Tuesday, June 30, 2020

SCOTUS Holds Free Exercise Clause Bars Application of State's No-Aid to Religious Institutions Clause in State Constitution

In its opinion in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue regarding a state tax credit scheme for student scholarships, the majority held that the scheme must be afforded to religious schools so that the Free Exercise Clause was not violated.

Recall that the Montana Supreme Court held that the tax credit program's application to religious schools was unconstitutional under its state constitution, Art. X §6 , which prohibits aid to sectarian schools. This type of no-aid provision is often referred to as (or similar to) a Blaine Amendment and frequently appears in state constitutions. 

In a closely-divided decision, the Court decided that the Montana Supreme Court's decision that the tax credit program could not be extended to religious schools should be subject to struct scrutiny under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause and did not survive. (The Court therefore stated it need not reach the equal protection clause claims). The Court essentially found that this case was more like Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer (2017) (involving playground resurfacing) and less like Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004), in which the Court upheld State of Washington statutes and constitutional provisions that barred public scholarship aid to post-secondary students pursuing a degree in theology. The Court distinguishes Locke v. Davey as pertaining to what Davey proposed "to do" (become a minister) and invoking a "historic and substantial” state interest in not funding the training of clergy. Instead, the Court opined that like Trinity Lutheran, Esponiza "turns expressly on religious status and not religious use."

The Court's opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, is relatively compact at 22 pages.  In addition to taking time to distinguish Locke v. Davey, the opinion devotes some discussion to federalism, invoking the Supremacy Clause and Marbury v. Madison in its final section. But the opinion also engages with the dissenting Justices' positions in its text and its footnotes. Along with the concurring opinions, the overall impression of Espinoza is a fragmented Court, despite the carefully crafted majority opinion.

The concurring opinion of Thomas — joined by Gorsuch — reiterates Thomas's view that the Establishment Clause should not apply to the states; the original meaning of the clause was to prevent the federal establishment of religion while allowing states to establish their own religions. While this concurring opinion criticizes the Court's Establishment Clause opinions, it does not confront why a state constitution would not be free to take an anti-establishment position.

Gorsuch also wrote separately, seemingly to emphasize that the record contained references to religious use (exercise) and not simply religious status. Gorsuch did not discuss the federalism issues he stressed in his opinion released yesterday in June Medical Services.

Alito's thirteen page concurring opinion is an exegesis on the origins of the Montana constitutional provision as biased. Alito interestingly invokes his dissenting opinion in Ramos v. Louisiana decided earlier this Term in which he argued that the original motivation of a state law should have no bearing on its present constitutionality: "But I lost, and Ramos is now precedent. If the original motivation for the laws mattered there, it certainly matters here." 
(Noteworthy perhaps is that Roberts joined Alito's dissenting opinion in Ramos and Roberts's opinion in Esponiza does spend about 3 pages discussing the Blaine amendments' problematical history, but apparently this was insufficient for Alito).

Ginsburg's dissenting opinion, joined by Kagan, pointed to an issue regarding the applicability of the Court's opinion:

By urging that it is impossible to apply the no-aid provision in harmony with the Free Exercise Clause, the Court seems to treat the no-aid provision itself as unconstitutional.  Petitioners, however, disavowed a facial First Amendment challenge, and the state courts were never asked to address the constitutionality of the no- aid provision divorced from its application to a specific government benefit.

Breyer, joined in part by Kagan, essentially argued that the majority gave short-shrift to Locke v. Davey and its "play-in-the-joints" concept authored by Rehnquist as expressing the relationship between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Breyer's opinion is almost as long as the majority opinion, and the majority takes several opportunities to express its disagreement with Breyer, including in a two paragraph discussion, his implicit departure from precedent (e.g., "building on his solo opinion in Trinity Lutheran").

Sotomayor's dissent, also criticized by the majority in text, argues that the Court is "wrong to decide the case at all" and furthermore decides it wrongly.  The Court's reframing incorrectly addressed (or seemingly addressed?) whether the longstanding state constitutional provision was constitutional. Thus, she argues, the Court has essentially issued an advisory opinion.  On the merits, she contends, "the Court’s answer to its hypothetical question is incorrect." She concludes that the majority's ruling is "perverse" because while the Court once held that "the Free Exercise Clause clearly prohibits the use of state action to deny the rights of free exercise to anyone, it has never meant that a majority could use the machinery of the State to practice its beliefs,” it now departs from that balanced view.

The Court's opinion is much more divided than it seems at first blush. And the future of state constitutional provisions that prohibit taxpayer money from being used to support religious institutions remains in doubt.

 

June 30, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

California High Court Strikes State Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Disclose Taxes

A unanimous California Supreme Court ruled the state requirement that presidential candidates disclose their federal taxes violates the state constitution. The ruling is a significant victory for President Trump and the state's GOP.

The ruling notes that there are several pending lawsuits challenging the disclosure requirement under the U.S. Constitution. The California Supreme Court, however, limited its ruling to the state constitution. Because it's limited to the state constitution, it's final, and can't be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The California Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act prohibits the Secretary of State from printing on a primary election ballot the name of a candidate for President of the United States who has not filed with the Secretary of State the candidate's federal income tax returns for the five most recent taxable years. But the state constitution, article II, section 5(c), provides:

The Legislature shall provide for partisan elections for presidential candidates, and political party and party central committees, including an open presidential primary whereby the candidates on the ballot are those found by the Secretary of State to be recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States, and those whose names are placed on the ballot by petition, but excluding any candidate who has withdrawn by filing an affidavit of noncandidacy.

The state high court ruled that the Act impermissibly added a requirement for a candidate to be listed on the ballot, in violation of article II, section 5(c). As the court explained:

[A]rticle II, section 5(c) is most naturally read as conveying a rule of inclusivity for presidential primary elections that the Legislature cannot contravene. This reading is strongly supported by the history of the constitutional text that now appears in article II, section 5(c). This history establishes beyond fair dispute that this language was adopted to ensure that the ballots for parties participating in the presidential primary election would include all persons within said parties deemed to be "recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States," except for those candidates who filed affidavits of noncandidacy, so that voters in the primary election would have a direct opportunity to vote for or against these candidates.

Because the relevant provisions of the Act condition a presidential candidate's placement on the primary ballot on compliance with an additional requirement that is concededly not a reasonable measure of whether the candidate is "recognized" as such throughout the nation or California, it conflicts with the rule specified by article II, section 5(c), and is for that reason invalid.

 

November 21, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 18, 2019

Federal Judge Enjoins Florida's Statute Conditioning Right to Vote on Payment of Finess and Fees

In an opinion in Jones v. DeSantis, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 8.21.23 PMFla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole."

Judge Hinkle first addressed Florida's motion to dismiss based on lack of standing and motion to abstain, finding them without merit. Judge Hinkle then discussed whether or not Amendment 4 authorized the statute extending the conditions to all restitution, fines, and fees, acknowledging that "the last word will belong to the Florida Supreme Court," on the matter of that interpretation. However, for purposes of the issue of constitutionality at this stage, the judge assumed that " “all terms of sentence” includes fines and restitution, fees even when unrelated to culpability, and amounts even when converted to civil liens, so long as the amounts are included in the sentencing document."

While the court acknowledged that a state can deny persons convicted of a felony the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment as construed by the Court in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974), here the state had amended its constitution not to do so, but with an exception for those persons convicted of felonies who could not meet their financial obligations. Thus, the Equal Protection Clause is implicated. On this point, Judge Hinkle found Eleventh Circuit precedent was clear, citing Johnson v. Governor of Florida, 405 F.3d 1214 (11th Cir. 2005) (en banc). The court quotes the en banc court in Johnson stating:

Access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources. Under Florida’s Rules of Executive Clemency, however, the right to vote can still be granted to felons who cannot afford to pay restitution. . . . Because Florida does not deny access to the restoration of the franchise based on ability to pay, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on these claims.

[emphasis in original]. For Judge Hinkle, this is both the "starting point of the analysis of this issue, and pretty much the ending point." 

As support for Johnson and further explication of the standard of review under equal protection doctrine, Judge Hinkle reasoned:

Johnson does not lack Supreme Court support; it is consistent with a series of Supreme Court decisions.

In one, M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102 (1996), the Court noted the “general rule” that equal-protection claims based on indigency are subject to only rational-basis review. This is the same general rule on which the Secretary [of State of Florida] places heavy reliance here. But in M.L.B. the Court said there are two exceptions to the general rule. 

The first exception, squarely applicable here, is for claims related to voting.  The Court said, “The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license.”  The Court cited a long line of cases supporting this principle.  In asserting that the Amendment 4 and SB7066 requirement for payment of financial obligations is subject only to highly deferential rational-basis scrutiny, the Secretary ignores this exception.

The second exception is for claims related to criminal or quasi-criminal processes. Cases applying this exception hold that punishment cannot be increased because of a defendant’s inability to pay. See, e.g., Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983) (holding that probation cannot be revoked based on failure to pay an amount the defendant is financially unable to pay). Disenfranchisement of felons has a regulatory component, see, e.g., Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 96-97 (1958), and when so viewed, disenfranchisement is subject only to the first M.L.B. exception, not this second one. But when the purpose of disenfranchisement is to punish, this second exception applies. If, after adoption of Amendment 4, the purported justification for requiring payment of financial obligations is only to ensure that felons pay their “debt to society”—that is, that they are fully punished—this second M.L.B. exception is fully applicable.

Another case applying these principles is Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), which was cited in both M.L.B. and the Johnson footnote. In Harper the Supreme Court said “[v]oter qualification has no relation to wealth.”  The Court continued, “[w]ealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.”  And the Court added, “[t]o introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor.” The Secretary says none of this is true when the voter is a felon, but the Secretary does not explain how a felon’s wealth is more relevant than any other voter’s. And Johnson plainly rejected the Secretary’s proposed distinction.

[some citations omitted]

Judge Hinkle's remedy was not to entirely enjoin the enforcement of the statute. Instead, Florida must follow its procedures and amend them if need be to allow indigent persons to demonstrate their inability to pay any restitution, fines, or fees. Nevertheless, this is a victory for those who have argued that the Florida statute undermined Amendment 4.

[image via]

 

October 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Arizona Supreme Court Finds Religious Exemption for Same-Sex Wedding Invitations Despite Nondiscrimination Ordinance

In lengthy and sharply divided opinion in Brush & Nib Studio v. City of Phoenix, the Arizona Supreme Court has held that a custom wedding invitation company and its proprietors have a right to refuse to express to make invitations for same-sex weddings under article 2, section 6 of the Arizona Constitution, providing that "Every person may freely speak, write, and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right," as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act (“FERA”), A.R.S. § 41-1493.01. This right prevailed over the City of Phoenix’s Ordinance, as amended in 2013, which prohibits public accommodations from discriminating against persons based on their status in a “protected” group, which includes a person’s sexual orientation.  Phx., Ariz., City Code (“PCC”) § 18-4(B). As the majority made clear, however, its holding was " limited to Plaintiffs’ creation of custom wedding invitations that are materially similar to those contained in the record," and did not "recognize a blanket exemption from the Ordinance for all of Plaintiffs’ business operations," or reach the question of other wedding services. The court appended illustrative samples in the appendix (and see below).

NibThe opinion rests on the independent ground of the state constitution and is thus insulated from federal review (given that no other constitutional right is at issue). The majority notes that the free expression provision of the state constitution "by its terms" "provides broader protections for free speech than the First Amendment."

Nevertheless, the majority extensively relies upon United States Supreme Court cases.  The citations include the Court's 2018 opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, although in Masterpiece there was a conclusion that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, enforcing its state nondiscrimination statute, expressed hostility on the basis of religion in its adjudication of the case - an issue that is not raised by the multiple opinions in Brush & Nib. The majority traces some of the rationales in the Masterpiece arguments: finding that the same-sex wedding invitations with their art and calligraphy (like the cake-baking) is "art" and speech, and finding that nondiscrimination ordinance seeks to compel their speech in support of beliefs they do not hold, such as same-sex marriage. The majority thus applies strict scrutiny, holding that a nondiscrimination public accommodations law is not a compelling governmental interest, and that such laws target conduct rather than speech and it is therefore not narrowly tailored.

Three of the seven Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court dissented. The dissenting opinion that all three Justices joined found that  there was a tension between "our fundamental values of liberty and equality," but because "the interest in preventing discrimination is compelling, equality prevails when we are dealing with public accommodations such as businesses serving the public." The dissenters also argued that "the majority implausibly characterizes a commercially prepared wedding invitation as “pure speech” on the part of the business selling the product and discounts the compelling public interest in preventing discrimination against disfavored customers."

And while this case is not suitable for certiorari to the Supreme Court, this issue will most likely recur in Arizona given the majority's attempt to limit the decision and the sharp divisions on the court; just as it will be recurring elsewhere.

September 17, 2019 in First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Washington Supreme Court on Remand in Arlene's Flowers: No First Amendment Violation

In its unanimous opinion in State of Washington v. Arlene's Flowers, the Washington Supreme Court concluded there was no First Amendment infringement when the state found Arlene's Flowers violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), by refusing to sell wedding flowers to a same-sex couple.

Recall that in June 2018, the United States Supreme Court without opinion, in Arlene's Flowers v. Washington, granted the petition for writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court, and remanded the case for consideration in light of its decision earlier than month in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Comm'n. Given the holding in Masterpiece Cakeshop that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, or one specific commissioner, exhibited "hostility" to the cakemaker in that case, the Washington Supreme Court was now tasked with determining whether there was a similar hostility towards the religion of the florist in Arlene's Flowers, Baronnelle Stutzman, and if so, applying strict scrutiny.

Van_Gogh_-_Zwölf_Sonnenblumen_in_einer_Vase1The Washington Supreme Court, on page 2 of its 76 page opinion, proclaimed: "We now hold that the answer to the Supreme Court's question is no; the adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination . . . ." 

The Washington Supreme Court's lengthy opinion admittedly includes passages from its 2017 opinion which thoroughly discussed and applied the First Amendment standards, but it also carefully delves into the question of government hostility toward religion.  The court found irrelevant one contested incident involving the Attorney General of Washington which occurred after the Washington Supreme Court's 2017 opinion, noting that the issue was one of adjudicatory animus and not executive branch animus; any claim that there was selective prosecution lacked merit. The Washington Supreme Court also rejected Stutzman's claim that the scope of the injunction in the 2017 opinion mandated that Stutzman "personally attend and participate in same-sex weddings."

The Washington Supreme Court's opinion concludes that "After careful review on remand, we are confident that the courts resolved this dispute with tolerance, and we therefore find no reason to change our original judgment in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop. We again affirm the trial court's rulings."

It is a solid well-reasoned unanimous opinion, but given this hard-fought and well-financed litigation, it's likely that Arlene's Flowers will again petition the United States Supreme Court for certiorari.

image: Vincent Van Gogh, Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase, circa 1887, via.

June 7, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Family, Federalism, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Kansas Supreme Court Finds Fundamental Right to Abortion Under State Constitution

In its extensive opinion in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt, the Supreme Court of Kansas held that the right to abortion in protected under its state constitution and regulations of the fundamental right should be subject to strict scrutiny.

The per curiam opinion is exceedingly clear that the opinion rests on independent state constitutional grounds and that it is interpreting §1 of the Kansas state Constitution, adopted in 1859:  "All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The court specifically finds that this provision creates judicially enforceable "natural rights" such as the right to "personal autonomy" to make decisions regarding our bodies, health care, family formation, and family life, including a woman's right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.

Having held that the right to an abortion is encompassed within the fundamental right bodily autonomy, the Kansas Supreme Court held that strict scrutiny should apply, which the court articulated as prohibited the state from restricting that right unless it can show it is doing so to further a compelling government interest and in a way that is narrowly tailored to that interest.

At issue in the case is Kansas S.B. 95, passed in 2015, now K.S.A. 65-6741 through 65-6749, which prohibits physicians from performing a specific abortion method referred to in medical terms as Dilation and Evacuation (D & E) except when "necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant woman" or to prevent a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."

The trial court had issued a preliminary injunction, which the Kansas Supreme Court upheld, but remanded the case for a fuller evidentiary hearing applying strict scrutiny.

Supreme-court

via & caption: Kansas Supreme Court
Seated left to right: Hon. Marla J. Luckert, Hon. Lawton R. Nuss, Chief Justice; Hon. Carol A. Beier.
Standing left to right: Hon. Dan Biles, Hon. Eric S. Rosen, Hon. Lee A. Johnson, and Hon. Caleb Stegall. 

In a concurring opinion, Justice Dan Biles argued that the majority should be more explicit in articulating how strict scrutiny should be applied in the abortion context, suggesting what "our state test should look like using an evidence-based analytical model taken from Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt" (2016).  Justice Biles provided a very detailed roadmap that would be attractive to the trial court. Justice Biles also placed the decision within developments in state constitutional law on abortion:

It is also worth mentioning our court has not gone rogue today. By my count, appellate courts in 17 states have addressed whether their state constitutions independently protect a pregnant woman's decisions regarding her pregnancy from unjustifiable government interference. Of those, 13 have plainly held they do. [citations omitted].

The sole dissenting Justice of the seven Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court (pictured above) was Justice Caleb Stegall, who relied on numerous dissenting opinions in both the United States Supreme Court and Kansas Supreme Court. He began his opinion by stating "This case is not only about abortion policy—the most divisive social issue of our day—it is more elementally about the structure of our republican form of government." In essence, he considers the majority to be taking an activist stance. The majority opinion does devote more than a little attention to refuting and engaging with the dissent's arguments.

Because the case cannot be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court (given that the state's highest court decided it on the independent ground of its state constitution, unless it is argued it infringes on another constitutional right), subsequent constitutional law issues will be concentrated on what happens in the trial court and what might happen in other states. 

April 26, 2019 in Abortion, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Maine Votes With, and For, Ranked Choice Voting

Maine became the first state this week to use ranked-choice-voting in a state-wide election. In addition to electing candidates in the primaries, Maine voters also voted in favor of a referendum favoring ranked-choice.

It may seem odd that voters both used ranked-choice and voted for it in the same election. (Wouldn't a vote for it usually precede a vote using it?) Here's why: The referendum was designed to undo legislation that postponed and repealed ranked-choice voting unless a constitutional amendment (allowing it) passed before December 1, 2021. The legislation, in turn, was enacted by legislative opponents of ranked-choice, who argued, among other things, that ranked-choice violated the state constitution.

That argument didn't come out of the blue. The state supreme court issued a non-binding advisory opinion earlier this year concluding that ranked-choice did, indeed, violate the state constitution. In short, the court said ranked-choice, with its multiple-rounds that might result in a candidate with a first-round plurality from losing the election (when there are three or more candidates), violated the state constitutional provisions that say that the winning candidate in an election is the person who receives a "plurality" of the vote. The court explained:

The Act, in contrast, provides for the tabulation of votes in rounds. Thus, the Act prevents the recognition of the winning candidate when the first plurality is identified. According to the terms of the Constitution, a candidate who receives a plurality of the votes would be declared the winner in that election. The Act, in contrast, would not declare the plurality candidate the winner of the election, but would require continued tabulation until a majority is achieved or all votes are exhausted. Accordingly, the Act is not simply another method of carrying out the Constitution's requirement of a plurality. In essence, the Act is inapplicable if there are only two candidates, and it is in direct conflict with the Constitution if there are more than two candidates.

The discrepancy between the Act and the Constitution is easily illustrated by the simplest of scenarios. If, after one round of counting, a candidate obtained a plurality of the votes but not a majority, that candidate would be declared the winner according to the Maine Constitution as it currently exists. According to the Act, however, that same candidate would not then be declared the winner.

Instead, the candidate, though already having obtained a plurality of the votes, would be subject to additional rounds of counting in which second, third, and fourth choices are accounted for and the lowest vote-garnering candidates are successively eliminated. Once those additional rounds are completed, a different candidate may be declared the winner--not because that second candidate obtained a plurality of the votes (which the first candidate had already obtained), but because that candidate obtained a majority of the votes after eliminating the other candidates by taking into account the second, third, and fourth place preferences, or because the ballots have been exhausted. In this way, the Act prevents the candidate obtaining a "plurality" from being named the winner unless and until multiple rounds of vote-counting have occurred.

(NB: The ruling is as interesting, or more, for its analysis of the court's power to issue advisory opinions in the context of Maine constitutional separation of powers.)

The ruling is merely advisory, however, and not binding. So there's no definitive say-so as to the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in the state. Because the referendum removes the legislative barrier to ranked-choice in the absence of a constitutional amendment by December 2021, unless there's an actual and adversarial court case challenging ranked choice (and winning), we'll see it again in the next election, constitutional amendment or not.

June 16, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Zervos v. Trump: New York's Highest Court Refuses Appeal

On its own motion, the New York Court of Appeals (NY's highest court) dismissed the appeal by Donald Trump in Trump v. Zervos.

From its decision list, the court's entire "opinion" reads:

On the Court's own motion, appeal dismissed,without costs, upon the ground that the order appealed from does not finally determine the action within the meaning of the Constitution.

Motion for leave to appeal dismissed upon the ground that the order sought to be appealed from does not finally determine the action within the meaning of the Constitution.

Motion for a stay dismissed as academic.

Recall that in May, the appellate division in New York denied President Trump's motion for a stay, in a summary decision.  Recall that in March, the state trial judge ruled 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. The trial judge decided that the holding of  the United States Supreme Court in its unanimous 1997 decision of Clinton v. Jones that then-President Clinton was subject to suit in federal court extended to state court.

Petitioning the United States Supreme Court for a stay would be the next step if the president wants to halt the defamation lawsuit against him for as long as he is president. Otherwise, the case will proceed including presumably discovery which would mean a deposition of the president.

1000px-Seal_of_the_New_York_Court_of_Appeals.svg

 

 

June 14, 2018 in Executive Authority, Executive Privilege, First Amendment, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sixth Circuit Upholds State Single-Subject Ballot-Initiative Rule Against First Amendment Challenge

The Sixth Circuit ruled last week that Ohio's single-subject rule for ballot initiatives doesn't violate the First Amendment. The ruling upholds a state Ballot Board order requiring the plaintiffs to split their initiative--which includes one question on term limits for state supreme court justices and another to apply all laws "that apply to the people" of the state "equally to the members and employees of the General Assembly"--into two.

The case, Committee to Impose Term Limits v. Ohio Ballot Board, arose when the state Ballot Board rejected the plaintiffs' request to include a ballot question with two parts--one to impose term limits on Ohio supreme court justices, and the other to apply laws equally to members of the General Assembly. The Board ruled that state single-subject rule for ballot initiatives required the plaintiffs to split the questions. The plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Board's ruling violated the First Amendment.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the single-subject rule was a content-based restriction on speech and instead applied the Anderson-Burdick balancing test for "minimally burdensome and nondiscriminatory regulations." Under the balancing test, the court said that the single-subject rule amounted to only a minimal burden on the plaintiffs, but that it was justified by multiple state interests (avoiding confusion at the ballot box, promoting informed decision-making, preventing logrolling).

The ruling aligns with every other circuit that addressed the question post-Buckley v. Valeo.

March 26, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Sixth Circuit OKs Voting on Tennessee State Constitutional Abortion Amendment

The Sixth Circuit ruled today that voting rules on a proposed state constitutional amendment providing that the state constitution is not to be construed as protecting the right to abortion did not violate due process and equal protection. The ruling means that the state constitutional amendment can go into effect (although, given the federal right to abortion, it'll have no practical impact).

The case, George v. Hargett, arose when Tennessee voters approved an amendment to the Tennessee Constitution prohibiting construction of the state constitution to secure or protect the right to abortion or to require funding for abortion. Opponents of the measure sued, arguing that the voting rules for state constitutional amendments, found in Article XI, Section 3, of the state constitution, violated due process and equal protection.

Article XI, Section 3, provides:

if the people shall approve and ratify such amendment or amendments by a majority of all the citizens of the State voting for Governor, voting in their favor, such amendment or amendments shall become a part of this Constitution.

The language is vague as to whether a vote must vote in both the gubernatorial election and on the amendment, or whether a voter could vote on the amendment without also voting in the gubernatorial election. (State practice said the latter.) So during the campaign, amendment supporters urged voters to vote for the proposed amendment, but not to vote in the gubernatorial election, in order to gain a numerical advantage. In contrast, amendment opponents urged voters to vote in both the gubernatorial election and on the amendment, in order to gain their own numerical advantage.

Tennessee voters voted in favor of the amendment. And for the first time in the state's history, the number of ballots cast on the amendment question exceeded the number of ballots in the gubernatorial election (reflecting the strength of the political campaign in favor of the amendment). This made the math easy: under Article XI, Section 3, the number of votes in favor of the amendment clearly exceeded half the number of total votes in the gubernatorial election.

Amendment opponents sued, arguing that Article XI, Section 3, under the prevailing interpretation, violated due process and equal protection. (They also argued for a different interpretation of Article XI, Section 3--that only those voters who also voted for governor could vote for the amendment--but the Sixth Circuit deferred to a final state court ruling that voters could vote on an amendment without also voting for governor.)

The Sixth Circuit rejected those claims. The court said that there was no due process violation, because no "voter's right to vote was burdened by government action." In short, the voting rules (set by the state court) allowed everyone to vote on the amendment, and counted all the votes on the amendment. The court said that there was no equal protection violation, because "[e]very vote cast--on the amendment and in the governor's race--was accorded the same weight."

The ruling ends the challenge and means that Tennessee's Constitution now contains a provision that prohibits an interpretation to secure or protect the right to abortion. But again: This'll have no practical effect on the right to abortion in the state, given the federal constitutional right to abortion.

January 9, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

ACS Issue Brief: The Troubling Turn in State Preemption

Check out the latest American Constitution Society Issue Brief, The Troubling Turn in State Preemption: The Assault on Progressive Cities and How Cities Can Respond, by Richard Briffault, Nestor Davidson, Paul A. Diller, Olatunde Johnson, and Richard C. Schragger. From the intro:

This Issue Brief canvasses the current wave of preemption and the primary legal theories that these state-local conflicts present, as well as claims that might arise as these battles continue. The Brief also explores other possibilities for strengthening home rule to advance progressive local policymaking at a moment when cities increasingly stand on the front lines of economic justice, civil rights, sustainable development, and so many other critical policy domains.

October 5, 2017 in News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Seventh Circuit Upholds Chicago's Puppy-Mill Ban

The Seventh Circuit upheld Chicago's "puppy mill" ordinance, which limits the sources from which city-licensed pet stores may obtain certain pets for resale, against a challenge under the Illinois Constitution's home-rule provision and the federal dormant Commerce Clause. The ruling leaves the ordinance in place.

Chicago's ordinance says that pet retailers in the city "may offer for sale only those dogs, cats, or rabbits" obtained from an animal control or care center, pound, or kennel operated by local, state, or federal government or "a humane society or rescue organization." The ordinance means that pet stores can't get their animals from large, mill-style breeders. Chicago adopted the law in order to protect against the "economic and emotional burdens for pet owners and [the] financial costs on the City as owners abandon their physically or emotionally challenged pets or surrender them to the [city shelter]."

Two Chicago pet stores and a Missouri dog breeder sued, arguing that the ordinance exceeded Chicago's authority under the Illinois Constitution's home-rule provision and violated the federal dormant Commerce Clause.

The Seventh Circuit disagreed. As to the home-rule argument, the court said that the Illinois Constitution permits Chicago to regulate in an area, concurrently with the state, so long as the General Assembly doesn't "specifically limit" it or "specifically declare the State's exercise to be exclusive." Because state law doesn't restrict, but actually preserves, municipal power to regulate animal care and welfare, the court said that Chicago's ordinance doesn't exceed its home-rule authority.

As to the dormant Commerce Clause, the court said that it didn't even apply, because Chicago's ordinance doesn't discriminate against interstate commerce. The court ruled that circuit law said that a state or local law that doesn't discriminate on its face or in effect doesn't even implicate the dormant Commerce Clause. "No disparate treatment, no disparate impact, no problem under the dormant commerce clause." The court therefore declined to apply Pike balancing, and ruled that the ordinance easily satisfied the default rationality review.

Judge Hamilton dissented in part, arguing that the court should have applied Pike balancing, because Dep't of Revenue of Kentucky v. Davis and United Haulers Ass'n v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste clarified that "even nondiscriminatory burdens on commerce" are subject to Pike balancing and "may be struck down on a showing that those burdens clearly outweigh the benefits of a state or local practice." Judge Hamilton also argued that the majority applied an overly rigid pleading standard by not crediting the plaintiffs' allegations in the complaint that Chicago's ordinance would disparately impact out-of-staters.

September 21, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

State Attorney Argues Separation of Powers in Lawsuit Against Governor Over Death Penalty

Aramis Ayala, the State Attorney for Florida's Ninth Judicial Circuit, filed suit yesterday against Governor Rick Scott over Scott's effort to remove Ayala from 23 pending homicide cases. Scott issued a series of executive orders purporting to transfer the cases to a neighboring state attorney after Ayala announced that she would not seek the death penalty in some of those cases.

Ayala's lawsuit raises state constitutional separation-of-powers issues, pitting the independently-elected State Attorney's authority to prosecute cases within her jurisdiction against the Governor's authority to execute the law.

In particular, Ayala argues in her state supreme court writ of quo warranto that Scott's executive orders violate the state attorney's power to prosecute all cases in that circuit. Article V, Section 17 of the Florida Constitution provides that the state attorney for each judicial circuit "shall be the prosecuting officer in all trial courts in that circuit." The constitution contains two exceptions, but neither applies. Ayala argues that Scott's executive orders violate the provision vesting her office alone with prosecutorial authority within her district.

Ayala also claims that the governor's constitutional powers to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed" and "supreme executive power" don't authorize his actions, because the Florida Constitution specifically allotted her powers in Article V, Section 17.

Finally, Ayala contends that Scott's moves violate functional separation of powers. Drawing on Florida's strict separation clause ("No person belonging to one branch of government shall exercise any powers appertaining to either of the other branches unless expressly provided herein."), Ayala says that Scott's executive orders infringe on her role as a quasi-judicial officer and on the state judiciary itself:

Here, Scott has purported to remove Ayala entirely from the cases that his orders apply to. So under the Governor's orders, not only would Ayala not decide whether to seek the death penalty here, she also would not participate in other crucial aspects of the case, including ensuring compliance with Brady v. Maryland, safeguarding a fair trial, and considering the interests of the victims and the public. Those latter functions are precisely those that an independent judiciary protects and that the executive may not meddle in.

Ayala simultaneously filed a federal lawsuit, arguing that Scott's moves violate equal protect and due process. But she moved to stay federal proceedings pending the outcome of her state claims.

April 12, 2017 in News, Separation of Powers, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Oklahoma Supreme Court Declares State Abortion Law Unconstitutional

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.

140px-Seal_of_Oklahoma.svgThe 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]

December 21, 2016 in Abortion, Reproductive Rights, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Alaska Supreme Court Holds Parental Notification Law Violates State Constitution's Equal Protection Clause

In its opinion in Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest v. State of Alaska, the Alaska Supreme Court held unconstitutional the 2010 voter-enacted Parental Notification Law which required 48-hour advance parental notice before a physician may terminate a minor’s pregnancy, but importantly not before a physician could provide other care.  The court's majority opinion, authored by Justice Daniel Winfree, found that the Parental Notification Law violates the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee by unjustifiably burdening the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than applying equally to all pregnant minors.

Although explicitly under the state constitution, the court's equal protection analysis is a familiar one and executed with great precision.  The court first identifies the classification - - - pregnant minors seeking termination and pregnant minors seeking to carry to term - - - and then identifies the level of scrutiny; because the right at stake is the fundamental one of reproductive choice is strict scrutiny. Applying the level of scrutiny, the court then examined the state's interests and the means chosen to effectuate those interests.

The court noted that to "justify differently burdening fundamental privacy rights, the State’s interests in doing so must be compelling," and that the State asserts two main interests as justifying the Notification Law’s disparate treatment of pregnant minors: (1) “aiding parents to fulfill their parental responsibilities” and (2) “protecting minors from their immaturity.” The court accepted that these were compelling interests, even as it refined the immaturity interest because "immaturity in and of itself is not a harm."  Instead, the court defined the interest in “protecting minors from their immaturity”  as "protecting minors from specific pitfalls and dangers to which their immaturity makes them especially susceptible" which in this case would be risks to mental and physical health and from sexual abuse.

The problem arose - - - as it so often does in equal protection - - - with the "fit" between the state's chosen means to effectuate its interests.  As to the parental responsibility interest:

We conclude that vindicating the State’s compelling interest in encouraging parental involvement in minors’ pregnancy-related decisions does not support the Notification Law’s disparate treatment of the two classes of pregnant minors. Parents do have an “important ‘guiding role’ to play in the upbringing of their children.” We have said that “it is the right and duty, privilege and burden, of all parents to involve themselves in their children’s lives; to provide their children with emotional, physical, and material support; and to instill in their children ‘moral standards, religious beliefs, and elements of good citizenship.’ ” But as the State acknowledged at oral argument, this must be true for all pregnant minors’ parents, not just those whose daughters are considering termination.

[footnotes omitted; emphasis added].  Similarly, regarding the minor's immaturity, the court concluded that the statute suffered from being

under-inclusive because the governmental interests asserted in this case are implicated for all pregnant minors — as they face reproductive choices and as they live with their decisions — and the asserted justifications for disparate treatment based upon a minor’s actual reproductive choice are unconvincing.

One of the complicating legal issues of the case was the effect of a previous decision regarding a parental consent law, which the concurring opinion argued precluded an equal protection analysis.  Instead, the concurring opinion argued that the 2010 statute was unconstitutional under the state constitution's privacy provision.

One of the five Justices of the Alaska Supreme Court dissented, arguing that the 2010 Parental Notification law violated neither equal protection nor privacy and was thus constitutional.

As the majority opinion notes, other states have similarly found state constitutional infirmities with parental notification laws. The Alaska opinion, however, is particularly well-reasoned and applicable to many state constitutions.

Alaska skies
Alaska Skies mural in Alaska Supreme Court via

 

 

 

July 22, 2016 in Abortion, Cases and Case Materials, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Gender, Medical Decisions, Privacy, Sexuality, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Charged with Judicial Misconduct Based on Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

The continuing saga of the controversial Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Roy S. Moore, has taken another turn with a complaint against him filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, in the special Court of the Judiciary. [While the entire complaint is almost 300 pages, more than 250 pages are devoted to the 17 appendixes of supporting documents including opinions and letters].

As the complaint notes, this is not the first time that Justice Roy Moore has been before the Court of the Judiciary: the court removed him from office in 2003 for violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics for failure to obey an injunction from a federal district court.  (He was re-elected in 2013.) While that earlier controversy revolved around the placement of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, the present one concerns Justice Moore's actions on same-sex marriage.  As the complaint summarizes it, Chief Justice Moore's pertinent conduct "involves the interplay of four cases":

 The complaint gives a good chronology of the various events which have been contentious.  As we previously noted, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a judicial ethics complaint after Chief Justice Moore penned a letter to the Governor arguing that the state should not - - - and need not - - - comply with the federal order on same-sex marriage.

One of the more interesting aspects of the ethics charges is this:

On January 6, 2016—despite the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, despite the United States District Court's injunction against all Alabama probate judges that specifically enjoined them from obeying any contrary order of the Alabama Supreme Court, and despite the Eleventh Circuit's October 20, 2015 order recognizing the abrogation of API by Obergefell—Chief Justice Moore, under the guise of his administrative authority as Chief Justice, unilaterally issued an Administrative Order to all probate judges that they continue to have a ministerial duty under API to enforce the Alabama marriage laws against same-sex couples.   His Administrative Order states in part:

IT IS ORDERED AND DIRECTED THAT: Until further decision by the Alabama Supreme Court, the existing orders of the Alabama Supreme Court that Alabama probate judges have a ministerial duty not to issue any marriage license contrary to the Alabama sanctity of Marriage Amendment or the Alabama Marriage Protection Act remain in full force and effect.

[paragraph 38].  In paragraph 3, the complaint stated "Significant to the context of this matter is that the vast majority of probate judges in this state are not licensed to practice law."  However, the probate judges would be bound by the Canons of Judicial Ethics; the complaint alleges that Moore "flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority as chief administrative officer of Alabama's judicial branch by "ordering or appearing to order" the probate judges not to obey the federal district court's injunction and thus ordering the probate judges to commit violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics "knowingly subjecting them to potential prosecution and removal from office."

Thus, it is not only Moore's own refusal to abide by federal interpretations of the United States Constitution, but his ordering of subordinates to do so that are included in the six specific charges against him, all of which involve alleged violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which, broadly stated are:

  • Canon 1.     A judge should uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
  • Canon 2.     A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities.
  • Canon 3.     A judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently.

Chief Justice Moore has reportedly been suspended, pending the decision of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary, which is composed of judges, lawyers, and lay persons, and has the power to remove the Justice.  Interestingly, appeal from the Alabama Court of the Judiciary is to Supreme Court of Alabama.

 

 

video via

May 7, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Recent Cases, Sexual Orientation, State Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

California Appellate Court Finds State Teacher Tenure Statute Constitutional

In its opinion in Vergara v. California today, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District of California reversed the conclusion of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu that the state tenure statutes for public school teachers violate the California Constitution's provisions on equal protection and provision of education. California's so-called teacher tenure statutes challenged in the action are provisions of California's Education Code governing teacher employment, including the permanent employment statute (§44929.21(b)); dismissal statutes (§§ 4493444938(b)(l) and (2) and 44944); and a seniority statute, "Last In First Out" or "LIFO" statute (§44955).

In a nutshell, the appellate court found:

Plaintiffs failed to establish that the challenged statutes violate equal protection, primarily because they did not show that the statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students to receive an education inferior to the education received by other students. Although the statutes may lead to the hiring and retention of more ineffective teachers than a hypothetical alternative system would, the statutes do not address the assignment of teachers; instead, administrators—not the statutes—ultimately determine where teachers within a district are assigned to teach. Critically, plaintiffs failed to show that the statutes themselves make any certain group of students more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers than any other group of students.

1024px-Elias_Martin_-_Reading_Lesson_at_a_Dame_School
Reading Lesson at a Dame School, by Elias Martin (1739–1818) via

The appellate court implied that the trial judge had misconstrued his constitutional task:

With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes. The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are “a good idea.” (McHugh v. Santa Monica Rent Control Bd. (1989) 49 Cal.3d 348, 388.) Additionally, our review is limited to the particular constitutional challenge that plaintiffs decided to bring. Plaintiffs brought a facial equal protection challenge, meaning they challenged the statutes themselves, not how the statutes are implemented in particular school districts. Since plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statutes violate equal protection on their face, the judgment cannot be affirmed.

The appellate court's 36 page opinion contains a careful rehearsal of the evidence before the trial judge as well as a discussion of his opinion.  In its own analysis, the appellate court considered the plaintiffs' original contentions that:

the challenged statutes create an oversupply of grossly ineffective teachers because (i) the tenure statute’s probationary period is too short, preventing the identification of grossly ineffective teachers before the mandated deadline for reelection; (ii) when grossly ineffective tenured teachers are identified, it is functionally impossible to terminate them under the overly burdensome and complicated dismissal statutes; and (iii) when reductions-in-force are required, the statute requires the termination of junior, competent teachers while more senior, grossly ineffective teachers keep their jobs only because they have seniority. Plaintiffs argued, and the trial court agreed, that two distinct classes of students—Group 1 (an “unlucky subset” of students within the population of students at large) and Group 2 (poor and minority students)—were denied equal protection because the challenged statutes led members of these groups to be assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.

The unanimous panel found that there was no "identifiable class" for equal protection purposes:  the group of "unlucky students" who are allegedly harmed by being assigned to grossly ineffective teachers have only one defining characteristic - - - they are assigned to grossly ineffective teachers.  As for the second group - - - identified as poor and minority students - - - the appellate court found that there was insufficient causation for a facial constitutional violation: "the statutes do not differentiate by any distinguishing characteristic, including race or wealth."  While it is possible, the appellate court noted, that the plaintiffs could have shown that the implementation of the statutes inevitably resulted in "consequential assignment of disproportionately high numbers of grossly inefficient teachers to schools predominantly serving low-income and minority students," the plaintiffs here did not make such a showing.

While the appellate court recognized there were "deplorable staffing decisions made by some local administrators," this was not sufficient to support a facial challenge to teacher tenure statutes. 

The appellate decision is much better reasoned than the trial judge's opinion, which derided the "uber due process" provided by the statutes and did not elaborate on the facts and evidence.  It is likely to stand.

April 14, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Current Affairs, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Split Rulings for Illinois Public Employees

The Illinois Supreme Court today issued two opinions on state constitutional provisions as they relate to public employees' compensation. One went for the employees; the other went for the state.

In the first, Jones v. Municipal Employees' Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago, the court ruled that the state's effort to cut back on promised annuity payment increases under public-sector union contracts violated the state constitutional Pension Protection Clause. The case involved Public Act 98-641, which would have, among other things, cut the flat annual annuity increases under the contract in order to bring the funds back to solvency. Union members sued, arguing that the provision violated the state constitution's Pension Protection Clause, which says: "Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired."

The court agreed. It said that the Clause means what it says--"shall not be diminished" really means "shall not be diminished"--and that Public Act 98-641 therefore violates it. The court rejected the state's arguments that the Act, when read as a whole, actually provides a net benefit to members and that the Act was part of a bargained-for exchange supported by consideration.

While Jones is a win for public employees, the other case, State of Illinois v. AFSCME, most certainly is not. In AFSCME, the state legislature failed to fund a promised 2-percent raise for certain government employees, even though that raise itself was a concession by those employees, who were entitled to a 4-percent raise under their contract. (In order to meet the state's fiscal crisis, the union and state agreed to a 2-percent raise on schedule, and a later, additional 2-percent raise, for a total of 4 percent--the contractual amount.) AFSCME took the case to an arbitrator and won, but the court reversed. The court said that the state constitutional Appropriations Clause overrode the agreement. That Clause reads: "The General Assembly by law shall make appropriations for all expenditures of public funds by the State." Moreover, an Illinois statute qualifies all public-sector collective bargaining with this language: "Subject to the appropriation power of [the legislature] . . . ." The court said that the Appropriations Clause and Illinois law together mean that the legislature can effectively override a promised contractual raise by failing to fund it.

Justice Kilbride dissented on this point. He argued that the legislature's failure to fund the 2-percent raise constituted a violation of the state constitution's Contract Clause.

March 24, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)