of an unborn child, as Planned Parenthood advocates, would constitutionalize the views of the 20th-century eugenics movement. In other contexts, the Court has been zealous in vindicating the rights of people even potentially subjected to race, sex, and disability discrimination.
Thomas devotes most of his 20 page concurring opinion to discussing eugenics, singling out for analysis not only the Supreme Court's 1927 opinion in Buck v. Bell but also birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. Thomas's concurrence focuses on abortion but certainly implicates birth control more broadly, and is sure to provoke commentary.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
In its en banc opinion in Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio v. Hodges, the Sixth Circuit reversed a permanent injunction by the district judge against Ohio Rev. Code §3701.034 which bars any state funding — including government-sponsored health and education programs that target sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer and cervical cancer, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, and sexual violence — to any organization that performs or promotes abortion.
In less than 12 pages, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for the 11 judge majority, rejected the claim that the Ohio statute was an unconstitutional condition on the due process right encompassing the right to abortion by stating that Planned Parenthood had no substantive due process right to provide abortions: "The Supreme Court has never identified a freestanding right to perform abortions." Moreover, Sutton's opinion rejected the argument that
the Ohio law will deprive Ohio women of their constitutional right of access to abortion services without undue burden, because it will lead Planned Parenthood and perhaps other abortion providers to stop providing them. Maybe; maybe not. More to the point, the conclusion is premature and unsupported by the record.
In this way, the majority distinguished the United States Supreme Court's most recent abortion case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), albeit briefly (with one "cf." citation and one "see" citation).
In the dissenting opinion, Judge Helene White writing for 6 judges, criticizes the majority for not mentioning "much less" applying,
the test the Supreme Court has recently articulated governing the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine. That doctrine prohibits the government from conditioning the grant of funds under a government program if: (1) the challenged conditions would violate the Constitution if they were instead enacted as a direct regulation; and (2) the conditions affect protected conduct outside the scope of the government program.
citing Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (2013) [the "prostitution pledge" case].
The dissent concludes that because "(1) the funding conditions in this case would result in an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain nontherapeutic abortions if imposed directly, and (2) the six federal programs have nothing to do with Plaintiffs’ performing abortions, advocating for abortion rights, or affiliating with organizations that engage in such activity, all on their own 'time and dime,' " the Ohio statute should be unconstitutional.
The dissenting opinion also discusses the First Amendment argument, which the district court judge had credited but which the majority discounted because to prevail Ohio need only show that one limitation satisfied the Constitution and because "the conduct component of the Ohio law does not impose an unconstitutional condition in violation of due process, we need not reach the free speech claim." For the dissent, the free speech claim was not mooted and should be successful as in Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l (2013).
March 12, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 28, 2018
In its opinion in Alliance for Open Society International v. United States Agency for International Development, the Second Circuit split in its application of the United States Supreme Court's 2013 opinion in the same case.
Recall that United States Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International involved a First Amendment challenge to a provision of a federal funding statute requiring some (but not other) organizations to have an explicit policy opposing sex work. In the relative brief opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held the spending conditions of requiring an "anti-prostitution pledge" were unconstitutional because they were not limits of the government spending program itself that specified the activities that Congress wants to subsidize, but were "conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself."
The subsequent litigation revolved around the reach of this holding. For the district judge and the majority of the Second Circuit panel, the holding included the plaintiff organizations and their "foreign affiliates." For dissenting Judge Chester Straub, the "foreign affiliates" possess "no constitutional rights" and the United States government was free to deny them funding for failure to comply with an otherwise unconstitutional condition. For Judge Straub, the majority misconstrued the United States Supreme Court's opinion, extending it to some vague and ill-defined set of "closely aligned" ("whatever that may mean") foreign entities. But the majority opinion, authored by Judge Barrington Parker, rejoined that it is not the First Amendment rights of the foreign entities that are violated, but the domestic organization's speech that is compelled. For the majority, if the government — and by extension, the dissenting Judge — "is right, then Chief Justice Roberts was wrong."
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.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra in which the Ninth Circuit upheld the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act (FACT Act).
The California law requires that licensed pregnancy-related clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs, must disseminate a notice stating the existence of publicly- funded family-planning services, including contraception and abortion, and requires that unlicensed clinics disseminate a notice stating that they are not licensed by the State of California. The California legislature had found that the approximately 200 CPCs in California employ “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices [that] often confuse, misinform, and even intimidate women from making fully-informed, time-sensitive decisions about critical health care.”
The California law is not unique, but as we previously discussed when certiorari was granted, other courts have consider similar provisions with mixed conclusions.
The arguments raised several questions but one that recurred was the relevance of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) in which the Court upheld the informed consent provisions of a state law mandating "providing information about medical assistance for childbirth, information about child support from the father, and a list of agencies which provide adoption and other services as alternatives to abortion." Justice Breyer's invocation of the maxim "sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander" pointed to the question of why California could not also mandate that CPC's provide notice. Arguing for the challengers, Michael Farris argued that the distinction was that the CPC's were not medical, although there was much discussion of this including the definition of medical procedures such as sonograms and pregnancy tests.
Appearing for neither party, Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall nevertheless strongly advocated against the California law. Near the end of Wall's argument, Justice Alito raised the subject of professional speech proposed by the United States brief, stating that it "troubles me" and seemed inconsistent with United States v. Stevens (2010) regarding not recognizing new categories of unprotected speech. (Recall that Alito was the lone dissent in the Court's conclusion that criminalizing "crush porn" violated the First Amendment). Alito also referenced the Fourth Circuit's "fortune teller" case, in which the court upheld special regulations aimed at fortune tellers. For Wall, laws that mandate disclosures by historically regulated professions such as doctors and lawyers should be subject only to minimal scrutiny.
The main issue raised regarding California's position was whether or not the statute was targeted at pro-life clinics, especially given the "gerrymandered" nature of the statute's exceptions. The Justices also directed questions to Deputy Solicitor of California Joshua Klein regarding the advertising requirements and disclaimers: must a facility state it is not licensed even if it is not advertising services, but simply has a billboard "Pro Life"?
Will it be sauce for the goose as well as for the gander?
The intersection of First Amendment principles and abortion jurisprudence makes the outcome even more difficult to predict than notoriously difficult First Amendment cases.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
In its opinion in McLaughlin v. McLaughlin (Jones), the Arizona Supreme Court interpreted the United States Constitution to require that the statutory presumption of parentage applies to a woman in a same-sex marriage in the same way as would to a man in a different-sex marriage.
The Arizona Supreme Court relied on the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges as well as the Court's per curiam opinion a few months ago in Pavan v. Smith, reversing the Arkansas Supreme Court's divided decision to deny a same-sex parent's name be listed on the child's birth certificate. The Arizona Supreme Court in McLaughlin, echoing Pavan, quoted Obergefell as constitutionally requiring same-sex married couples be afforded the “constellation of benefits the States have linked to marriage.”
The majority opinion of the Arizona Supreme Court, authored by Chief Justice Scott Bales, rejected the interpretation of Obergefell advanced by Kimberly McLaughlin, the biological mother, that "Obergefell does not require extending statutory benefits linked to marriage to include same-sex couples; rather, it only invalidates laws prohibiting same-sex marriage." Instead, Chief Justice Bales wrote that that such a "constricted reading is precluded by Obergefell itself ad the Supreme Court's recent decision in Pavan v. Smith." Moreover, as in Pavan, the statute itself did not rest on biology but sought to sideline it. The marital presumption assigns paternity based on marriage to the birth mother, not biological relationship to the child. Thus, any differential treatment cannot be justified and the statute was unconstitutional as applied.
As a remedy, Judge Bales' opinion concluded that the extension of the presumption rather than striking the presumption was proper, relying on yet distinguishing the Court's recent decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana. It was on this issue that one Justice dissented, contending that the court was rewriting the statute. Two other Justices wrote separately to concur on the remedy issue, noting that the majority must follow the United States Supreme Court and "circumstances require us to drive a remedial square peg into a statutory round hole," but "nothing in the majority opinion prevents the legislature from fashioning a broader or more suitable solution by amending or revoking" the statute.
Perhaps the Arizona legislature will see fit to abolish the marital presumption for all children?
September 20, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Reproductive Rights, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 26, 2017
In a brief per curiam opinion in Pavan v. Smith, the Court reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court's closely divided opinion regarding same-sex parents being listed on a child's birth certificate. Recall that Arkansas' Supreme Court's majority opinion found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite. The Court, like the dissenting justices in the Arkansas opinion, concluded that Obergefell was determinative. The Court's per curiam opinion stated that the Arkansas Supreme Court's opinion "denied to married same-sex couples access to the 'constellation of benefits that the State has linked to marriage,'" quoting Obergefell.
Importantly, the Court noted, that "when a married woman in Arkansas conceives a child by means of artificial insemination, the State will—indeed, must—list the name of her male spouse on the child’s birth certificate."
Arkansas has thus chosen to make its birth certificates more than a mere marker of biological relationships: The State uses those certificates to give married parents a form of legal recognition that is not available to unmarried parents. Having made that choice, Arkansas may not, consistent with Obergefell, deny married same-sex couples that recognition.
Thus, the Court's opinion in Pavan makes it clear that Obergefell applies not merely to marriage, but also to situations in which the marital relationship affects children.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
In her Opinion and Order in Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky v. Commissioner, Indiana State Dept of Health, Judge Tanya Walton Pratt enjoined Indiana Code § 16-34-2-1.1(a)(5), requiring a woman to have an ultrasound at least eighteen hours prior to an abortion.
The judge found that Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) was likely to prevail on the merits under the undue burden standard rearticulated most recently in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) regarding the substantive due process right to an abortion. The new statute combined two prior Indiana laws – an ultrasound requirement and a time sensitive informed consent requirement – into one new law that required a woman seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound at least 18 hours before her abortion. Indiana's
principle rationale for the statute was fetal life, but the judge found that “the State has not provided any convincing evidence that requiring an ultrasound to occur eighteen hours prior to an abortion rather than on the day of an abortion makes it any more likely that a woman will choose not to have an abortion.” The judge was similarly unconvinced by the state's "alternative justification" of the "psychological importance" to the woman of viewing the ultrasound if she chose to do so. Even accepting the proposition that there could be psychological benefit, the evidence did not address the relevant question of the difference between "women having an ultrasound eighteen hours prior to the abortion as opposed to the day of the abortion."
The judge found that the burdens imposed by the statute, including increased travel distances and delays in obtaining abortion services, were not balanced by the state's unsubstantiated interest. Moreover, the judge found it relevant that the burdened women were mainly low-income women who would suffer financial burdens disproportionately, explaining that many women miss work because of these laws, and may have to reserve childcare for the days that they are away or traveling. Additionally, the judge weighed delays, explaining increases in double booked appointments, as well as increases in delays for women struggling to meet timing requirements for their abortions. The judge relied both on expert testimony as well as "specific examples" from nine woman relating to these burdens.
In sum, Judge Pratt concluded:
The new ultrasound law creates significant financial and other burdens on PPINK and its patients, particularly on low-income women in Indiana who face lengthy travel to one of PPINK’s now only six health centers that can offer an informed-consent appointment. These burdens are clearly undue when weighed against the almost complete lack of evidence that the law furthers the State’s asserted justifications of promoting fetal life and women’s mental health outcomes. The evidence presented by the State shows that viewing an ultrasound image has only a “very small” impact on an incrementally small number of women. And there is almost no evidence that this impact is increased if the ultrasound is viewed the day before the abortion rather than the day of the abortion. Moreover, the law does not require women to view the ultrasound imagine at all, and seventy-five percent of PPINK’s patients choose not to. For these women, the new ultrasound has no impact whatsoever. Given the lack of evidence that the new ultrasound law has the benefits asserted by the State, the law likely creates an undue burden on women’s constitutional rights.
The law was signed by now Vice President Pence when he was Governor of Indiana; it is uncertain whether the present state administration will pursue the same agenda.
h/t Juliet Critsimilios
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
In its unanimous opinion in Burns v. Cline, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held state SB 1848, a law restricting abortion, unconstitutional.
SB 1848 had similar requirements as the challenged Texas bill HB2, which the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in June. Oklahoma’s bill, like Texas’ HB2, had an admitting privileges provision that required all abortion facilities, on any day an abortion was being administered, to have a doctor at the facility equipped with admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Additionally, the bill had twelve other regulations on abortions providers, including standards for supplies, equipment, training, screenings, procedures (both pre and post op), and record keeping. Certain violations of these standards implicated felony and civil penalties.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court cited Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt extensively, explaining that every woman has a constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy pre-viability, and that laws that impose an undue burden on that right are unconstitutional. The court also elucidated that a law seeking to protect women’s health while actually impeding on the right cannot withstand constitutional review.
The court relied on the plaintiff doctor, outlining Burns’ 41 years of private practice experience and the singular time he had to call an ambulance for a patient over the course of that tenure. The court also considered Burns’ application to 16 different hospitals for admitting privileges. Burns was either rejected because his medical specialty does not have recognized board certification, or because he was unable to meet a requirement of admitting at least 6 patients per year. The court noted that his exemplary record was the blockade to his access to the 6 in-patient requirement.
SB 1848 would have closed Burns’ clinic or subject him to civil penalties if it remained open. SB 1848 would have rendered Oklahoma with only one operable abortion provider for the entirety of the state. Because of this, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found this an unconstitutional undue burden under both Hellerstedt and Casey. The court rejected the state’s argument that this bill advanced women’s health under the reasoning from Hellerstedt. Of note was the court’s reference to the Oklahoma State Medical Association, as well as various expert testimony and data points laid out in Hellerstedt, that explained both the safety of an abortion and the lack of safety for patients should these bills withstand constitutional review.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court also rejected the bill under the Oklahoma Constitution single subject rule. SB 1848 created 12 unrelated provisions against abortion providers, imposing major penalties on providers should the regulation be unheeded. The state argued that because all of the regulations were in some way related to abortion, they were not averse to the single subject rule. The Supreme Court of Oklahoma rejected this reasoning, stating that the legislation’s multiple sections were not “germane, relative and cognate” to a common purpose.
The most obvious importance of this case is its strict adherence to the undue burden standard outlined in Hellerstedt. But importantly, the court's rationale regarding the state constitutional standards for omnibus bills is likely to have a heavy impact.
[with assistance from Juliet Critsimillos, CUNY School of Law]
Friday, December 9, 2016
In a closely divided (4-3) opinion in Smith v. Pavan, the Arkansas Supreme Court concluded that the state statutes governing the issuance of birth certificates to children could deny same-sex parents to be listed as parents.
Essentially, the majority opinion, authored by Associate Justice Josephine Hart found that the United States Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional was inapposite:
Obergefell did not address Arkansas’s statutory framework regarding birth certificates, either expressly or impliedly. Rather, the United States Supreme Court stated in Obergefell that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.
Justice Hart noted that the Court in Obergefell did mention birth certificates "only once" and quoted the passage, construing it being related "only" to the Court's observation that states conferred benefits on married couples, which in part demonstrated that “ the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.”
Not surprisingly, dissenting justices construed this same passage as providing support for the opposite conclusion. In a well-wrought dissent by Justice Paul Danielson, he argues:
[T]he United States Supreme Court held in Obergefell that states are not free to deny same-sex couples “the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.” Importantly, the Court listed “birth and death certificates” specifically as one of those benefits attached to marital status. Thus, the majority is clearly wrong in holding that Obergefell has no application here. Indeed, one of the cases on review in Obergefell, Tanco v. Haslam, 7 F. Supp. 3d 759 (M.D. Tenn. 2014), rev’d sub nom. DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014), involved a same-sex married couple who challenged the Tennessee law providing that their child’s nonbiological parent would not be recognized as the child’s parent, which affected various legal rights that included the child’s right to Social Security survivor benefits, the nonbiological parent’s right to hospital visitation, and the nonbiological parent’s right to make medical decisions for the child.
Furthermore, one of the four principles discussed by the Court in Obergefell, for purposes of demonstrating that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples, is that the right to marry “safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education.” The opinion makes clear that the protection of children and the stability of the family unit was a foundation for the Court’s decision.
[citations to Obergefell omitted].
For the majority, biology was the paramount "truth" that vital records should reflect. Moreover, this "truth" is evinced in dictionary definitions of words such as "husband" and "father," a strategy in cases that Obergefell rejected.
However, the relevance of Smith v. Pavan even in Arkansas is unclear. As Justice Rhonda Wood argued, the case may not have warranted a decision by the court:
Two key circumstances have developed since this litigation started. First, plaintiffs received relief in that the State has issued the appropriate birth certificates to them. Second, the State concedes that the relevant statutes involving determination of parentage must comply with Obergefell, including the statute governing the status of people born via artificial insemination. These developments render the majority’s decision provisional.
Moreover, there were (new) facts in dispute, despite the procedural posture of summary judgment:
First, according to the affidavit of the State Registrar of Vital Records, the Department of Health will issue birth certificates listing both same-sex parents if the hospital submits documentation reflecting that fact. However, the parties disputed at oral argument how the department’s decision is actually being applied. There are no facts in the record to resolve this dispute. Moreover, the State has now conceded that children born of artificial insemination should have both parents deemed the natural parents, whether same-sex or opposite sex, under Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201 (Repl. 2015) and asserts that it will place both same-sex parents on the birth certificate under the State’s new interpretation of this statute. This statute provides that “[a]ny child born to a married women by means of artificial insemination shall be deemed the legitimate natural child of the women and the women’s husband [read spouse] if the [spouse] consents in writing to the artificial insemination.” Ark. Code Ann. § 9-10-201(a). It is likely, therefore, that a same-sex couple will now have both spouses’ names listed on the original birth certificate without a court order, so long as the child was conceived via artificial insemination, the same-sex marriage occurred prior to the insemination, and the non-biological parent consented to the insemination. Appellants and appellees both conceded at oral argument this would resolve the challenge by two of the three same-sex marriage couples.
It is possible that Arkansas would revoke its concessions given the state supreme court's ruling, but if the state does, then this seems a clear case for a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
[image: Arkansas Supreme Court building]
December 9, 2016 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Sexual Orientation, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, September 12, 2016
Reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Maricopa County Sheriff, the Ninth Circuit's opinion in Mendiola-Martinez v. Arpaio held that shackling a pregnant woman while she gives birth might rise to a constitutional violation:
We are presented with an important and complex issue of first impression in our circuit: whether the U.S. Constitution allows law enforcement officers to restrain a female inmate while she is pregnant, in labor, or during postpartum recovery. We hold today that in this case, the answer to that question depends on factual disputes a properly instructed jury must resolve.
Ms. Mediola-Martinez was 6 months pregnant when she was arrested for forgery and unconstitutionally detained: "Because she could not prove she was a legal resident of the United States, she was detained under the Arizona Bailable Offenses Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13- 3961(A)(5)," before the Ninth Circuit "later ruled it unconstitutional. See Lopez-Valenzuela v. Arpaio, 770 F.3d 772, 792 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc), cert denied, 135 S. Ct. 2046 (2015)."
Ms. Mediola-Martinez went into early labor about two months later. During the actual C-section procedure, she was not restrained. However, before the procedure when she was "in active labor" and during the postpartum recovery, she was restrained. She had plead guilty a few days before the birth and was released on a sentence of time-served a few days after.
The Ninth Circuit panel acknowledged that the weight of precedent and evidence decries the practice of shackling pregnant women in its discussion of whether the practice is a "sufficiently serious deprivation" of medical care posing a substantial risk of serious harm and thus constitutes an Eighth Amendment claim. Additionally, the panel held that she had sufficiently alleged deliberate indifference. A jury, the court held, should consider this claim.
The Ninth Circuit was not so welcoming to the Equal Protection Clause claim. Mediola-Martinez argued that the county's restraint policy discriminated on the basis of race against Mexican-Americans. But as the court noted, she needed to show that the "Restraint Policy not only had a discriminatory impact, but that it was enacted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against members of a protected class." The "offensive quotes" of Sheriff Arpaio were not sufficient to prove intent: "Even if those hearsay statements were admissible, however, they do not mention the Restraint Policy and do not otherwise lead to any inference that Sheriff Arpaio’s 2006 Restraint Policy was promulgated to discriminate against Mexican nationals." Likewise, discriminatory intent could not be inferred from the general population statistics; there needs to be a "gross" statistical disparity to raise the specter of intent.
The court was cautious but clear:
Crafting a restraint policy that balances safety concerns with the inmates’ medical needs is equally challenging. But it is not impossible. And we leave it to a jury to decide whether the risk the Maricopa County Restraint Policy posed to Mendiola-Martinez was justified, or whether the County Defendants went a step too far.
Or perhaps several steps?
image: "Birth Room" via
Friday, March 4, 2016
The Court issued an Order today in June Medical Services v. Gee involving Louisiana's abortion statute "The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, HB 388. The district judge had found the Louisiana's statute's admitting privilege provision was unconstitutional and issued a preliminary injunction. The Fifth Circuit in a 15 page opinion granted the state's emergency motion to stay the district judge's preliminary injunction. Thus, the Court's Order essential reinstates the injunction against the Louisiana statute.
The Louisiana statute is similar to Texas's HB 2 at issue in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstdet (previously Cole), argued before the Court on Wednesday. In today's Order regarding the Louisiana statute, the Court referenced Whole Woman's Health:
Consistent with the Court’s action granting a stay in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, No. 14A1288 (June 29, 2015), the application to vacate the stay entered by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on February 24, 2016, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, is granted and the Fifth Circuit’s stay of the district court’s injunction is vacated.
Justice Thomas would deny the application.
In the Whole Woman's Health oral argument, Justice Alito mentioned the Louisiana litigation twice, both times in regarding to the evidence in the case about the precise number of abortions that were being performed. But on the constitutional issues, it does seem as if the decision in Whole Woman's Health will be determinative regarding the Louisiana statute's constitutionality.
Tuesday, February 9, 2016
Federal District Judge Enters Preliminary Injunction Against Center for Medical Progress, Anti-Abortion Group
The Center for Medical Progress (CMP) - - - including its founder David Daleiden, others (and their aliases) associated with the nonprofit, as well as "fake" companies - - - has been in the news a great deal of late.
Daleiden and employee Merritt have recently been indicted in connection with an “investigation” of Planned Parenthood and the publication of a “heavily edited” video charging Planned Parenthood with unauthorized selling of fetal tissue. The video has prompted some lawmakers to urge defunding of Planned Parenthood and, interestingly, the grand jury indictment of Daleiden and Merritt in Texas sprung from an inquiry into whether Planned Parenthood had violated any criminal laws. Planned Parenthood has recently sued CMP under RICO and for various tort-like claims.
Judge William Orrick of the Northern District of California has issued a preliminary injunction that some might view as a prior restraint against CMP and its associates in an Order in National Abortion Federation v. Center for Medical Progress. In July, Judge Orrick issued a TRO. The discovery orders and motions were quite contentious, with CMP seeking relief from the Ninth Circuit, which was denied, and Justice Kennedy (in his role as Justice for the Ninth Circuit) refusing to intervene. The preliminary injunction prohibits:
(1) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party any video, audio, photographic, or other recordings taken, or any confidential information learned, at any NAF annual meetings;
(2) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the dates or locations of any future NAF meetings; and
(3) publishing or otherwise disclosing to any third party the names or addresses of any NAF members learned at any NAF annual meetings.
This injunction relates primarily to the enforcement of a “confidentiality agreement” required by attendees of the NAF national conference, which Center for Medical Progress admitted violating, engaging in over 250 hours at each of two conferences (2014 and 2015), including of personal conversations, intended - - - as CMP founder Daleiden admits, to “trap people into saying something really messed up” and to say the words “fully intact baby.” Judge Orrick found that enforcement of the confidentiality agreement does not violate the First Amendment, citing Cohen v. Cowles Media (1991). Judge Orrick also found that this was not a “typical ‘newsgathering’ case” in which "prior restraints" would be disfavored, but instead had exceptional circumstances:
The context of how defendants came into possession of the NAF materials cannot be ignored and directly supports preliminarily preventing the disclosure of these materials. Defendants engaged in repeated instances of fraud, including the manufacture of fake documents, the creation and registration with the state of California of a fake company, and repeated false statements to a numerous NAF representatives and NAF members in order to infiltrate NAF and implement their Human Capital Project. The products of that Project – achieved in large part from the infiltration – thus far have not been pieces of journalistic integrity, but misleadingly edited videos and unfounded assertions (at least with respect to the NAF materials) of criminal misconduct. Defendants did not – as Daleiden repeatedly asserts – use widely accepted investigatory journalism techniques. Defendants provide no evidence to support that assertion and no cases on point.
One of the cases that Judge Orrick's footnote distinguishes is Judge Winmill's decision in Animal Defense League v. Otter, finding Oregon's ag-gag law unconstitutional as a violation of the First Amendment, which is presently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit. Undoubtedly, Center for Medical Progress will eventually follow the path to the Ninth Circuit. Taken together, these cases raise controversial issues about the First Amendment's protection for what some might name "investigative journalism" and what others view as "illegal actions."
Thursday, January 7, 2016
The amicus brief of Anice MacAvoy, Janie Schulman, and Over 110 Other Women in the Legal Profession Who Have Exercised their Constitutional Right to an Abortion filed in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the abortion case before the United States Supreme Court regarding Texas's controversial HB2 statute, puts the emotions and stories of legal professionals whose abortions have played a positive role in their lives and careers.
Although the amicus does not cite the Court's most recent abortion decision, Gonzales v. Carhart (Carhart II), the import of the amicus is a challenge to some of the reasoning in that case. Specifically, Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Carhart II stated that:
Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. The Act recognizes this reality as well. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision. Casey, supra, at 852–853 (opinion of the Court). While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained. See Brief for Sandra Cano et al. as Amici Curiae in No. 05–380, pp. 22–24. Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow. See ibid.
The dissenting opinion of four Justices, authored by Justice Ginsburg, responded to this passage at length:
Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from “[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.” Ante, at 29. Because of women’s fragile emotional state and because of the “bond of love the mother has for her child,” the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. Ante, at 28–29. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Cf. Casey, 505 U. S., at 873 (plurality opinion) (“States are free to enact laws to provide a reasonable framework for a woman to make a decision that has such profound and lasting meaning.”). Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.
This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution—ideas that have long since been discredited. Compare, e.g., Muller v. Oregon, 208 U. S. 412, 422–423 (1908) (“protective” legislation imposing hours-of-work limitations on women only held permissible in view of women’s “physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal funct[ion]”); Bradwell v. State, 16Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, J., concurring) (“Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. … The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”), with United States v. Virginia, 518 U. S. 515 , n. 12 (1996) (State may not rely on “overbroad generalizations” about the “talents, capacities, or preferences” of women; “[s]uch judgments have … impeded … women’s progress toward full citizenship stature throughout our Nation’s history”); Califano v. Goldfarb, 430 U. S. 199, 207 (1977) (gender-based Social Security classification rejected because it rested on “archaic and overbroad generalizations” “such as assumptions as to [women’s] dependency” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Though today’s majority may regard women’s feelings on the matter as “self-evident,” ante, at 29, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that “[t]he destiny of the woman must be shaped … on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 852. See also id., at 877 (plurality opinion) (“[M]eans chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.”); supra, at 3–4.
The brief of the attorneys who have had abortions and are legal professionals clearly supports the view that women must be able to exercise reproductive free choice. The stories of the women attorneys gathered in the amicus brief is a testament to the positive aspects of abortions - - - rather than the regrets - - - that women attorneys have experienced.
January 7, 2016 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Family, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Recent Cases, Reproductive Rights, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, December 14, 2015
The United States Supreme Court today issued a simple Order staying the mandate of the Alabama Supreme Court's controversial denial of full faith and credit to a Georgia adoption of three children by a member of a same-sex couple in V.L. v. E.L. Recall that the Supreme Court of Alabama's opinion, reversing the lower courts, relied primarily on a dissent from the Georgia Supreme Court in another case.
Today's Order reads in full:
The applications for recall and stay of the Supreme Court of Alabama’s Certificate of Judgment, in case No. 1140595, presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court, are granted pending the disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the issuance of the mandate of this Court.
It is clearly not a ruling on the merits. Whether or not it provides an indication that the Court will grant the petition for writ of certiorari is speculative.
Nevertheless, this controversy is reminiscent of previous controversies involving the Alabama Supreme Court - - - whose Chief Justice is Roy Moore (pictured above) - - - and the state courts' interpretation of same-sex marriage as opposed to the United States Supreme Court.
Friday, November 13, 2015
The United States Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole to the Fifth Circuit's decision essentially upholding the bulk of the controversial HB2 statute passed in 2013 (despite the famous filibuster by Wendy Davis). Recall that a divided Supreme Court previously vacated the Fifth Circuit stay of the district judge's injunction against portions of the law, thus reinstating the district judge's injunction at least in part.
The Fifth Circuit's most recent opinion, reversing the district judge, held that HB2's admitting privileges requirement and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements, did not impose an "undue burden" on women and were thus constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause.
The Fifth Circuit did find that HB2 was unconstitutional as applied to the Whole Woman's Health facility in McAllen, Texas, but not as to the the Reproductive Services Facility in El Paso, Texas. The facility in McAllen is the only one in the "Rio Grande Valley." However, there is another facility close to the closed facility in El Paso - - - a mere 12 miles away - - - but importantly across the state line in New Mexico. The Fifth Circuit distinguished its own opinion in Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Currier regarding Mississippi's restrictive abortion law which had the effect of closing all the clinics in the state, by emphasizing the fact that even before HB2 "half of the patients at the St. Teresa [New Mexico] clinic came from El Paso which is in the same 'cross-border' metropolitan area as St. Teresa," and including a footnote that the court's analysis would be different "in the context of an international border." Thus, the court found it irrelevant that the nearest in-state facility was 550 miles away.
The United States Supreme Court's grant of certiorari means that the Court will consider direct abortion regulations - - - and thus the continuing precedential value of Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) - - - for the first time since Carhart v. Gonzales in 2007 in which the Court upheld the controversial federal so-called partial birth abortion ban. The Court's most recent foray into the abortion controversy was its 2014 opinion in McCullen v. Coakley finding Massachusetts' buffer-zone legislation protecting abortion clinics violative of the First Amendment.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
District Judge Finds "Obamacare" Contraception Mandate Unconstitutional as applied to "March for Life"
In an opinion that essentially extends religious protections to a nonreligious organization, Judge Richard Leon has ruled in March for Life v. Burwell that the so-called contraceptive mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare") cannot constitutionally be applied to a nonprofit anti-abortion employer. While portions of Judge Leon's opinion predictably relied upon the Supreme Court's closely divided 2014 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc. under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Judge Leon notably found that the contraception mandate's exclusion of religious organizations - - - but not other organizations - - - violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.
Judge Leon applied rational basis review, but declared that
Were defendants to have their way here, rational basis review would have all the bite of a rubber stamp!
Defendants contend that March for Life is not “similarly situated” to the exempted organizations because it “is not religious and is not a church.” Rational basis review is met, they argue, because the purpose served, “accommodating religious exercise by religious institutions,” is “permissible and legitimate.” This not only oversimpliﬁes the issue—it misses the point entirely! The threshold question is not whether March for Life is “generally” similar to churches and their integrated auxiliaries. It is whether March for Life is similarly situated with regard to the precise attribute selected for accommodation. For the following reasons, I conclude that it most assuredly is.
In short, Judge Leon found that "March for Life" was similarly situated to religious organizations given the HHS rationale for excluding religious organizations from the contraception mandate:
HHS has chosen to protect a class of individuals that, it believes, are less likely than other individuals to avail themselves of contraceptives. It has consequently moored this accommodation not in the language of conscientious objection, but in the vernacular of religious protection. This, of course, is puzzling. In HHS’s own view, it is not the belief or non-belief in God that warrants safe harbor from the Mandate. The characteristic that warrants protection——an employment relationship based in part on a shared objection to abortifacients—is altogether separate from theism. Stated differently, what HHS claims to be protecting is religious beliefs, when it actually is protecting a moral philosophy about the sanctity of human life. HHS may be correct that this objection is common among religiously-affiliated employers. Where HHS has erred, however, is in assuming that this trait is unique to such organizations. It is not.
In other words, the HHS's rationale - - - the government interest - - - was not specifically religious and thus should not be limited to religious organizations in keeping with principles of equal protection. Some of this reasoning is reminiscent of Hobby Lobby, of course, but there the level of scrutiny under RFRA was strict (or perhaps even stricter than strict) scrutiny, while Judge Leon is applying rational basis scrutiny.
Interestingly, Judge Leon states that "'religion' is not a talisman that sweeps aside all constitutional concerns," and quotes the classic conscientious objector case of Welsh v. United States (1970) for the "long recognized" principle that “[i]f an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content . . . those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that individual a place parallel to that filled by God in traditionally religious persons.” Taken to its logical conclusion, this reasoning has the potential to eliminate - - - or at least ameliorate - - - the "special" protection of religious freedom.
In his application of RFRA, Judge Leon's opinion is on more well-plowed ground. He notes that while "March for Life is avowedly non—religious, the employee plaintiffs do oppose the Mandate on religious grounds." This brings the case within the purview of Hobby Lobby. As Judge Leon phrases it:
The ﬁnal question the Court must ask under RFRA is whether the current Mandate is the least restrictive means of serving this governmental interest. Assuredly, it is not!
While Judge Leon dismissed the free exercise claim, based upon the DC Circuit's opinion and denial of en banc review in Priests for Life v HHS, the judge granted summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the Equal Protection and RFRA claims (as well as a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act).
When this case reaches the DC Circuit, it will be interesting to see how the court - - - as well as religious organizations and scholars - - - views Judge Leon's potentially destabilizing equal protection analysis.
September 1, 2015 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Medical Decisions, Opinion Analysis, Privacy, Religion, Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)