Friday, January 13, 2017
Last of its kind?
DOJ has entered into a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department in a § 14141 action. As with many of the consent decrees we have seen from the Obama DOJ, it requires extensive changes to department policies and practices with respect to use of force, community engagement, and respect for the rights of people to speak and protest in public and to observe and record police activity. It also requires development of new practices with respect to transporting persons in custody and dealing with people with behavioral disabilities.
The question is whether this is the last such consent decree we see for awhile. Jeff Sessions does not appear to see systemic unconstitutionality in state and local police departments, nor does he appear to believe that the federal government and federal courts should oversee the operations of local agencies. It is unlikely that whoever Bush Trump appoints to head the Civil Rights Division will take a much different view of the matter. Extensive use of consent decrees through § 14141 is not in the Republican playbook--the Bush DOJ brought few civil actions and entered few consent decrees, preferring to engage in informal negotiations and letters of agreement, a less-adversarial/more-cooperative approach that does not necessarily produce as comprehensive reforms.
Monday, January 09, 2017
Shorter White v. Pauly
Unless an officer walks up to an unarmed man and shoots him in the head while shouting that he knows the victim was not a threat, stop denying police officers summary judgment in excessive force cases.
Less Hollow Hope on the defensive side
Judicial appointments always seem to be less of a high agenda item for Democrats than for Republicans. At the voting level, polls show that voters who identified the composition of SCOTUS and the federal courts as the most or a very important issue broke strongly for Trump.*
[*] On an AALS panel about the presidential transition, Steven Calabresi argued that this means Trump's promises about judicial appointments, especially to SCOTUS, are the equivalent of Bush I's "read my lips," to which Republican voters will hold him. If Calabresi is right, this will affect the result of any systematic Democratic efforts to oppose any Trump nominee.
At the presidential level, Reagan appointed 50 more judges in his eight years than Obama did in his, and Obama leaves office with about twice as many judicial vacancies (more than 100) than Bush II left in 2009. (So however Obama transformed the federal judiciary likely will be undone by Trump, who has a significant number of lower-court vacancies to fill immediately, along with the Scalia seat). Although Obama nominated and praised Merrick Garland and did speak about the waiting nomination, he did not do it so loudly or so often to keep the issue from largely disappearing from the news. I do not know if more political heat would have changed anything--if Republican voters genuinely care more about the courts than Democratic voters, there was no constituency to force Republican hands on this.*
[*] Which may offer another reason that Democratic attempts to hold the Scalia seat open indefinitely will fail--the Republican voters outraged at the obstruction will be louder and more numerous than were the Democratic voters outraged over Garland.
Some of Obama's less-than-complete success is due to Republican obstruction and that the Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed virtually no nominees during the past two years. But Obama had six years of a Democratic Senate, the last two of those without a filibuster on lower-court nominees (although still blue slips), which might have allowed him to push through a bigger flood of lower-court judges into those vacancies, had he been so inclined. (And this is without getting into judicial ideology, where Obama's (and Bill Clinton's) nominees never appear to be as liberal as Bush's (and likely Trump's) have been conservative).
But Obama never seemed so inclined, at least not outwardly or forcefully. One possible explanation is that Obama adheres to the arguments of University of Chicago political scientist Gerald Rosenberg in The Hollow Hope that the courts are not effective agents of social and political change and that progressive activists must focus more on the political branches. (The greatest social-change success came during the 1960s, the one time in history when the courts and Congress were on the same page). Obama is, at heart, a believer in political activism on the ground, back to his days as a community organizer, rather than in the courts. And that seems to have affected his approach to filling judgeships.
But there is a defensive component to our hopes for the courts. Courts are essential to protect what activists achieve in the democratic process. Or, stated, differently, they offer the other side a great way to stop or reverse social change that comes from the political branches. Packing the courts with Democratic nominees is essential to secure those political-branch successes, even if the courts should not be the primary target for establishing rights in the first place.
And it is not only about protecting statutes and regulations from declarations of unconstitutionality.*
[*] See Voting Rights Act or the Medicaid expansion or DAPA. Or, historically, everything between 1933 and 1937. Or imagine if a Republican-controlled Court had come out the other way on the constitutionality of public-accommodations provisions.
It is, perhaps more importantly, about protecting against judicial interpretation and construction that sharply narrow the scope of those statutes and regs, thereby undermining their impact and social-change purposes.*
[*] See, e.g., restrictive interpretations of Title VII and other employment discrimination laws.
And we can add to that sub-constitutional procedural decisions closing the courthouse doors to those who would seek to avail themselves of statutory and constitutional rights.
[*] See Twiqbal or recent restrictions on class actions.
That is what Republicans achieve by dominating the courts and by making that dominance a central goal of every presidential administration. And what Democrats lose by not. The power to reverse that trend is what was lost by the failed Garland nomination, the failed Clinton candidacy,the failure of Obama to push more on judges, especially in his first six years, and the substantial number of vacancies he leaves to be filled by President Trump. (I recognize this reflects the "Disease of More": Obama achieved a lot with respect to the federal judiciary--it just never feels like enough).
And to put on a candidly partisan hat for a moment (remember, the banner says "almost always"): This, more than the probable loss of Roe as a constitutional doctrine or the loss of an opportunity to finally define and implement a vigorous liberal constitutionalism, is what saddened me most about the results of this election.
Saturday, January 07, 2017
Elevating judges during recess
Based on comments to my earlier post and some emails, the key question on elevation and resignation is more specific: Is a judge elevated on a recess appointment differently situated than a judge elevated through the ordinary appointment process.
It seems to me that a recess appointment is substantively the same as a regular appointment, but the process is flipped--the nominee assumes the office first and then the Senate confirms (or does not confirm). But during the recess-appointment period (the period between the appointment and Senate confirmation), the officer is in all senses identical to someone appointed through the regular process, fully occupying that office and exercising its powers to the same extent. That being the case, if acceptance of a regular appointment accompanies a resignation from the lower-court (however that happens and pursuant to whatever legal source), so should acceptance of a recess appointment.
The counter argument must be that the trigger for resignation of a lower-court judgeship (again, whatever the source of that requirement) remains Senate confirmation and acceptance of the commission to the higher court. On this view, a recess appointment is not substantively the same as appointment following Senate confirmation--it merely ensures that the work of the office gets done until the Senate returns and confirms, but does not alone alone fill the vacancy, impose the resignation obligation, or create the new vacancy on the lower court.
But that means Obama erred in not making a recess appointment. I had argued that it was not worth eleven months of Justice Garland (the longest he would have been able to serve, until December 2017) if the end result would be Garland on neither SCOTUS nor the DC Circuit. But my reasoning was that Obama would not want to create the lower-court vacancy and Garland is too young to want to no longer be a judge. But my conclusion rested on the premise that Garland would have been unable to return to the DC Circuit when the recess appointment ended. But if Garland's DC Circuit seat would have been waiting for him next December, then Obama had nothing to lose and everything to gain from this move.
Monday, January 02, 2017
Why We Need to Talk about Trump & Press Freedom
On Wednesday, January 5, AALS2017 kicks off with a panel on Trump & Freedom of the Press in the Plaza Room Lobby Level of the Hilton Union Square at 8:30 am.
RonNell Andersen Jones (Utah), Amy Gajda (Tulane), Sonja West (Georgia), Erwin Chemerinsky (UCI), John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, and I will be discussing what the Trump presidency might bode for press freedom. In preparation for the panel, I thought I'd share with you the research I've done suggesting why this discussion is necessary and timely. In short, here are the reasons that the media (and those of us who value the role they play in our democracy) have legitimate causes for concern that press freedom might be curtailed during the Trump Administration.
First, Donald Trump has shown himself to be remarkably thin-skinned about unflattering press coverage. Throughout his campaign and after, he has publicly berated Saturday Night Live, the New York Times, and many, many other news organizations and individual journalists (too many to enumerate here, as is evident from this list compiled by MediaMatters.org) for criticizing him or simply for covering him. Shortly after the election, he called television news anchors and executives to Trump Tower to browbeat them for their "dishonest" and "short sighted" and "outrageous" election coverage. He singled out CNN and NBC as the "worst," calling CNN "liars." All of this seems a bit churlish from a candidate who got at least $2 billion worth of free air time from these same media actors and did not hold a press conference from July 2016 until the end of December. Nonetheless, it suggests that the relationship between this President and the press will not be a smooth one.
However, more alarming than Trump's propensity to take offense at even the most innocuous press criticisms was his propensity to incite supporters against the press during his campain. Certainly other elected officials have villified and will doubtlessly continue to villify the press to score political points (think VP Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism"). However, Trump turned up the heat beyond anything previously seen. As Margaret Sullivan wrote in The Washington Post, "Donald Trump made hatred of the media the centerpiece of his campaign. Journalists were just cogs in a corporate machine, part of the rigged system." During his campaign events, he restricted press to a "pen" and then inflamed his supporters by calling them dishonest and accusing them of rigging the election and inventing stories to discredit him. His supporters often responded with boos, ugly gestures, and chants of "liars", "assholes," "CNN sucks!," and worse, causing some reporters to fear for their safety.
Trump further displayed a lack of appreciation (or perhaps contempt?) for pool reporters by denying them traditional avenues of access. Unlike previous candidates, Trump never allowed the press on his plane. He also revoked credentials or denied credentials of those who garnered his special ire. Although Trump has promised to have a "normal" press pool as president, he's shown a willingness since being elected to deny pool coverage of important meetings and to ditch his press pool at will. He's also stated he may change the format of press briefings, in an as yet unspecified way. On a somewhat more positive note, he has granted interviews to several outlets since his election, including The Today Show, 60 Minutes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time Magazine, though his anti-media rhetoric and disrespect for traditional channels of access cast doubt on whether this trend will continue once he's in office.
Other causes for concern about Trump's respect for press freedom abound. During the campaign, he promised, if elected, to "open up libel laws" to make it easier for public figures to sue the press, a threat that betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of libel law and constitutional constraints on the President. More alarmingly, Trump has shown a propensity to threaten lawsuits against journalists or actually sue over both innocuous criticisms and normal news coverage. As an ABA report revealed, "Trump and his companies have been involved in a mind-boggling 4,000 lawsuits over the last 30 years and sent countless threatening cease-and-desist letters to journalists and critics. But the GOP presidential nominee and his companies have never won a single speech-related case filed in a public court." Defending libel suits is expensive, even if one ultimately wins; thus, the mere prospect of being sued for libel can have a chilling effect on reporting. In fact, there's evidence that Trump's reputation as a "libel bully' has already chilled some speakers and is likely to chill others.
Beyond that, Trump has praised ruthless dictators who have trampled press freedoms and targeted journalists for assassination. In fact, when asked if his praise of Vladimir Putin was tempered by Russia's killing of journalists, Trump said no: “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” Such rhetoric would be chilling, even in isolation, but of course it is not in isolation.
Meanwhile, Trump comes into office on the heels of a President who has already eroded the press's ability to perform its watchdog role by aggressively pursuing leaks investigation against government employees, subpoenaing reporters to reveal confidential sources, and monitoring telephone and email records of journalists in service of leaks investigation. As Dana Priest of the Washington Post stated: “Obama’s attorney general repeatedly allowed the F.B.I. to use intrusive measures against reporters more often than any time in recent memory. The moral obstacles have been cleared for Trump’s attorney general to go even further, to forget that it’s a free press that has distinguished us from other countries, and to try to silence dissent by silencing an institution whose job is to give voice to dissent.” President-Elect Trump has not signaled whether he will continue such practices, but the fact that his former campaign manager said that the executive editor of the New York Times should be in jail for publishing Trump's tax returns doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Trump also has not signaled how executive agencies within his administration will be directed to handle Freedom of Information Act requests, and although an RNC spokesman has praised the transparency of the Trump transition, Trump's previous treatment of the press, together with his refusal to release his tax returns, certainly gives reason for doubt on this score as well.
In addition to these causes for concern, the media have their own issues that may hamper their ability to perform their watchdog role during the Trump presidency. Trump is a genius at newsjacking. He is able to set the agenda of the media with his tweets and drown out negative coverage. Trump's "Hamilton" tweet, for example, garnered more eyeballs than the $25 million settlement of a fraud suit against Trump University. Meanwhile, the struggle to maintain press freedoms comes at a time when the public's views toward the media are increasingly hostile, many segments of the media face revenue challenges, and fake news undermines the role of legitimate journalism in furthering democratic self-governance. [Not to mention that "post-truth" was the OED's 2016 word of the year.] These issues, and many more, will give the Trump & Press Freedom panel ample fodder for discussion. I hope you can join us.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
Ahead and behind in the Merrick Garland debacle
Merrick Garland will not be on the Supreme Court. Garland has resumed participating in cases on the D.C. Circuit (for the past 240 days, he had only been performing his administrative chief-judge tasks) and is scheduled to sit on a panel in mid-January. Some still hold out hope that President Obama will surprise everyone and make a recess appointment on January 3. But as I wrote previously: 1) that is not Obama's style and 2) because the Republican Senate will not affirm the appointment, it would end at the close of the next session of Congress in December 2017, leaving Garland without a job (since he will have given up his D.C. Circuit seat) at only 65 years old, a deal I do not see him taking. We might add as a # 3 that if Obama did this, Congress could enact a law in January declaring the first session of the 115th Congress over immediately, thereby terminating Garland's recess appointment immediately.
For now, I want to consider who within or around the Court comes out ahead and who behind in this debacle.
Obviously, Garland is worst off, as he never will take a seat on the Court despite being as qualified as any recent nominee. The other person who is worse off is Justice Kagan, whose role on the Court has changed, perhaps for the whole of her tenure. She is now the best, most engaging writer on the Court. Given the opportunity to work with a liberal majority with Breyer or Garland as the Court's median, Kagan might have assumed the William Brennan role of the intellectual heart of the liberal majority, crafting doctrine and decisions to hold that majority together and perhaps even appeal to the rest of the Court more broadly. Particularly once Justice Ginsburg left the Court, Kagan might have been the intellectual center of a liberal Court.
The obvious person to come out ahead is whoever Donald Trump puts on the Court, who otherwise would not have gotten there. The other is Chief Justice Roberts. He avoids the prospect of being a Chief regularly in the minority and assigning dissents rather than majority opinions (the scramble to find an historical example of a Chief in that situation landed on Charles Evans Hughes during the New Deal, although he was not a consistent vote in favor of the validity of New Deal legislation). Or the alternative prospect of regularly moderating his own constitutional views to join the majority in order to retain the assignment power.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Donald Trump plans to maintain a private security detail as President on top of his secret service team. If recent history is any guide, this group will overstep and violate someone's right. So: Do members of the detail act under color of federal law for constitutional purposes and, relatedly, are they subject to Bivens liability? And, if so, are they entitled to qualified immunity?
As to the first: One possible test is traditional public function, as protecting the President has, since 1901, been the exclusive domain of the Secret Service. A second is close nexus, which may depend on how much connection and collaboration there is between the private detail and the Secret Service or other White House and executive-branch personnel. A third possibility may depend on who is paying this detail--Trump himself or the government. Trump paid for the force during the campaign, much of it from campaign contributions; no word on whether that arrangement will continue. The trickier part may be Minneci v. Pollard, which could be read to reject "extending" Bivens to private actors, especially where state tort remedies (here, e.g., for assault) are available. At some level, this raises a situation of under-color-by-necessity: It would be intolerable for the President to be able to surround himself with a private security/intelligence detail operating above constitutional limitations.
As to the second: Filarsky v. Delia held that a private person hired by the government to perform public functions can claim qualified immunity. From this, it might follow that these private security officers enjoy the same immunity as federal agents (although it again may depend on who is paying and supervising them).
Update: Keith Schiller, a retired NYC cop and Navy veteran who heads Trump's security detail, will be named a personal White House aide. So that should clarify things: Schiller, as a federal employee, acts under color. And his close direction of private security personnel should be sufficient to place them under color.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
What is Obama supposed to do?
Many on the left are angry with Obama for not doing more, or at least shouting more, about the dangers of the looming Donald Trump presidency. The prevailing view is that this is not the time for Obama's "everyone chill the fuck out--I got this" style.
But what, exactly, should he be doing? One of the limitations of the office is that the current office-holder must ensure the peaceful transfer of executive power--screaming about the threat Trump poses to the nation and the world (or at least some parts of it) is not an option for someone in that office.* Nothing Obama does now can stop a Trump presidency or limit the power that Trump will wield as President (a la North Carolina). Perhaps if he had a Democratic Senate, he could at least put Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court (of course, he had a Democratic Senate, Garland already would be on the Supreme Court).
[*] There are some holding out hope that Obama will do that when the current Senate unavoidably ends on January 3. Putting aside that it is never been Obama's style. Because such an appointment would expire in December 2017, it would require Garland to give up being a judge for one year on SCOTUS. At 64, I do not believe he would make that deal.
Obama's power runs out on January 20 and there is nothing he can do to change that fact. Perhaps he believes that reminding everyone (including Trump) that actual power tends to sober people up is his best move. And if he is wrong about that, there is nothing he can do about it on December 16. The interesting question is whether Obama takes on an active opposition role as an ex-President; that is generally not done, even across party lines, but perhaps this will be the extraordinary exception. As for what he is doing about Russian interference, I assume that is happening behind the scenes.
Many believe that the transition from election to inauguration of roughly ten weeks is too long. Usually the complaint is raised because it delays the new President coming in during times of crisis, leaving a lame duck who cannot (or should not be the one to try) to handle the crisis. These complaints prompted passage of the 20th Amendment, which took effect in early 1933 during one of the two most obvious illustrations of the problem. Similar concerns were raised in 2008-09, with the economy cratering in fall 2008. Perhaps we now are seeing the flipside of the problem of the long transition--when there is nothing we can do to stop what looks like it is going to be a problematic presidency, the long delay in starting that presidency only exacerbates the fear and speculation. Let's get on with seeing what is going to happen and what we actually can do to stop the worst of it.
Think of it as the political version of ripping the band-aid off.
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Political parties and constitutional mechanisms
Piling on Lisa's post about the next steps in the presidential election (recounts in three states and the Electoral College vote on December 19):
1) Lisa correctly argues that 37 faithless electors are highly unlikely, because electors are party regulars. This shows another way that the not-accounted-for rise of political parties affects constitutional structures. The electors do exercise independent judgment. But the exercise of that judgment is affected by the existence of political parties as the unit around which elections, including the selection of electors, are organized. Electors retain independent judgment, but party affiliation affects how they exercise that judgment. It is the Daryl Levinson/Rick Pildes thesis applied to the election process.
This is why one proposed Electoral College gambit revolved around getting those 37 electors not to vote for Clinton (which partisanship deters them from doing), but to vote for a third, acceptable, competent, compromise Republican (e.g., Kasich or Romney seems to have been seduced by the cuisine of the Dark Side), who could then be chosen by the Republican-controlled House (with support from Democrats) in the contingency election.2) In early writing on presidential selection and succession, I argued that selection mechanisms could be based on any of three competing structural principles: Political parties and partisanship, democracy, or separation of powers; one or another rising to the top on different issues, principles interact in unexpected ways, and principles change over time. There is no right or wrong answer on any of this; it is a matter of which principles one favors and why.
The current discussions illustrate the point. I argue above that the current operation of the Electoral College represents the triumph of political partisanship. The calls from many that faithless electors should vote for Clinton because she won the national popular vote obviously preference democracy (at the national level).
3) Lisa points out that Clinton needs to flip all of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin to flip the election.
There are arguments that a nationwide popular vote is unworkable in a country the size of the United States and that it makes sense to run things as a series of 51 statewide elections, as we functionally have under the Electoral College (where electors will virtually always vote for the winner of their state election). The undemocratic nature of that system is due, in part, to the inclusion of equal Senate representation in the total for each state. So one way to keep the current system, but to make it slightly more popularly representative, is to base the number of votes from each state solely on population-based House representation. (Note that I am not endorsing this idea, only pointing out the arguments).
Under that system, there are 436 electoral votes (sorry, Nate Silver, you will have to rename your site), with 219 necessary for a majority.* Trump would have 246 (including MI, PA, and WI) and Clinton 190, with Clinton needing to flip 29 to win. Under this system, she could win by flipping only MI (14 votes) and PA (18), even without WI (8), although WI and one of the other two would not be enough.
[*] Under this system, Al Gore would have won in 2000 even without Florida, 225-211.
4) If any of those threw the election into the House (that is, if life imitated Veep), what would that election look like? Remember that each state caucus casts one vote based on its internal caucus vote. The likely breakdown for the new House will be 33 majority-Republican states (this includes Louisiana, whose results are not in, but which was 5-1 R this Congress and unlikely to change), 17 majority-Democratic states, and one evenly divided state (Maine). (New Jersey will flip from evenly divided to majority-Dem).
Now a lot depends on what structural principle individual House members choose to honor. It could be partisanship (as I expect it would be), in which case the Republican wins handily. It could be democracy, by looking to popular-vote results, although each must consider what level to look at--national, home state, or home district.
Who Will Be Inaugurated on January 20? (Almost Certainly Donald Trump)
Recent days have seen a surge in efforts to change the 2016 presidential results. Jill Stein is spearheading calls for recounts. Democratic-affiliated electors are joining attempts to convince their Republican-affiliated counterparts to vote faithlessly on December 19. In response to questions about these post-election developments, I thought I would provide a few quick thoughts. The punchline is straightforward: none of this activity is likely to change who will become the 45th president. The following discussion provides more context.
First, for those trying to understand the recounts, state law is what governs. As a result, the rules governing recounts vary, and the answers to legal questions—including when and how to demand a recount and which standards govern the proceedings themselves—depend on whether one is seeking to recount votes in Wisconsin, or Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Despite such variation in the rules, the ultimate outcomes of these recounts are likely to be the same. Because taken either together or individually, they are very unlikely to make a difference in the 2016 presidential race.
By my count, the outcome of the 2016 presidential race changes only if recounts flip the results in all three of these states. This is because Donald Trump’s current elector total is 306, which means he has 36 more than he needs. In other words, Trump would need to lose the votes of 37 electors in order to drop below 270. Wisconsin provides 10, Michigan provides 16, and Pennsylvania provides 20. (There is, of course, the possibility that some of the Trump electors—that is, some of the electors who were selected based on Trump’s statewide victories—will prove to be “faithless,” thereby dropping Trump’s totals under 270 without all three of these states necessarily being flipped. See below for why this is unlikely to occur and why, even if it did occur, it is unlikely to change the result.)
What are the odds that recounts will change the outcomes in all three of these states? Based on historical evidence, the odds are minuscule.
In recount terms, the apparent margins of victory in the 2016 election are huge. As a result, there is not a single modern precedent for even one of these states to experience a reversal. Supporting the conclusion that there is “essentially zero chance” that recounts in these states will reverse Trump’s lead, Josh Douglas observes that, in the last 15 years, a statewide recount has flipped the outcome of an election only three times. Each of these reversals occurred in a really close race. According to FairVote, the first of these unicorns was spotted in 2004, where a recount in Washington State swung the margin by 390 votes, which translated into 0.014% of the votes cast. The second emerged in Vermont in 2006, where the recount swung the margin by 239, or 0.107% of the votes cast. The third could be found in Minnesota in 2008, where the recount swung the margin by 440 votes, or 0.018% of the votes cast. As FairVote concluded, based on its comprehensive analysis of all the recounts (consequential or otherwise) over a ten-year period, recounts tend to “change the margin by insignificant numbers.”
The problem for Stein and others hoping for game-changing recounts? The 2016 presidential vote totals do not turn on insignificant numbers. Current estimates indicate that in Wisconsin, Donald Trump is ahead by over 20,000 votes (equaling approximately 0.8% of the total votes cast); that in Michigan he is ahead by over 10,000 votes (approximately 0.3% of the total); and in Pennsylvania he is ahead by over 65,000 votes (approximately 1.2% of the total). The idea that standard-issue recount proceedings would flip the outcome not only in one of these states, but in all three, seems beyond the realm of possibility. This reality might help to explain why Marc Elias, the lead attorney for the Clinton campaign, has repeatedly insisted that “Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t want this recount and doesn’t think it will change anything.”
Some nevertheless have suggested that illegal hacking—rather than innocuous errors—might explain Donald Trump’s leads. Under this theory, the prior recount precedents are not on point. The trouble with this theory is that there appears to be no compelling evidence to back up the hacking claims—and under any of the states’ election laws, unsubstantiated theories about the possibility of hacking (or other forms of fraud) are far from enough to overturn the results. This is, incidentally, a very good thing; the democratic process is threatened by baseless accusations of election malfeasance.
In short, it seems close to certain that recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and/or Pennsylvania will fail to change the outcome of the 2016 presidential race. In making this assertion, it’s appropriate to acknowledge that many observers of the 2016 elections placed far too much faith in historical precedent and various forms of statistical analysis when predicting how the election itself would turn out. And it’s important not to do the same here. Still, given the wide margins in these three states (and the fact that a “recount” is, at core, simply a reconsideration and re-tallying of an already analyzed set of ballots), it really is hard to understand how the ultimate outcome of the presidential race possibly could be flipped.
This, finally, leads to the question of whether a separate effort—that is, the effort to convince sufficient electors, among those who were selected based on Trump’s statewide victories, to go rogue and vote for someone other than their candidate—has any chance of changing the result. Again, the magic number is 37; anything less than that, and Trump still has the 270 votes he needs. (And, to be clear, the 37 electors need to come from states that went for Trump; it doesn’t change anything if, for example, a Washington State elector carries through with his loudly proclaimed promise not to vote for Hillary Clinton.) Among the 306 Republican-affiliated electors who have signed up to vote for the Republican candidate, is it possible that over 10 percent of them will refuse, in the face of clear election results, to cast a vote in favor of their state's preferred candidate?
Such a development is not literally impossible, and it is true that at least one such elector (from Texas) already is refusing to vote for Trump. But this outcome again seems exceedingly unlikely. Remember that these electors are not random voters or dispassionate observers; quite to the contrary, these are people selected through Republican party apparatuses to be entrusted to vote on December 19 for the candidate selected by the party. Moreover, refusing to vote for Trump would not be the same as deciding, in a vacuum, which candidate happens to be the elector's preferred choice. Rather, it would require each of these political operatives to disregard the will of their own states’ voters, who just a few weeks ago voted not for Hillary Clinton, and not for some third party candidate, but for Donald Trump. To this end, it is telling that the Trump-averse elector from Texas will not be voting for another candidate on December 19; rather, he has resigned his position as elector, thereby allowing someone who is willing to vote for Donald Trump to replace him.
And here’s the kicker to all this: even if dozens of Republican-affiliated electors were indeed to refuse to vote for Trump, thereby reducing his total to under 270 electoral votes, even that likely would not stop him from taking office. Rather, the 12th Amendment requires that, in the absence of any candidate receiving 270 votes, the decision then go to the House of Representatives. Which will be Republican controlled. And which therefore, in all likelihood, would then vote for (you guessed it): Donald Trump.
What's more, as Ned Foley has pointed out, a bizarre and convoluted statute—the Electoral Count Act of 1887—very well may empower Congress to reject rogue electors’ votes even without the 12th Amendment backstop. Without getting too much into the (deep, disorienting) weeds, the Electoral Count Act seems to empower Congress to choose between competing claims over electors. In the face of Trump challenging votes cast by faithless electors, and with Republicans set to control both the Senate and the House, it seems highly likely that Congress would avail itself of this option.
Assuming (notwithstanding all indications to the contrary) that Congress would not take such a step, it is true that there does exist a route for avoiding a Trump presidency. In this scenario, at least 38 Republican-affiliated electors (note that an additional elector, in this scenario, would be necessary) would need to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, rather than for Donald Trump, or for some other candidate, or for no one. At that point—again, assuming Congress simply were to accept such an unprecedented and controversial result rather than to resist it via the Electoral Count Act—that would bring Clinton’s electoral vote total to 270, and she would be entitled to the Presidency. A similar outcome would adhere if at least 270 (!) electors collectively broke ranks and voted for what faithless-elector advocates are referring to as a "compromise candidate." It is an understatement to say that neither of these developments seems practically or politically realistic, particularly when their success would require the tacit acquiescence of a Republican-controlled Congress.
I have one final point concerning the idea that sufficient electors might break ranks to change the outcome. In the exceedingly unlikely case that the scenario somehow were to come to pass, it is hard for me to imagine what the reaction might be from the approximately 62 million people who voted for Trump—that is, from the approximately 62 million people who voted for the candidate who seemed to have won the election but, as a result of faithlessness on the part of a handful of political insiders, suddenly lost the presidency. For those who suggest that this development could garner legitimacy—for reasons that purportedly are candidate-neutral—I would invite them to consider what their own reactions might be if the shoe were on the other foot. If an Election Night victory for Hillary Clinton, when set against the faithlessness of a relatively small number of electors, turned into a Donald Trump presidency, would they accept such a result? Do they really predict that Trump voters would?
All of this is not to say that these post-election efforts have no value. To the contrary, they constitute a protest of sorts by those who are deeply concerned about the results of the 2016 presidential election. Still, for various practical, political, and legal reasons, these efforts remain exceedingly unlikely to change which candidate, come late January, will be facing the Chief Justice with one hand in the air.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016
The return of flag burning? (Updated)
Donald Trump tweeted this morning (after the sun was up, so no 3 a.m. jokes to be had) "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!" Jonathan Chait suggests this is misdirection to cover Trump's pending kleptocracy and the (from Democrats' perspective) extreme policy ideas of his cabinet members, a red-meat issue to rile up both his critics and supporters
But it raises the question whether a flag-burning amendment is coming in the new Congress and whether it might, finally, pass. The last time it moved to a vote was 2006, the last time Republicans controlled both houses and the White House; it passed the House and fell one vote short in the Senate. And that was without an unpopular Republican President making it into a thing. With a very different, more conservative Senate and a Republican president willing to making it an issue that appeals directly to his base, might the amendment finally get out of Congress? Plus, Republicans control both chambers in 30 states and Nebraska's unicameral legislature seems likely to go for it, given the state's politics. Are there seven more states to be had in a new political environment?
Update: A number of Republican Senators and Representatives, including Mitch McConnell, reminded Trump that the First Amendment protects flag burning and the right to "disgrace" the flag. Of course, one could see many people pivoting from such "is" statements about flag burning to support an amendment that creates a new "ought." To his credit, McConnell seems more categorically opposed to messing with the First Amendment.
Second Update: What would the vote be if flag burning came anew before the current Court? The only current justice I could see ruling against flag burning being protected, based on recent First Amendment cases, is Justice Alito.
Third Update: I should add that, under the theory of departmentalism I have been espousing here and elsewhere, Trump's threats are constitutionally permissible and appropriate. If he believes flag-burning can constitutionally be punished, he is free to seek to prosecute, jail, or strip citizenship from those who burn flags. He will lose when he tries. But his actions are consistent with his oath and his Take Care obligations.
Five lessons on body cams
Elizabeth Joh (UC Davis) has this piece in Slate identifying five problems that have arisen with the implementation of police body cameras, which she turns to five lessons on the limits of technology to, alone, resolve problems. I especially appreciate points # 2 (do not adopt technology without also working out the regulatory details of how the tech will be used) and # 3 (rank-and-file police may, and have, resisted new technology). I have covered both in my writings on the subject.
Friday, November 25, 2016
What the what? Ben Carson to head HUD!
(And the real story of segregation, Detroit, AFFH, and busing)
Far be it for me to try to make rhyme or reason of Trump's cabinet picks(!), but while I wondered and worried last week about who he'd tag for HUD, Ben Carson's name didn't even come to mind. I hoped for someone like Pamela Patenaude or even former Senator Scott Brown, who instead now seems headed to be secretary of Veterans Affairs. And I worried that Trump would, instead, name someone like Robert Astorino, Westchester County Executive who has been long been fighting HUD on fair housing issues in suburban NY. Instead, we have Dr. Ben Carson, whose only experience with fair/affordable housing issues seems to be that he grew up in center-city Detroit. Carson is not a housing expert, but he has made a few discouraging (and fairly incomprehensible) statements on housing policy, for example in his 2015 op-ed in the Washington Times.
In his Washington Times op-ed, Carson calls HUD's AFFH rule "another failed socialist experiment" and draws parallels with mandated busing to de-segregate schools. In his op-ed, Carson says that busing was a failure because (1) it did not improve school integration (the percentage of blacks attending majority black schools stayed essentially the same), and (2) was "unpopular among both blacks and whites." Carson then states that mandated busing led to white flight because anyone with the means to do so moved to the suburbs "to escape mandated busing" which "contributed to a blighted inner cities in which poverty and school segregation became even more concentrated."
What the what?
First of all, I'm pretty sure that Carson means "social experiment" not "socialist experiment" (and yes, Mr. Brain Surgeon, there is a big difference).
As far as Carson's bizarre description of school busing and white flight, let's do a brief history lesson about segregation and busing in Carson's home town, Detroit.
Housing Segregation - and why we have it: Detroit is, and has long been, one of the most racially segregated cities in America (if not THE most segregated). As in other cities, segregation in Detroit was not just a naturally occurring social phenomenon. Rather, it is product of decades of deliberate governmental policies:
- The Federal Housing Administration actually created maps that disallowed lending in minority neighborhoods and then created a handbook to help neighborhoods keep their communities white (ahem..."financeable") by creating racial restrictive covenants.
- At the same time as the federal government was teaching real estate professionals how to best discriminate, it was subsidizing white home-buying in white communities into the suburbs.
- And local governments got into the discrimination game with use-based zoning laws designed to keep poorer populations "in their place" away from the more affluent, white communities.
White flight: Carson's decried "white flight" actually really started when the FHA (remember - the agency that would only lend to whites) established all sorts of policies and procedures to promote homeownership as "The American Dream," and then eased the burden of buying a home in the new, white suburbs. This is what started the trend of massive flight of whites from inner cities. So, yes, white flight was, in fact, caused by a social engineering funded and directed by the federal government, but the social experiment that caused this was the FHA policies of the 1930s-60s, not busing in the 1970s (to which Carson refers). (And since the federal gov't broke it, it has to buy it!)
During Carson's youth in Detroit (and in the decade before he was born), the demographics of the city profoundly shifted as whites fled to, but blacks were kept out of, new suburbs. This all started with post-war industrialization, when black workers migrated into the city, much to the alarm of its white residents. White residents moved into white-only suburbs when blacks moved into the city, this move aided by federal funds with segregation provided by the FHA and local zoning boards. Although it is true that banks, landlords, realtors, and wealthy homeowners had joined in a strong unholy alliance to keep minority households concentrated in high-poverty areas, it was the federal government who legally and financially established and enabled these efforts and for decades turned a blind eye to the horrific inequalities that resulted.
Race Riots and Fair Housing: When Carson was 16 years old, (1967), the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (the “CRC”) determined that 90% of the state’s nonwhite population lived in residentially segregated areas, having been “forced to live apart in urban ghettos.” (Note - This was BEFORE the busing that Carson mentioned in his op-ed.) This was not a separate-but-equal situation: minority neighborhoods had vastly inferior and higher-rent housing. The huge disparity in opportunity and quality of life that this intense segregation and inequity caused is what exploded in the deadly 1967 Detroit race riots (which, surely, Carson remembers since he was there and a teenager at the time). Michigan's fair housing legislation, enacted in 1968 just before the federal Fair Housing Act, was pushed through under the leadership of Governor George Romney (Republican) and attempted to address the huge social consequences of government (and private) housing discrimination.
Fractionalization of Detroit and Busing Schemes: Detroit is cut up into small political subdivisions - the city proper and numerous small white suburban enclaves. This reflected the white-flight development patterns of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and was enabled by the home-rule political approach to municipal authority in Michigan. Once the Fair Housing Act and Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land, the Detroit region was legally required to affirmatively further fair housing AND integrate schools "with all deliberate speed." But if each small suburban enclave was its own school district, there would be no diversity in the schools at all. Furthermore, the predominantly minority areas would have far less resources (property tax revenues) to spend on schools (as well as more municipal fiscal demands). So the Detroit Board of Education passed an integration and decentralization plan that redrew school district boundaries in order to increase school population diversity, but a group of white citizens lobbied to recall the board members and got the Michigan State Legislature to pass legislation voiding the redistricting plan. This legislation also localized school districts and further fractionalized the metro area.
The NAACP tried to fight back by filing a lawsuit claiming that the legislation was unconstitutional because it perpetuated historic segregation. The district judge agreed and struck it down. On appeal, the 6th circuit affirmed that holding and further held that since there was no longer a proposal on the table to redistrict in a way that increased diversity, Detroit metro area would have to engage in busing as the only possible way to fulfill Brown v. Board's mandate of school desegregation. (So the busing plan was NOT put into effect by HUD, Dr. Carson. Rather, it was the only option left to de-segregate schools after the housing de-segregation efforts flopped and local governments used home-rule to defeat school redistricting plans). Not only was this busing plan unpopular (as Carson states), it was eventually rejected as not constitutionally required by the US Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley (1974). It was the Supreme Court’s decision in Milliken v. Bradley that accelerated white flight, expanded the inner-city racial ghetto, and spelled the end of school desegregation in Detroit.
FYI: Here's what I've said about busing and housing segregation (in an an upcoming law review article) "Admittedly, mandatory busing schemes are emotionally charged and politically difficult. So perhaps the problem could be better addressed directly, in terms of affirmatively desegregating housing. Instead of attempting to have a regional school desegregation occur through busing, integration of residential housing would achieve desegregated schools in a more natural way. Much like the issue of school segregation, the segregation problem in housing must be considered and addressed at the regional level, not individual by each small political subdivision. Localism in housing control must give way to fairness, sustainability, and fair housing (and fair schooling) constitutional mandates."
And now -- Back to Carson's Housing Op-Ed:
After his false statements and intimations re: busing and white flight, Carson criticizes the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule of HUD as relying on a "tortured reading of the Fair Housing laws to empower HUD to “affirmatively promote” fair housing, even in the absence of explicit discrimination." In fact, no tortured reading is required at all - the affirmatively further mandate has been there since 1968, in the original Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act (and most state fair housing legislation) actually has two mandates. First, it outlaws overt discrimination based on a protected class (race, but also several other impermissible grounds). Second, it requires that local communities who receive HUD funding "affirmatively further fair housing." This second mandate was acknowledged and promoted by George Romney back when he became the Republican secretary of HUD (although he had to fight Pres. Nixon to do so). Even now, affirmatively furthering fair housing remains not only the letter of the law but somewhat of a bipartisan issue in an era of party politics extraordinare. When some republicans (Sen. Mike Lee from Utah) tried to defund HUD after the most recent rule implementing the 1968 affirmatively furthering mandate, 13 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote down that measure.
Carson, in his op-ed, characterizes the AFFH approach as a brand new approach, but of course that isn't true. This is a return to the actual mandate of the 1968 Act - a revival that took 50 years of struggle to achieve, sadly, because Washington hasn't shown too much concern with the intractability of racially segregated housing in our society - even though it is incredibly harmful.
Housing segregation harms include, but are not limited to:
- de facto school segregation & disparate educational opportunities & outcomes for children of different races
- gap in achievement in school & graduation (high school) and college attendance
- gap in labor force participation rates & earnings
- high single parenthood in minority communities
- racial wealth gap and homeownership gap
- increased rates of infant and adult mortality in minority communities
- lower civi participation in minority communities
- increased incidence of predatory lending (and destabilized capital, housing, and financial markets )
- neighborhood decline, failing urban cores, and distressed neighborhoods w/vacant homes and high crime
- racial tensions and violence
etc. etc. etc.
Detroit is the poster child for the public harm that housing segregation causes. The city spun into an accelerating cycle of decline. Loss of its wealthiest residents and their contributions to the city in which they worked (the city's per capita income fell 20% in the first decade of the 21st century and its population has fell by 25% during that time) ultimately led Detroit to declare bankruptcy in 2013 - the largest municipality to ever do so.
Ben Carson to head HUD
Trump offered Carson the HUD position on Wednesday, and although Carson said that he wanted to ponder the offer over the long weekend, in a Facebook post today (and as reported on FoxNews and confirmed in online media late Thursday evening), it appears that Carson is set to accept the appointment. In his Facebook post (and can I just pause here to note how bizarre it is that we are quoting public figures' policy beliefs based on their social media postings nowadays), Carson states that "I feel that I can make a significant contribution particularly to making our inner cities great for everyone. We have much work to do in strengthening every aspect of our nation and ensuring that both our physical infrastructure and our spiritual infrastructure is solid."
Already many in the media have decried the selection of Carson for HUD. (See this thoroughly articulated New York Times story, this snarky NY Magazine piece, this interesting piece from The Atlantic, and this Slate article suggesting that Carson will "lobotomize" HUD.)
It is hard to know what impact Carson's leadership will have on HUD. As I mentioned, he has zero experience in housing, and his sparse commentary on HUD and housing issues disclose a profound lack of understanding of history and the Fair Housing Act. Based on the cryptic statements in his Facebook post and his negative statements re: placement of affordable housing units in single-family suburbs, it may be that HUD under Carson will focus on repairing and improving inner cities (gentrification with an eye to desegregation, perhaps? We can hope), rather than efforts to integrate poorer minority housing aid recipients into white affluent suburbs.
I nope that Ben Carson will not turn out to be a horrible choice for HUD. After all, he does have a personal background that should allow him to sympathize with and perhaps understand the challenges faced by declining urban cores - and it is hugely important to address inner cities in terms of infrastructure/community decline, rental affordability, and persistent segregation. Maybe his anti-affirmatively furthering fair housing statements in that one op-ed merely are the result of his lack of knowledge of the issue and the Fair Housing Act.
The New York Times article on Carson's appointment helpfully explains (to Carson, perhaps?) that the AFFH Rule actually is not some ill thought-out governmental meddling in local affairs. It states:
"In practice, the rule provides those communities with detailed data on factors like racial demographics, poverty rates, school quality and housing voucher use to help them determine whether lower-income and minority families are isolated from good schools or segregated from opportunity. The rule requires communities to use that information to draft plans to reduce segregation where it exists. Those that habitually defy the requirements risk lose funding from the agency."
Our country is in the grips of a housing affordability crisis. Fifty-year-old fair housing legislation has done little to de-segregate housing in the nation, and racial tensions continue to intensify. At the same time, pockets of the nation (many city centers) are in steep decline. Even though under many Republican presidents, the HUD secretary was a throwaway appointment, Housing and Urban Development is actually a critically important Department in the government. I hope that Dr. Ben Carson is up to the job, I hope he studies and learns about both aspects of fair housing law as well as affordability and revitalization issues with an open mind. And I hope that in the next 4 years we can take a step forward when it comes to housing equity in this country, rather than take two steps back.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Designated Survivor trailers
As promised, I have not gone back to Designated Survivor, despite it being a hit and haled by many critics. Last night, I caught the trailer for the upcoming episode, which confirmed that decision. Based on the snippets I saw, it appears the plot has turned to Kirkman seeking to nominate a Vice President (who, naturally, seems creepy and possibly linked to terrorists).
But this is constitutionally and legally wrong. An acting president under § 19 cannot appoint a Vice President under the 25th Amendment. For one thing, § 1 says "the President" shall nominate a Vice President. But an Acting President is not a President for this Amendment, which expressly distinguishes the two titles and the two offices. Textually, therefore, an Acting President cannot perform this function. For another, any appointed Vice President arguably would have a greater statutory claim to the presidency. A cabinet official acts as President until "a qualified and prior-entitled individual is able to act." That would seem to include a newly constitutionally nominated and confirmed Vice President. So by nominating and having a restored Congress confirm the creepy guy, Kirkman puts himself out of a job.
If I misunderstand the plot, please let me know. Or maybe Keifer Sutherland isn't supposed to be the star of this show after all.
Update: I just realized that acting-president-selects-VP is a common mistake when television depicts presidential succession--Veep did the same thing in its storyline of a plot to have a deadlocked House making the VP (selected by the Senate) Tom James acting president, then having James select Selina Meyer, the Presidential candidate, as his VP. The problem there was that the vice presidency was not vacant; James had been elected VP and become acting president when the president failed to qualify, but he never would have resigned the vice presidency (which is the source of his power to act as president until the disability is removed). But my reading of the 25th Amendment adds an additional layer to this show's mistake.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
The voting/protesting fallacy
Building on some comments from an earlier post:
A recurring theme of the past week (and counting) of anti-Trump protests is whether the protesters have voted. This report notes that of 112 protesters arrested in Portland, 39 are registered in Oregon but did not return ballots and another 36 are not registered in Oregon (although they gave Oregon addresses, indicating they did not vote elsewhere). The reporter adds that "[n]ot turning up to vote and then taking to the streets to protest the result of the election is a tough position to defend." Actually, it is not a tough position to defend. But this has become a recurring theme, and we should reject it in strongest terms.
Whether someone voted should never be relevant to whether they can or should engage in protest or otherwise speak out on public issues, including the election result. There are many ways to express one's political views and to try to bring about political change--voting is one, public protest is one, and there are others. None is necessarily preferable to any others. More importantly, none is a condition precedent to any other. The right to petition government for redress of grievances is not conditioned on a person first having tried to affect the content of the government through the vote; voting and petitioning are independent rights.
The argument seems to be that a person cannot complain about something (such as the election results) if she did not first try to affect that thing (such as by voting in the election). There are several problems with these assumptions.
First, one voter does not affect the result of the election, which is why many regard voting as an irrational act for an individual. Second, this point is heightened for the Oregonian protesters. They voted (or would have voted) in a state election that Clinton was certain to win, such that their additional individual votes in Oregon would not have affected the outcome in that state. And they would not have affected the presidential election, which depended on separate elections in 50 other places, unaffected by the margin of victory in Oregon. (One of the arrested protesters made this point in explaining why he did not vote).
Third, one perhaps can better make herself heard as one voice among hundreds of protesters than as one compulsorily anonymous voter among millions. The Tea Party garnered more attention and influence for the movement, at least initially, through its public protests during 2009-10 than through the ballot in 2008. (And, for what it is worth, I do not recall Tea Party protesters, many of whom complained about "feeling disenfranchised" under the new Obama administration, being asked whether they had voted). Fourth, this all assumes that people are protesting the election result and Trump becoming president (a legal inevitably), as opposed to what Trump stands for and what he will try to implement as President. Protesters can, and should, make their voices heard in an attempt (futile though it might be) to get Trump to think about what he will do as President and not to pursue particular policies that the speaker does not like. (This is why "not my president" is an unfortunate slogan--it allows for conflation of the two).
Fifth, the underlying assumption is that speech and protests are not mechanisms for change or results, but merely complaining and whining (and, again, you cannot complain about something if you did not first try to change it). But that is a hollow conception of speech.
Finally, we protect speech in part as a "safety valve," giving people an opportunity to blow off anger about something, rather than turning that anger into violence or forcing it underground. So even if the protests reflect disappointed non-voters blowing off steam, there is constitutional value in their blowing off steam.
The last week has revealed a frightening attitude towards public protest, certainly among Trump and his transition team, but also reflected in media coverage. Speaking out in public is whining and complaining by thugs and spoiled millenials, worthless and meaningless, unavailable to non-voters, who are not entitled to question the "will of the majority" (according to a leading choice for Secretary of Homeland Security). It could be a bad few years.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Three Neutral Principles for Civil Political Discourse
As the recent election illustrated, Americans disagree foundationally on many substantive issues. I’d like to think though that while there may be profound divisions on core political values, one thing we may be able to agree on is that it would be helpful to our democracy to improve our public discourse about these matters.
But what does it mean to have a truly democratic, and perhaps even productive, public discourse? This aim may seem like a lost cause after over a year of toxic mudslinging, disingenuous character assassination, and an increasing unwillingness to tolerate opposing viewpoints—all of which were amply in evidence from supporters on both sides of the aisle.
I was given some sense of hope on this issue, though, during an incident shortly before the election in which President Obama was interrupted by a Trump-supporting protester during Obama’s speech at a political rally. The crowd immediately began to boo in order to shout down the protester, but Obama pushed back in his defense, and his reasons for doing so, I’ll argue below, may be taken as three core, nonpartisan principles that we may all be able to agree on as baselines for engaging in civil political discourse.
I enumerate these three principles after the break.
“First of all, we live in a country that respects free speech.” That platitude is obvious. But what Obama said before this was more meaningful. His lead-in to this statement was: “You’ve got an older gentleman supporting his candidate. He’s not doing nothing. You don’t have to worry about him.”
“He’s not doing nothing.” The idea that others’ political expression does not harm us should be obvious too (it’s really just a version of the old schoolyard rhyme about sticks and stones not breaking bones), but in modern America, it’s not. Expressing a point of view that others disagree with is increasingly more likely to get you shouted down than heard out. It might even get you suspended on a liberal college campus or beat up at a conservative political rally.
The empirical point behind the informally phrased “He’s not doing nothing” is that the expression of others’ viewpoints are nothing more than what they are: Descriptive claims about another person’s state of mind. Another person’s claim about their own beliefs does not make those beliefs true, and it certainly does not compel us to agree with or even respond to it, or do us any harm.
This attitude is easier to describe than to adopt. Hearing someone express an opinion that you consider wrong or even profoundly harmful can be infuriating, as the level of public discourse in this past election season illustrates. But this is why adopting the “he’s not doing nothing” perspective is so important. The notion that others’ political opinions are nothing more than data indicating their viewpoint (rather than traumatizing or treasonous) not only facilitates core constitutional speech rights, it also enables a psychological freedom from others' expression that makes us free to form our own opinions as well.
Because like it or not, we're a nation that is committed to honoring free speech. This principle means something only if it requires tolerating respectfully even speech with which we profoundly disagree. And that toleration becomes much easier when we regard such speech as nothing more than information about someone else’s state of mind, rather than a threat or a harm being inflicted on us.
“Second of all, it looks like maybe he might have served in our military and we got to respect that. Third of all, he was elderly and we got to respect our elders.” These next two points can be collapsed into one very simple principle: See others generously, including and even especially those with whom you disagree. When this Trump supporter popped up at the rally the other week, the attendees may well have dismissed him as a threatening, unstable crank bent on shouting down the President, possibly even for racist reasons—hence their desire to shout him down in turn.
But these kind of uncharitable assumptions are as baseless as they are unhelpful. Maybe the protester lost his job to outsourcing and was trying to express support for protectionist trade policies that he felt were critical to having a job and being able to support his family. Maybe he was unhappy with the direction of the country under a Democratic administration and expressing his passionate support for going in a different direction.
Seeing the protester in a generous light—an elderly man with possible military service—is a key step in having a decent conversation. Stereotyping political opponents makes them easy to demonize and dismiss them without engaging. Regarding a Trump supporter as a fanatic foaming at the mouth with irrational race-hate makes it easy to conclude that he does not merit respect or deserve to be heard out. But seeing that same person as an older gentleman who fought in Vietnam and cares deeply about the fate of the country yields a different result.
Much the same is true in reverse. An effete urbanite reflexively supporting Obama and Hillary out of a sense of liberal guilt amounts renders the speaker a mere stereotype that can be categorized and ignored with ease. But if you regard the same person as someone who is partaking in a tradition of dissent that dates to the Revolution in the interest of protecting values like racial and social justice that are embedded in our Constitution you’re more likely to take them and their ideas more seriously.
Regardless of political valence, the choice to see someone in a more generous light is thus a prerequisite for having the kind of decent discussion about issues that has a better chance of producing mutual understanding rather than descending into a pointless shouting match.
“Fourth of all, don’t boo. Vote.” At first glance, this one may appear a bit more complicated. “Don’t boo”? Isn’t cheering and booing what people do at rallies? It certainly is, and I don’t think the point is that people should sit quietly and clap only on cue when they are attending these kinds of events. Rather, I think the general idea expressed by this statement goes something like this: If you hear an opinion you disagree with, it’s better to create a positive dialogue that expresses your own point of view rather than spending your efforts attacking the speaker or trying to eliminate their speech from the public sphere.
Because while I said above (and still believe) that others’ opinions need not lead us to want to shut them out or shout them down, democracy also cannot function if people do nothing more than engage in calm observation when they hear ideas they think are wrong or dangerous. The problem is that increasingly the immediate reaction to opposing viewpoints is to personally direct animus or worse toward the speaker. The suggestion of “don’t boo, vote” is that there are more and less effective responses to speech you disagree with. Silencing speech tends to be ineffective and harmful. By contrast, using one’s disagreement as a call to democratic engagement in the interest of your own beliefs, whether that action is the simple act of voting or a deeper commitment to a movement or cause, is the more productive alternative.
Let me be clear about the limits of my claim: I have no idea if Obama was intentionally trying to propound core principles for engaging in civil political discourse in his brief interaction with the protester at the rally, but regardless I think at least a few of those principles (first, you are not harmed by others’ speech; second, see others in a generous light; third, add your voice rather than squelching others’) are immanent in his response.
Finally, I should emphasize that while I think these are constructive principles for civil political discourse, this does not mean they are easy to practice. On the contrary, we’re hardwired to do pretty much the opposite in all of these instances. Hearing opposing viewpoints tends to engage the fight-or-flight response, which helps explain both the rancor of this election and the growing polarization of our nation as people increasingly surround themselves with other like-minded people to avoid the discomfort of regularly facing disagreement.
But nothing truly valuable is easy. And restraining our immediate instincts—tolerating speech we dislike, accepting a President we didn’t vote for—is in many respects what defines democracy, and distinguishes it from its many inferior alternatives. It is this kind of restraint in the interest of the greater good of our country and the maintenance of our system of government that represents the “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln described in his first inaugural address, and that I hope may still prevail even after a dispiritingly ugly election season.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
ULL suspends four players for caring about the election
I have written a few posts recently about the open questions surrounding the free-speech rights of college athletes. But these cases have generally arisen at private universities (Harvard soccer, Columbia wrestling) that may abide by First Amendment norms as a matter of courtesy, but not law. And those cases involved pretty disgusting instances of racist and misogynist speech that, one could argue has no value or runs afoul of other considerations (such as Title IX). I disagree with that conclusion, but it at least confounds the analysis.
But the constitutional issue has been teed up directly by the decision of University of Louisiana-Lafayette to suspend four football players after they recorded themselves in the locker room singing and dancing to a song that says "Fuck Donald Trump." Football coach Mark Hudspeth and the university expressed disappointment in the players' "immature behaviors" and the use of lewd language towards one of the candidates. Hudspeth also pointed out that none of the players voted, which has nothing to do with anything. Interestingly, he initially offered a partial defense of his players against those who have "vilified a few 19-year-olds making some immature decisions, and then they were the same ones that voted for someone that has done much worse by grabbing a female in the private areas for the office of the [president of the] United States of America." He backed off that on Friday, saying he regretted offending Trump voters. The school has not identified the four players.
If we are looking for a situation in which punishment triggers a genuine First Amendment claim, this is it. ULL is a public school, so the First Amendment is in play. The players were engaged in core political speech and it is unquestionable that the use of the word fuck and associated gestures as part of a political message is also constitutionally protected. The attempt to frame this as a problem with profane lyrics and gestures, apart from the political message, is unavailing. According to this piece, Hudspeth has made rap music part of the team culture, celebrating a 2011 bowl victory with music blaring in the locker room and having music playing over speakers during practice. And that includes rap songs containing profanity. So profane rap music is ok, as long as it does not offend a political candidate? It seems to me the First Amendment, if anything, demands precisely the opposite conclusion.
We now are left with the question of whether student-athletes are different than ordinary students because they play for, and represent, the school, making them more like employees. The university statement got at this in its statement when praising Hudspeth for "continu[ing] to educate the team on how their actions are a reflection of the name on the front of their jerseys." This is twisted in two respects. First, a university should be educating players less about the name on the front of their jerseys and more about their opportunities and obligations to be politically engaged citizens. You complain about young people and athletes not being engaged, they you punish them when they are. Second, even if student-athletes are analogous to employees, even public employees enjoy some protection when speaking as citizens on matters of public concern--this would seem to qualify.
This is moot, of course, since it is unlikely the players will challenge their suspensions. Which is too bad, because this looks like a situation in which the school has overstepped, both its role as an athletic institution and as an institution supposedly committed to educating the next generation of citizens.
Tuesday, November 08, 2016
Lawsuits on Keeping Polls Open Late
One story of election law tonight will be requests to courts to keep the polls open late because of some mishap today. We already have one lawsuit filed in Durham, NC, and another one is brewing in Colorado. I've written an Op-Ed for CNN suggesting that courts, in general, should grant these requests. Here is the intro:
New RegBlog Essay: "Expanding the Right to Vote"
Looking for some mid-Election Day reading? RegBlog at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has just published my essay, Expanding the Right to Vote. Here is the intro:
A common storyline on voting rights is that conservative legislatures, like those in North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, are attempting to pass strict laws that make it harder for some people to vote—all in the name of curbing so-called “voter fraud.” Yet in the face of these unfortunate new rules, a positive trend is developing in other places: states are enfranchising more people and making voting easier. As voters head to the polls today, we should take note of and learn from these successes so that we can replicate them nationwide, extending them far beyond Election Day 2016.
From expanding the electorate, to adopting online voter registration or automatic voter registration, to making the voting process itself easier and more convenient, states and localities are actively engaged in democracy-enhancing efforts.
Read the whole thing here.
Monday, November 07, 2016
Mickey Mouse for President? The Law of Write-In Voting
Many voters this year have expressed dissatisfaction with both major party candidates. My own politically precocious 12-year-old has grilled me about the viability of several third-party candidates (to which questions I replied with Socratic questions of my own until he gave up and did his own research that, incidentally, led to an article in his school paper giving a thumbnail sketch on Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein, and McMullin). But even he did not profile the ubiquitous write-in protest vote (for a voter's favorite defeated primary candidate or a voter's mother or, as in one case, a voter's deceased dog). Apparently, a few poll workers in Kansas were instructed to tell voters that "write-in votes don't count," but the actual rule varies by state. It is worth considering the applicable rule before you write in anyone, however, because it very well may be that writing in a random name is, literally, throwing away your vote (meaning, it is actually thrown out). There is a lot of misinformation about this out there, so I did a little bit of research this morning and here's what I came up with (this from a non-election law expert, so please be gentle).States can (and many do) prohibit or limit a voter's ability to write in a candidate on the ballot. Kansas, for example, is one of the states that seems to limit one's ability to vote, restricting your choices to (a) the enumerated candidates or (b) those write-in candidates that have filed with the KS secretary of state an "affidavit of write-in candidacy for the offices of president and vice-president" before "12:00 noon on the 2nd Monday preceding the general election for those offices." For this election, that means that in order for a vote for a particular write-in candidate to be considered (and count) in Kansas, that write-in candidate must have filed this affidavit before October 24th. Kan. Stat. Ann. § 25-305 (West). This statute has been tested and upheld by the 10th circuit on the basis of a state's interest in voter education (Hagelin for President Comm. of Kansas v. Graves, 25 F.3d 956, 960 (10th Cir. 1994)).
Limits on a voter's ability to write-in a candidate may seem unconstitutional to you (and to me), but it has been upheld by the Supreme Court (Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 441 (1992)). The Supreme Court case upheld Hawai'i's ban on write-ins. Oklahoma's complete ban on write-in votes for presidential and vice-presidential elections was deemed constitutional in Coalition for Free and Open Elections, Prohibition Party v. McElderry, 48 F.3d 493 (10th Cir. 1995). The Supreme Court denied certiorari in that case. Other states have now and in the past completely banned write-ins as well, but the more common approach seems to be to require registration or to state that ballots that are not printed legibly won't be counted (well, duh!).
In Kansas, voters are not completely barred from writing in candidates in a presidential election, but only votes for registered candidates will count. (FYI, Kansans are also barred from writing in to indicate affiliation with a non-enumerated party in their voter registration. This rule was upheld by a federal court in 2011 and affirmed by the 10th circuit. Constitution Party of Kansas v. Biggs, 813 F. Supp. 2d 1274, 1276 (D. Kan. 2011), aff'd sub nom. Constitution Party of Kansas v. Kobach, 695 F.3d 1140 (10th Cir. 2012)).
People are often confused about write-in rules, particularly since states apparently change them periodically and since they vary widely among jurisdictions. It doesn't help when poll workers are told that "write-ins are illegal," which of course they are not (what, are you going to be fined because you write a candidate in? I can't believe that ever would be the case!).
All this raises a good question that a friend of mine articulated - Why on earth would anyone write in an unregistered candidate at all? Someone who hasn't announced he or she is running for President and who likely will get all of ONE vote (yours)? Well, in cases that have considered the question of legality of write-in bans from the point of view of the voter, rather than the candidate, the right to write-in is equated, once again, to a type of free speech. The idea is, of course, that a vote for "Mickey Mouse" is a protest vote, a "none-of-the-above" vote, and that casting this sort of vote should have some sort of speech-related impact, something beyond staying home on Election Day. This sort of speech could only have any actual effect if write-in protest votes were to be aggregated, tabulated, and announced. If 10% of voters wrote in some random protest name at the polls, say, perhaps that fact in itself could be newsworthy and suggest a high level of dissatisfaction with the process and candidates. If you have a write-in ban or limitation to registered (or real, live) people, however, then you lose the ability to be part of this sort of collaborative, grassroots protest voting speech.
Thus, even though I really, really want to write in Lin Manuel Miranda for President (because how awesome would that be!?), I guess I will have to restrain myself tomorrow.
Happy Voting, everyone!
How Would a Disputed Presidential Election Proceed?
It is the scenario virtually no one wants to face: a presidential election that goes into overtime. Yet over the past week I have received a steady stream of questions on how a post-election dispute would proceed. Each of the fifty states has its own, detailed procedure for resolving an election contest over its presidential electors (or any other election).
As I write in a new piece for CNN:
As polls tighten and Donald Trump has cast doubt on the reliability of the election system, talk inevitably has turned to whether we might be in for another postelection dispute.
Sunday, November 06, 2016
How Voter Intimidation, in a State with a Strict Voter ID Law (Texas), Happens on the Ground
A Facebook post from a woman in College Station, Texas is going viral regarding her experiences voting under Texas's strict voter ID law. Earlier this year a federal court expanded the law to allow voters who show a "reasonable impediment" to having the required ID fill out an affidavit and then vote. Here is how this person described her experience invoking that rule:
As I’m writing this down, what happened doesn’t sound as bad as it felt at the time; but I felt threatened and I still feel very upset and I want to share my story. This morning, I excitedly took the bus to my university polling center to cast my vote. I was armed with my Utah driver’s license, ready to sign a declaration stating my reasons for not having a Texas ID. I was met by a kind older woman, who asked to see my ID, and then asked to see my supporting document (my utility bill). In comes our guy, let’s call him Jim, “Excuse me, you must have an acceptable photo ID.” I explained that I looked up the rules, and that I brought with me two forms of ID. Jim, “Do you have a passport?” I said I did not. Jim, “Well why not? Are you registered to vote in this county?” Yes, sir, I am. Jim, “Well if you were able to register to vote you should have one of the acceptable forms.” He was being extremely rude and physically in my face. Unfortunately, as a minority female, it’s not the first time an older white man has attempted to patronize or intimidate me. The girl behind me leaned forward and whispered, “He did the same thing to me yesterday, and wouldn’t let me vote.” I decided to just be nice about it and say, “Jim, I’m just here to vote. Please don’t make me cry,” because at this point the adrenaline was flowing a bit and I was on the verge of tears. “Well you’ll need to sign an affidavit.” As he walked me over to the table of forms, he felt the need to say, “You know there’s lot of people are coming in here trying to vote illegally… a federal judge made an exception for this election allowing some people to vote…” And I was so upset at this point, I said, “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t really need to hear your opinions this morning. I just need your help voting.” How many people have been intimidated by this guy, and left without voting? I almost left in tears and if I do say so myself, I’m not easily intimidated. He stood over my shoulder and watched me check the boxes “work schedule” and “family responsibilities” because the man doesn’t know me, he doesn’t know my life, and it’s not up to him to decide who gets to vote. His job is to give me the form and watch me sign it. Then I voted. I got my sticker. Then I turned around and said, “What was your name again?” He said, “Jim.” I said, “No, your full name.” He looked surprised and told me his full name. He knows I’m filing a complaint and so does everyone in that room. The woman behind the desk winked at me.
Those who follow politics may be tempted to think that because I live in Texas, which is not a toss-up state, a few voters turned away by this guy won’t make a big difference. I think it makes a huge difference. Whether it’s because I’m a woman, because I’m brown, because I’ve never needed a passport because I don’t have the money to travel, because I haven’t found the time to get a Texas DL (because, you know, I’m only a wife, mother, and graduate student) or just because I’m from Oregon and not Texas, my vote counts. And like it or not, Texas is getting browner. And one day some people might wake up to find themselves in a new political climate of all kinds of diversity. That’s the America I believe in.
For reference: If you do not possess a form of acceptable photo identification and you cannot obtain one due to a reasonable impediment, you may present one of the supporting forms of identification and execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration. “Your reason may not be questioned.” www.votetexas.gov
Yes, this stuff actually matters on the ground to individual voters.
Thursday, November 03, 2016
10th Circuit: Kansas' Documentary Proof of Citizenship Voter Registration Requirement Will Not Be Enforced
In Kansas, voters cannot simply wake up on election day and decide to vote. There is no spur-of-the moment voting (and no mail-in ballots other than absentees). Voting in Kansas requires forethought and planning through advance registration, and it takes showing up at the polls with a valid ID and having one's photo and signature confirmed to be a match to those on the registration -- but at least, thanks to the 10th Circuit's opinion on October 21st, it will not take documentary evidence of U.S. citizenship.
The terms of Kansas' Secure and Fair Elections (SAFE) Act requires that "an applicant shall not be registered [to vote] until the applicant has provided satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship" according to enumerated documentation, such as a U.S. passport or a birth certificate. Earlier this year, the League of Women Voters of Kansas, with the help of the ACLU, challenged this law as running afoul of the the National Voter Registration Act. The District of Kansas granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the policy back in May, and this allowed 18,000 Kansans to vote in the state's presidential primary on August 2nd. On appeal, the 10th Circuit, through Judge Jerome Holmes, held that the Kansas proof of citizenship voter registration law violated the NVRA. The NVRA protects American voters' right to vote with only supplying the "minimum amount of information necessary." The 10th Circuit found that the minimum amount necessary does not include proof of citizenship. The court's opinion, issued on October 21, 2016, addressed the preliminary injunction only, not the merits of the case (although, of course, likelihood of success on the merits is a component of preliminary injunction oversight). (AP story on the case is here).
The court held that the Kansas government had been unable to show any significant problems with non-citizens attempting to vote, and that "it cannot be that, while intending to create a simplified form of registration for federal elections, Congress adopted such a malleable statutory principle (i.e., minimum information) that the states could effectively become the final arbiters of what is required under the NVRA by the simple expedient of claiming that one noncitizen managed to register to vote."
The 10th Circuit found adequate threat of irreparable harm (if the SAFE Act was enforced) because "over 18,000 Kansans stood to lose the right to vote in the coming general elections—elections that are less than one month away." Of course, these 18,000 Kansas were those who had already registered to vote using the "federal form" rather than following the statutorily required proof of citizenship method. Who knows how many people were dissuaded by the SAFE Act requirements from even attempting to register. The October 21st ruling came too late for anyone not already registered to vote: The Kansas voter registration deadline for the November 8th election was on October 18th.
The state voter information site now contains a statement (at the very bottom) explaining that "due to recent court rulings, if you have applied to register to vote at a Kansas Division of Motor Vehicles office or if you have applied to register to vote using the “Federal Form” voter registration application (as opposed to the standard ‘state form’) and have not yet provided proof of citizenship, you are registered to vote for the November 8, 2016, general election. Your name will appear on the poll book for your voting location and you will be given a standard ballot." The online voter registration site, however, contains no reference to the 10th Circuit opinion (but, of course, it is too late for anyone not registered to become able to vote in Kansas anyway).
(Toto, I think we're not in Washington state anymore!)
For more on this case and voting in Kansas, see here (local news story about the ruling), here (news story about one man's struggle to vote), and here (criticizing the 10th Circuit for "flipping state powers on its head and bastardizing a statute").
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
"Protecting the Right to Vote in Missouri"
All 50 state constitutions explicitly confer the right to vote. This is in contrast to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right to vote merely implicitly through the Equal Protection Clause as well as through passive language in various amendments ("The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged..."). Moreover, in Article I, Section 2 and the Seventeenth Amendment, the U.S. Constitution contemplates that federal voter qualifications are subject to state control, saying that those who may vote for Congress are those who may vote for the state legislature (subject, of course, to the constitutional floor within the various voting amendments). Thus, our constitutional structure recognizes a broad role for states to determine the scope of the constitutional right to vote.
Understanding this broader state constitutional grant of voting rights, several state supreme courts, including the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006, have held that strict voter ID laws infringe on that right by, in essence, adding an additional "qualification" to vote that goes beyond what the state constitution allows. Given that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to strike down Indiana's voter ID law under the Equal Protection Clause in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board in 2008, this state constitutional protection is significant.
But Missouri voters will decide next week whether to overrule this precedent and amend the state constitution to allow the legislature to adopt a restrictive voter ID requirement. This is a bad idea, and voters should reject Amendment 6. I explain why in a new Op-Ed for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
As the nation debates so-called election rigging and voter fraud, one bright spot in our democracy is the robust protection for the right to vote in the Missouri Constitution.
Missouri was among the first states on the right side of history in the debate over voter ID laws. In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution vigorously protects the right to vote and that the state’s photo ID law infringed that fundamental right.
Yet this year Missouri will decide whether to amend the state constitution to allow voter ID requirements. Voters in Missouri, and elsewhere, should continue to allow the state constitution to provide robust protection for voting rights and reject Amendment 6, the proposed state constitutional amendment that would denigrate the right to vote.
By amending the state constitution, then, Missouri would be courting significant harms. It would disenfranchise valid voters for no good reason. It would turn back 10 years of admirable jurisprudence on robust protection for the right to vote under the state constitution. It would invite additional federal court litigation on the potential discriminatory aspect of the new rule. And it would — dangerously — greatly weaken a recognized fundamental right within the state constitution.
Missouri elections do not suffer from in-person voter fraud — the only kind of fraud that a photo ID provision would prevent. Missouri elections do, however, enjoy a positive attribute: a state constitution that vigorously protects the right to vote and a state Supreme Court that recognizes the significance of this state constitutional safeguard. Amending the state constitution to overrule this precedent will only harm the state’s elections.
If there has been a positive story of the right to vote over the past several years, it is that state courts, at least in some places, have gone beyond the U.S. Constitution to protect the right to vote under state constitutions. We should continue that tradition.
But first, let me take a ballot selfie!
Social Media has been playing a huge (or is that “yuuuge”?) role in Election 2016: Twitter attacks, Facebook op-eds, youtube campaign videos, and now, Instagram and Snapchat ballot selfies. And although both candidates and constituents have and continue to use social media to express themselves, state law in nearly half of the country criminalizes this last type of “Freedom of Speech” – namely, taking a photograph of your completed ballot and posting it online.
Purported Risk of "Vote Buying" Schemes
Prevention of vote buying is the cited rationale behind ballot selfie bans. The concept being that exhibiting a photograph of a completed ballot would be the only method to cash-in on an offer to sell one's vote. I don't find this reasoning very compelling. It seems that if someone really wanted to take a photograph of a completed ballot for a secret reason such as an illegal vote-buying transaction, it would be ridiculously easy to do so, even with the “no photographing” rule on the books. Cameras aren’t the awkward and obvious contraptions that they were in prior generations. Cameras today can be part of your phone, your watch, and, who knows, maybe even disguised as a flash drive or pen (the possibilities are limitless). Furthermore, if the vote being bought was cast as a mail-in ballot, as are absentee votes and basically all voting in the Pacific Northwest, then ballot selfies are even easier to do. The one thing that you would probably not do - if you were taking a photograph simply in order to cash in on an illegal vote-buying scheme - would be to post that incriminating evidence on social media.
Freedom of Speech (er... Freedom to Snap & Post)
Even if there is a remote possibility that such photographs could be part of nefarious vote-purchasing schemes, ballot selfie bans also raise serious free-speech issues, and upon examination, federal courts in two jurisdictions have already declared such bans unconstitutional. An Indiana law that banned ballot selfies was struck down last year when Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the state's Southern District found that the law could not survive strict scrutiny because the state "entirely failed to identify any such problem in Indiana relating to or evidencing vote buying, voter fraud, voter coercion, involuntary ballot disclosures, or an existing threat to the integrity of the electoral process" (Indiana Civil Liberties Union v. Indiana Sec'y of State, 2015 WL 12030168). On September 28, 2016, the 1st Circuit ruled that a similar ban in New Hampshire also impermissibly impinged on freedom of speech. The 1st Circuit went so far as to call ballot selfie bans “antithetical to democratic values.” (Rideout v. Gardner, 2016 WL 5403593).
On Friday (October 28, 2016), the 6th Circuit bucked the trend by reversing the district court-issued injunction that prevented the enforcement of Michigan’s ballot selfie ban with respect to the coming election. (Crookston v. Johnson, 2016 WL 6311623.) Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for a divided court, held that although the “interesting First Amendment issues” would eventually be adjudicated, for the purposes of November 8th, the Michigan ban on ballot selfies would stand. The Michigan ballot selfie ban operates to disqualify a ballot that has been photographed. The plaintiff in this case, Joel Crookston, actually had his vote invalidated in 2012 after he snapped and posted a photo of his completed ballot. The majority of the 6th Circuit seemed insufficiently concerned that Crookston’s free speech would be impermissibly curtailed in the coming week by virtue of a ballot selfie ban. “A picture may be worth a thousand words,” wrote the court, “but social media users can (and do) post thousands of words about whom they vote for and why.” Although admitting that “lingering issues remain” with respect to the First Amendment effects of the selfie ban, the 6th Circuit concluded that “there will be time for due deliberation” after the election.
Chief Judge Cole dissented, holding that because the penalty for taking and posting a ballot selfie was nullification of the vote, the majority had effectively caused voters to choose “between their freedom of expression and their right to vote.” Cole explained that restrictions on speech must serve a significant government interest and be narrowly tailored, and the Michigan ballot selfie ban fails to meet either requirement. Judge Cole was not convinced by the three alleged “important government interests,” namely (1) discouraging vote-buying and coercion,” (2) ensuring “that the polling place is a sanctuary for all,” and (3) preventing delays. “While all of these may be government interests in the abstract, there is disproportionality between the interests stated and the ballot selfie prohibition created by these laws and instructions,” wrote Judge Cole. Yesterday (October 31, 2016), citing the dissent, Crookston’s attorney filed an emergency motion for rehearing in the hopes that the issue can, in fact be definitively addressed prior to the election.
Ballot Selfie Bans - A Constitutional Open Question
The law regarding ballot selfie bans is inconsistent and in flux. On October 23, the Associated Press reported on the state of the law, state-by-state, but this listing is already outdated because of the recent Michigan ruling. A brief glimpse at the AP's 50-state survey shows how widely varying state laws on this issue. Some states (like Hawaii, Utah, and Nebraska) have laws specifically protecting a voter’s right to take a ballot selfie. Many states neither prohibit nor explicitly allow photographs of ballots. Some states have recently repealed laws that prohibited ballot selfies (for example, California – although this change will not take effect until January), and similar legislative measures are pending in other jurisdictions (for example, New Jersey). A few states allow photographs of mail-in ballots, but do not allow photographs at polling places in general (for example, Iowa, Maryland, Texas, and Tennessee).
At least 18 states, however, explicitly outlaw the practice of photographing and showing one’s own ballot, whether at the polling place or (for a mail-in ballot) at home. Although a few state spokesmen (Alaka, Massachusetts) have stated that a state law ban on ballot selfies could not be practically enforced, other states lay out clear penalties for violation of the rule. In Michigan, a ballot selfie will lead to invalidation of the ballot. In several states, a ballot selfie is a misdemeanor that could carry a fine. In Illinois, knowingly showing your completed ballot to another person is a felony that carries a prison sentence of one to three years.
Infographic from NBC News:
It will be interesting to see if a national consensus develops over the next several months as the ACLU, Snapchat, and various individuals continue to challenge these laws. The next expected opinion pertains to the New York law, and Judge Castel (S.D.N.Y.) says he’ll issue his opinion by the end of this week.
Meanwhile, the ACLU just sued in Northern California seeking a restraining order that would prohibit enforcement of the selfie ban law, even though a bill repealing that ban has already been signed into law. The ACLU points out, however, that the new law’s effective date in early 2017 comes too late to matter for Election 2016. “This is an incredibly contentious election. Thousands of our members want to engage in this core political speech, and not just show people how they are voting but try to encourage others to vote the same way," Michael Risher, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement. "On November 9, it will be too late for them to do that.” Risher called ballot selfies "core political speech at the heart of the First Amendment," however the sought-after injunction seems more symbolic than pragmatic. “In its 125-year history, California's ban on sharing one's marked ballot has not been enforced.” The California hearing is set for November 2nd. On that same date a thousand miles to the east, another federal judge will hear near-identical arguments in a federal case challenging the Colorado ballot selfie ban.
Outdated or Necessary Protections?
Are ballot photograph bans anachronisms? Or is do these laws serve a valid purpose? Colorado Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert argues that selfie bans are still needed. “We believe the current law protects the integrity of the election and protects voters from intimidation or inducement,” said Staiert. “In fact, given Colorado’s unique election system and rise of social networking, the prohibition may be more important in Colorado than in other states and may be more timely today than ever.”
Another argument against repealing the bans is that prohibitions on ballot selfies do not really stifle free speech in any substantive way. The lawyer representing New Hampshire in the 1st Circuit case argued that that under that state’s law (pre-invalidation), “You're free to go out into the community and scream at the top of your lungs how you voted and who you support in the election. You just can't use your marked ballot to do so."
I suppose that those who are concerned with the practice of taking and posting ballot selfies worry about the social pressure involved and are concerned that the expectation of proving your vote publicly can create peer pressure to vote a particular way. If ballot selfies become socially expected, it could remove the protection from retribution (social as well as political) that complete anonymity offers. For Snapchat-happy millenials, the social pressure to post a ballot might make it difficult to vote one’s conscience rather than what is most acceptable in one’s social circle. I’m not too worried about vote buying being enabled by photos of ballots posted on social media, but perhaps there are other legitimate reasons to step back from free speech in the name of protecting the right to anonymously cast one’s vote.
Tuesday, November 01, 2016
Only Republican justices need apply?
With comments from Sen. Richard Burr about doing everything to prevent President Clinton from making any SCOTUS appointments, the question of the Republican endgame with respect to the Court is coming into stark relief. First it was "the next President should appoint." Now it is "the next President should appoint, unless it is a Democrat replacing a conservative such as Justice Scalia." None of this was ever a principled stand. But the absence of a meaningful principle now means that this is a moving line that Republicans are moving (and likely will continue to move) with impunity and without political repercussion and without logical (beyond pure politics) end.
So imagining that we have President Clinton/Republican Senate:
• A Democratic President should not replace the "swing vote" (Justice Kennedy) because that shifts the balance of the Court when a Republican eventually appoints Scalia's successor.
• A Democratic President should not replace a Democratic appointee (Ginsburg/Breyer) because that reifies the balance of the Court for another two generations. So the Dem seat should remain open.
• If the Court can survive with 8, it is better off with 7 (assuming the lost Justice is not Kennedy), because that is an odd number that will avoid ties.
• Hey, the original Court had 6 Justices. What was good for the Jay Court is good for the Roberts Court.
The caricature of the Republican position is that only Republican Presidents should be able to appoint to SCOTUS. That is looking less like a caricature. Especially since all of these arguments will be ignored (and forgotten) under President Rubio in 2021.
Two final points: First, this new rhetoric nothing to do with the argument that Eric Segall (Georgia State) has been making in favor of an evenly divided Court with seats permanently identified with one party. No one is expressing (or going to express) any reservations about having President Trump replace Justice Ginsburg. Second, while the Carrington Plan for the Court (a new Justice appointed every two years, with the 9 juniormost justices constituting the Court for all cases, except in the event of recusal) was designed to create term limits, the feature of regular and automatic biennial appointments also would ease some of the political controversy. Given the current climate, that is looking like the more significant piece of the proposal.
Next Wednesday, I am scheduled to do a talk for a Northwestern Alumni Association event on the election and the future of the Court. I have not begun to prepare the talk because I genuinely have no clue what is going to happen and thus no clue what I am going to say. Except that the center cannot hold and something--Segall's plan, the Carrington Plan, something else--is necessary.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
DNC motion to enforce and the rigged election
The DNC has filed a motion to enforce the consent decree against the RNC for supporting and collaborating in Donald Trump's "ballot security" measures that sound like intimidation of minority voters in places such as Philadelphia. The motion seeks enforcement, sanctions, and further preliminary injunctive relief prohibiting RNC funds and personnel from being used in such efforts in concert with the Trump Campaign. The motion does not go all the way to pinning the Trump Campaign's activities on the RNC because Trump is the party's nominee, but it does highlight its "coordination, encouragement, and support" of such activities.
Random items (Updated)
• Last term in Heffernan v. City of Patterson, SCOTUS held that a public employee can state a First Amendment retaliation claim where he suffers adverse job action because the employer believes he engaged in protected expression, even if he did not actually do so. Heffernan now has settled the action for $ 1.6 million, including attorney's fees.
• Senate Republicans are beginning to make noise about not confirming any Hillary Clinton nominees to SCOTUS, apparently for the whole of her Term. Clearly, no one is even pretending anymore that this is some principled stand in the name of democratic values (it never was, but at least some pretended). In pushing this position in a radio interview on Wednesday, Ted Cruz pointed for support to comments by Justice Breyer that the Court is doing just fine with eight Justices. It is impossible to know whether Breyer believes that or whether, as Dahlia Lithwick has argued, this is the Justices putting on a brave face to keep themselves out of the political thicket. If the latter, it is ironic that Cruz is using those efforts to pull the Justices even more into the mire.
Perhaps this is all posturing, in light of recent polls. It does hint that a lame-duck confirmation of Merrick Garland is not in the offing.
Update: I agree with several points Dahlia Lithwick makes here: 1) The Chief must play a role as an advocate for the institution, something Taft did well and which is entirely appropriate where the Court's structure is implicated; 2) This should play as FDR's court-packing plan redux--one party trying to manipulate the size of the Court for partisan gain. That it is not says much about the current partisan divide--FDR's plan failed because Democrats (who held the Senate majority) bailed on it; 3) Justice Breyer is at odds with others who have spoken out about this stonewalling. And that ups the irony of Cruz seizing on Breyer's attempts at optimism to draw out the dispute.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Your Honor, and May It Please Mitch McConnell
The race is tight for control of the Senate. According to the statisticians at 538, six states are experiencing (to use the technical term) “super close” elections, and those same races very well may determine which party exercises the exceedingly important powers wielded by this body of government. If the vote totals on Election Day are tight enough to invite disputes over the true winner of a Senate race, the question becomes: who should adjudicate those contests? If you thought to yourself “Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz, and their colleagues in the Senate; they should do it,” then you are in good company: the Founders agree with you.
As Article I, Section 5 of the United States Constitution reads, “[e]ach House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members.” What this means is that the Senators are charged with judging election contests over disputed Senate seats, while the Representatives are charged with judging election contests over disputed House seats. And judge they do: in this context, each House examines witnesses, manages discovery, and inspects ballots, among other tasks, all pursuant to a set of procedures (informal in the case of the Senate, and set by statute for the House). At the conclusion of the proceedings, each House publishes, through a committee, something that looks much like a judicial opinion. This report recommends a particular resolution of the claims, and if the full House agrees with that recommendation, it passes a resolution so ordering. As I explain in Judging Congressional Elections, the Houses of Congress already have resolved hundreds of contested elections in this fashion.
The arrangement may seem strange, but it has a long historical pedigree, and nearly every state has adopted a similar approach (that is, nearly every state also has vested power to judge state legislative elections in the legislative body itself). Still, a host of difficult questions remains. Among them is whether—and how—courts may also adjudicate these same disputes. Let’s take Pennsylvania, where the race between challenger Katie McGinty and incumbent Pat Toomey appears exceedingly close. Can the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania weigh in if either candidate disputes the results on Election Day? Or what about in Nevada, where the candidates are locked in a tight race over Harry Reid’s seat—can the state courts offer guidance if November 8 produces no clear winner? The answers largely depend on constitutional questions surrounding Article I, Section 5, and the resolution of those questions is, to put it lightly, unsettled.
As I explain in my article, which is forthcoming in the Georgia Law Review, a combination of factors has produced an interpretative vacuum in response to the Article I, Section 5 mandate. Although we have authorities that normally are able to clarify questions of federal law—including federal court decisions and congressional legislation—such authorities are almost entirely absent in this area. The result is a chaotic set of ad hoc, state-based interpretations of the mandate that vary drastically by jurisdiction. As an example, take the hypotheticals above. The Pennsylvania courts likely could adjudicate a dispute between McGinty and Toomey. In Nevada, however, the state courts almost certainly could not adjudicate a dispute between Joe Heck and Catherine Cortez Masto. The legal reasoning behind each conclusion is complicated (and addressed at length in my article), but the upshot is simple. Due to deep uncertainty surrounding the law of Article I, Section 5, states like Nevada and Pennsylvania have reached different conclusions about its meaning, and those competing interpretations are what govern in the respective jurisdictions.
This uncertainty matters for many reasons. At the outset, even the appearance of manipulation of the rules can undermine an election’s legitimacy, and nothing triggers the appearance (and perhaps, at times, the reality) of manipulation quite like legal uncertainty. The uncertainty also matters because it has resulted in suboptimal forms of procedure governing contested elections. This is particularly problematic in states that have concluded that Article I, Section 5 flatly prohibits judicial proceedings of any sort. In these jurisdictions, it’s the Senate (or House), or bust.
This area of the law is one of the most complicated I’ve encountered, and there remains a lot to unpack. Ultimately, however, I think Congress owes it to the electorate to take the first step toward reform by clarifying its own position on the principal set of questions: that is, whether, and in what circumstances, courts may hear these disputes. Each House has the power to make these procedural decisions precisely because it is the “judge” of its own elections—or, at least, that’s my conclusion regarding how best to understand the Article I, Section 5 mandate. In any event, hopefully more eyes will turn toward this underanalyzed provision of the Constitution. It’s interesting; it’s important; and, like so much in election law, it’s best analyzed and addressed before a close election turns each point of uncertainty into a partisan battle.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Early Voting and Voting Updates
I concur with many of Steve Huefner's sentiments concerning the pros and cons of early voting. Early voting offers a way of increasing voter turnout by making voting more convenient. It also may facilitate efficient election administration by reducing the number of voters on Election Day itself. On the other hand, lengthy early voting periods can place those who choose to vote at the very beginning of the period at something of a disadvantage. Subsequent events may cause such voters to change their minds and wish to cast their votes for someone else, instead. Most dramatically, the withdrawal or death of a candidate can effectively nullify the votes of those who cast their ballots early.
A period of one week to ten days seems like an early voting period of reasonable length that balances these competing concerns. For states that adopt longer periods, one possibility to consider is the notion of "vote updating." Vote updating is easiest to understand and implement in the related area of absentee ballots. If a person casts an absentee ballot a few weeks before Election Day, and something happens that causes them to shift their support to a different candidate, it should be possible to allow them to cast a replacement ballot, which would be counted instead of their earlier one. Absentee ballots are typically enclosed within outer envelopes containing a voter's identifying information and are not opened for counting until Election Day itself or a few days before (depending on the jurisdiction). Thus, if election records show that a voter submitted two absentee ballots, election officials would be able to identify the original ballot that should not be counted and set it aside. Only the later-received ballot would count.This proposal raises several questions. First, should voters be permitted to cast an unlimited number of replacement ballots (since only the last one would be counted), or should it be limited to just one or two per election? Second, would the logistical burdens for election officials make this proposal impracticable? It's unclear that many people would take advantage of it, and it seem like a reform that could fairly easily be worked into the current procedures governing absentee ballot verification and counting. Third, it's not clear whether this would enhance opportunities for fraud. It may provide a way for unscrupulous activists, parties, or candidates to replace legitimate absentee votes with fraudulent ones.
Applying such a system to actual early voting in most jurisdictions would require more substantial reform. In most places, an early vote is treated just like a vote on Election Day: once the punch card is submitted, the lever is pulled, or the ballot is approved on the electronic voting machine, there is no longer a way of tracing any particular early vote back to a specific voter. Thus, early votes tend to be different from absentee votes, since an absentee ballot remains in the outer envelope containing the voter's information until nearly the end of the process.
In order to allow people to change their early votes, a jurisdiction would have to give early voters the option of casting their early vote on a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is usually used when some potential concern exists over a voter's registration, identity, or eligibility to vote. As with absentee ballots, provisional ballots usually are submitted on paper and enclosed in an outer envelope bearing the voter's identifying information. Thus, if an early voter chooses to cast a provisional ballot, he would retain the option of returning later to cast another, replacement vote (either on another provisional ballot or a voting machine). Voting officials would then know to discard the original provisional ballot. If a voter does not submit any replacement votes, then the original provisional ballot is counted without any further action on the voter's part. The ballot can either be counted on Election Day itself (since there is no need to wait for the voter to correct any deficiencies), or later on, at the same time as the other provisional ballots.
The system may unnecessarily introduce additional opportunities for error or fraud to enter into the process; it would certainly add an additional layer of complexity to a process that already poses challenges for election officials. On the other hand, this proposal is one way of mitigating the effects of lengthy early voting and absentee voting periods. Even if early voting is limited to a period of 7-10 days before Election Day, the period for returning absentee ballots (particularly for military and overseas voters) is invariably longer. In an era of cell phone videos and hacks, the possibility for last-minute gamechanging developments in campaigns seems quite real.
Monday, October 10, 2016
Florida Democrats win TRO extending voter registration
A federal judge in the Northern District of Florida has issued a TRO requiring Florida to extend the deadline for voter registration in the wake of Hurricane Matthew and the evacuation of thousands of would-be registrants. The court found that the refusal to extend the deadline violated the right to vote, applying strict scrutiny because the non-extension worked a complete denial of the right to vote. The TRO extends the deadline to Wednesday, when there will be a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction. The court also quickly disposed of some preliminary standing issues. Best of all, the opinion uses the word "poppycock."
I would be curious to hear from a panel of election-law experts whether the constitutional analysis here is correct.
Sunday, October 09, 2016
Trump Sunlight Campaign
Now on GoFundMe (gotta love the picture of Justice Brandeis), to raise money to cover the legal fees and judgment for anyone leaking Apprentice footage showing Trump making further sexist, racist, etc. statements. Producers and staffers on the show signed non-disclosure agreements, apparently with a liquidated damages clause of $ 5 million for breach (any guesses on whether that might be deemed unconscionable?). Apprentice Exec Produce Mark Burnett, who is a Trump supporter, has vowed to sue anyone who leaks footage.
During the Kim Davis insanity in Kentucky, people attempted a similar campaign to pay Davis's contempt fines; the site shut it down, given the obvious moral hazard concerns. It will be interesting to see what GoFundMe does with this one, as raising money to pay someone's legal judgment would seem to raise the same moral-hazard concerns. (The likelihood political-viewpoint bias here is high). It might be different if the campaign was only to pay attorney's fees and costs or to provide a bounty for the leaker. But that would not make a difference as an incentive--the disincentive is not the cost of the lawsuit, it is the judgment at the end.
Anyway, the site had raised a little under $ 2000 in two hours. So I do not expect this to be a big money-maker or game-changer.
Sunday, October 02, 2016
Newby and the Duty to Defend Indepedent Agencies and Commissions in Court
I am delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the Prawfsblawg election symposium! For my first contribution, I want to discuss an important issue implicated by a recent election-related case that extends far beyond election law.
In League of Women Voters of the United States v. Newby, the D.C. Circuit (in a 2-1 ruling) overturned the decision of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's ("EAC") Executive Director, Brian Newby, to revise the state-specific instructions accompanying the federal voter registration form. The revisions would have required applicants from Georgia, Kansas, and Alabama to provide documentary proof of citizenship, such as a copy of a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers, to use the federal form to register to vote. Those states had requested changes to the instructions because their laws limit the right to vote to U.S. citizens and generally require people to provide such proof of citizenship to register.
I will discuss the merits of the D.C. Circuit's ruling--with which I disagree--in a separate post later this week. Here, I want to discuss a remarkable aspect of the case: the Obama Administration's Justice Department ("DOJ") completely refused to defend Newby's actions in court. Although DOJ purported to represent both the Commission -- which is an independent, bipartisan agency -- and Newby in his official capacity and was filing briefs on behalf of both parties, it expressly disavowed the legality of Newby's actions and joined in the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to prevent the changes to the instructions he approved on the EAC's behalf from taking effect.
It's not as if the Commission itself subsequently took any action to disapprove or nullify Newby's actions. To the contrary, at least one of the three subsequently appointed Commissioners agreed with his decision to update the instructions. Nevertheless, despite the fact that nonfrivolous, colorable arguments could be made in defense of Newby's actions--indeed, some strong arguments may be made in support of them--DOJ completely refused to assert them in the briefs it filed for Newby and the Commission. It sought to nullify an official final action of an independent agency without any adversarial presentation of the issues, presentation of contrary authorities, or consideration of alternate remedies.
The district court allowed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the Public Interest Legal Foundation to intervene to defend the revised instructions. But DOJ's actions nevertheless remain troubling. As an initial matter, there is something disturbing about allowing DOJ to file briefs on someone's behalf--even if they are party to a case solely in an "official capacity"--without that person's consent, especially when those briefs expressly advocate against that person's legal interests and affirmatively seek relief against that person.
Putting aside that issue (which arises largely as a function of which defendants a plaintiff chooses to name), DOJ's authority to refuse to defend against federal lawsuits is perhaps at its apex with regard to purely executive action by executive agencies under the current administration. If the President or his delegates determine that a member of the Executive Branch engaged in wrongdoing, the Government surely is not required to take that person's side and defend him or her. This power is likely just as broad with regard to executive actions that occurred in earlier administrations, though special care must be taken to ensure that Presidents and agency heads do not use essentially collusive litigation with ideologically aligned groups to nullify the actions of their predecessors when they would be unable to do so through the usual legislative or administrative process. See generally Michael T. Morley, Consent of the Governed or Consent of the Government? The Problems with Consent Decrees in Government-Defendant Cases, 16 U. Pa. J. Const. L. 637 (2014).
More complex problems arise when DOJ is required to defend the legal interests of entities outside the Executive Branch, which may conflict with those of the President. For example, Congress may enact laws that the President believes are unconstitutional, particularly on the grounds that they infringe upon purported Executive prerogatives. This summer, in Helman v. Department of Veterans Affairs, Attorney General Loretta Lynch notified the Speaker of the House and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit that DOJ would not defend the constitutionality of provisions of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act ("VACAA") that Congress had enacted two years earlier to limit appellate rights of senior career executives who are fired from the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Full disclosure: I represent a coalition of 12 military and veterans groups, including the VFW, AMVETS, Reserve Officers Association, and Marine Corps League that were permitted to intervene to defend the law's validity and advocate more narrowly tailored remedies for any constitutional concerns that may exist). In cases where DOJ refuses to defend a statute's validity out of concern for the President's Executive power, it is not really representing the interests of the Government as a whole, but rather the Executive Branch in particular, potentially at the expense of the independent legal interests and prerogatives of the Legislative Branch.
Cases such as Newby present similar concerns. A President may disagree with the desirability, legality, or even constitutionality of an independent agency's or commission's actions or determinations. If the President can undermine or even nullify those actions by simply preventing DOJ from defending them in court, then the agency or commission is independent in name only. To be truly independent, an entity must have independent litigating authority. While DOJ has tremendous litigation experiences and resources for an independent agency or commission to call upon if it so chooses, it should not be compelled to be represented in court by attorneys acting under an institutional conflict of interest. One solution is to allow the entity to either represent itself or retain outside counsel of its choice. Another possibility is to be flexible in allowing outside intervention and applying Article III's rules concerning standing. Finally, Congress could authorize the creation of a small entity, akin to either an Office of Independent Counsel or a public defender's office, to represent the interests of governmental agencies or officials outside the Executive Branch whose legal (or potentially even political) interests clash with those of the President. In any event, if DOJ is going to undertake to represent the Government or an independent agency in a case, it reasonably should be expected to present the court with colorable, nonfrivolous arguments in favor of congressional or independent agency actions or enactments.
Friday, September 30, 2016
Roy Moore suspended for remainder of term
The Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his term in office. The focus of the charges was a January 2016 administrative order, in which Moore advised the state's probate judges that the court's March 2015 (pre-Obergefell) mandamus order prohibiting issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples remained in effect. In part, Moore stated that the judgment in Obergefell bound only the parties and only declared unconstitutional the marriage-equality bans in four states, thus it did not undermine SCoAL's earlier orders.
The judiciary court rejected those arguments, relying on long quotations from Cooper v. Aaron and the view that a SCOTUS declaration of constitutional meaning is, without more, binding on everyone everywhere. So Moore's order/advice regarding conduct by probate judges in conflict with the holding of Obergefell violates various judicial canons. The court's analysis of Cooper is inconsistent with the model of judicial departmentalism I have been urging--holdings judicial opinions do not formally bind anyone beyond the parties, including lawyers and public officials, until they are reduced to judgments against those individuals, which they will be because the holdings bind lower courts. The decision also overreads Cooper by forgetting what the Court really was upholding against state resistance--not Brown, but a Brown-based lower-court injunction. Plus, it was unnecessary in this case--Moore's real violation here was ordering/advising probate judges to violate not Obergefell, but a federal district-court order to which every probate judge was party and unquestionably bound that was made enforceable in light of Obergefell. That judgment gets passing reference, but the real focus was how Moore disregarded Obergefell.
Oh well. It is tempting to say Moore's judicial career is over. But I have no doubt he could win reelection to the court if he tried.
Further Update: This is among the most inaccurate things I have read by someone with a law degree. Writing about Moore trial:
This is the heart of the issue. According to Moore and Staver, the decisions of Alabama’s highest court are not subservient to those of a federal district judge. This goes against 200-plus years of constitutional interpretation that does put state courts below federal ones, of course.
“The state courts and the federal courts have co-equal authority,” Staver argued in a phone interview before the trial. “And one does not have to follow the other if they are making a decision on the U.S. Constitution.” This is not how the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution works, though.
Just, no. State courts are not "below" lower federal courts; they are co-equal courts that are all inferior tribunals to SCOTUS. Lower-federal court precedent is not binding on state courts or state judges (unless the state court chooses to be bound by that precedent). State courts and lower federal courts do have co-equal authority as to federal law. Congress was not obligated to even create lower federal courts; had it not done so, state courts would have been the only courts interpreting federal law other than SCOTUS.
We can debate departmentalism and the binding effect of SCOTUS precedent (as opposed to judgments) on non-judicial actors. But to say that state courts are inferior to lower federal courts reflects a complete misunderstanding of the judicial structure in the United States.
Friday, September 16, 2016
The New Constitutional Right to Post-Conviction Habeas
For decades, the dominant working assumptions of the Supreme Court's post-conviction habeas corpus jurisprudence have been that (1) federal post-conviction remedies are generally a matter of legislative grace; and (2) as Justice Alito reiterated last Term in his concurrence in Foster v. Chatman, "[s]tates are under no obligation to permit collateral attacks on convictions that have become final, and if they allow such attacks, they are free to limit the circumstances in which claims may be relitigated." In a new paper we've just posted to SSRN, Carlos Vázquez and I argue that, in its January 2016 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court directly rejected the first assumption, and, in the process, indirectly but necessarily undermined the second.
To make a long story short, although Montgomery looked like a fairly typical habeas retroactivity case under Teague v. Lane (asking whether Miller v. Alabama fit into an exception to Teague's general bar on retroactive enforcement via habeas of "new rules" of constitutional law), it had a jurisdictional wrinkle--to wit, why the Supreme Court had appellate jurisdiction over the Louisiana state court's holding that Miller was not retroactive under Teague. Although the parties defended the Court's jurisdiction on the ground that the state court's analysis of Miller was "interwoven" with federal law (and thus not independent thereof), Justice Kennedy's majority opinion based the Court's jurisdiction on a much broader conclusion--that the exception to Teague for new "substantive" rules of constitutional law is constitutionally grounded, and thus directly binds the states (as a matter of federal law) in their post-conviction proceedings. Thus, Montgomery recognized for the first time at least some circumstances in which the Constitution (and not just the federal habeas statute) confers a right to a post-conviction remedy--at bottom, to enforce new "substantive" rules of constitutional law handed down by the Supreme Court after the petitioner's conviction became final.
The much more interesting question (to which we turn in Part II of our paper) is the forum in which such a remedy is constitutionally required. As we argue (in some detail), the Supreme Court’s Supremacy Clause jurisprudence, especially the 2009 decision in Haywood v. Drown, establishes that the constitutionally required collateral remedy recognized in Montgomery must be available, in the first instance, in state courts—even if the state has not chosen to provide collateral post-conviction relief for comparable state-law claims. Indeed, as we explain, the state courts also have the constitutional power and duty to afford such relief to federal prisoners, but Congress has the power to withdraw such cases from the state courts by giving the federal courts exclusive jurisdiction (even implicitly) over such claims. Thus, we conclude that the state courts are constitutionally obligated to afford collateral post-conviction review to state prisoners in the circumstances covered by Montgomery, and that the federal courts should be presumed to have the statutory obligation to afford such review to federal prisoners.
Needless to say, this analysis calls into question at least some features of contemporary post-conviction habeas jurisprudence (especially for second-or-successive federal petitioners), and raises a bunch of questions about how far beyond Teague's substantive exception this newfound right to collateral post-conviction review extends. We try to sketch out some thoughts on these issues in Part III, but if we're right about the importance of Montgomery (especially in light of Haywood), then we hope our paper is the beginning of a much broader academic and judicial reassessment of the scope and shape of contemporary collateral post-conviction remedies, not the end.
And, although it should go without saying, we'd surely welcome comments, suggestions, and feedback...
Friday, September 02, 2016
Which Part of the Constitution Prohibits Wrongful Detention?
If a cop fabricates evidence against you, and you’re held in jail for 47 days, have you suffered a constitutional violation? Believe it or not, that’s an open question—or as I’ll explain, a partially-open question. And it’s also a question that the Supreme Court will answer in Manuel v. City of Joliet, which will be argued at the outset of the Court’s term in October.
A quick squib on the facts: Elijah Manuel was a passenger in a car driven by his brother in Joliet, Illinois. The cops pulled the car over, pulled Manuel out of the car and seized a bottle of pills in his pocket. (The cops also allegedly used excessive force during the stop, but that’s not at issue in the S.Ct. appeal.) The officers field tested the pills and said that they contained ecstasy. The thing was, the pills did not contain ecstasy; the field test came back negative for a controlled substance. The officers arrested him anyway and stuck to their story that the pills contained ecstasy. When they got back to the station, the officers gave the pills to a technician who tested them again. Like the field test, this test showed nothing unlawful about the pills. And also like the first test, the technician lied about the results. So Manuel sat in jail. Forty seven days later, after his attorney requested a copy of the lab report and the fraud was discovered, Manuel was released.
Manuel brought a § 1983 suit against the officers. Sounds like a good suit, right? I mean, there’s gotta be claim in there somewhere, doesn’t there? Maybe not.
Part of the problem with his case owes not to constitutional law but with the applicable statute of limitations. Wallace v. Kato holds that false imprisonment begins at the moment of wrongful detention and ends at the moment when legal process is provided (usually pursuant to a initial appearance or something akin to that). Unfortunately, Manuel filed suit more than 2 years after his initial appearance.
But he was in jail long after his initial appearance. Does he have a claim for that? That’s the issue the Supreme Court will decide. Constitutionally speaking, one can imagine three types of claims: (1) a substantive due process claim, (2) a procedural due process claim, and (3) a Fourth Amendment claim. The first possibility—substantive due process—is off the table under Albright v. Oliver. So that leaves procedural due process and the Fourth Amendment.
Manuel thinks he has a Fourth Amendment claim. The Fourth Amendment says, in effect, don’t seize people unless you have probable cause. Manuel was seized for 47 days (though his claim for some of those days is time barred under Wallace v. Kato). So he should have a claim, right? The City of Joliet argues, to simplify it greatly, that the Fourth Amendment is aimed at cops, not prosecutors. Once you are arrested and enter the justice system, the Fourth Amendment falls away and your right to be free from unlawful detention is basically procedural due process right. Fair enough, but why doesn’t Manuel just bring a procedural due process claim? The reason is that, under Parratt v. Taylor, a procedural due process claim does not accrue unless the claimant lacks a post-deprivation remedy. And Manuel had a post-deprivation remedy here—a state law malicious prosecution claim (which, unfortunately, is probably time-barred now). Thus, Joliet’s position is that no constitutional violation occurred (at least for the period of detention following his initial appearance).
Thus, at its heart, Manuel is about where the Fourth Amendment drops off and procedural due process picks up. My own view is that instead of talking about when the Fourth Amendment drops out of the picture as a matter of criminal procedure, why don’t we talk about it in terms of proximate cause? (Courts deciding Section 1983 cases routinely borrow tort law principles and proximate cause issues come up all the time.) That is, why not ask whether the officers’ Fourth Amendment violation proximately caused Manuel’s detention? In this case, it’s clear that it did. Moreover, proximate cause principles also help sort out what should happen as the case proceeds through the system. For example, suppose that the cops came clean to the prosecutor in this case but the prosecutor continued with the prosecution. The officers would have a good argument that the prosecutor’s actions amounted to an intervening cause that cut off their liability.
Finally, proximate causation solves one of the more difficult problems in these cases. In some cases, the defendants don’t just spend 47 days in jail as a pretrial detainee, they spend years in jail as a prisoner. If we look at this in terms of Fourth Amendment v. Due Process Clause, it’s hard to see how the Fourth Amendment should apply to a prisoner who’s sitting in jail 20 years after his arrest and trial. But if we look at it in terms of proximate cause, we don’t have to engage in some parlor game about whether the Fourth Amendment “applies” to people in jail.
Don’t look for the Court to take a proximate cause approach. The Court has gone far enough down a different road that it would be too difficult to back up and use a proximate causation rule. If I had to make a prediction, I’d expect Manuel to win—mainly because there’s a 10-1 circuit split in his favor and because the SG filed a brief on his behalf. Cutting against him is that the case will probably be heard by 8 justices and Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion in 1994 stating that wrongful detention after an initial appearance would state a procedural due process claim.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Now we know where John Roberts got the umpire analogy
Go to the 2:15 mark (start of the second chorus)
Thursday, August 11, 2016
IP, The Constitution, and the Courts - IPSC 2016
IPSC 2016 - Breakout Session III - IP, The Constitution, and the Courts
Lexmark and the Holding Dicta Distinction – Andrew Michaels
Established Rights, the Takings Clause, and Patent Law – Jason Rantanen
A Free Speech Right to Trademark Protection? – Lisa Ramsey
Lexmark and the Holding Dicta Distinction – Andrew Michaels
How do we distinguish dicta from holding? This project uses the Federal Circuit's dispute in Lexmark (on remand) over the breadth of the holding in Quanta. As Paul Gugliuzza summarized it for me (I was a late arriver), Michael's argument is that, rather than treating holding/dicta as a binary distinction, we should envision a spectrum of the types of things that courts say in their opinions.
A spectrum approach to holding v. dicta might helpfully restrict courts. If a holding says "No red convertibles in the park", we might worry about a case where a subsequent court says the opinion requires a holding of no vehicles in the park. They are not unrelated, but perhaps still dicta. Broader statements should have less capacity to bind than narrower holdings.
Jason Rantanen: This is interesting. We often see doctrinal pronouncement in Federal Circuit's case, much broader than necessary to decide the case. We also see language from earlier court opinions that are clearly dicta. Panels in the Federal Circuit nevertheless use it later. I wonder, however, whether we should take into account how the court is using the language. For example, do we bind the court to holding language only, or might they be appealing to the persuasiveness of early reasoning. Your spectrum focuses on text as it appears in the early opinion, but is that too narrow? Can dicta apply?
Andrew - Sometimes dicta is well considered. But if the court pretends it's a holding, and acts as if it is bound, then they are failing to adjudicate the dispute, and that's a problem.
Paul Gugliuzza - I think the Federal Circuit may engage in some over-use of dicta. Is there a prescriptive payoff to this spectrum? How does the court determine whether to follow the statement or not?
Andrew - The payoff is to require courts to deal more directly with the question of dicta.
Pam Samuelson - I think it's interesting when dicta becomes a holding, over time, and solves a problem. For example, the 3rd Circuit (Whelan) case had a lot of broad dicta that led to a lot of litigation. But the 2d Circuit also included a lot of dicta in Computer Assocs. v. Altai, and the dicta from the that case seems to have knocked out Whelan, and been followed, correctly from Pam's view, in many other circuits.
A subsequent observation from Paul: I think the spectrum provides an interesting descriptive contribution, but I wonder whether, instead of arguing whether a statement is holding or dicta, we'd just end up arguing about (1) where on the spectrum a particular statement falls and (2) whether, given its location on the spectrum, it's binding law or not.
A Problem of Subject Matter: Patent Demand Letters and the Federal Circuit’s Jurisdiction – Charles Duan & Kerry Sheehan
States are passing laws designed to cabin patent demand letters. We might presume that the Federal Circuit has primacy, but this paper argues the question isn't so cut and dried. The Supreme Court, in a case about attorney malpractice, held that there should be a balance struck between the interests of the federal courts and the state's consumer protection laws.
In a demand letter case, we could ask whether 1) this raises a sufficient issue of federal patent law, and 2) is the law unconstitutional or improper. To understand the second question, look to the Federal Circuit's Globetrotter case. The patent holder threatened to send letters to the defendant's clients. The defendants sued for tortious interference, and Fed. Cir. held that the Patent Act preempted acts that prevent sending demand letters.
We argue there is an odd disconnect in the Federal Circuit's analysis. It's a mistake that makes the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction appear larger than it is.
What is the right policy outcome? Should the Federal Circuit have primacy here? The uniformity issues that inspired the creation of the Federal Circuit doesn't necessarily reach every case that touches on patent law, and perhaps these demand letter cases are outside the needs of the uniformity requirement.
Jake Linford: I'm unclear on where the line is between the stuff the Federal Circuit controls and the stuff it doesn't. It sounds circular to me. Help me understand.
Charles: The Supreme Court doesn't take the view that the Federal Circuit is the final arbiter of all patent issues. The Christensen and Gund cases are examples where the Supreme Court put the responsibility with the Seventh Circuit and Texas courts respectively. Questions of validity of the patent may go to the Federal Circuit, but not claims about a clearly invalid patent.
Lisa Ramsey: One of the reasons this is so important is because people will get different results before a state court than the Federal Circuit. Is that right?
Charles: It's unclear. If we sort some cases for the Federal Circuit and others for the states, we might get divergent outcomes.
Pam Samuelson: How does the issue of validity of the patent get to the Federal Circuit if the case starts in state courts?
Charles: Removal is the mechanism.
Pam: If so, then how do we take the ability of the Federal Circuit away? If the Federal Circuit decides whether it has jurisdiction...
Charles: Perhaps the Supreme Court takes cert?
Paul Gugliuzza: What triggers the arising under jurisdiction of the patent clause? Isn't this a matter of patent jurisdiction?
Charles: I'm not sure this meets the Constitutional language...
Paul: The Federal Circuit may rely on Globetrotter, even if I disagree with them.
Paul Gugliuzza sent me the following summary of the Duan - Sheehan paper, which I find much better than my own:
Established Rights, the Takings Clause, and Patent Law – Jason Rantanen
Recent arguments have suggested that when patent laws change, the takings clause may be implicated. I wanted to understand the analytical reasoning behind the takings claim. Takings case law is a deep, Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole. How does it actually apply to patent law?
1) Jason agrees that patents are property subject to takings clause. (The Federal Circuit said no, in Zoltec, when the government infringes the patent. The Supreme Court, instead, suggested in dicta in the raisin takings case, that patents are the type of property subject to the takings clause)
2) But it's inappropriate to cut and paste takings case law to patent cases. Patents aren't like rights in real property. We know what a takings of a coal mind looks like. Patents aren't the same. In addition, one key right "taken" is the right to use, and the patent holder doesn't lose the right to use, only the right to exclude or alienate. So application of standard takings cases is difficult.
3) The question is instead whether the new law changes or destroys an "established property right" in the patent. That's the taking, if there is one. What's an established property right? The type associated with property, established with a high degree of legal certainty. See, for example, the Penn Central case, where the Supreme Court is looking for certain rights. If we are looking for high degree of legal certainty, many aspects of patent law has changed significantly and frequently over time. Patent has replaced the entire statutory framework at least four times, with only very minor exceptions. For example, when Congress passed the 1836 Patent Act, it replaced the prior act, and also applied the new act to pending litigation. There are many similarities, but this is a new draft. Same with the 1952 Act: "It shall apply to unexpired patents." Damages changed dramatically, as summarized in Halo v. Pulse. Patent owners used to get treble damages automatically, and they don't anymore. Patent holders in 1836 lost that right while claims were pending.
Lisa Ramsey: One argument against cancellation in the Redskins case is takings.
Jason Rantanen: The Redskins case considers whether the right was valid in the first place, which falls outside of standard takings analysis.
Camilla Hrdy: You may want to consider why the Supreme Court has held a trade secret can be taken. If so, why not a patent?
A Free Speech Right to Trademark Protection? – Lisa Ramsey
The Federal Circuit recently held that the 2(a) bar against registering disparaging trademarks is unconstitutional. Lisa's paper aims to make two unique contributions to literature on disparaging trademarks and the First Amendment:
- Is there a right under international treaties to be able to register a disparaging or scandalous trademark? The answer is no.
- A framework of six elements that should be applied in deciding whether laws against offensive trademarks run afoul of free speech rights.
The U.S. is not the only country that bans registration of scandalous marks. Canada even bans use.
We are members of the Paris Convention, which gives signees the discretion to decide whether to deny a registration on the grounds that a mark is contrary to morality or public order.
Lisa's framework (and 2(a) seems to meet most of these conditions):
- Is there government action? Who regulates the expression?
- Suppression, punishment, or harm: How does the regulation harm expression? Are there unconstitutional conditions imposed on speakers by denying the benefit? Lisa says no, because the benefit being denied is the right to restrict the speech of others.
- Expression. What is being regulated?
- Is this individual or government speech? Whose expression is regulated?
- No categorical exclusion for the expression: Is the regulation justified because of a categorical exclusion, like obscenity or misleading commercial expression?
- Does the regulation fail constitutional scrutiny? Is it content-neutral or content-based? That triggers different levels of scrutiny in the U.S.
What could the Court do if it wants to uphold 2(a)? 1) Say it's not suppression or punishment, and the unconditional conditions doctrine does not apply, under factor 2. 2) It satisfies the scrutiny under 6. 3) Make a "traditional contours" argument like in Eldred and Golan.
Saurabh Vishnubhakat: Pushing on Lisa's state action analysis, if we apply Shelly v. Kramer broadly (where the Supreme Court refused to allow the enforcement of racially restrictive covenants in court, and which may be limited to its fact), that may suggest everything is potentially a state action?
Rebecca Tushnet: If the Court is taking a "hands off" approach to conflicts between trademarks and the First Amendment, then doesn't hands off mean no registration? Isn't that state action?
Lisa: It is state action.
Rebecca: Then isn't everything state action.
Lisa: There are real benefits to registration that impacts the first amendment. Demand letters work better when backed by a registration. And when you have a registration, it's easier to push claims that some see as questionable, like dilution and merchandising cases.
Charles Duan: When it comes to disparaging marks, those have particularly strong expression value - used to express feelings, and therefore even worse to restrict than other registrations.
Pam: Is there an international standard?
Lisa: No, as I read the law, each country has discretion to set up the system it prefers.
Posted by Jake Linford on August 11, 2016 at 08:45 PM in Blogging, Civil Procedure, Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Information and Technology, Intellectual Property, International Law, Judicial Process, Property, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 04, 2016
What type of voter fraud?
In setting up his pre-narrative of a stolen election, Donald Trump has decried recent lower-court decisions declaring invalid voting laws in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, and North Dakota, including voter ID requirements. These laws were designed to prevent impersonation fraud--someone voting as John Smith who is not, in fact, John Smith.
But note that Trump has not been complaining about impersonation fraud, but about repeat-voter fraud--"If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting." (Chicago's old "Vote early, vote often"). But voter ID laws do nothing to eliminate repeat-voter fraud and do not seem designed to do so. The defense against that practice is the voter list; the poll worker does not allow someone to vote if she is not on the list (or allows only a provisional ballot) and she crosses the voter's name off the list once that person appears. Repeat voting is possible only if: 1) the poll worker fails to cross the name off or 2) the voter goes to other precincts, where she is not on the list, to vote. But requiring ID does not stop that practice. If the poll workers are not vigilant, I can repeat-vote to me heart's content with an ID, just as I could without an ID. That is, if I show an ID proving I am John Smith but the poll worker does not cross my name off the first time, I can come back again and again and vote as John Smith, showing my ID each time. Similarly, if I then drive to the wrong precinct with an ID proving I am John Smith but the poll worker allows me to vote despite my name not being on the list, I can cast that repeat vote as John Smith, showing my ID.
Unfortunately, most of the news reports of Trump's comments have repeated the (true) line that there is virtually no evidence of in-person voter fraud, without specifying that the fraud Trump is talking about is not even the type that ID laws are designed to redress. Which, also unfortunately, means the news reports are missing the fact that Trump is not aware enough to understand his own conspiracy theories.
Monday, August 01, 2016
Federalism Planks in Democratic Party Platforms
At this point in our quadrennial election cycle, thoughts turn to party platforms. In doing my research on a 1937 federal death penalty case in Michigan (the only case I have found before 2002 in which the federal government succeeded in securing a death sentence for a crime committed in a State that did not authorize the death penalty for the same offense), I wanted to look at the Democratic Party platforms over time, to see how much emphasis was paid to “states rights” at various times. Fortunately, I found a great website (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/platforms.php) that catalogs the platforms of the major parties going back to 1840.
I found that inclusion of a federalism plank in the Democratic Platform in the early part of the twentieth century was erratic. In 1900 and 1904, there was none. Then, in 1908, the sixth plank, entitled “The Rights of the States,” proclaimed:
Believing, with Jefferson, in "the support of the State governments in all their rights as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies," and in "the preservation of the General Government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad," we are opposed to the centralization implied in the suggestion, now frequently made, that the powers of the General Government should be extended by judicial construction.
A similar plank was included four years later as the platform’s fourth. In 1916 and 1920, there was no federalism plank in the Democratic Party platform. Such a plank reappeared in 1924, but it was buried near the middle – the 26th of forty-four planks. Then, amazingly, “The Rights of the States” appeared as the very first plank in the 1928 platform. It read:
We demand that the constitutional rights and powers of the states shall be preserved in their full vigor and virtue. These constitute a bulwark against centralization and the destructive tendencies of the Republican Party.
We oppose bureaucracy and the multiplication of offices and officeholders.
We demand a revival of the spirit of local self-government, without which free institutions cannot be preserved.
In 1932, the federalism plank disappeared from the Democratic Party platform, for pretty obvious reasons.
Most of my historical research has been on the founding period. Now, I have some general knowledge of the fact that there was a strong states’ rights faction in the Democratic Party prior to 1932, when the election of FDR marked the birth of the modern Democratic Party as the party of big federal government. I also know that this faction lingered on until the Republican Party’s “southern strategy” began the process of eliminating virtually all vestiges of that faction by transforming southern Democrats into Republicans. But I wonder if someone with more knowledge than I can chime in and help explain in more detail what was going on from 1900-32. Specifically, why was there such a dramatic push in 1928 to put federalism front and center when the party was only four years away from nominating FDR?
Monday, July 25, 2016
Thoughts on Reason-Based Regulation of Reproductive Decision-Making: Part II
In an earlier post, I blogged about the rise of reason-based bans on abortion (such as laws banning abortion for sex selection, or because of fetal anomaly), and I hypothesized that there is the constitutional privacy right includes a right to make a constitutionally protected decision for whatever reasons one chooses. In this post, I want to consider another type of law that arguably implicates this privacy right, and also places it in conflict with other individuals’ religious freedom–specifically, laws that require employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives when they are needed for particular reasons.
About half of the states currently require insurers in the state to provide coverage for contraceptives. These state-law contraceptive coverage mandates are separate from the regulation requiring contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act and apply independently of it. Because these mandates are enforced by state governments rather than the federal government, the federal RFRA—construed in Hobby Lobby to require an accommodation for employers that object on religious grounds—does not apply directly to them. Nonetheless, in many of these states, religious employers may still be able to access insurance plans without contraceptive coverage, either because the state contraceptive coverage laws also have religious exemptions written into them, or because those exceptions are available via state RFRA analogs.
In a handful of states, employers may opt out of providing insurance coverage of contraceptives for contraceptive purposes but not for therapeutic purposes. For example, Arizona law, which requires insurers to provide contraceptive coverage if they cover other prescription drugs, also provides that “a religiously affiliated employer may require that the corporation provide a contract without coverage for” contraceptives. However, it goes on to specify that the insurance policy cannot exclude coverage for prescription contraceptive methods prescribed "for medical indications other than for contraceptive, abortifacient, abortion or sterilization purposes.” Similarly, North Carolina law allows religious employers to offer plans without contraceptive coverage but does not exempt them from covering prescription contraceptives "for reasons other than contraceptive purposes, or ... that is necessary to preserve the life or health of a person covered under the plan.” Presumably, these sorts of provisos would cover women who seek contraceptive drugs for purposes of avoiding or curing particular medical conditions (such as certain skin conditions or menstrual disorders) as well as women who need contraception because pregnancy would be life-threatening or harmful to their health. At least in the latter scenario, it seems clear that such provisos distinguish between valid and valid reasons for the same reproductive conduct.
These sorts of laws set up a potential conflict between a woman’s right to privacy with respect to the deliberative process and an employer’s right to act based on religious motivations. Because the right to autonomous decision-making has constitutional stature (as I argue in Part I) and the right to act based on religious motivations does not (as explained below), it seems clear that the woman’s right to access contraception for any reason whatsoever should prevail.
These state laws, while presumably intended to ensure that women’s physical health is protected while safeguarding the religious freedom of employers, nonetheless have the effect of regulating the reasons for which women may engage in constitutionally protected conduct. Women who work for religious employers taking advantage of these exceptions may access covered contraception if it is necessary to avoid harm to their health but not for family-planning purposes. According to the framework outlined in Part I, laws that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable reasons for choosing contraception would be unconstitutional. Similarly to the selective abortion bans discussed in Part I, they allow the employer to dictate the terms of the woman’s reproductive decision, interfering with the woman’s deliberative process as clearly as if the law itself denied women contraceptive access for certain reasons and not others. By empowering employers to privilege certain grounds of decision over others, the government picks and chooses among the reasons a woman may or may not have access to contraception.
The privacy right related to contraceptives is constitutionally protected. However, there is no constitutional free exercise right to be exempt from a generally applicable health insurance mandate because of one’s religious beliefs. The right claimed by Hobby Lobby was based on RFRA, not the Constitution, and the Supreme Court made clear in Employment Division v. Smith that there was no general free exercise right to an exemption from a neutral and generally applicable law. Thus, the woman’s right to choose contraception without regard to the reason should trump.
Ironically, however, one consequence of this analysis is that laws providing blanket exemptions from contraceptive coverage are on firmer constitutional ground than more carefully tailored exemptions. A blanket exemption allowing religious employers to opt out from covering contraceptives would not unconstitutionally privilege certain reasons over others and therefore would not burden the constitutional right to deliberate autonomously, because it would not distinguish between valid and invalid reasons. Is this result a correct one, or a desirable one?
Although this result seems counter-intuitive, it may nonetheless be the correct one based on existing constitutional doctrine. Once the government begins carefully tailoring exemptions, problems can ensue. For example, a statute with a narrowly drafted religious exemption that excludes certain religious groups while protecting others would likely be more problematic than one with no exemption.
Moreover, it may be worth considering the political implications of a decision requiring states to exempt all religious employers from covering contraception in all circumstances, even when it is needed to protect the woman’s health, or none at all. It is possible that the result would be that the practice of covering oral contraceptives for non-family-planning purposes would continue but without the sanction of law; employers and insurers could continue to make the distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic contraception, but through private, internal policies. (For example, Catholic employers generally do not have a problem with covering contraception for “therapeutic,” as opposed to family planning purposes.) Since no law would be implicated, there would be no state action and no constitutional problem. On the other hand, there might be value in highlighting the conflict between religious beliefs and private reproductive decision-making in this context. It is worth considering, perhaps in a more public way, whether the distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic contraception is one that the government should make and whether the government should be deciding which uses of contraception are sufficient to outweigh an employer’s religious claims. Currently, this debate is submerged by Hobby Lobby and the post-Hobby Lobby discourse, which treats religious exemptions from contraceptives coverage as an all-or-nothing issue.
Friday, July 22, 2016
The Meaning of Sex Discrimination
In response to a number of questions from school districts about how to serve transgender students under Title IX, the Departments of Justice and Education issued joint guidance in May explaining how they interpreted the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title IX and its implementing regulations. In bringing clarity to the issue, the guidance explains that the prohibition on sex discrimination “encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.” Pursuant to the guidance, “[t]he Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations.” The guidance then details that transgender students should be permitted to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.
A number of states have filed lawsuits challenging the guidance, arguing that the Administration is “foisting its new version of federal law” on schools. But the Departments’ interpretation is not drawn from whole cloth. In fact, courts have recognized that sex discrimination under federal civil rights statutes includes discrimination based on someone’s transgender status for some time, authority that is noted in the Departments’ guidance, and is collected here and here. And of course, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court adopted a capacious understanding of what constitutes “sex” discrimination, prohibiting sex stereotyping or treating people differently because of their perceived failure to conform to gender norms.
The states also argue that the Departments are attempting to “redefine the unambiguous term ‘sex.’” But the statutory and regulatory meaning of the prohibition on sex discrimination as it relates to transgender individuals is far from clear, as the Fourth Circuit recently concluded in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, the lawsuit by a Virginia transgender boy challenging his exclusion from the boys bathroom. Indeed, as one of the lawsuits challenging the Departments’ guidance concedes, “[n]othing in Title IX’s text, structure, legislative history, or accompanying regulations address gender identity,” suggesting—at most—that the statute doesn’t speak, one way or another, to whether transgender individuals are protected by the statute. As the Fourth Circuit held in G.G., because the law is “silent as to how a school should determine whether a transgender individual is a male or female for the purpose of access to sex-segregated restrooms,” there is an ambiguity which the Departments are permitted to clarify.
As an alternative interpretation, those challenging the Departments’ guidance suggest that “sex” means what they call “biological sex.” But neither the statutory language or the legislative history quoted by those challenging the guidance appear to reference so-called “biological sex” at all. As discussed in a prior post, medical experts have established that the factors contributing to one’s sex are multifaceted, including “external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, gender identity, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics and genes.” Thus, even if one focused purely on the physical characteristics of sex, reliance on “biological sex” creates more ambiguity than it resolves. Again, as the Fourth Circuit reasoned: “For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident? The Department’s interpretation resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.”
When one combines the statutory and regulatory ambiguity with the medical reality, defining “sex” with reference to one’s gender identity is far from radical, is certainly reasonable, and is probably the best interpretation of the relevant language.
The reasonableness of that interpretation is heightened when one considers that, at least with regard to public schools, the Equal Protection Clause overlays any analysis. And, without diving into a detailed discussion, the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision makes clear that “[t]he Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity” (emphasis added). Given Obergefell’s context, this is powerful language suggesting that we possess constitutional rights over our sexual and gender identity.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Athlete speech and team dynamics
Last week, NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, LeBron James, and and Dwyane Wade kicked off the ESPY Award telecast with a call for athletes to become politically engaged, particularly around the issues of violence by and against police. Players on the Minnesota Lynx wore black warmup shirts with white lettering commemorating Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas shootings, which prompted four off-duty police officers to walk-off their security jobs there. Several other teams followed suit by wearing plain black warmup shirts, which prompted the league to fine each team $ 5000 and each player $ 500, citing its uniform policy. The league president praising and expressed pride in the players' "engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues," while demanding that they "comply with the league's uniform guidelines." This, of course, is a classic example of how neutral policies can be used to restrain speech, while allowing those doing the restraining to claim to support the speech. Players responded today with a media blackout, refusing to answer basketball-related questions and only talking about the political issues at the heart of their protests. Since the league no doubt has rules about speaking with the media, expect the WNBA to follow with more praise for the players' political courage, more citation to "neutral" rules, and more fines for that political courage.
This is playing out on a smaller stage than if it were male athletes in football, basketball, and baseball. But this story illustrates important issues about athlete speech for team, as opposed to individual, sports. The athletes we remember as being most politically engaged played individual sports--Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos, Billie Jean King, Jesse Owens, Tommie Smith. A lot of the activism from Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown came after each had retired and, in any event, rarely came out on the field (except to the extent Robinson's very presence on the field was political). All athletes risk their standing with the public and fans who may object to their speech (recall Michael Jordan's apocryphal "Republicans buy shoes, too"). But team-sport athletes face another hurdle--their expression implicates the financial, business, and other concerns of teams and leagues, who have their own incentives to limit this speech. Neutral rules designed to promote the sport (speaking to the media) or to promote team unity (uniform rules) provide the perfect weapon of control, allowing leagues or teams to shut the players down without appearing to be stopping them because of their message.
The question then becomes the extent to which "athlete speech" includes (or should include) the liberty to speak through the game itself and the platform the game provides. In other words, the extent to which LeBron James not only should be able to rely on his fame to get his message out, but also the platform of the game itself to do so.
Trump, Turkey, and the "problem" of civil liberties
Donald Trump's interview with The New York Times would be the story of the day, but for Ted Cruz's act of political courage/political suicide. Trump was asked about the situation in Turkey, where President Recep Endrogan survived a coup attempt and is consolidating power, declaring a three-month state of emergency, purging political rivals, and imposing restrictions on speech and press. Trump's short answer was that the US has too many problems at home and has no right to lecture other countries about civil liberties.
Some have read that as Trump saying that we have issues with limits on civil liberties here, so we cannot speak to anyone else about their own limits. That is what people usually mean by "no right to X"--we don't have the right to lecture anyone about X, because we do X ourselves. It is an argument about hypocrisy and inconsistency between word and deed.
But a closer look at Trump's remarks reveals the opposite. Trump is arguing that we have anarchy here, implicitly because we have too many civil liberties. So we need to restore order (which fits with his new Nixonian Law-and-Order theme) before worrying about urging other countries to be less repressive on their own people. It is an odd use of the "no right to" argument, but it better fits with his views of dissent and speech he does not like.Here is the exchange (from the transcript, which The Times released when--stop me if you heard this one before--the campaign denied Trump had said what the newspaper reported).
SANGER: Erdogan put nearly 50,000 people in jail or suspend them, suspended thousands of teachers, he imprisoned many in the military and the police, he dismissed a lot of the judiciary. Does this worry you? And would you rather deal with a strongman who’s also been a strong ally, or with somebody that’s got a greater appreciation of civil liberties than Mr. Erdogan has? Would you press him to make sure the rule of law applies?
TRUMP: I think right now when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. We have tremendous problems when you have policemen being shot in the streets, when you have riots, when you have Ferguson. When you have Baltimore. When you have all of the things that are happening in this country — we have other problems, and I think we have to focus on those problems. When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.
SANGER: So that suggests that you would not, as, say, President Bush did, the last President Bush, make the spread of democracy and liberty sort of a core of your foreign policy. You would say, “We need allies, we’re not going to lecture them about what they do inside their borders.”
TRUMP: We need allies.
SANGER: And lecture inside their borders?
TRUMP: I don’t know that we have a right to lecture. Just look about what’s happening with our country. How are we going to lecture when people are shooting our policemen in cold blood. How are we going to lecture when you see the riots and the horror going on in our own country. We have so many difficulties in our country right now that I don’t think we should be, and there may be a time when we can get much more aggressive on that subject, and it will be a wonderful thing to be more aggressive. We’re not in a position to be more aggressive. We have to fix our own mess.
His point is that we should not be worried about civil liberties elsewhere. But implicitly he is arguing that we also should not be worried about civil liberties at home, but instead about the government gaining control against the "riots and the horror"and "our own mess."*
[*] The party flip between optimism and pessimism and how great America is right now is fascinating. It will be interesting to see how and if the Democrats strike at this theme next week.
Also interesting is Trump's reference to "Ferguson" as a single word with an understood meaning. But what is that meaning? To Trump, Ferguson means riots and destruction of property. To others, however, Ferguson means a police officer shooting an unarmed Black person with impunity, generally abusive police practices, and a massive overreaction to peaceful-if-angry public assembly speech, and protest. Trump obviously hopes that substantial numbers of people adopt his meaning of the single word. On the other hand, there is a consent decree in the Eastern District of Missouri--explicitly requiring changes in policy and training with respect to responding to public expression, handling of encounters with suspects, and the operation of fine offensives in municipal courts--that suggests the former may be the better narrative. So is the problem of Ferguson too much speech (or at least too much speech critical of police)?
Similarly, what does Trump understand "Baltimore" to represent? Wrongfully prosecuted police officers? Is outrage at the death of a person in policy custody part of the riots, horror, and mess in this country?
Monday, July 18, 2016
Decentralizing the Exclusionary Rule
One strand of my research in the last few years has focused on exploring what I see as a federalism component of the Fourth Amendment. In The Contingent Fourth Amendment, 64 Emory L.J. 1229 (2015), I looked at the law of search and seizure from 1765 to 1795, with particular focus on the Justice of the Peace manuals used at the time, and what the Anti-Federalists said and wrote about search and seizure during the ratification period. I concluded that the best way of viewing the Reasonableness Clause of the Fourth Amendment was as a constraint that federal officers follow state law when searching and seizing. In a piece I am currently finishing up, “The Local-Control Model of the Fourth Amendment,” http://ssrn.com/abstract=2721014, I provide more evidence in support of that claim and I contrast this “local-control model” to the two dominant models of viewing the Fourth Amendment, the “warrant model” and the “reasonableness model.” And in “Decentralizing Fourth Amendment Search Doctrine,” which I just began in earnest, I am exploring the claim that the “what is a search” question should be decentralized so that the answer might differ by State, or even by locality.
Something I so far have not looked at, but hope to in the coming years, is the exclusionary rule, and how a decentralized approach to the rule might make sense.That’s why I was intrigued when listening to the oral argument in Utah v. Strieff. Early on, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan express a concern that when a high percentage of people have outstanding warrants, the police might have every incentive to conduct illegal stops if – as the Court ultimately ruled – the evidence found as a result of the ensuing arrest is not generally subject to the exclusionary rule. But, of course, the percentage of residents with outstanding warrants is going to vary widely from place to place. As Justice Sotomayor put it: “[I]f you have a town like Ferguson [Missouri], where 80 percent of the residents have minor traffic warrants out, there may be a very good incentive for just standing on the street corner in Ferguson and asking every citizen, give me your ID . . . .” Justice Kagan almost immediately followed up with
if you're policing a community where there is some significant percentage of people who have arrest warrants out on them, it really does increase your incentive to . . . make that stop on the chance that there will be a warrant that will allow you to search and admit whatever evidence you gained in that search. * * * [I]t does change your incentives quite dramatically, it seems to me, if you're policing a community where there is some significant percentage of people who have arrest warrants.
So that led me to wonder why we think about the exclusionary rule in gross, rather than at the retail level. The Court has posited that the only justification for the exclusionary rule is the deterrence of police misconduct. The Court has also said that whether the rule deters police misconduct must be evaluated on a context-by-context basis. Excluding evidence from anything but a criminal trial, the Court has told us, is not worth the price we pay in the currency of lost evidence. Fair enough. The deterrent value of excluding evidence is also not worth the cost where the arresting officer reasonably relied on an invalid warrant, an unconstitutional statute, an erroneous report of the existence of an outstanding warrant, or binding case law that was later reversed. Again, fair enough. But if we are going to apply the exclusionary rule in such a context-sensitive way, why not also vary it by locality? If the figures set forth by Justice Sotomayor are accurate, the incentives for police in some communities are going to be very different than in other communities. The entire concept of deterrence hinges on a prediction based on empirical evidence about how people will act under certain conditions. If one of the variables that might change the prediction is the locality, because of the percentage of people who are subject to outstanding warrants, then it seems to me that if the defendant shows that this percentage is high, the prediction about police behavior ought to change accordingly
Indeed, the majority opinion in Strieff seems to leave open the possibility of a more localized application of the exclusionary rule. The Court acknowledged the argument that a large number of outstanding warrants within a local population might motivate the police to conduct illegal stops in the hopes of hitting upon a person with such a warrant. It did not outright reject this argument; it wrote simply that this was not a problem in the locality where the stop took place:
Strieff argues that, because of the prevalence of outstanding arrest warrants in many jurisdictions, police will engage in dragnet searches if the exclusionary rule is not applied. We think that this outcome is unlikely. Such wanton conduct would expose police to civil liability. And in any event, the Brown factors take account of the purpose and flagrancy of police misconduct. Were evidence of a dragnet search presented here, the application of the Brown factors could be different. But there is no evidence that the concerns that Strieff raises with the criminal justice system are present in South Salt Lake City, Utah.
(citations omitted) (emphasis added). Thus, the Court folded the perverse incentives argument into the third Brown factor, the purpose and flagrancy of the police misconduct. My argument is somewhat different. The Court seems to be willing to take into account idiosyncratic characteristics of the locality but only to the extent that they might produce flagrant, systemic flouting of the Fourth Amendment. My approach would not require evidence of misconduct that stark, which might be nigh impossible for a defendant to produce. I would simply allow local judges to take into account local conditions in determining what the likely incentives are for police within those localities. If the community has a very high number of people with outstanding warrants, the incentive is there for police to take advantage of that, regardless of whether there is hard proof that they do so on a systemic basis. One can presume that, as rational actors, at least some police will do so. The exclusionary rule should be applied to counteract that incentive.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Old Man Yells at Cloud, First Installment
I wanted to use some of my blog posts this month to discuss some of the mechanical and organizational errors that I see authors make in their legal scholarship. This is real nitty-gritty stuff, small mistakes that may not seem to matter much but which can really detract from a piece. I was going to call this “Pet Peeves” but I think that that diminishes the importance of these points: these are not peevish predilections for a certain style of writing over others; they are things that are simply incorrect and should be fixed. On the other hand, I try not to take myself too seriously, so I have settled on “Old Man Yells at Cloud” (if you don’t know the origin, Google it).
For the first installment, I wanted to focus on a glaring error that I see more and more: Many times authors will describe an opinion as “concurring” when it really should be “concurring in the judgment.” It is as if those last three words don’t really matter, so they can be cut out. I used to think this was solely the fault of student law review editors, and in turn, perhaps, the people who are supposed to be teaching them proper citation form. I myself have had more than one set of editors “fix” my citations by changing “concurring in the judgment” to simply “concurring,” and have had to change them back. But then I saw more and more first drafts of papers, before they even hit the law reviews, that contain the same error, by people who should know better.
The difference between a concurring opinion and one concurring merely in the judgment is an important one. For one thing, a concurrence in the judgment is often more like a dissent than a straight concurrence. Take, for example, the recent case of United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), which addressed whether government officials conduct a “search” for purposes of the Fourth Amendment when they attach a GPS device to a vehicle and track its movements for 28 days. The Justices were unanimous that this was a search but split 5-4 over the reasoning. The Court held this to be a search because the government physically intruded upon a private space, by placing an object onto personal property, for the purpose of gathering information. Justice Alito, joined by three of his colleagues, sharply disagreed with this “trespass theory” of the Fourth Amendment but concluded that tracking the suspect’s movements with a GPS device for so long infringed upon his reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements. Justice Alito spends the bulk of his separate opinion criticizing the Court’s return to the old “trespass” doctrine, with much less space devoted to why the government’s conduct violated Jones’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The opinion is much more dissent than concurrence but, of course, because he and his three colleagues would have come to the same result as the Court, it is a concurrence in the judgment. To mischaracterize it as a “concurrence” is to make much more than a simple technical error; it is to mislead the reader into thinking that Justice Alito essentially agreed with the majority and simply wanted to add his two cents or try his hand at explaining what the majority was really saying.
By contrast, Justice Sotomayor wrote a true concurrence in Jones. She joined the majority and agreed with its reasoning but wrote separately to indicate her agreement with much of what Justice Alito wrote in his separate opinion and to call into question some more general aspects of Fourth Amendment search doctrine. Thus to call both what Justice Alito wrote and what Justice Sotomayor wrote “concurrences” conveys a false impression about the two opinions and their relationship to the majority.
Another context in which the distinction really matters is where there is no majority opinion. Take, for example, Missouri v. Seibert, 542 U.S. 600 (2004), in which the Court addressed whether, where the police deliberately first obtained un-Mirandized statements from a suspect during custodial interrogation, later adherence to the Miranda warnings-and-waiver protocol rendered admissible a suspect’s subsequent statements. A plurality of the Court said that the subsequent statements were inadmissible, even though they followed Miranda warnings and waiver, because the initial statements had been un-Mirandized. However, the plurality looked to a number of factors – “the completeness and detail of the questions and answers in the first round of interrogation, the overlapping content of the two statements, the timing and setting of the first and second, the continuity of police personnel, and the degree to which the interrogator’s questions treated the second round as continuous with the first” – to determine when such mid-stream warnings and waiver would render subsequent statements admissible.
Justice Kennedy wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment, agreeing with the outcome, but relying on only one factor: that the police deliberately obtained the first set of statements without adhering to Miranda in order to “soften up” the suspect into waiving her rights on the second go-round. Had the same police conduct occurred inadvertently, Justice Kennedy presumably would have come out the other way.
Here, the distinction between a concurrence and a concurrence in the judgment is critical. Had Justice Kennedy written a straight concurrence, presumably he would have joined the plurality, making it a majority. Anything he wrote in such a concurrence would be important inasmuch as it explains the majority opinion from the perspective of the necessary fifth vote, but it would not have the force of law. By stark contrast, the opinion as a concurrence in the judgment takes on much more significance. Pursuant to the Court’s Marks rule, where there is no majority opinion, one must discern the narrowest point on which five Justices agree. In many cases, this means that a concurrence in the judgment is the law because it represents that narrowest point. In Seibert, that conclusion is more questionable, given that Justice Kennedy’s focus on the good or bad faith of the police seems to have been rejected by seven other Justices. Lawyers, judges, law students, and academics have struggled to figure out what, if anything, is the holding of Seibert. Mischaracterizing Justice Kennedy’s separate opinion in that case as a “concurrence” misleads the reader into thinking that she need not engage in that struggle because Justice Kennedy agreed with and joined his colleagues’ multi-factor analysis. But he didn’t. A mere concurrence might be enlightening but it is rarely as critical as a concurrence in the judgment when there is no majority opinion.
So “concurring in the judgment” does not mean “concurring.” Authors and editors need to stop pretending that it does.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Privacy and Transgender Bathroom Access
In the litigation and public debate surrounding transgender people’s rights to use the bathroom, two of the principal issues are the meaning of “sex” and the privacy rights of everyone using restrooms or locker rooms. In this post, I’ll address the privacy claims because doing so highlights, to me, that separate and apart from the merits of any interpretive debate on the statutory meaning of “sex,” the underlying real world concerns of all involved are, in fact, not in conflict. Transgender bathroom access does not harm or implicate the privacy concerns of anyone else. Conversely, excluding trans people from bathrooms consonant with their gender identity publicly outs them every time they use the facilities.
Opponents of permitting trans people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity seem concerned that a person’s genitalia will be seen by someone with different genitalia, or that a person may see genitalia different than their own. In terms of both logistics and law, these concerns seem overstated.
First, bathrooms provide private spaces—stalls. This is true even in men’s rooms. So, if someone has a concern about who sees their genitalia, or if one prefers not to view another person’s, one can use the stall and avoid the urinals. Even in locker rooms, practical solutions such as privacy curtains can be affordably installed to provide greater privacy to those who desire it. Such curtains have been endorsed by the Department of Education.
Second, to the extent there is concern over someone’s prurient interest, those supporting bathroom bans overlook issues of sexual orientation. Transgender people—like cisgender people—can be straight, gay, or bi. Our gender does not dictate our sexuality. That’s to say, a straight transgender woman will have no sexual interest in other women in the restroom. But even if she did, we obviously permit gay men and lesbians to use public restrooms and changing facilities, so why should trans people be treated differently?
Third, the myth that transgender bathroom access somehow represents a risk of sexual violence has already been empirically refuted by government officials in jurisdictions that have trans-inclusive policies. Existing laws prohibit voyeurism and violence and transgender bathroom access doesn’t change that.
Although privacy is not endangered by the presence of transgender people, excluding trans people does endanger their privacy and safety. Forcing transgender individuals to use a bathroom that does not correspond with their gender identity and outward gender expression outs that person as transgender each time they use the public restroom.
Of course, transgender people should feel no shame over their identity or their bodies—quite the opposite. But unfortunately, misunderstanding and, at times, animus toward transgender individuals is not uncommon. As discussed in my previous post, transgender people are subject to high levels of violence, poverty, incarceration, and employment discrimination. And because comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people are lacking, maintaining privacy over one’s trans status may be critical to a range of activities from obtaining a job to keeping safe.
As such, to the extent this debate is about privacy, the real world harms seem to tilt in favor of access for transgender individuals, not exclusion.
The same holds true for privacy law.
While in broad strokes case law supports constitutional limits on the government’s ability to disseminate our private, intimate information, the cases relied on by proponents of transgender exclusion do not support their argument here.
For example, proponents of trans exclusion have relied on cases involving a female police officer being videotaped partially nude by a male colleague after taking a decontamination shower, schools installing video cameras in student locker rooms, strip searches of students, and the forceful removing of an inmate’s underclothes. These are, of course, horrific privacy invasions. But they are quite distinct from the mere presence of transgender people using facilities corresponding to their gender identity. As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged in its recent decision in G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, it is doubtful that a trans student’s “use of the communal restroom of his choice threatens the type of constitutional abuses present” in such appalling privacy cases.
Instead, to the extent that the law recognizes limits on the government’s ability to disseminate personal information (and it does), courts enforce those limits most rigorously when information regarding a stigmatized characteristic is disclosed—for example, one’s HIV status, minority sexual orientation, or transgender identity. This is because disclosure of that information can result in further harm to the individual, including discrimination. And certain courts have specifically held that laws that out a person’s transgender status implicate this right to informational privacy.
In other words, the right to informational privacy—the right to limit disclosure of one’s information—appears to be at its zenith when dealing with information that might expose someone to stigmatization, discrimination, or some other concrete downstream harm.
As noted, in a world with continued misunderstanding and hostility towards trans people, there can be little doubt that outing of a person’s transgender status can lead to very real harms. The constitutional right to privacy restricts such outing.
*Parts of this post draw on articles of mine first appearing in Slate and Salon.
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
Some thoughts about Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
Cross-posted at Casetext
I'm delighted to be back blogging at Prawfs! Thanks to Howard and the rest of the regulars for inviting me.
I wanted to start off with some thoughts about the Supreme Court's momentous decision in Whole Woman's Heath v. Hellerstedt -- more thoughts on the case may follow as they develop.
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most important abortion case in over two decades, the Supreme Court handed the plaintiffs as sweeping a victory as they could have hoped for. In doing so, the Court also saved the “undue burden” standard and quite possibly the right to abortion itself.
Since the Supreme Court’s joint opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which was co-authored by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter, the constitutionality of an abortion restriction depended on whether it imposed an “undue burden” on the ability of a “large fraction” of women to obtain an abortion. This standard was not only less protective of abortion rights than the strict scrutiny standard that the Court had set out in Roe v. Wade, it was also so indefinite and malleable that it opened the door to greater and greater envelope-pushing by states adopting increasingly onerous anti-abortion laws.
In Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court was confronted with one such anti-abortion law—Texas’s H.B. 2. The Texas law required abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers (essentially, mini-hospitals) and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The ambulatory surgical center requirements were prohibitively expensive for existing clinics to meet, and admitting privileges can be impossible for certain abortion providers to obtain for reasons totally unrelated to clinical competence, such as opposition to abortion (for example, by a Catholic hospital). Thus, the combined effect of the two restrictions—restrictions extant in numerous other states as well—would be to shut down approximately three quarters of Texas’s abortion providers, forcing many women—especially those outside the major metropolitan areas—to travel long distances and undergo long delays in order to obtain safe and legal abortion services.
In a 5-3 majority opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the Court held the Texas abortion restrictions to be an unconstitutional undue burden on abortion rights. In some ways, this holding was not surprising. After all, even Justice Kennedy, the most conservative member of that 5-Justice majority, would have to admit that if anything is a substantial obstacle to abortion access, H.B. 2 is. The bigger surprise was the way the Court went about it. In finding an undue burden, the Court held that the actual health and safety benefits of the law had to be balanced against the impact of the law on abortion access. Given that the two Texas requirements were found to have essentially no meaningful benefits to women, the massive burden on abortion access was unwarranted (or “undue”).
It is hard to overstate how important this particular approach was.
By focusing on the health benefits of the law in relation to the burdens, the Court made sense of, and breathed new life into, the undue burden standard. No longer is the undue burden standard a numbers game, in which the exact formula to be applied is unclear. Nor did the Court issue a narrow but ultimately unhelpful ruling identifying an undue burden in Texas without telling us what an undue burden actually is. Instead, the Court issued a sensible opinion giving real meaning to the word “undue,” and putting at risk dozens of abortion restrictions across the country that are passed in the name of protecting women, without any evidence to back them up.
Other elements of the decision were remarkable. For one thing, the opinion made it clear that courts are not to defer to legislatures on the medical or scientific issues that underlie abortion restrictions; instead, they should examine the evidence independently and critically. Justice Kennedy in Gonzales v. Carhart, the Court’s most recent major abortion case, had worried over the “traditional rule” of deferring to legislatures in the face of medical and scientific uncertainty, before ultimately choosing not defer to Congress’s demonstrably mistaken findings. In Whole Woman’s Health, by contrast, the Court asserted, “The statement that legislatures, and not courts, must resolve questions of medical uncertainty is … inconsistent with this Court’s case law. Instead, the Court, when determining the constitutionality of laws regulating abortion procedures, has placed considerable weight upon evidence and argument presented in judicial proceedings.” The opinion thus affirmed the courts’ duty to review facts independently when constitutional rights are at stake.
The Court broadened its focus in other ways, as well. In Casey, the joint opinion had dismissed the district court’s concerns about the impact of a 24-hour waiting period, requiring two trips to the clinic, on women with fewer resources and those who had to travel long distances. Casey stated “[t]hese findings are troubling in some respects, but they do not demonstrate that the waiting period constitutes an undue burden.” In Whole Woman’s Health, by contrast, the Court specifically cited the trial court’s finding that the Texas laws would “erect a particularly high barrier for poor, rural, or disadvantaged women” in its finding of undue burden. Finally, the Court declined to split hairs on the issues of remedy and of facial versus as-applied challenges, as it had done in Planned Parenthood v. Ayotte and Gonzales v. Carhart.
Looking forward, there is reason to be optimistic about the impact of Whole Woman’s Health on abortion rights. Having now denied certiorari in admitting-privileges cases from Mississippi and Wisconsin (in which the plaintiffs won below), the Court has sent a fairly clear signal to any state legislatures considering admitting-privileges requirements in the future. And numerous states have ambulatory surgical center-type requirements, though admittedly the Court was less categorical in striking those down. Given that ambulatory surgical center requirements vary greatly from state to state in their details and onerousness, it is necessary to look more closely at the specific nature of the requirements and their impact. Reading the opinion to require states generally to justify burdens on abortion with evidence supporting an actual benefit for the law, it’s possible that the Whole Woman’s Health decision will also be used to strike down 20-week abortion bans, which are often justified based on junk evidence pertaining to fetal pain. Bans on using telemedicine to provide medication abortion, currently in effect in 18 states, are also now vulnerable.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Whole Woman’s Health, however, is that the Court treated the right to choose abortion like the fundamental right that it is. As with other constitutional rights, infringements on the right to choose abortion must be viewed with scrutiny rising above the level of deferential rational-basis review.
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Overview of ABF Research (Part III): Law & Globalization and Legal History
In this last post on ABF research, let me describe two parts of our research portfolio that reflect both our sense of the past and our transnational perspective on the present. From its founding in the 1950s through today, the ABF has been focused on studying how law, legal institutions, and legal processes operate across place and time. Our scholarship and programming on law & globalization and our work in legal history reflect these enduring commitments.
Let me start with a brief description of our research on law & globalization.
Law & Globalization
Globalization, to be sure, is not a new phenomenon, but it has taken on a greater sense of urgency in recent decades. Like many academic and research organizations, the ABF has become increasingly interested in the causes and consequences of globalization and its relation to law. For many years, we have had numerous international faculty members conducting research throughout the world.
Most recently, our legal sociologists Terry Halliday and Sida Liu have been collaborating on a long-term project about Chinese criminal defense lawyers and their role in political mobilization. As I’m sure many Prawf readers know the Chinese state in recent years has been intimidating and persecuting Chinese lawyers because of their political activism. Terry and Sida have conducted hundreds of interviews with Chinese lawyers to learn more about how the everyday work of criminal defense lawyers has become a political project. Drawing on a long line of scholarship about lawyers and political liberalism (much of it written by Terry), their forthcoming book will one of the first to examine empirically how the seemingly ordinary work of criminal defense lawyers in China can have far reaching transnational political and social implications. Although the book won’t be out for another year or so, this fascinating research has already garnered significant media attention across the globe.
Another area of ABF research on globalization focuses on comparative constitutions. Our joint-appointee Tom Ginsburg (U. of Chicago Law & ABF) has been at the forefront of research about the origins and international diffusion of rights in national constitutions. For many years, Tom and his collaborators have been collecting data on the countless constitutions that have been in existence since 1789 to the present (you can learn more about their Comparative Constitutions Project here). This project has documented the important role of domestic political factors and country characteristics in understanding the development and diffusion of constitutional rights.
While Tom Ginsburg’s research focuses on the material aspects of the rule of law, one of our other colleagues working on globalization, Jothie Rajah, explores the more theoretical underpinnings of rule of law discourse. Following up on her first book about rule of law in Singapore, Jothie’s latest project analyses the different ways in which global institutional actors (the UN, the World Bank, the International Commission of Jurists, the World Justice Project) define “rule of law.” Through a close reading of the texts and practices of these institutions, Jothie analyzes the development of global norms and the efficacy of rule of law indicators.
ABF research on globalization also examines the diffusion of legal rules across nation-states. Our joint-appointee Carol Heimer (ABF/Northwestern Sociology) is studying how laws, regulations and other rules are actually used in HIV research and treatment in the United States, Uganda, South Africa, and Thailand. Her book project investigates what happens when laws, regulations, and guidelines, admittedly created with the best of intentions, are transported to new sites where they confront the realities of medical care, clinical research, and healthcare administration in developing countries. Carol is currently finishing up a fellowship year at Stanford’s Center on Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, where she is completing her book manuscript.
In addition to our work on Law & Globalization, the ABF has also had a long tradition of research on legal history, writ large. Many years ago, the ABF had a Legal History Society of some kind that hosted regular events advancing scholarship in legal history. Although the formal society doesn’t exist anymore, the ABF continues to play an important role in supporting and promoting legal history. From our faculty members like Vicky Woeste, whose recent research focuses on hate speech (here’s a link to her latest book on Henry Ford and Hate Speech), to our regular Chicago-area seminar on legal history, to our recent support for a junior scholars conference on Law in Capitalism, the ABF remains committed to supporting innovative and influential research on how law and legal institutions have operated in the past, and on how these historical legacies continue to influence the present.
Indeed, our recent conference, which was co-hosted by the University of Chicago Law School, and supported by a consortium of schools and the American Society for Legal History, brought together a stellar group of junior scholars working at the intersection of law and the new histories of capitalism. These advanced grad students and junior faculty members had a chance to share their work and receive feedback from senior scholars in the field. We were delighted to host this group at our Chicago location, and we look forward to having more ABF events on legal history.
Like the other categories I’ve discussed earlier, these two ABF research streams are just examples of a much deeper body of scholarship. To learn more about our research, please visit our website.
Now that I’ve given readers a sense of the type of empirical and interdisciplinary research the ABF conducts, perhaps in my last post (if I haven’t already over stayed my welcome as a guest blogger) I can address a couple of pragmatic issues about ABF funding and the role that legal academics play in both supporting and helping disseminate ABF research.
Same-sex marriage, religious opt-outs, and constitutional procedure
On Monday, Judge Reeves of the Southern District of Mississippi declared that Mississippi cannot statutorily authorize county clerks to opt-out of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on religious objections to same-sex marriage (the law was enacted soon after, and in response to, Obergefell). But the order was entirely bound-up in the procedure of constitutional litigation, particularly with respect to marriage. Refreshingly, Judge Reeves took his time on the process and got it right.The plaintiffs challenged the Mississippi law through a motion to amend the existing permanent injunction prohibiting enforcement of the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Before the court could reach the constitutionality of the new state law it had to determine:
1) It still had jurisdiction to enforce and expand the injunction, because the same issue--the constitutionality under the Fourteenth Amendment of a state law seeking to treat same-sex couples differently than opposite couples with respect to marriage licenses--was involved in both the original injunction and the new challenge.
2) The plaintiffs have standing to expand the injunction. This one is trickier, because the named couples have, presumably, gotten their marriage licenses, so they are not injured by the new law. And this is not a class action. The court relied on basic principles that plaintiffs always have a right to protect their final judgment, although the new law does not threaten the injunction as to them. Any uncertainty was resolve by the court's third point--the Campaign for Southern Equality is a plaintiff and it has associational standing to represent any members who want a license in the future and may have it denied pursuant to the new law.
3) The named plaintiffs, and the enjoined persons, are the governor, the AG, and the clerk of one county. The plaintiffs were trying to get the clerks for the other 81 counties in the state to comply with Obergefell. The court recognized that these 81 clerks are not parties and not bound by the injunction. Instead, the court ordered the parties to ensure that these other parties have notice of the injunction and that they are subject to it, presumably by adding them as defendants and/or certifying a defendant class, to whom the injunction can be extended.
4) The injunction would be extended to state that everyone bound by the injunction must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the "same terms and conditions as opposite-sex couples." The court took this language from Obergefell to ensure that the Supreme Court decision, which is the law of the land and the law of the circuit, will be enforced. The judiciary, he added, should "remain vigilant whenever a named party to an injunction is accused of circumventing that injunction, directly or indirectly." Without saying so, Judge Reeves capture the departmentalist point--the injunction against specific individuals is necessary to formally bind them to Obergefell. The key is to ensure that all appropriate people are named parties subject to an injunction.
5) The court left it to the parties to figure out how to get notice to the other clerks and to agree on language for the amended permanent injunction.