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Archive for September, 2013

A few posts over at The Volokh Conspiracy at the end of last week raised some good questions about the basis for, and going-forward import of, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of DOMA in United States v. Windsor. In two posts (so far), Neomi Rao has probed the Windsor majority opinion’s use of “dignity,” while Dale Carpenter has provided a different take on the basis for Windsor. And Will Baude has written a post analyzing Friday’s New Jersey trial court ruling that New Jersey must extend the designation of “marriage” to its civil unions (which in New Jersey provide the same legal benefits under New Jersey law as marriage). These posts highlight the confusion that Windsor has spawned by its lack of a clear legal basis. (But see Ernest A. Young, United States v. Windsor and the Role of State Law in Defining Rights Claims, 99 Va. L. Rev. Online 39, 40 (2013) (“[T]he trouble with Windsor is not that the opinion is muddled or vague; the rationale is actually quite  evident on the face of Justice Kennedy’s opinion.”).)

Some of this confusion stems, in my view, from Justice Kennedy’s description of state marriage law as conferring “dignity and status of immense import” upon those authorized to marry by state law. This understanding locates in the State much greater power than it possesses in a limited government. Properly understood, the State can undermine or promote human dignity through its laws (and in many other ways as well), but the State does not “confer” dignity. Once one assigns to the State a power that it is neither authorized nor suited to exercise, the boundaries that one then seeks to place around exercises of that power risk being arbitrary. (A similar dynamic comes into play when one assigns an attribute to the State that it does not, properly speaking, possess. Perhaps for this reason, the confusion surrounding Windsor resembles something of the confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s use of “dignity” in its sovereign immunity jurisprudence.)

Whatever the sources of the confusion in Windsor, it is becoming increasingly clear that Windsor itself is a significant source of confusion for courts trying to figure out its legal import. This is apparent in last Friday’s ruling from New Jersey, Garden State Equality v. Dow. The court in Dow ruled that the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution requires New Jersey to extend the designation of “marriage” to same-sex couples that previously were eligible for civil unions in the state. The court’s ruling rests on an interpretation and extension of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Lewis v. HarrisIn that case, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the same state-law rights and benefits provided to married couples in New Jersey must also be provided to same-sex couples eligible for domestic partnerships. The problem with the domestic partnership scheme at issue in that case was that domestic partners received fewer state-law rights and benefits than married couples in New Jersey. The court in Lewis held that there was no fundamental right to marry, but that the state constitution’s equal protection guarantee protected against discrimination in the form of fewer benefits for same-sex couples.

Following Lewis v. Harris, the New Jersey legislature enacted civil union legislation that provided same-sex couples in civil unions with identical state-law rights and benefits as enjoyed by married couples. This appears to have remedied the state-constitutional equal protection violation found in Lewis v. Harris. And that is where matters stood until Windsor.

After Windsor held the federal DOMA unconstitutional, various agencies of the federal government determined that same-sex couples who were married under state law would receive federal benefits as married couples under federal law. But these agencies did not treat state civil unions like marriages. Accordingly, same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were not entitled to the same federal benefits as same-sex couples in marriages in other states that recognized same-sex marriage.

Friday’s ruling in Garden State Equality v. Dow holds that, in the wake of Windsor, New Jersey must allow same-sex couples to marry under New Jersey law in order to be entitled to the same federal-law rights and benefits as married couples, as required by the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution as construed in Lewis v. Harris. Here is how the Dow court summarizes its reasoning:

Under the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006), same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples. The Lewis Court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples. The New Jersey legislature chose the latter option when it adopted the Civil Union Act. Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples. Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State.

The ineligibility of same-sex couples for federal benefits is currently harming same-sex couples in New Jersey in a wide range of contexts: civil union partners who are federal employees living in New Jersey are ineligible for marital rights with regard to the federal pension system, all civil union partners who are employees working for businesses to which the Family and Medical Leave Act applies may not rely on its statutory protections for spouses, and civil union couples may not access the federal tax benefits that married couples enjoy. And if the trend of federal agencies deeming civil union partners ineligible for benefits continues, plaintiffs will suffer even more, while their opposite-sex New Jersey counterparts continue to receive federal marital benefits for no reason other than the label placed upon their relationships by the State. This unequal treatment requires that New Jersey extend civil marriage to same-sex couples to satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the New Jersey Constitution as interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court in Lewis. Same-sex couples must be allowed to marry in order to obtain equal protection of the law under the New Jersey Constitution.

The court’s reasoning is confusing. If the Civil Union Act remedied the violation of New Jersey’s equal protection guarantee by ensuring identical state-law rights and benefits, then how does the new availability of federal-law rights and benefits to those who are married under federal law because married under state law affect the requirements of the equal protection guarantee of the New Jersey Constitution for couples who do not have a state-constitutional-right to marry? The court’s reasoning seems to conclude that the New Jersey Constitution requires access to the federal law benefits enjoyed by married same-sex couples in other states. But if the only reason that those couples are entitled to those federal-law benefits is because the state in which those couples were married has chosen to confer the dignity and status of marriage on those couples, then why should a different state’s constitutional equal protection guarantee require entitlement to federal-law benefits when that state has not chosen to confer the dignity and status of marriage on those couples?

Further, consider the following:

– “Under the New Jersey Supreme Court’s opinion in Lewis v. Harris, 188 N.J. 415 (2006), same-sex couples are entitled to the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples.” But what “same rights and benefits”? Under state law? Federal law? Both? It is hard to believe that Lewis v. Harris required the New Jersey legislature to provide same-sex couples with the same benefits under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

– “The Lewis Court held that the New Jersey Constitution required the State to either grant same-sex couples the right to marry or create a parallel statutory structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.” All the same rights and benefits under state law? Under federal law? Both? Again, it is difficult to imagine that Lewis v. Harris required the New Jersey legislature to provide same-sex couples with the same benefits under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

– “The New Jersey legislature chose the latter option when it adopted the Civil Union Act.” Since the Civil Union Act did not do anything to provide same-sex couples with the benefits of marriage under federal law, the New Jersey legislature chose a system in which same-sex couples could obtain all the same rights and benefits under state law that are available to opposite-sex married couples. So when the court says that Lewis required a choice between same-sex marriage and “a parallel structure that allows those couples to obtain all the same rights and benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples,” that parallel structure was measured by reference to state-law rights.

– “Since the United States Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, __ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013), invalidated the Defense of Marriage Act, several federal agencies have acted to extend marital benefits to same-sex married couples. However, the majority of those agencies have not extended eligibility for those benefits to civil union couples. As a result, New Jersey same-sex couples in civil unions are no longer entitled to all of the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex married couples.” But same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were not previously entitled to all of the same rights and benefits under federal law as opposite-sex married couples in New Jersey. And that did not violate the New Jersey Constitution. Same-sex couples in civil unions in New Jersey were entitled to the same rights and benefits under state law before Windsor, and they remain entitled to the same rights and benefits under state law after Windsor.

– “Whereas before Windsor same-sex couples in New Jersey would have been denied federal benefits regardless of what their relationship was called, these couples are now denied benefits solely as a result of the label placed upon them by the State.” WIndsor held unconstitutional the refusal of federal-law marriage benefits to those upon whom the state conferred the dignity and status of marriage. Same-sex couples in New Jersey are not couples upon whom the state has conferred the dignity and status of marriage. Wasn’t that the basic function of the Lewis court’s distinction between interpreting the New Jersey Constitution to require “marriage” on the one hand, versus interpreting the New Jersey Constitution to allow civil unions with identical rights and benefits as marriage under a different label, on the other?

[Cross-Posted at Mirror of Justice]

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A split panel of the Fourth Circuit today held that Virginia’s ban on certain alcohol advertising in college newspapers violates the First Amendment as applied to Collegiate Times (at Virginia Tech) and Cavalier Daily (at UVA). This holding of as-applied unconstitutionality comes almost three-and-a-half years after the Fourth Circuit upheld the same regulation against a facial challenge in Educational Media Co. v. Swecker, 602 F.3d 583 (4th Cir. 2010). The panel declined to decide whether to apply a form of heightened scrutiny to the Virginia speech regulation, but held that the regulation violated the fourth prong of the four-prong Central Hudson test for assessing the validity of commercial speech restrictions. The opinion for the court in today’s decision, Educational Media Co. v. Insley, was authored by Judge Thacker and joined in by Judge King. Judge Shedd (the author of the panel opinion on the facial challenge) dissented. (For more information and background, see the ACLU’s Press Release touting the victory and AP coverage in the Washington Post.)

As described by the Fourth Circuit, the Central Hudson test provides that “a regulation of commercial speech will be upheld if (1) the regulated speech concerns lawful activity and is not misleading; (2) the regulation is supported by a substantial government interest; (3) the regulation directly advances that interest; and (4) the regulation is not more extensive than necessary to serve the government’s interest.” The parties agreed that prongs (1) and (2) were satisfied, and the court held that its earlier analysis in Swecker established that prong (3) was satisfied. Turning to prong (4), the court held that “the challenged regulation fails under the fourth Central Hudson prong because it prohibits large numbers of adults who are 21 years of age or older from receiving truthful information about a product that they are legally allowed to consume.” In support of this conclusion, the majority observed that “roughly 60% of the Collegiate Times’s readership is age 21 or older and the Cavalier Daily reaches approximately 10,000 students, nearly 64% of whom are age 21 or older.”

Reading today’s opinion in light of the Fourth Circuit’s earlier opinion in Swecker, one should feel some sympathy for Judge Lauck, who has now been twice reversed in this case. Judge Lauck initially held that the regulation violated the First Amendment on its face, only to be reversed in Swecker. Judge Lauck then upheld the regulation against an as-applied challenge under Swecker, only to be reversed in an opinion that, as a practical matter (though not as a technical matter), reaches the same bottom-line conclusion as Judge Lauck’s initial decision. Moreover, the main evidence relied upon by the Fourth Circuit panel in its consideration of the as-applied challenge was before the panel that decided Swecker and was discussed in Judge Moon’s dissenting opinion in that case.  Although the opinion contains several passages discussing the distinction between facial and as-applied challenges, this is an area of the law that is as murky (or murkier) in the Fourth Circuit as it is elsewhere throughout the federal judiciary.

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Each Catholic religious order has its own special charism that can be seen in institutions founded by and run by members of the order. In and through their various institutions, I have personally experienced the distinctive charism of Dominican sisters, Salesian priests, brothers, and sisters, Capuchin Franciscan priests, Holy Cross priests and brothers, Jesuit seminarians and priests, and Augustinian priests and brothers, among others. It was not until earlier this year, however, that I encountered the distinctive charism of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their own distinctive institutions: homes for the elderly poor. The Little Sisters’ charism is one of hospitality, in which the Sisters strive to “be little in order to be close to the most humble, and [to] be close to make them happy.”

Like many Catholics, I was familiar with the Little Sisters from their trips to our parish to beg for funds for their ministry. I knew that they knew how to ask in a way that touched the hearts of the congregation. But it was not until I met some of the sisters at St. Joseph’s Home in Richmond (including two Sisters from St. Martin’s Home in Baltimore), and again at Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, D.C., that I understood on a deeper personal level the real difference that their presence makes in the lives of their homes’ residents and in the life of the Church. It’s the difference that comes from knowing that one is loved and has dignity and will not die alone, and the difference that comes from vowed women religious spreading that love, cultivating that dignity, and accompanying the dying on their final journey.

Unfortunately, however, the occasions for my visits to their homes were meetings to discuss legal matters. Like many religious organizations, the Little Sisters have needed to figure out how to deal with the federal government’s refusal to treat them as a religious employer exempt from the legal requirement to offer health benefit plans that violate their religious beliefs. The fruit of some of those earlier consultations was a set of comments in response to the federal government’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. In those comments, the Little Sisters respectfully requested the government “to reach a just resolution that respects the religious freedom and conscience rights of all.” And the comments expressed the hope “that it is unnecessary for us to join the scores of employers that have already resorted to the federal courts for protection.”

That hope has now met necessity, and the Sisters are now in federal court. Through two of their homes (in Denver and in Baltimore), the Little Sisters have filed a lawsuit, together with Christian Brothers Services and Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust (which cooperate with religious organizations in the provision of benefits). The lawsuit seeks relief from enforcement of the requirement to arrange their health benefit plans so that beneficiaries receive no-cost access to female sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices (including some with abortifacient properties).

Although aware of the Little Sisters’ religion-based objections to this requirement, the federal government has refused to treat the Little Sisters’ homes as “religious employers” that receive an exemption. Having witnessed the Sisters’ ministry in these homes and having worshipped with the Little Sisters in the St. Joseph’s Home’s chapel, this refusal boggles even the lawyerly part of my mind. These Little Sisters of the Poor homes are—in the words of Cardinal George—“icons of mercy where Christ is welcomed and served in the elderly poor with the utmost respect for their dignity.” In any ordinary time, these homes would easily be recognized as “religious employers.” But perhaps this is no ordinary time. If the federal government continues to refuse to recognize these homes as “religious employers” under the federal contraceptives mandate, then words have lost their meaning for them.

The lead lawyers on the case are from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Locke Lord LLP. I am continuing to assist the Little Sisters as part of their legal team and will therefore be more circumspect than I might otherwise be in discussing various aspects of the case. But the complaint speaks for itself. And the Becket Fund has created a case page with more background, including a press release and a web video, which I encourage all to check out.

(cross-posted at Mirror of Justice)

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A split panel of the Fourth Circuit today reinstated the free speech and free association claims of some sheriff’s deputies in Hampton, Virginia who alleged that they had been fired from their jobs for supporting the incumbent sheriff’s political opponent. Among the issues in the case was whether clicking “Like” on the challenger’s campaign page was speech within the protection of the First Amendment. The district court said no: “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.” But the Fourth Circuit today disagreed. Here is the relevant portion of the Court’s analysis (discussing the claim of one Carter):

Here, Carter visited the Jim Adams’s campaign Facebook page (the “Campaign Page”), which was named “Jim Adams for the Hampton Sheriff,” and he clicked the “like” button on the Campaign Page. When he did so the Campaign Page’s name and a photo of Adams –which an Adams campaign representative had selected as the Page’s icon – were added to Carter’s profile, which all Facebook users could view. On Carter’s profile, the Campaign Page name served as a link to the Campaign Page. Carter’s clicking on the  “like” button also caused an announcement that Carter liked the Campaign Page to appear in the news feeds of Carter’s friends. And it caused Carter’s name and his profile photo to be added to the Campaign Page’s “People [Who] Like This” list.

Once one understands the nature of what Carter did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech. On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.

Aside from the fact that liking the Campaign Page constituted pure speech, it also was symbolic expression. The distribution of the universally understood “thumbs up” symbol in association with Adams’s campaign page, like the actual text that liking the page produced, conveyed that Carter supported Adams’s candidacy. See Spence v. Washington, 418 U.S. 405, 410-11 (1974) (per curiam) (holding that person engaged in expressive conduct when there was “[a]n intent to convey a particularized message . . ., and in the surrounding circumstances the likelihood was great that the message would be understood by those who viewed it”); see also Tobey v. Jones,  706 F.3d 379, 388 n.3 (4th Cir. 2013).

In sum, liking a political candidate’s campaign page communicates the user’s approval of the candidate and supports the campaign by associating the user with it. In this way, it  is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in  one’s front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is  substantive speech. See City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U.S. 43,  54-56 (1994). Just as Carter’s placing an “Adams for Sheriff” sign in his front yard would have conveyed to those passing his home that he supported Adams’s campaign, Carter’s liking Adams’s  Campaign Page conveyed that message to those viewing his profile  or the Campaign Page.15 In fact, it is hardly surprising that  the record reflects that this is exactly how Carter’s action was  understood. See J.A. 160 (McCoy’s testimony that in light of  Carter’s liking Adams’s Campaign Page, “everybody was saying  that . . . Carter is out of there because he supported Adams  openly”); see also J.A. 793 (Sheriff’s Office employee stating  that Roberts had said that “certain employees were on the  Facebook page of his opponent, Jim Adams, indicating their support of Adams for Sheriff”).

All of this sounds just right.

Chief Judge Traxler wrote the opinion for the court in Bland v. Roberts, in which Judge Thacker joined.  Judge Hollander (D.Md., sitting by designation) wrote a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. The judges were not split on the liking-as-speech issue but on the application of qualified immunity, a split largely traceable to different views about the scope of the en banc holding in Jenkins v. Medford, 119 F.3d 1156 (4th Cir. 1997) (en banc).

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Following up on Tom Berg’s post at MOJ about the Democrats for Life brief and Michael Moreland’s post about the McConnell/Inazu/CLS et al. brief, see here for another amici curiae brief in support of petitioners inMcCullen v. Coakley. This one is filed on behalf of several First Amendment scholars: Eugene VolokhRick GarnettMichael Stokes PaulsenTimothy ZickWilliam E. LeeAlan Chen, and Ronald J. Krotoszynski, Jr. The brief highlights the depth and breadth of academic criticism of Hill v. Colorado. The brief’s signatories have different views on the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence but agree on the importance of the First Amendment principles at stake in the case. Special thanks to Matthew Fitzgerald of McGuireWoods for taking the pen and for serving as counsel of record.

The table of contents for the brief provides a sense of the arguments:

I. EVEN STRONG SUPPORTERS OF ABORTION RIGHTS 
FAVORED FREE  SPEECH IN HILL v. COLORADO................... 6
A. Hill’s content-neutrality holding disagreed with the ACLU 
and drew immediate criticism from leading liberal scholars.............................. 8
B. Hill’s focus on protecting the unwilling listener was also widely 
doubted and criticized............................ 12

II. THE LOGIC OF HILL OPENED THE DOOR TO 
THE MORE RESTRICTIVE MASSACHUSETTS LAW HERE ................... 14

A. In the wake of Hill, scholars predicted trouble such as this 
ahead. ..................................................... 14

B. The courts have slid directly down 
Hill to McCullen..................................... 15

CONCLUSION ........................................................ 21

[cross-posted at Mirror of Justice]

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