Category Archives: Supreme Court

Debate on Same-Sex Marriage Case at the Sup. Court

The National Constitution Center will host a debate on June 2nd at 6:30pm EDT (which is available to be streamed free) on same-sex marriage and the Equal Protection Clause.  You can watch the video here.

The excerpt is:

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And now, the Supreme Court is poised to answer the question of whether this Clause requires States to license marriages between two people of the same sex. The best guess is that the Court will decide the question in late June. Does the Equal Protection Clause require States to license same-sex marriages, or will they decide that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

via The Equal Protection Clause Does Not Require States To License Same-Sex Marriages – IQ2 Debates.

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Rule 68 does not moot case

In Emily Diaz v. First Am. Home Buyers Protection Corp., No. 11-57239 (9th Cir. Oct. 4, 2013), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an offer of judgment (Rule 68) did not make a plaintiff’s case moot.  This is an important case because it provides guidance when considering when to file summary judgment when a Rule 68 offer has been made.

Rule 68 is when a party offers opposing party a judgment for full satisfaction that the opposing party could recover at trial.  In this case, First American offered $7,019.32 plus costs.  Diaz, the plaintiff, declined this offer.  Thereby the issue was whether offering the money made the lawsuit moot.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the First American’s offer, even if it fully satisfied the plaintiff’s claim, did not make the case moot.  When reaching this conclusion the 9th Circuit cited Kagan’s dissent in Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S.Ct. 1523, 1528-29 (2013).

‘[A] case becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.’ By those measures, an unaccepted offer of judgment cannot moot a case.   When a plaintiff rejects such an offer – however good the terms – her interest in the lawsuit remains just what it was before. And so too does the court’s ability to grant her relief. An unaccepted settlement offer – like any unaccepted contract offer – is a legal nullity, with no operative effect.”

Id. at 1536 (citation omitted).

via Courthouse News Service.

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Military Survivor Benefits for Same-Sex Spouse

In Copper-Harris v. United States, Case No. 2:12-00887 (Aug. 29, 2013), the Central District of California District Court recently ruled that the military could not deny survivor benefits to a same-sex spouse.  This case is interesting because it brings up a very interesting conflict of laws.

California recognizes same-sex marriages and recently the Supreme Court reversed DOMA.  You can see my prior post discussing the DOMA decision here.

Meanwhile, the Veteran’s Benefits statute, Title 38, defines a survivor spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who was the spouse of a veteran.” 38 U.S.C. 101(3).

The federal District Court in California, without referencing DOMA or what would be the appropriate standard of review, sided with the same-sex surviving spouse.  Using a rational basis review, the military would have to show that their action was rationally related to the purpose of the statute.  The questions can be summed up as follows:

  1. Is the survivor benefit exclusion of same-sex spouses rationally related to the goal of gender equality and expansion of the availability of veteran’s benefits?
  2. Is the survivor benefit exclusion of same-sex spouses rationally related to caring for and providing for veteran families?

The court said no.  Relying on expert testimony, the court noted that “veteran’s benefits are essential to ensuring that servicemembers perform to their ‘maximum potential,’ and other purposes justifying veterans benefits including readiness, recruiting, cohesion, and retention.”  Further, the court concluded that excluding same-sex spouses were not rationally related to the promotion of gender equality.

The court, based on the stated purpose of the Veterans Benefits statute, held that there was no rational basis for prohibiting same-sex survivors to receive the survivor benefits.

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Prop. 8: official proponents of Prop 8 could not appeal

The Supreme Court decided Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 (2013), holding that petitioners did not have standing to appeal Proposition 8.

As background, California granted same-sex marriages.  However, this was later reversed through Proposition 8.  Under Proposition 8, California Constitution was changed to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The California Supreme Court held that Proposition 8 left the rights of same-sex couples largely undisturbed, reserving only the official designation of the term marriage for the union of opposite-sex couples.

The parties in this lawsuit help explain the Supreme Court’s decision.  Respondents (Plaintiffs), two same-sex couples who wished to marry, filed a lawsuit in federal court. Defendants (including the Governor, Attorney General, and other officials) did not decent the law.  Nevertheless, Defendants continued to enforce the law.

Petitioners, who appealed, were official proponents of Proposition 8.  Petitioners, instead of Defendants, defended Proposition 8.  The District Court then held that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.    Petitioners (not Defendants) appealed.

Now the question is: do these Petitioners have standing in order to be involved in this case?  The California Supreme Court held that Petitioners were authorized to appear and assert the state’s interest in the validity of Proposition 8.  The Ninth Circuit then affirmed the District Court’s decision, ruling that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court ruled that Petitioners did not have standing.  First of all, when Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional two things happened: Respondents (Plaintiffs) no longer had an injury to redress because they won; and Defendants chose not to appeal.

Petitioners did not have a personal and individual injury.  There was no “direct stake” in the outcome of the appeal.  In other words, they were pushing a generalized grievance.  Consequently, Petitioners could not appeal.

The Supreme Court explained,

No matter how deeply committed petitioners may be to upholding Proposition 8 or how “zealous [their] advocacy,” that is not a “particularized” interest sufficient to create a case or controversy under Article III.

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DOMA is unconstitutional

The Supreme Court opinion on United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (2013) held that DOMA was unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment when it failed to recognize same-sex marriage federally.

It is important to note that the reasoning behind this ruling was based on the fact that there are States which granted same-sex marriage but were not recognized federally.  By failing to recognize those same-sex marriages, the government was discriminating against same-sex married couples.  In doing so, same-sex married couples were deprived of the benefits and responsibilities of over 1,000 federal laws.  Including protections under criminal law and provide financial harm to children of same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court noted that the State’s authority to regulate marriages was being squashed by the federal government.  Based on precedent, “[e]ach state as a sovereign has a rightful and legitimate concern in the marital status of persons domiciled within its borders.”  “The definition of marriage is the foundation of the State’s broader authority to regulate the subject of domestic relations with respect to the ‘[p]rotection of offspring, property interests, and the enforcement of marital responsibilities.'” (italics added).

Instead of respecting the State’s authority to regulate marriages, DOMA’s purpose was to “impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a sigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”

Given that DOMA’s purpose was to impose restrictions and disabilities, the Supreme Court stated that “[b]y doing so [DOMA] violates basic due process and equal protection principles.”

The Supreme Court found that

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.  The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency….

DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.  By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.

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The Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court ruled on Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 NAMUDNO v. Holder, No. 08-322 (2013), answering the question of the whether a district (not the state) could seek the bailout provision under the Voting Rights Act.

The decision of the Supreme Court is important here because it did not rule on the issue of whether the Voting Rights Act was constitutional.

Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that the district could use the “bailout” provision under the Voting Rights Act, even if the state could not.  In holding this, the Supreme Court explained that the district fell under the definition of a “State of political subdivision,” and thereby could use the “bailout” provision.

Generally, the Voting Rights Act requires certain states to get pre-clearance before making any changes to elections.  One of these states includes Texas.  However, there is a provision (“bailout”) that states that the state can seek a declaratory judgment from a three-judge panel District Court in Washington, D.C.  42 USC 1973(b)(a)(1), 1973c(a).  The bailout provision requires:

  • The state has not used any forbidden voting test for the last 10 years;
  • The state has not been subject to a valid objection under the Voting Rights Act section 5;
  • The state has not been found liable for other rights act violations; and
  • The state has engaged in constructive efforts to eliminate intimidation and harassment of voters.

The Voting Rights Act only authorizes a bailout suit by a State or political subdivision.  42 USC 19873b(a)(1)(A).

Here, the government argued that under the statutory definition of the bailout provision, a district could not seek a bailout provision.  The Act provided that a “‘political subdivision’ shall mean any county or parish, except that where registration for voting is not conducted under the supervision of a county or parish, the term shall include any other subdivision of a State which conducts registration for voting.” Section 14(c)(2).  The government argued that because the district was not a county or parish and did not conduct its own voter registration, the district was not covered under the Act.

However, the Supreme Court disagreed.  Citing previous Supreme Court cases, the Supreme Court stated the definition of a “political subdivision” must be broad and not limited to the statutory definition.  The Supreme Court explained,

Our decisions have already established that the statutory definition in [section] 14(c)(2) does not apply to every use of the term “political subdivision” in the Act.  We have, for example, concluded that the definition does not apply to the pre clearance obligation of [section] 5.

There, we expressly rejected the suggestion that the city of Sheffield was beyond the ambit of [section] 5 because it did not itself register voters and hence was not a political subdivision as the term is defined in [section] 14(c)(2) of the Act… [O]nce a State has been designed for coverage, [section] 14(c)(2)’s definition of political subdivision has no operative significance in determining the reach of [section] 5.

(markings in original).  Taking a broad approach, the Supreme Court ruled that a district was a political subdivision.

In addition, the Supreme Court noted that the 1982 amendments provided that even if the state could not bailout, a political subdivision might be able to assuming it met the bailout requirements.

via We gave you a chance: Today’s Shelby County decision in Plain English : SCOTUSblog.

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Federal funding restrictions and the First Amendment

Generally, it is well-known that under the Spending Clause of the Constitution if you want federal funding, you have to abide by the conditions/limitations imposed by the government.  For instance, you could receive a federal grant as long as you submit X reports to the government every month.  And generally, if you are opposed to these policies/conditions, you always have the option of declining the grant.

Think, for example, of the grant offered to States if they adopt the federal Affordable Care Act Medicaid extensions.  Some States have agreed to expand, while others have rejected the expansion.  The States that choose to expand will receive monetary aid, while the rejecting States will not. See the May 29, 2013 image here.

The Supreme Court has highlights a new twist.  In Agency for Int’l Devep. v. Alliance for Open Society Int’l, No. 12-10 (2013), the Supreme Court has held that in some situations these restrictions run foul of the First Amendment – Freedom of Speech.

The Alliance for Open Society case deals with a organization receiving federal funds to combat AIDS/HIV.  As a condition for this federal funding, the government required the organization to adopt policies against prostitution and sex trafficking.

Justice Roberts pointed to how the court has interpreted the First Amendment.  Pursuant to the Freedom of Speech, the government is prohibited from telling people what they must say.  See, e.g., Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Inst. Rights, Inc., 547 US 47, 61.  Consequently, the Supreme Court held that the requirement violated the First Amendment.

The question for the Supreme Court then focused on whether the government can still impose that requirement as a condition for receipt of federal funding.  The Supreme Court explained,

As a general matter, if a party objects to a condition on the receipt of federal funding, its recourse is to decline the funds….

At the same time, however, we have held that the Government “‘may not deny a benefit to a person on the basis that infringes his constitutionally protected . . . freedom of speech even if he has no entitlement to that benefit.'”… In some cases, a funding condition can result in an unconstitutional burden on First Amendment rights.

This is a fine line being followed by the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court distinguished cases where the government infringes the Freedom of Speech with cases where Congress is merely deciding not to subsidize certain actions/scenarios/circumstances.

The Supreme Court explains these different scenarios as follows:

We explained that Congress can, without offending the Constitution, selectively fund certain programs to address an issue of public concern, without funding alternative ways of addressing the same problem.  In Title X, Congress had defined the federal program to encourage only particular family planning methods.  The challenged regulations were simply “designed to ensure that the limits of the federal program are observed,” and “that public funds [are] spent for the purposes for which they were authorized…

The regulations governed only the scope of the grantee’s Title V projects, leaving it “unfettered in its other activities.”  … The TitleX grantee can continue to . . . engage in abortion advocacy; it simply is required to conduct those activities through programs that are separate and independent from the project that receives Title X funds.” … Because the regulations did not “prohibit[] the recipient from engaging in the protected conduct outside the scope of the federally funded program,” they did not run afoul of the First Amendment.

(italics and marks in original).

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No citizenship proof for voters

The Supreme Court decided Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, where the Supreme Court ruled that federal law preempted Arizona’s law.  In other words, it held that Arizona’s requirement of proof of citizenship was in conflict with the National Voter Registration Act.  Thereby, that requirement was rejected.

Arizona’s law required registered voters to show proof of citizenship.  Under Arizona’s law, a person must be a citizen to be eligible to vote.  This case concerned only how Arizona was trying to enforce that qualification.  In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, which provided that voters must “present proof of citizenship when they register to vote and to present identification when they vote on election day.”  If an individual does not provide “satisfactory” proof of citizenship, then the application must be rejected.

The issue here is how this citizenship-proof law and the National Voting Registration Act work together.  The Voter Registration Act required that states must “accept and use” the Federal Form.  The Voter Registration Act provided that a state shall “ensure that any eligible applicant is registered to vote in an election… if the valid voter registration form of the applicant is post-marked.” (italics in original).

Although the Voter Registration Act provides that states can create their own state-specific voter-registration forms, the Voting Registration Act also places a backstop.  The Supreme Court explained that,

No matter what procedural hurdles a State’s own form imposes, the Federal Form guarantees that a simple means of registering to vote in federal elections will be available.

Based on this language, the Supreme Court rejected Arizona’s arguments.  If Arizona, or any other state, could demand Federal Form applicants additional pieces of information, “the Federal Form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would be a feeble means of ‘increas[ing] the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal Office.” (quotations and marks in original).

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Silence can be used against defendant

In Salinas v. Texas, No. 12-246, 2013 BL 158572 (2013), the Supreme Court that a defendant who didn’t expressly invoke his 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination before an arrest can have his silence used against him in court.

In this case, defendant Salinas voluntarily went to the police station.  Here, Salinas answered questions until he was asked whether the shell casings found at the murder scene matched his shotgun.  This silence was used against him in court.  Salinas was then convicted of the crime.

The Supreme Court held that there was no violation of the right against self-incrimination.  The Supreme Court stated,

 Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer’s question.

The Supreme Court explained that a defendant does not invoke the privilege by remaining silent.

The Supreme Court raised an interesting question: what happens if the defendant had invoke the 5th amendment?  Justice Alito explained that the court did not have to decide on what the result would be if the defendant had indeed asserted his privilege.

Justice Thomas, however, in a concurring opinion, stated that even if Sallinas had invoked the privilege, the silence could still be used in court.

Justice Thomas explained:

A defendant is not ‘compelled . . . to be a witness against himself’ simply because a jury has been told that it may draw an adverse inference from his silence.

 

via SCOTUS: Silence can be used against defendant who didn’t claim privilege in voluntary meeting – ABA Journal.

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