Tag Archives: constitution

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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Government Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants

Mostly everyone has a cell phone.  A lot of smartphones have GPS capabilities.  This can be handy when you are looking for directions and you are lost.  However, what about being tracked?  For instance, unless you change your privacy settings, your photos will keep track of where you took the picture and what time.

The question the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided is whether the government needs a warrant to track you.  In In re: Application of the U.S.A. for Historical Cell Site Data (July 30, 2013 5th Cir. Ct.), the court ruled that obtaining cell-location information without a warrant  did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

When we think of the Fourth Amendment we remember that a search and seizure may require a warrant.  If there is no expectation of privacy, i.e. in a garbage bag we got rid of, then the government wouldn’t need a warrant.  However, if we have an expectation of privacy, i.e. to enter your house, then the government must have a warrant.

An expectation of privacy usually is the crux of a search and seizure case.  Here, the ACLU argued that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are being tracked for a long period of time and the data gathered is collected in great detail.

In this case, this argument was not discussed by the court.

Why would this not be discussed?  The Fourth Amendment deals with government actions.  In other words,  the seizure or search has to be collected by the government.  In a similar case, the Supreme Court had decided that the government must obtain a warrant if it wants to install a GPS tracking device.  See United States v. Jones (2012).

However, this case was found to be different.  The reason for this is because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the information was collected by a third-party, i.e. the cell phone carrier.  The court explained,

Where a third party collects information in the first instance for its own purposes, the Government claims that it can obtain this information later with a [section] 2703(d) order, just as it can subpoena other records of a private entity.  We agree.

Id. (citations omitted).

Here, the government was not installing a GPS tracking device.  The Government was accessing a business record owned by carriers.  The court stated:

… cell site information is clearly a business record.  The cell service provider collects and stores historical cell site data for its own business purposes, perhaps to monitor or optimize service on its network or to accurately bill its customers for the segments of its network that they use.   The Government does not require service providers to record this information or store it.  The providers control what they record and how long these records are retained.

Consequently, the court found that the Government did not need a warrant.

via Cops Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants, Appeals Court Rules | Threat Level | Wired.com.

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Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals brings an interesting labor decision.  In State Employee Bargaining Coalitation v. Roland, ___F.3d___( 2d Cir. May 31, 2013), the court found that targeting Union employees for layoffs violates the First Amendment (freedom of association).

In this case, the employer employed around 50,000 people.  75% of these employees were members of the Union, and 25% were not.  In December 2002, the employer fired only Union employees.  No non-Union employees were fired.

It is important to note that an employer can manage the size of their work force.  However, the employer cannot target a protected group (here, employees who associated themselves with the Union).  The reason for this is because by targeting a protected group, the effect is to inhibit employees from their freedom to associate.

Under the Constitution, in order for the employer to not violate the Constitution it must show that they used the less restrictive means to accomplish their interest and must be narrowly tailored to achieve their goals.

The following are the pivotal facts of this case.  The employer’s interest was to manage their economical situation.  However, the laying off those Union employees had a minimal effect on their budget.  In fact, these Union-only lay offs were not included in the Balanced Budget Plan.  Further, the facts showed that because both Union and non-Union employees had the same health care and pension benefits there was no reason why only the Union employees were targeted.

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment.

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Detroit Bankruptcy is Unconstitutional

As a follow up to the prior post reporting on the bankruptcy filing of Detroit, now a Michigan court has ruled that the bankruptcy filing is unconstitutional.  The decision can be accessed here.

The background of this legal battle raises a lot of legal questions.  The events are as follows.  First, Detroit announces it will be declaring bankruptcy.  Then, lawsuits are filed to block bankruptcy filings/proceedings.  An emergency hearing is scheduled on Thursday (last week) in front of a judge about blocking the bankruptcy proceedings.  Five (5) minutes before the Thursday hearing, Detroit files a petition for bankruptcy.  Afterwards, another hearing is set for Friday.

On Friday, the Ingham County Court ruled against the city.  The court relied on Michigan’s state constitution, which prohibits actions that diminish or impair pension benefits of public employees.  Because Detroit was aware that declaring bankruptcy would affect negatively the pension benefits of public employees, the court ruled that it acted unconstitutionally.

Michigan’s Attorney General Schuette stated that Detroit will be appealing the ruling.  The Attorney General also stated that they will be requesting a stay on the bankruptcy proceedings until the appeal is heard.

This background is so interesting because it raises a lot of legal questions.  Filing a Chapter 9 petition gives the bankruptcy court exclusive jurisdiction over the debtor’s (Detroit) assets.  The interesting predicament is that Detroit filed a petition for bankruptcy five (5) minutes before the Thursday hearing — before any order from the Ingham County Court.

Yet, the state court is ordering the Governor to “(1) direct the Emergency Manager to immediately withdraw the Chapter 9 petition filed on July 18, and (2) not authorize any further Chapter 9 filing which threatens to diminish or impair accrued pension benefits.”

Some of the questions include how to reconcile the state’s and the bankruptcy’s court jurisdictions.  For example, can the state court order state officials (like the Governor) to withdraw the petition? How can a bankruptcy proceeding reconcile itself with Michigan’s state constitution? Are the plaintiffs subject to sanctions for violating a stay in bankruptcy court?

The Huffington Post has an interesting tidbit:

Michigan is one of nine states that explicitly protects public employee pensions in its state constitution.  But the state of Michigan doesn’t guarantee the money to public employees if a city defaults or can’t pay those bills…

The law of bankruptcy is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.  And the limited case law of Chapter 9 bankruptcy, which applies to cities and municipalities, doesn’t say whether a judge can legally subvert Michigan’s constitution to lessen Detroit’s obligations to its pensioners.

You can read more about Michigan’s constitution protecting public employees’ pensions here.  Some other notable Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings nuclide Jefferson County, Alabama (2011) and Orange County, California (1994).

via Detroit bankruptcy unconstitutional, judge rules in pension case – ABA Journal.

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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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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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ACLU challenges NSA surveillance

On June 11th, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the NSA’s surveillance program.  The ACLU lawsuit alleges that the program violates the First Amendment rights or free speech and association, the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment, and that the surveillance program exceeds the authority provided by the Patriot Act.

ACLU, a customer of Verizon, made the following comments:

This dragnet program is surely one of the largest surveillance efforts ever launched by a democratic government against its own citizens.

It is the equivalent of requiring every American to file a daily report with the government of every location they visited, every person they talked to on the phone, the time of each call, and the length of every conversation.  The program goes far beyond even the permissible limits set by the Patriot Act and represents a gross infringement of the freedom of association and the right to privacy.

The complaint can be accessed here.

via ACLU Files Lawsuit Challenging Constitutionality of NSA Phone Spying Program | American Civil Liberties Union.

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Court upholds Handgun-Sales Age Requirement

This case again shows that regulating firearms is constitutional.

In NRA v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, 11-10959 (5th Cir. Apr. 29, 2013), the court upheld 18 USC 922(b)(1) and (c)(1).  These laws prohibit federally licensed firearms dealers from selling handguns under the age of 21.

The NRA claimed that this federal statute was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment.  The court disagreed.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals explained:

In a critical passafe, moreover, the Court emphasized that the ‘right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.’ [Dist. of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570, at 626].  As the [Supreme] Court explained:

From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose… [N]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ills, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Id. at 626-27 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).

Thus, the Circuit Court stated that “Congress designed its scheme to solve a particular problem: violent crimes associated with the trafficking of handguns from federal firearms to licensees to young adults.”  The court, further stated that Congress could have sought to prohibit all persons under 21 from possessing handguns or all guns.  Additionally, the court pointed that under the Census, 18-to-20-year-olds accounted for a disproportionately high percentage of arrests for violent crimes” in 2010.

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Supreme Court refuses to hear 2nd Amendment case

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case that contended the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a gun in public.  The denial of this petition had no comments.  Because there were no comments to the denied petition, there is no way to know why the Supreme Court chose not to get involved in this controversy.

The case is Kachalsky v. Cacace.  The issues presented to the Supreme Court were:

  1. Whether the Second Amendment secures a right to carry handguns for self-defense outside the home; and
  2. Whether state officials violate the Second Amendment by denying handgun carry licenses to responsible, law-abiding adults for lack of “proper cause” to bear arms for self-defense.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals (Kachalsky v. County of Westchester, 701 F.3d 81 (2d. Cir. 2012)) affirmed the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the State.  The district court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.  The district court concluded that carrying concealed weapons in public is “outside of the core of the Second Amendment concern.”  Alternatively, the district court also concluded that the “proper cause” requirement would survive the scrutiny under the Second Amendment.

The SCOTUS blog,

 

 

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Sup. Ct. March Calendar

Next month, the Supreme Court will be hearing high profile cases – including the gay marriage debate (California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA), as well as voter registration laws.  In addition, the Supreme Court will hear a variety of important issues, such as class arbitration waivers, generic pharmaceutical regulations, and reimbursement or payment under the Takings Clause.

The following are the oral arguments scheduled for March.

Monday March 18

Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona:

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in creating a new, heightened preemption test under Art. 1, Sec. 4, Cl. 1 of the U.S. Constitution (“the Elections Clause”) that is contrary to the Supreme Court’s authority and conflicts with other circuit court decisions; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding that under that test the National Voter Registration Act preempts an Arizona law that requests persons who are registering to vote to show evidence that they are eligible to vote.

Bullock v. Bankchampaign

  1. What degree of misconduct by a trustee constitute “defalcation” under Sec. 523(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Code that disqualifies the errant trustee’s resulting debt from a bankruptcy discharge, and whether it includes actions that result in no loss of trust property.

Tuesday March 19

Sebelius v. Cloer

  1. Whether a person whose petition under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is dismissed as untimely may recover from the United States an award of attorney’s fees and costs.

Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett

  1. Whether the 1st Circuit erred when it created a circuit split and held – in clear conflict with this Court’s decisions in PLIVA v. Mensing, Riegel v. Medtronic, and Cipollone v. Ligget Group – that federal law does not preempt state law design-defect claims targeting generic pharmaceutical products because the conceded conflict between such claims and the federal laws governing generic pharmaceutical design allegedly can be avoided if the makers of generic pharmaceuticals simply stop making their products.

Wednesday March 20

Horne v. Dept. of Agriculture

  1. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decisions of 5 other circuit courts of appeals, that a party may not raise the Takings Clause as a defense to a “direct transfer of funds mandated by the Government,” E. Enterp. v. Apfel, but instead must pay the money and then bring a separate, later claim requesting reimbursement of the money under the Tucker Act in the Court of Federal Claims; and
  2. Whether the 9th Circuit erred in holding, contrary to the decision of the Federal Circuit, that it lacked jurisdiction over petitioner’s takings defense, even though petitioners, as “handlers” of raisin under the Raisin Marketing Order, as statutory required under 7 USC 608c(15) to exhaust all claims and defenses in administrative proceedings before the United States Department of Agriculture, with exclusive jurisdiction for review in federal district court.

Dan’s City Used Cars v. Pelkey

  1. Whether state statutory, common law negligence, and consumer protection act enforcement actions against two-motor carrier based on state law regulating the sale and disposal of a towed vehicle are related to a transportation service provided by the carrier and thus preempted by 49 USC 14501-c-1.

Monday March 25

Oxford Health Plans v. Sutter

  1. Whether an arbitrator acts within his powers under the Federal Arbitration Act (as the 2nd and 3d Circuits have held) or exceeds those powers (as the 5th Circuit has held) by determining that parties affirmatively “agreed to authorize class arbitration,” Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp., based solely on their use of broad contractual language precluding litigation and requiring arbitration of any dispute arising under their contract.

Federal Trade Commission v. Actavis

  1. Whether reverse-payment agreements are per se lawful unless the underlying patent litigation was a sham or the patent was obtained by fraud (as the court below held), or instead are presumptively anticompetitive and unlawful (as the 3d Circuit has held).

Tuesday March 26

Hollingsworth v. Perry

  1. Whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman; and
  2. Whether petitioners have standing under Art. III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution in this case.

Wednesday March 27

United States v. Windsor

  1. Whether Section 3 of the Defense Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State; 
  2. Whether the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and
  3. Whether the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives has Article III standing in this case.

via New March argument calendar : SCOTUSblog.

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