Monday, June 29, 2020
In its opinion in Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International — or what will be called USAID v. Alliance for Open Society II — the Court's majority rejected the applicability of the First Amendment to foreign affiliates of the United States organizations who had previously prevailed in their First Amendment challenge.
Recall that AOSI I, the Court in 2013 held that the anti-prostitution pledge required of organizations seeking federal funding under the United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, violated the First Amendment. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts opined that the provision was an unconstitutional condition ("the relevant distinction that has emerged from our cases is between conditions that define the limits of the government spending program—those that specify the activities Congress wants to subsidize—and conditions that seek to leverage funding to regulate speech outside the contours of the program itself").
Yet questions arose whether this holding extended to not only to the plaintiffs but to their "foreign affiliates." A district court and a divided Second Circuit found that foreign affiliates were included.
A divided United States Supreme Court, in an opinion written by the Court's newest Justice, held that foreign organizations have no First Amendment rights. Kavanaugh, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, wrote that
two bedrock principles of American constitutional law and American corporate law together lead to a simple conclusion: As foreign organizations operating abroad, plaintiffs’ foreign affiliates possess no rights under the First Amendment.
Thomas authored a brief concurring opinion restating his view that AOSI I was incorrectly decided.
Justice Breyer wrote a dissenting opinion which was joined by Ginsburg and Sotomayor (note that Kagan had recused herself), arguing that the Court's opinion misapprehended the issue:
The Court, in my view, asks the wrong question and gives the wrong answer. This case is not about the First Amendment rights of foreign organizations. It is about—and has always been about—the First Amendment rights of American organizations. . . .
the question is whether the American organizations enjoy that same constitutional protection against government-compelled distortion when they speak through clearly identified affiliates that have been incorporated overseas. The answer to that question, as I see it, is yes.
Monday, February 24, 2020
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia.
Recall that a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents. Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents. Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be. Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case. As the court stated:
CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of [Employment Division v. ] Smith  that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”
The litigation attracted much attention and the grant of certiorari may indicate that some of the Justices are willing to overturn Smith or to extend the holding of Masterpiece Cakeshop.
Sunday, October 6, 2019
The United States Supreme Courts 2019 Term begins with oral arguments in three cases that will impact LGBTQ equality. To be clear, the Court is not considering constitutional law issues. Instead all three cases involve statutory interpretation of the prohibition of discrimination "because of sex" in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §2000e et. seq.
The two consolidated cases both involve sexual orientation discrimination. In Altitude Express v. Zarda, the Second Circuit en banc held that sexual orientation discrimination constituted a form of discrimination "because of sex" under Title VII, overruling previous Second Circuit decisions, and provoking the dissent of four judges. Reaching the opposite conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit in Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners, clung to its previous precedent, first in an unpublished opinion affirming the dismissal of the complaint, and then in a denial of rehearing en banc requested by a member of the court, with two judges issuing a dissenting opinion.
In deciding whether or not sexual orientation discrimination is included in Title VII's "because of sex" language, the primary precedent for the Court is its unanimous opinion in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), authored by the late Justice Scalia. The claim involved same-sex sexual harassment and the Court held:
We see no justification in the statutory language or our precedents for a categorical rule excluding same-sex harassment claims from the coverage of Title VII. As some courts have observed, male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII. But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed. Title VII prohibits “discriminat[ion] . . . because of . . . sex” in the “terms” or “conditions” of employment. Our holding that this includes sexual harassment must extend to sexual harassment of any kind that meets the statutory requirements.
The third case LGBTQ Title VII case to be considered by the Court in the Term's opening days is R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. The Sixth Circuit, in its unanimous panel opinion reversing the district judge, found that discrimination "against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII" under the "because of sex" discrimination prohibition. The court found that the "Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex" and that the religious claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb–1, raised by the funeral home's owner failed because "Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination."
While the Court has not previously decided a case of transgender discrimination under Title VII, the Court's opinion in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) held that sex-stereotyping is included within the prohibition of discrimination "because of sex" under Title VII. Hopkins is a fractured opinion, and none of the Justices who decided the case remain on the Court.
These statutory interpretation cases will provide an indication of the Court's views on LGBTQ equality, a subject last at the Court in the closely-divided same-sex case Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), decided under the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, these three Title VII cases may illuminate how the Court is considering precedent.
Finally, no matter how the Court decides these Title VII issues, Congress retains ultimately authority. In 2019, the House of Representatives passed "The Equality Act" which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Senate has yet to take up this legislation.
October 6, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, May 31, 2019
Responding to Justice Thomas's concurring opinion from a denial of certiorari in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana, legal commentator Imani Gandy (pictured) writes When It Comes to Birth Control and Eugenics, Clarence Thomas Gets It All Wrong.
Specifically, Gandy takes on the history of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966), who she states is not necessarily a present-day "infallible feminist hero" and certainly had the same abelist views that the Court credited in Buck v. Bell.
But, on the subject of race, Gandy writes:
The framing of Thomas’ concurrence, however, suggests that she [Sanger] did want to reduce the Black population. This framing extends to his description of the Negro Project, which Sanger created in conjunction with some of the most prominent Black civil rights leaders of the time—Franklin Frazier, Walter White, Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Mary McLeod Bethune, and W.E.B DuBois—in order to bring birth control to the South. Thomas writes as if her mere advocacy for birth control was in and of itself racial eugenics. And he virtually ignores that Black women in the South wanted birth control and had taken their reproduction into their own hands since the days of enslavement, when women would self-induce abortions or even kill their newborns in order to save them from a life of slavery.
Gandy's commentary also provides an interesting critique of Thomas's use of a Sanger quotation by providing larger context. Gandy writes: "What Thomas leaves out is the very next sentence that Sanger wrote . . ." and thus invites the reader to think more deeply about the history of birth control.
Predictably, Thomas's concurring opinion is provoking other commentaries, but Gandy's piece is among the most insightful.
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Third Circuit Upholds Philadelphia's Refusal to Refer Foster Children to Organizations that Discriminates on Basis of Sexual Orientation
In its opinion in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction against Philadelphia for stopping its referral of foster children to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in their certification of foster parents.
Much of the litigation centers on Catholic Social Services (CSS) which will not certify same-sex couples, even those who are legally married to each other, as foster parents. Once Philadelphia became aware of the CSS policy, through investigative reporting, the city eventually suspended foster care referrals to CSS in accordance with the city's nondiscrimination policy which includes sexual orientation. The plaintiffs, including individuals about whom the Third Circuit had standing doubts, sued for a preliminary injunction, which the district judge denied after a three day hearing. On appeal, the Third Circuit agreed that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on their First Amendment claims under the Free Exercise Clause, as well as the Establishment Clause and the Speech Clause.
Writing for the panel, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that the Free Exercise Clause does not relieve one from compliance with a neutral law of general applicability, which the court found the nondiscrimination law to be. Unlike Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah (1993), there was no hostility towards religion evinced in the case. As the court stated:
CSS’s theme devolves to this: the City is targeting CSS because it discriminates against same-sex couples; CSS is discriminating against same-sex couples because of its religious beliefs; therefore the City is targeting CSS for its religious beliefs. But this syllogism is as flawed as it is dangerous. It runs directly counter to the premise of [Employment Division v. ] Smith that, while religious belief is always protected, religiously motivated conduct enjoys no special protections or exemption from general, neutrally applied legal requirements. That CSS’s conduct springs from sincerely held and strongly felt religious beliefs does not imply that the City’s desire to regulate that conduct springs from antipathy to those beliefs. If all comment on religiously motivated conduct by those enforcing neutral, generally applicable laws against discrimination is construed as ill will against the religious belief itself, then Smith is a dead letter, and the nation’s civil rights laws might be as well. As the Intervenors rightly state, the “fact that CSS’s non- compliance with the City’s non-discrimination requirements is based on its religious beliefs does not mean that the City’s enforcement of its requirements constitutes anti-religious hostility.”
On the Establishment Clause, Judge Ambro briefly concluded that there was no evidence that Philadelphia was attempting to impose its preferred version of Catholic teaching on CSS.
And in a similarly brief discussion of the free speech claim, Judge Ambro's opinion found there was no viable compelled speech claim or retaliation claim.
Finally, the Third Circuit opinion considered whether there was a possibly successful claim under Pennsylvania's RFRA statute and found that there was little chance of success on the merits, even given the higher standard of review.
This litigation has attracted much interest, with intervenors and amici, and the plaintiffs filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court for an injunction pending appeal or an immediate grant of certiorari in 2018, which was denied. Another certiorari petition is almost sure to follow the Third Circuit's decision.
April 23, 2019 in Establishment Clause, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Sexuality, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, February 15, 2019
In its opinion in Free the Nipple v. City of Fort Collins, the Tenth Circuit upheld the district judge's preliminary injunction against a public-nudity ordinance that imposes no restrictions on male "toplessness" but prohibits women from baring their breasts below the areola, Fort Collins, Colo., Mun. Code § 17-142 (2015). The district judge dismissed the First Amendment challenge, but later found that the plaintiffs had a likelihood of success on their Equal Protection Clause challenge and that a preliminary injunction from enforcing the statute was warranted.
Writing for the majority, Judge Gregory Phillips relied heavily on the United States Supreme Court's most recent decision on equal protection and gender, Sessions v. Morales-Santana (2017). The majority first concluded that as a gender-based classification, the ordinance merited intermediate scrutiny. While the city agreed the classification was gender-based, it had argued that only "invidious discrimination" on the basis of gender merited intermediate scrutiny. Judge Phillips noted that only when the classification is facially neutral but has disparate impact is the issue if "invidiousness" relevant.
The city also argued that women's and men's breasts had important physical differences. Judge Phillips considered several sources, adding that although the court was "wary of Wikipedia's user-generated content," it agreed with the district judge that there were inherent physical differences between men's and women's breasts, but "that doesn't resolve the constitutional question." Instead, the majority opinion stressed that the court should beware of such generalizations and their potential to "perpetuate inequality."
In its application of intermediate scrutiny, the majority analyzed the three interests asserted by the city:
- protecting children from public nudity,
- maintaining public order, and
- promoting traffic safety.
As to protecting children, the majority agreed with the district judge's finding quoting experts that the city's interest rested on negative stereotypes and citing Morales-Santana, the majority concluded that "laws grounded in stereotypes about the way women are serve no important governmental interest."
As to public order and traffic safety, the majority agreed that in "the abstract," these were both important governmental interests. However, the court stated that it suspected that the city was actually more concerned with the sex-object stereotype that the district judge had described, quoting experts. Moreover, it noted that the cases which the city relied upon held that the "nebulous concepts of public morality" actually justified the ban rather than interests in public order or traffic safety. The majority also concluded that the female-only toplessness ban was overbroad - and suggested that the city could "abate sidewalk confrontations by increasing the penalties for engaging in offensive conduct." In other words, the majority concluded that rather than criminalize women's behavior because it might incite some people, the city could criminalize people who acted on their incitement.
The majority candidly recognized that it had the "minority viewpoint" and other courts in divided opinions - including the Seventh Circuit - have rejected such challenges.
In dissent, Judge Harris Hartz argued that intermediate scrutiny should not apply at all, in part because there are real differences between men and women as to their breasts, and that intermediate scrutiny should not be diluted by applying it in this instance. Instead, Judge Hartz argued that only rational basis should apply, which the ordinance easily passed.
The constitutionality of sex-specific nudity bans that apply to women's breasts is long-standing: our earlier discussion is here, linking to a discussion from Dressing Constitutionally about the 1992 New York case which the majority cites. Yet with the split between the Tenth and Seventh Circuits now apparent, it may be ripe for United States Supreme Court resolution.
[image: "Photograph of Gerald R. Ford, Jr., and Two Unidentified Men in Bathing Suits" via]
Friday, January 4, 2019
SCOTUS Grants Certiorari on First Amendment Challenge to Trademark Rejection of Immoral or Scandalous Mark
The Court granted certiorari in Iancu v. Brunetti regarding the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a), which prohibits the federal registration of “immoral” or “scandalous” trademarks. The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals held that the section violates the First Amendment. At issue was a rejection to a trademark to Brunetti's apparel line named "fuct." The Federal Circuit Court concluded with an interesting analogy to copyright protection and the First Amendment:
The trademark at issue is vulgar. And the government included an appendix in its briefing to the court which contains numerous highly offensive, even shocking, images and words for which individuals have sought trademark registration. Many of the marks rejected under §2(a)’s bar on immoral or scandalous marks, including the marks discussed in this opinion, are lewd, crass, or even disturbing. We find the use of such marks in commerce discomforting, and are not eager to see a proliferation of such marks in the marketplace. There are, however, a cadre of similarly offensive images and words that have secured copyright registration by the government. There are countless songs with vulgar lyrics, blasphemous images, scandalous books and paintings, all of which are protected under federal law. No doubt many works registered with the Copyright Office offend a substantial composite of the general public. There are words and images that we do not wish to be confronted with, not as art, nor in the marketplace. The First Amendment, however, protects private expression, even private expression which is offensive to a substantial composite of the general public. The government has offered no substantial government interest for policing offensive speech in the context of a registration program such as the one at issue in this case.
We hold that the bar in § 2(a) against immoral or scandalous marks is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment.
The Federal Circuit relied heavily on Matal v. Tam (2017) involving the band "the Slants" in which the United States Supreme Court decided that the "disparaging" provision of the same section of the Lanham Act violated the First Amendment. Recall that the Federal Circuit had also decided Matal v. Tam (f/k/a In Re Simon Shiao Tam) en banc, and the litigation in Brunetti has always been somewhat in the shadow of Tam. The Federal Circuit's opinion, rendered more than a year ago, contended that while the "immoral” or “scandalous” provisions might well be viewpoint restrictions as in Tam, they were certainly content discrimination under the First Amendment.
The concurring judge of the Federal Circuit panel in Brunetti argued that the section was amenable to a narrowing and saving construction limited to obscenity (although he agreed that because the name of Brunetti's apparel line was not obscene the trademark was unconstitutionally denied registration). The United State Supreme Court's purpose in granting certiorari is not immediately obvious, but the Under Secretary of Commerce's petition for certiorari picked up the concurring opinion's contention and argued that the Court should not declare the provisions facially unconstitutional.
[image: "news headline pullover hoodie" via]
Monday, October 15, 2018
In his 14 page opinion as a minute order in Cliffords v. Trump, the federal judge dismissed the claim of Stormy Daniels (a/k/a Stephanie Clifford) against President Trump for defamation. Recall the claim was based on Trump's tweet "A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!" Daniels' complaint claimed that Trump was not only attacking the truthfulness of Daniels, but also accusing her of a crime: fabricating a crime and an assailant, both of which are crimes under New York law. The complaint alleges that Trump "made his statement either knowing it was false, had serious doubts about the truth of his statement, or made the statement with reckless disregard for its truth or falsity."
The judge, however, found:
Mr. Trump's statement constituted "rhetorical hyperbole" that is protected by the First Amendment.
Additionally, the judge denied a motion to amend the complaint:
The Court holds that Mr. Trump's tweet is "rhetorical hyperbole" and is protected by the First Amendment. Plaintiff cannot amend the Complaint in a way that challenges this holding. During argument on this matter, Plaintiff suggested that she could amend her Complaint to "shore up the malice allegations" and to "provide context for the statement to show that, in fact, it was not political nature at the time it was made." (Transcript * * * ) The former amendments are futile because this Court rules that Mr. Trump's tweet is protected by the First Amendment. The issue of malice is irrelevant to this holding. The latter amendments are futile because there is no way for Plaintiff to amend the Complaint to transform the tweet from "rhetorical hyperbole" into an actionable statement. * * * * Plaintiff cannot change Mr. Trump's tweet or the basic context of the tweet. Nor can Plaintiff withdraw factual allegations that she has made in pleadings before this Court. In the other litigation before this Court, Ms. Clifford argues that Mr. Trump sought to silence her as a strategy to win the Presidential election, a clear argument against the legitimacy of Mr. Trump's Presidency. Mr. Trump issued the tweet as a rejoinder against an individual challenging him in the public arena. This is the definition of protected rhetorical hyperbole. The Court denies Plaintiff leave to amend the Complaint.
The result is not surprising given reports that after a hearing several weeks ago, Judge James Otero indicated he would be dismissing the action.
The judge also awards Trump attorneys fees.
Thursday, September 6, 2018
In its unanimous judgment and opinions in Johar v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India has declared that §377 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibited "carnal intercourse against the order of nature" is unconstitutional. The Court overruled the 2013 judgment in Koushal v. NAZ Foundation which we discussed here.
The opinions of the Court, totaling just short of 500 pages, rest the decision on Articles
- 14 (equality)
- 15 (prohibition of discrimination, including sex)
- 19 (protection of speech and association) and
- 21 (protection of liberty against deprivation without due process)
of the Constitution of India. The opinions include extensive discussions of cases from other nations and jurisdictions finding that criminalization of same-sex relations is unconstitutional, including Lawrence v. Texas (2003) in the United States, overruling Bowers v. Hardwick (1986).
History owes an apology to the members of this community and their families, for the delay in providing redressal for the ignominy and ostracism that they have suffered through the centuries. The members of this community were compelled to live a life full of fear of reprisal and persecution. This was on account of the ignorance of the majority to recognise that homosexuality is a completely natural condition, part of a range of human sexuality. The mis-application of this provision denied them the Fundamental Right to equality guaranteed by Article 14. It infringed the Fundamental Right to non-discrimination under Article 15, and the Fundamental Right to live a life of dignity and privacy guaranteed by Article 21. The LGBT persons deserve to live a life unshackled from the shadow of being ‘unapprehended felons’.
The choice of "history" as being held accountable rather than the Court (and its previous opinion) may be deflective, but it is more of an acknowledgement that the United States Supreme Court gave in Lawrence (and which would have been arguably very appropriate).
Monday, June 18, 2018
In its opinion in Doe v. Boyertown Area School District a unanimous panel of the Third Circuit upheld the school district's gender policy for facilities, affirming the district judge, against a challenge by some students that the inclusive policy violated their constitutional "bodily privacy" rights and Title IX.
The school policy allowed "transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with the students’ gender identities as opposed to the sex they were determined to have at birth." The court rejected the argument of some non-transgender students that the policy violated their right to privacy. Even if the school policy were to be subject to strict scrutiny, there was a compelling interest in the protection of transgender students and the means chosen were narrowly tailored. In assessing the claim of the cisgendered students who challenged the school policy, the court stated:
we decline to recognize such an expansive constitutional right to privacy—a right that would be violated by the presence of students who do not share the same birth sex. Moreover, no court has ever done so. As counsel for the School District noted during oral argument, the appellants are claiming a very broad right of personal privacy in a space that is, by definition and common usage, just not that private. School locker rooms and restrooms are spaces where it is not only common to encounter others in various stages of undress, it is expected. The facilities exist so that students can attend to their personal biological and hygienic needs and change their clothing.
Moreover, the court rejected the challengers' reliance on "a case involving an adult stranger sneaking into a locker room to watch a fourteen year-old girl shower," noting that it was "simply not analogous to the present situation "involving transgender students using facilities aligned with their gender identities after seeking and receiving approval from trained school counselors and administrators."
The court likewise rejected the Title IX and state tort law claims, again affirming the district judge.
While the court discusses and relies upon Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District, in which the Seventh Circuit in 2017 affirmed a preliminary injunction requiring the school to allow transgender students to access facilities consistent with their gender identity, the policy upheld here was the Boyertown school district's affirmative policy allowing such access. Thus, there seems to be a clear path for school districts to avoid losing if there is litigation.
Saturday, April 14, 2018
In her opinion and Order in Karnoski v. Trump, United States District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington has reaffirmed her previous preliminary injunction (December 2017) on the basis of the plaintiffs' likelihood to succeed on the merits of their Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment claims in their challenge to the President's ban on transgender troops in the military, and further decided that the military ban is subject to strict scrutiny. (Recall that previous to Judge Pechman's preliminary injunction, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Doe v. Trump partially enjoined the president's actions and United States District Judge Marvin Garvis of the District of Maryland in Stone v. Trump issued a preliminary injunction against the United States military's ban on transgender troops and resources for "sex-reassignment" medical procedures).
The government's motion for summary judgment and to dissolve the preliminary injunction relied in large part on the President's new policy promulgated in March 2018. As Judge Pechman phrased it, the 2018 Presidential Memorandum
purports to "revoke" the 2017 Memorandum and “any other directive [he] may have made with respect to military service by transgender individuals,” and directs the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to “exercise their authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”
Rejecting the government defendants' argument that the controversy was now moot, Judge Pechman concluded that the 2018 Memorandum and Implementation Plan "do not substantively rescind or revoke the Ban, but instead threaten the very same violations that caused it and other courts to enjoin the Ban in the first place." The judge acknowledged that there were a few differences, but was not persuaded by the government defendants' argument that the 2018 policy did not now mandate a “categorical” prohibition on service by openly transgender people.
Similarly, Judge Pechman found that the individual plaintiffs, the organizational plaintiffs, and the plaintiff State of Washington continued to have standing.
Most crucial in Judge Pechman's order is her decision that transgender people constitute a suspect class and thus the ban will be subject to strict scrutiny. (Recall that in the previous preliminary injunction, Judge Pechman ruled that transgender people were at a minimum a quasi-suspect class). In this opinion, she considers four factors:
- whether the class has been “[a]s a historical matter . . . subjected to discrimination,”
- whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,
- whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define [it] as a discrete group,"
- whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.”
After a succinct analysis, she concludes that suspect class status is warranted and because the "Ban specifically targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society," it "must satisfy strict scrutiny if it is to survive."
However, Judge Pechman did not decide on the level of deference the government defendants should be accorded. Instead, she concluded that
On the present record, the Court cannot determine whether the DoD’s deliberative process—including the timing and thoroughness of its study and the soundness of the medical and other evidence it relied upon—is of the type to which Courts typically should defer.
However, she did agree with the government defendants that President Trump was not subject to injunctive relief, but did remain as a defendant for the purpose of declaratory relief.
Thus, Judge Pechman directed the parties to "proceed with discovery and prepare for trial on the issues of whether, and to what extent, deference is owed to the Ban and whether the Ban violates equal protection, substantive due process, and the First Amendment."
[image, Revolutionary War era soldier, NYPL, via]
April 14, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Executive Authority, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Gender, Mootness, Opinion Analysis, Sexuality, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, March 26, 2018
In an amended complaint Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, has added a count of defamation against President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, for defamation.
Recall that Ms. Daniels filed a complaint in state court against Trump and a LLC, Essential Consultants, which mentioned Michael Cohen, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding "hush money" and an agreement not to divulge certain facts. That lawsuit has been removed to federal court. But the day after Ms. Daniels' widely watched interview on the news show "60 Minutes" aired, Daniels' attorney has filed an amended complaint adding Cohen as a defendant and alleging defamation:
On or about February 13, 2018, Mr. Cohen issued a public statement. The entirety of the statement is attached hereto as Exhibit 3. In it, he states in part: “Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage. I will always protect Mr. Trump.” (emphasis added). Mr. Cohen’s statement was made in writing and released by Mr. Cohen to the media with the intent that it be widely disseminated and repeated throughout California and across the country (and the world) on television, on the radio, in newspapers, and on the Internet.
It was reasonably understood by those who read or heard the statement that Mr. Cohen’s defamatory statement was about Ms. Clifford.
Both on its face, and because of the facts and circumstances known to persons who read or heard the statement, it was reasonably understood Mr. Cohen meant to convey that Ms. Clifford is a liar, someone who should not be trusted, and that her claims about her relationship with Mr. Trump is “something [that] isn’t true.” Mr. Cohen’s statement exposed Mr. Clifford to hatred, contempt, ridicule, and shame, and discouraged others from associating or dealing with her.
Mr. Cohen’s defamatory statement was false.
Mr. Cohen made the statement knowing it was false or had serious doubts about the truth of the statements.
As a result, Plaintiff Ms. Clifford has suffered damages in an amount to be proven at trial according to proof, including but not limited to, harm to her reputation, emotional harm, exposure to contempt, ridicule, and shame, and physical threats of violence to her person and life.
Unlike any claims against President Trump, there is no question of executive immunity, but the First Amendment contours of defamation will undoubtedly be relevant. Given that Stormy Daniels is clearly a public figure, much more so than Summer Zervos who is suing President Trump for defamation, Daniels will need to satisfy the actual malice standard. (Recall that a state judge has held that Zervos's lawsuit against Trump is not barred by executive immunity.)
[Image: Stormy Daniels via]
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
In her opinion in Zervos v. Trump, New York County Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Schecter ruled that the lawsuit for defamation by Summer Zervos against now-President Trump could proceed, denying a motion to dismiss or to stay by Trump based on his presidential status.
Recall that Summer Zervos filed the law suit a few days before Trump was inaugurated. Recall also that one of the major issues was whether or not a sitting president was amenable to suit in state court: In other words, did the rule in the United States Supreme Court's unanimous 1997 decision of Clinton v. Jones holding that then-President Clinton was subject to suit in federal court extend to state court?
Justice Schecter's first paragraph answers the question without hesitation, beginning with a citation to Clinton v. Jones and stating that the case left open the question of whether "concerns of federalism and comity compel a different conclusion for suits brought in state court," but adding "they do not." Her analysis is relatively succinct, beginning with a simple statement: "No one is above the law" and concluding that "In the end, there is absolutely no authority for dismissing or staying a civil action related purely to unofficial conduct because defendant is the President of the United States."
Justice Schecter also denied the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and thus discussed the defamation claim which obliquely raises First Amendment issues. (The first 8 pages of the 19 page opinion detail the allegations of the complaint.) The motion to dismiss had essentially argued that Mr. Trump's statements were mere hyperbole. Justice Schecter disagreed:
Defendant--the only person other than plaintiff who knows what happened between the two of them--repeatedly accused plaintiff of dishonesty not just in his opinion but as a matter of fact. He not only averred that plaintiff told "phony stories" and issued statements that were "totally false" and "fiction," he insisted that the events "never happened" and that the allegations were "100% false [and] made up.”
A reader or listener, cognizant that defendant knows exactly what transpired, could reasonably believe what defendant's statements convey: that plaintiff is contemptible because she "fabricated" events for personal gain. . . . . Defendant used "specific, easily understood language to communicate" that plaintiff lied to further her interests . . . His statements can be proven true or false, as they pertain to whether plaintiff made up allegations to pursue her own agenda. Most importantly, in their context, defendant's repeated statements--which were not made through op-ed pieces or letters to the editor but rather were delivered in speeches, debates and through Twitter, a preferred means of communication often used by defendant- -cannot be characterized simply as opinion, heated rhetoric, or hyperbole. That defendant's statements about plaintiff's veracity were made while he was campaigning to become President of the United States, does not make them any less actionable. . . .
Thus, it seems that the lawsuit against the President, now joined by a declaratory judgment suit by Stormy Daniels which we discussed here and since removed to federal, will proceed apace. Assuming, of course, that the President's lawyers do not attempt an interlocutory appeal.
image: Hans Makart, Allegory of the Law and Truth of Representation, circa 1881 via
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Federal District Judge: Equal Protection Prohibits Policy Banning Transgender Student from Facilities
In his opinion in M.A.B. v. Board of Education of Talbot County, United States District Judge George Russell, III of the District of Maryland denied the motion to dismiss by the school board of a challenge to its decision to require M.A.B., a transgender boy, to use restrooms and locker rooms for girls.
Judge Russell first found that the school's decision violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), entering the murky waters left by the United States Supreme Court's stay and vacation of the Fourth Circuit's decision in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board after the Trump Administration change interpretation of the anti-discrimination policy.
Judge Russell also decided that the school's decision violated the Equal Protection Clause, in an extensive discussion relying upon the developing transgender equal protection doctrine, including the Seventh Circuit's 2017 decision in Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District as well as the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Glenn v. Brumby, the only two circuits to have ruled on the issue, and district court cases in the school context such as Evanacho v. Pine-Richland School District and those regarding the transgender military ban such as Doe v. Trump and Stone v. Trump.
Judge Russell found that classifications based on transgender status merit intermediate scrutiny for two reasons. First, he found that transgender classifications were tantamount to sex classifications, specifically discussing sex-stereotyping.
Second, he found that "transgender individuals are, at minimum, a quasi-suspect class," under a four-factor test similar to that first articulated in Carolene Products footnote 4:
- whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination;”
- whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society;"
- whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;” and
- whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.”
Judge Russell then analyzed each of these factors, with an interesting reference in a footnote, and found them satisfied, concluding that intermediate scrutiny was appropriate, and quoting the standard as that articulated in United States v. Virginia (VMI).
While Judge Russell's opinion seemed to cast some doubt on whether the school board's proffered privacy rationale could satisfy the "important" prong, especially as described in VMI, he noted that the procedural posture of the decision was a motion to dismiss. However, even assuming privacy was an important interest, he concluded that the means chosen - - - the banning of the transgender male student from male bathrooms and locker rooms - - - was not substantially related to the privacy interest. Again, Judge Russell quoted Whitaker rejecting the school board's attempt to distinguish it on the basis that locker rooms were not at issue in the Seventh Circuit case and stated that Whitaker's "reasoning applies with similar force."Judge Russell then countered the school board's argument that "if M.A.B. changing clothes in the designated restrooms makes him feel humiliated and embarrassed, as well as alienated from his peers, then students who use those restrooms for greater privacy will feel the same way," with four separate reasons why the argument was flawed. For example, Judge Russell wrote that the school board's argument "overlooks the entire context surrounding the Policy: "It singles M.A.B. out, quite literally because it does not apply to anyone else at the High School, and marks him as different for being transgender." On the contrary, Judge Russell wrote, "a boy who makes the personal choice to change clothes in a single-use restroom or stall does not experience any such singling out at the hands of his school."
Judge Russell, however, did not grant M.A.B.'s motion for preliminary injunction, given M.A.B.'s status for the current school year, but "aware that the parties likely hope for a resolution to this case before the following school year," directed "the parties to confer and submit to the Court a joint proposed scheduling order."
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, aka Peggy Peterson has filed a complaint in California state court seeking a declaratory judgment that a "Hush Agreement" she signed regarding a nondisclosure agreement is invalid. Her attorney posted access to a copy of the complaint and the underlying agreements:
Earlier today, we filed this complaint seeking a ct order voiding the alleged “hush” agreement between our client S. Clifford aka Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump. https://t.co/upa9u10MqR— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) March 7, 2018
The complaint seeking declaratory judgment again implicates the issue of whether Trump, as the current President of the United States, is immune, even temporarily, from suit. In Clinton v. Jones (1997), the United States unanimously held that then-President Clinton was not immune from a federal law suit for sexual harassment arising from events before he became President. Should the outcome be different if the lawsuit is in state rather than federal court? Recall that this same issue arises in Zervos v. Trump, a suit for defamation filed in New York state court. Recall also our discussion of an amicus brief by three law professors who submitted an amicus brief in Clinton v. Jones in support of a plaintiffs' right to sue the sitting President in federal court argue that the rule should apply to state court as well. The President's motion to dismiss or for a stay has not yet been decided. (Trump is also seeking dismissal on the merits of the defamation claim contending that the allegations are not actionable as defamation).
The fact that the President has engaged in numerous other lawsuits while President does tend to dilute any "distraction" claim under Clinton v. Jones.
Monday, February 12, 2018
In its opinion in Perez v. City of Roseville, a panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed a district judge's granting of summary judgment to the government on a constitutional challenge by Janelle Perez to her termination from the City of Roseville after an internal affairs investigation into her "romantic relationship" with a fellow officer. The investigation noted that both officers "are married and have young children."
Authored by Judge Reinhardt, the opinion noted that its conclusion was required by Thorne v. City of El Segundo, 726 F.2d 459 (9th Cir. 1983), in which the Ninth Circuit held that the city violated Thorne's constitutional rights when it relied on her private, non-job-related sexual conduct as a clerk-typist in refusing to hire her as an officer, without “any showing that [her] private, off-duty personal activities ... [had] an impact upon [her] on-the-job performance,” or contravened “specific policies with narrow implementing regulations.” Likewise, Roseville failed to "introduce sufficient evidence that Perez’s affair had any meaningful impact upon her job performance."
Interestingly, the Ninth Circuit identifies a circuit split on the issue: We recognize that, since Thorne, at least two other circuits have adopted rules that appear to be in some tension with our case. See Coker v. Whittington, 858 F.3d 304, 306 (5th Cir. 2017) (concluding Constitution not violated where two sheriff’s deputies were fired for moving in with each other’s wives before finalizing divorce from their current wives because the Sheriff’s policies were supported by a rational basis); Seegmiller v. LaVerkin City, 528 F.3d 762, 770 (10th Cir. 2008) (upholding termination of officer on basis of extramarital affair under rational basis test because there is no “fundamental liberty interest ‘to engage in a private act of consensual sex’”). > However, the Ninth Circuit rejects the "approach taken by the Fifth and Tenth Circuits" for two reasons. First, there is the "binding precedent" of Thorne:
Because the State’s actions in this case “intrude on the core of a person’s constitutionally protected privacy and associational interests,” we must analyze them under “heightened scrutiny.” Thorne, 726 F.2d at 470. Moreover, even if we were to agree that the Department’s action here need only satisfy rational basis review, Thorne explains that it cannot survive any level of scrutiny without either a showing of a negative impact on job performance or violation of a constitutionally permissible, narrowly drawn regulation. Id. at 471. Under our precedent, the Department must do more than cite a broad, standardless rule against “conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Second, the "Fifth and Tenth Circuits fail to appreciate the impact of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), on the jurisprudence of the constitutional right to sexual autonomy."
"Lawrence did much more than merely conclude that Texas’ anti-sodomy law failed the rational basis test. Instead, it recognized that intimate sexual conduct represents an aspect of the substantive liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. As such, the constitutional infirmity in Texas’ law stemmed from neither its mere irrationality nor its burdening of a fundamental right to engage in homosexual conduct (or even private consensual sexual conduct, Rather, Texas’ law ran afoul of the Constitution’s protection of substantive liberty by imposing a special stigma of moral disapproval on intimate same-sex relationships in particular. As the Court explained, the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause must extend equally to all intimate sexual conduct between consenting adults, regardless of whether they are of the same sex or not, married or unmarried. . . . Lawrence makes clear that the State may not stigmatize private sexual conduct simply because the majority has “traditionally viewed a particular practice,” such as extramarital sex, “as immoral.” Thus, without a showing of adverse job impact or violation of a narrow, constitutionally valid departmental rule, the Constitution forbids the Department from expressing its moral disapproval of Perez’s extramarital affair by terminating her employment on that basis.
Thus, the Ninth Circuit holds that Thorne, decided 20 years before Lawrence was correct and the Fifth and Tenth Circuit opinions, both decided after Lawrence, do not give Lawrence proper effect.
Concurring, Judge Tashima stresses that Perez was a probationary police officer and thus the government need not have provided reasons. However, when the government did provide reasons "those reasons all arose in such short order after the internal affairs review that a reasonable inference may be drawn that they may have been pretextual." Additionally, the majority opinion held that the government had no right to qualified immunity because the rights were clearly established, again relying on Thorne, decided in 1983.
The majority panel opinion rejected a procedural due process claim and a gender discrimination claim.The court thus reversed the summary judgment in favor of the government and remanded the case for further proceedings given the factual disputes regarding the actual reasons Perez was termination.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
In its opinion in Erotic Service Provider Legal Education and Research Project v. Gascon, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district judge's dismissal of a constitutional challenge to California Penal Code § 647(b) which criminalizes the commercial exchange of sexual activity.
Judge Jane Restani, writing for the unanimous panel, rejected that claim that the United States Supreme Court's landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas (2003) conferred a fundamental right to sexual intimacy under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. Restani's opinion declares that "whatever the nature of the right protected in Lawrence, one thing Lawrence does make explicit is that the Lawrence case “does not involve ... prostitution,” quoting from what some have called Lawrence's "caveat paragraph."
Given that there was no fundamental right at stake, the Ninth Circuit then applied rational basis and found there were several legitimate purposes found by the district court including links between commercial sex and trafficking in women and children; creating a "climate conducive to violence against women;" a "substantial link between prostitution and illegal drug use," and a link between commercial sex and "the transmission of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases." Judge Restani's opinion then summarily rejected the argument that the criminalization of commercial sex actually exacerbated the very problems it sought to remedy, stating that such assertions do not undermine the “rational speculation” sufficient to sustain the statute. The opinion relied on FCC v. Beach Communications (1993) for its highly deferential rational basis standard, despite the constitutional doctrine in Beach Communications being equal protection (albeit under the Fifth Amendment) rather than due process.
[image, "Female convicts at work in Brixton Women's Prison," UK 1862 via]
The Ninth Circuit was no more receptive to the other constitutional challenges. On the First Amendment free association claim, the court found that this was more properly analyzed as due process, and thus the rejection of the due process claim was dispositive. On the "right to earn a living" claim under due process, the court again relied on Lawrence's exclusion of commercial sex. Finally, on the First Amendment free speech claim, the court considered the solicitation of commercial sex as speech and analyzed it under the landmark test of Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y (1980). The court noted that the first prong regarding the exclusion for "unlawful activity" was determinative, but nevertheless continued, and briefly applied the other parts of the Central Hudson and found the statute did not violate the First Amendment.
In this 20 page opinion, the Ninth Circuit both manages to take the constitutional challenges to the criminalization of commercial sex seriously and to repudiate them.
Monday, October 30, 2017
In an Order and Opinion in Doe v. Trump, United States District Judge for the District of Columbia Colleen Kollar-Kotelly partially enjoined the president's actions to limits the service of transgender persons in the United States military. Judge Kollar-Kelly denied the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Sex Reassignment Directive, but granted the motion for preliminary injunction regarding the Accession and Retention Directives.
Recall that this lawsuit, filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) is one of several complaints challenging the president's military action, and included claims for a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's 76 page opinion, which begins with a recitation of the President's "statement via Twitter" on July 26, 2017, announcing that “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This was followed almost a month later by the President's Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." The President's Twitter statement and the subsequent Presidential memorandum are the centerpiece of the Government's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing and that their claims are not ripe under Article III.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly wrote:
Defendants have moved to dismiss this case, principally on the basis that the Court lacks jurisdiction. Although highly technical, these jurisdictional arguments reduce to a few simple points: the Presidential Memorandum has not effected a definitive change in military policy; rather, that policy is still subject to review; until that review is complete, transgender service members are protected; and any prospective injuries are too speculative to require judicial intervention.
These arguments, while perhaps compelling in the abstract, wither away under scrutiny.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly's opinion then spends the majority of the opinion discussing the standing and ripeness issues. As to the Surgery challenge, the opinion concludes that "none of the Plaintiffs have demonstrated an injury in fact with respect to the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive," because none of the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are substantially likely to be impacted by the Sex Reassignment Surgery Directive" In fact, the plaintiffs' medical procedures would be performed. However, there was standing on the Accession and Retention Directives because although an Interim Guidance possibly protects some transgender service members and allows for waivers,
The President controls the United States military. The directives of the Presidential Memorandum, to the extent they are definitive, are the operative policy toward military service by transgender service members.
Moreover, "the injury in fact element of standing in an equal protection case is the denial of equal treatment resulting from the imposition of the barrier.”
Compared to the extensive analysis of the Article III issues, Judge Kollar-Ketelly's analysis of the equal protection claim based on the Fifth Amendment is much more succinct. The opinion first determines the level of scrutiny, deciding on intermediate scrutiny for two reasons.
First, "on the current record, transgender individuals—who are alone targeted for exclusion by the Accession and Retention Directives—appear to satisfy the criteria of at least a quasi-suspect classification," considering whether they have "experienced a ‘history of purposeful unequal treatment’ or been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities," and whether they have been as a group “relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection from the majoritarian political process," and whether the group “exhibit[s] obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group.” Judge Kollar-Ketelly found that transgendered people satisfied these criteria, noting that although there was no binding precedent on this issue, other courts had reached similar conclusions and citing Evancho v. Pine-Richland Sch. Dist.
Second, Judge Kollar-Ketelly was "also persuaded that the Accession and Retention Directives are a form of discrimination on the basis of gender, which is itself subject to intermediate scrutiny. It is well-established that gender-based discrimination includes discrimination based on non- conformity with gender stereotypes."
In the application of intermediate scrutiny, Judge Kollar-Ketelly recited the rule of United States v. Virginia (VMI) (1996), and held that the Accession and Retention Directives relied on overbroad stereotypes and were not substantially related to the Government's stated interests. The opinion then considered the question of deference in the military context:
Nonetheless, given the deference owed to military personnel decisions, the Court has not based its conclusion solely on the speculative and overbroad nature of the President’s reasons. A second point is also crucial. As far as the Court is aware at this preliminary stage, all of the reasons proffered by the President for excluding transgender individuals from the military in this case were not merely unsupported, but were actually contradicted by the studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself. As described above, the effect of transgender individuals serving in the military had been studied by the military immediately prior to the issuance of the Presidential Memorandum. In connection with the working group chaired by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the RAND National Defense Research Institute conducted a study and issued a report largely debunking any potential concerns about unit cohesion, military readiness, deployability or health care costs related to transgender military service. The Department of Defense Working Group, made up of senior uniformed officers and senior civilian officers from each military department, unanimously concluded that there were no barriers that should prevent transgender individuals from serving in the military, rejecting the very concerns supposedly underlying the Accession and Retention Directives. In fact, the Working Group concluded that prohibiting transgender service members would undermine military effectiveness and readiness. Next, the Army, Air Force and Navy each concluded that transgender individuals should be allowed to serve. Finally, the Secretary of Defense concluded that the needs of the military were best served by allowing transgender individuals to openly serve. In short, the military concerns purportedly underlying the President’s decision had been studied and rejected by the military itself. This highly unusual situation is further evidence that the reasons offered for the Accession and Retention Directives were not substantially related to the military interests the Presidential Memorandum cited.
the President abruptly announced, via Twitter—without any of the formality or deliberative processes that generally accompany the development and announcement of major policy changes that will gravely affect the lives of many Americans—that all transgender individuals would be precluded from participating in the military in any capacity. These circumstances provide additional support for Plaintiffs’ claim that the decision to exclude transgender individuals was not driven by genuine concerns regarding military efficacy.
Finding a likelihood of success on the merits of the equal protection claim, the opinion quickly dispatched the other considerations used in evaluating the issuance of a preliminary injunction, finding them met.
Expect the government to appeal as well as opinions in the other pending cases.
Sunday, September 3, 2017
In its unanimous panel opinion in D.T. v. Patton (and the Denver Department of Health and Human Services), the Tenth Circuit recognized a claim for substantive due process and rejected qualified immunity based on a social worker's removal of the adolescent child, D.T., from his mother and recommending to the court that D.T. be placed with his father, who sexually abused him.
The court distinguished the landmark case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989), in which the United States Supreme Court held, in somewhat similar circumstances, that state officials are not liable for private-violence under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court relied on the "danger-creation" exception to the DeShaney doctrine, which allows liability if “a state actor affirmatively acts to create, or increase a plaintiff’s vulnerability to, danger from private violence." The court cited the Tenth Circuit's 2001 decision in Currier v. Doran, noting that "all circuits" have carved out a similar exception (in addition to the special-relationship exception), although the United States Supreme Court has not ruled on such exceptions.
Writing for the majority, Judge Scott Matheson extensive opinion discussed both DeShaney and Currier, including the elements developed in Currier:
- the charged state entity and the charged individual actors created the danger or increased plaintiff’s vulnerability to the danger in some way;
- plaintiff was a member of a limited and specifically definable group;
- defendants’ conduct put plaintiff at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm;
- the risk was obvious or known;
- defendants acted recklessly in conscious disregard of that risk; and
- such conduct, when viewed in total, is conscience shocking.
Judge Matheson's opinion then analyzed analyzed each of these. Of central importance was the fact that the social worker knew of the father's previous conviction of attempted sexual assault on a minor, his step-daughter, as well as the father's violation of probation for contacting her and his failure to fulfill his sex offender treatment with regard to that conviction, in addition to "other charged offenses including misdemeanor wrongs to minors and misdemeanor domestic violence." The social worker omitted these facts as well as her concerns about them from the court because of her supervisor's comments and her resultant fear she would be terminated from her employment if she shared these facts. Moreover, she failed to investigate D.T.'s situation once he was placed in his father's home, and recorded her visits to the home that did not actually occur.
On qualified immunity, the court found that Currier clearly established a right that she violated. The court rejected the social worker's arguments attempting to draw lines between her pre-placement and post-placement conduct. The court also rejected the social worker's claims to avoid responsibility by sharing it with her "team" or assigning it to her supervisor. The court found that she was the major actor and withheld facts from her team. And while her supervisor might also be liable,
Ms. Patton’s reasons for deleting parts of her initial report to the juvenile court that outlined her concerns about T.D.’s placement with Mr. Duerson (i.e., to avoid being fired) support that she knew of the danger posed to T.D. in Mr. Duerson’s home and that she consciously disregarded that risk.
The court thus affirmed the grant of summary judgment to D.T. by the district judge.
Concurring, Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, who has been on the Tenth Circuit since 1995, expressed her belief that Currier was wrongly decided in 2001 and conflicts with DeShaney. For Judge Briscoe,
As a general matter, I find it hard to conclude that a social worker can be “responsible for” the independent decision of a judge who ultimately orders a change of custody. But, even if we assume such responsibility exists, we cannot transform omissions or failures to act into affirmative conduct merely by considering them “in the general context of” a custody recommendation. The only affirmative act that could be found in Currier is the recommendation itself, which, in my view is no different from the affirmative recommendation in DeShaney that Joshua be returned to his father’s custody. . . . This makes the state the permanent guarantor of a child's safety.
Yet the United States Supreme Court failed to grant certiorari in Currier and there is little here to make it likely that a petition for certiorari would not have the same result.
[image "Young Boy Singing" circa 1650 via]
Monday, August 28, 2017
Late Friday August 25, President Trump issued a Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Homeland Security through the Office of the Press Secretary directing the halt of accession of transgender individuals into the military and the halt of all resources "to fund sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex." By Monday, there were at least three lawsuits challenging the action on constitutional grounds.
A month before, Trump had tweeted his thoughts regarding transgender individuals in the military, reportedly taking military officials by surprise.
Soon after the tweets, the complaint in Doe v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging any military action on the basis of a violation of equal protection, due process, and a nonconstitutional argument of equitable estoppel.
This complaint is now joined by two others: The complaint in Stone v. Trump was filed by lawyers for the ACLU in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, challenging the 3 policies of the military ban - - - existing troops, enlistment of new troops, and medical care - - - as well as the policies taken as a whole. Again, the two constitutional issues are equal protection and due process. The complaint in Karnoski v. Trump was filed by lawyers for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, challenging the policy on the basis of equal protection, due process, as well as the First Amendment's free speech clause.
On the core challenge of equal protection - - - as applied to the federal government through the Fifth Amendment - - - the complaints vary in their detail and possible theories. In Doe, the NCLR and GLAD complaint, paragraph 71 reads: "The categorical exclusion of transgender people from military service lacks a rational basis, is arbitrary, and cannot be justified by sufficient federal interests." In Stone, the ACLU complaint, paragraph 140 contends that transgender classifications should be treated as sex classifications, deserving heightened scrutiny, and additionally in the next paragraph that transgender status itself warrants heightened scrutiny because "men and women who are transgender, as a class" have historically been subject to discrimination, have a defining characteristic that frequently bears no relation to an ability to contribute to society, exhibit immutable or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group, and are a minority with relatively little political power. In Karnoski, the complaint contends that in addition to sex-discrimination, discrimination on the basis of transgender status "bears all the indicia of a suspect classification requiring strict scrutiny by the courts," enumerating similar criteria including history of discrimination, discrete and insular minority, no relation to ability to contribute to society, and arguing the characteristic sometimes expressed as immutability in stating that "gender identity is a core, defining trait" so "fundamental to one's identity and conscience that a person should not be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment."
However, whatever standard of scrutiny is applied, all the complaints contend that there is not a sufficient government interest in the policy - - - an argument that may well lead into judicial inquiry into Trump's unorthodox announcement on Twitter as well as any details of thoughtful decision-making.
While there has been some reporting that military officials have discretion in implementing Trump's directives, professors of military law have issued a worth-reading policy statement that the discretion is quite limited; they also argue that the directives are discriminatory and based on inaccuracies.
This litigation is certain to accelerate. Expect more action from the NCLR and GLAD action filed before the Friday policy announcement and requests for preliminary relief.