Supreme Court Roundup Part Three: Harris v. Quinn

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public
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the american twins 2On October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and for sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the third and final blog post on the presentation.  Readers can find the first post here, and the second post here.  What follows are my prepared remarks on Harris v. Quinn, and also a brief conclusion regarding the three cases.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

The case of Harris v. Quinn involved an Illinois law that made home health aides state employees under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act.  As a result of this law, these workers became joint employees of both the private individual who receives the services of the home-health worker and the State of Illinois.  The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) represents home health aides under a contract with the State of Illinois and collects mandatory dues from both union and non-union workers, which are called “agency fees.”  Persons who have a negative view of organized labor object to agency fees because they compel people to pay money to an organization to which they do not belong.  Persons who have a positive view of organized labor support agency fees because they prevent non-union employees from “free riding,” which occurs when non-union employees receive the benefits of union-negotiated employment contracts without contributing to the cost of negotiating them.

Under existing precedent, a government employer who collects agency fees from non-union members does not violate their First Amendment rights because when the government acts as an employer it has a compelling interest in avoiding conflicting demands for wages and employment conditions from competing groups of employees.  Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977).  The plaintiffs in the Harris case wanted to use their lawsuit to overturn the Abood decision, thereby allowing any government employees who are not union members to work for the government without paying agency fees to a public employee union.  Read more »

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Supreme Court Roundup Part One: McCutcheon v. FEC

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Election Law, First Amendment, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Boss_Tweed,_Thomas_NastOn October 30, I participated in a presentation entitled “Supreme Court Roundup” with Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute.  The event was sponsored by the Law School chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.  We discussed three significant cases from the 2013-2014 Supreme Court term: McCutcheon v. FEC, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn.  It was a spirited discussion, in which Mr. Shapiro and I presented opposing views, but I want to thank Mr. Shapiro for taking the time to visit the Law School and for sharing his perspective with the students.

This is the first of three blog posts on the presentation.  What follows are my prepared remarks on McCutcheon v. FEC.  Readers interested in Mr. Shapiro’s position on the case can refer to the amicus brief that he filed on behalf of the Cato Institute.

In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court considered whether campaign finance laws imposing annual aggregate contribution limits violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.  A plurality of the Court answered “yes,” without reaching the issue of whether limits on contributions to individual candidates also violated the Constitution.  Justice Thomas concurred with the plurality opinion, but would have gone further and overruled the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld individual contribution limits.  Four Justices dissented.

The plurality opinion in McCutcheon, written by Justice Roberts, reasoned that legal limits on aggregate contributions violate the First Amendment unless the government has a compelling interest to regulate such spending.  But the only possible compelling interest available to the government is the avoidance of quid pro quo bribery, which aggregate contribution limits do nothing to prevent.

The reasoning of the plurality is not a surprise.  In one sense, this reasoning is unobjectionable on the grounds that it is simply a logical application of the rationale adopted by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which struck down campaign finance laws prohibiting independent expenditures by corporations and unions.  The problem is that Citizens United was a sharp and unjustified break with prior precedent. Read more »

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You Knew Your New iPhone Was Cool, but Did You Know….?

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Category: Computer Law, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Public
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apple-logo-redApple is marketing its newest smartphone operating system, iOS 8, as a bulwark of personal privacy. Apparently, not even Apple itself can bypass a customer’s passcode and extract data from an iPhone that runs the new operating system. This means that even in response to a court order, the company will be powerless to comply.  Competitors are likely to follow suit.

This is a development with profound implications for law enforcement, which views the ability to obtain such data with a warrant as crucial in its efforts to combat crime and terrorism.  Defenders of the new technology point out that law enforcement may be able to obtain the same data in different ways; for example, if the data is stored “in the cloud” or if the password can be deduced somehow.

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7th Circuit Affirms District Court Ruling Invalidating Wisconsin’s Marriage Amendment

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Public, Seventh Circuit, Western District of Wisconsin
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same sex hand holdingJudge Richard Posner minces no words. In an opinion dated September 4, Judge Posner wrote for a unanimous 7th Circuit panel, affirming the Wisconsin district court’s decision invalidating Wisconsin’s so-called marriage amendment. (I reviewed the district court decision here.) Wisconsin’s case—Wolf v. Walker—was heard with its equivalent from Indiana—Baskin v. Bogan—and both states saw their prohibitions on same-sex marriage crumble.

The court confines its analysis to equal protection, avoiding the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process argument (marriage as a fundamental right) that both sides pressed. As an equal protection analysis, the court sets up the legal question as one that requires heightened scrutiny because, as the court determined, sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic rather than a choice (and, Judge Posner added, “[w]isely, neither Indiana nor Wisconsin argues otherwise” (*9)).

Because heightened scrutiny applied, the state needed to provide an important state interest for treating same-sex couples differently when it came to marriage, and the discriminatory means chosen (denying same-sex couples the right to marry in Wisconsin and refusing to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that sanction such unions) must be substantially related to achieving that important state interest. In true Posnerian style, Judge Posner discussed the equal protection analysis in terms of costs and benefits. (See **4-7.) That is, “in a same-sex marriage case the issue is not whether heterosexual marriage is a socially beneficial institution but whether the benefits to the state from discriminating against same-sex couples clearly outweigh the harms that this discrimination imposes” (*6).

The court found no important state interest to satisfy the heightened scrutiny analysis. As Judge Posner noted, “[T]he only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously” (*7). In fact, the court found none of the arguments proffered by either state as rational, much less serving important state interests. “The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subject to heightened scrutiny . . .” (*8). Because the court found an equal protection violation (whether it used heightened scrutiny or rational basis analysis), the court avoided the due process argument. Read more »

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Hallows Lecture Examines Little Noted, but Pivotal Civil Rights Decision

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Legal History, Public, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette
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“Remarkable but relatively obscure” – that’s how Judge Paul T. Watford of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit described the 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Screws v. United States. In presenting Marquette Law School’s annual Hallows Lecture on March 4, Judge Watford aimed to lift the decision from some of its obscurity and increase awareness of “the birth of federal civil rights enforcement,” as the title of his lecture put it.

The case began with the vicious and fatal beating of Robert Hall, an African-American man, by M. Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, Ga., and two of Screws’ deputies. Judge Watford said the circumstances of Hall’s death provide a window into how African Americans of that era had to live with the “ever-present reality” of unwarranted violence against them by white law enforcement officers. Even given the many witnesses to Hall’s death, Georgia authorities declined to prosecute Screws and his deputies. But, in what Watford described as an unusual development for that time, a federal indictment was issued against them for violating Hall’s civil rights.

Ultimately, a splintered Supreme Court did not do all that civil rights advocates would have wanted, but the justices upheld the application in situations such as this of 18 U.S.C. § 242, prohibiting violation of civil rights by someone acting under the color of law. The majority of justices rejected the argument that civil rights violations were a matter to be left to the states, although no single opinion commanded a majority.

“Had Screws come out the other way, and been decided against the federal government, federal civil rights enforcement would have been stifled,” Watford said. “Instead, it was given new life, and that helped change the course of history, particularly in the South, in the second half of the twentieth century.”  Read more »

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(Marriage) Equality and the Popularity Paradox

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Family Law, Federalism, Public
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=Writing for the majority of the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, Justice Kennedy stated that “[t]he Constitution’s guarantee of equality ‘must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot’ justify disparate treatment of that group.” Under this test, the Court struck down a key provision from the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law as referring only to opposite-sex marriages and spouses. The opinion concludes that DOMA’s very object was “to ensure that if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law.”

It is almost trite to say that the result in Windsor would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. Yet this observation strikes at the heart of a paradox in the test applied by the Court: It suggests that a group has a realistic chance of being classified as a “politically unpopular group” deserving of protection only after it has acquired a certain level of popularity. Of course, the recent shift in popular opinion on same-sex marriage in the United States has been spectacular. In 2004, bans on same-sex marriage (and in many cases, also civil unions and other contractual protections of same-sex relationships) were adopted by popular vote in all of the eleven States where such bans had been put on the ballot during the general elections. Today, the States that have same-sex marriage bans on the books outnumber the States in which same-sex marriage is legalized by thirty-five to twelve (plus D.C.). Yet starting in 2010 or 2011, nationwide support for same-sex marriage began to exceed opposition to it. The increased popularity of the cause translated into political action: In 2012, for the first time voters approved initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage in three States (Maine, Maryland, and Washington). In that same year, voters in Minnesota voted down a proposed same-sex marriage ban. In sum, it is safe to say marriage equality has become a mainstream cause, albeit one that is still met with ardent opposition. Read more »

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SCOTUS Strikes Down DOMA

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Just this morning, the United States Supreme Court released its opinion in United States v. Windsor, the case that challenged the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The Court declared DOMA unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote.  More to follow.

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Don’t Convicted Felons Deserve Second Chances, Too?

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Human Rights, Public
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A group of friends and I email each other links to news articles on a regular basis.  Sometimes the articles are about interesting, funny, or odd developments. The articles that come to mind recently include the Georgetown law student convicted of running a methamphetamine ring; cat-hoarding; rabid beaver attacks; or this article on therapy llamas. (We have a fun group.)  Occasionally we have in-depth back-and-forth discussions about more serious legal topics.  By now, two years removed from law school, we have moved to different cities and states and we all practice in different areas of law, which tends to give us very different perspectives on the various topics that pop up. 

This week, we’ve had a lively debate about Paula Cooper , the Indiana woman released Monday after having been sentenced to die for a crime she committed at fifteen.  The news stories report that she stabbed a 78-year-old woman 33 times with a butcher knife, and was the youngest person in the country sentenced to the death penalty.  For reasons that would take up an entirely separate blog article, since she was sentenced in 1986, it has now been deemed unconstitutional to sentence a child to the death penalty.  Cooper’s sentence was amended to 60 years, and she was released on Monday after having served more than a quarter of a century behind bars.  She will serve time on parole.

The question posed to the group was: would you let this woman out? Read more »

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When Rules Are Invisible

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Public
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HiggsResearchers at CERN laboratory in Switzerland announced this week that they believe they have evidence of the existence of the Higgs boson, or Higgs particle. The Higgs boson and the associated Higgs field help to explain, among other things, how particles achieve mass. In 1964 physicist Peter Higgs and five other researchers theorized the Higgs boson. Researchers at CERN have been colliding particles in the Large Hydron Collider to look for the Higgs boson.

The Higgs boson is part of the Standard Model theory, which explains the interactions and characteristics of subatomic particles. Researchers had accounted for the Higgs boson in their Standard Model calculations over the years. In November 2011, a CERN physicist said, “’For our theory to be right, we need the Higgs to exist. If it doesn’t, we need something to replace it.’” The question now appears to be what kind of Higgs boson researchers have observed.

Reading about the Higgs boson announcement reminded me of Professor Lawrence Tribe’s book The Invisible Constitution. The Higgs boson and the United States Constitution don’t at first glance have much in common, but the way Tribe approaches interpreting the Constitution parallels the approach of theoretical physicists in creating models that explain the invisible rules that govern the physical universe. In fact, Tribe himself draws an analogy to physics throughout the book.

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Important Points Won Even as ACA Case Was Lost, Paul Clement Says

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Interpretation, Federal Law & Legal System, Federalism, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Paul Clement’s arguments did not carry the day when it came to the outcome a year ago of the historic United States Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. But his arguments were supported by a majority of the justices on important points that will have an impact for years to come in Congress and in the judicial system, Clement said in delivering the Hallows Lecture 2013 in the Appellate Courtroom of Marquette University Law School’s Eckstein Hall this week.

Clement, formerly solicitor general of the United States, has argued 65 cases before the Supreme Court. He was the lead attorney in presenting arguments to the Court on behalf of 26 states that challenged the health care law. The Court heard a remarkable six hours of arguments focused on several major aspects of the challenge.

“The challenge for the challengers was to run the table to the tune of going 15 for 15” on legal points involved in the case, Clement said. “The good news is the challengers went 14 for 15. The bad news, from the perspective of my clients, is that 14 out 15 isn’t good enough. . . . Getting a really satisfying opinion from four justices still counts as a loss.”

The question at the heart of the case was whether there would continue to be a meaningful limit on the power of the federal government to impose laws such as the Affordable Care Act on the states, Clement said. He said, “I do think in some respects, the single most important takeaway from the decision was there were not five votes to say that there really is no meaningful judicial review of federalism constraints on Congress. There are constraints—again, the power is very substantial, very broad in the wake of the New Deal precedents of the Court, but it remains a limited power.” Read more »

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Remembering Professor Bork

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Published reports of the death of Robert Bork on December 19 not surprisingly dwelled on the most controversial events in his long life in the law.  As Solicitor General under President Nixon, Bork in 1975 carried out orders to fire the Watergate special prosecutor.  In 1987, Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Reagan but then rejected by the Senate.  During the 1990s and 2000s, Bork, while employed by conservative think tanks, vigorously argued that elitist liberals were trying to take over the judiciary.

For my own part, I recall Robert Bork from my first year of law school and from the time before he became a prominent national figure.  It seems hard to believe, but I actually had Professor Bork for Constitutional Law.  I also had Professor Bork for Legal Research and Writing because the Yale Law School in those distant days folded each student’s instruction in legal research and writing into an arbitrarily selected substantive first-year course.

I have no evidence that Professor Bork ever read the assorted memoranda and briefs I wrote “under his tutelage,” but I certainly recall his approach to Constitutional Law.  Read more »

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Commerce Claws

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There are more than 50 polydactl (6 toed) cats at the Hemingway Museum in Key West Florida. The cats are descended from six-toed felines raised by Hemingway at his house in Key West, which is now a museum. The cats roam the grounds and the house at will. Several years ago, a visitor became concerned about the cats’ welfare, and reported the issue to the US Department of Agriculture. Long story short, the USDA decided the cats fell under the Animal Welfare Act with its accompanying regulations and requirements. The museum filed suit stating that the USDA did not have authority over the cats, the judge disagreed, and the Museum appealed.

Last week a three-judge appeals court panel (11th Circuit) decided the case using a broad interpretation of the Animal Welfare Act. The court also evaluated whether the cats “substantially affect” interstate commerce under the Commerce Clause. One part of the analysis determined that the Hemingway Museum purposefully uses the cats for marketing campaigns to attract visitors from outside of Florida, and as such, their exhibition has a commercial purpose and affects interstate commerce. You can see more about the case here and here.

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