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May 26, 2015

The Significance of the Supreme Court’s Williams-Yulee Decision Upholding Florida’s Regulation of Judicial Elections

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

A few weeks ago the Supreme Court handed down an important yet under-noticed case, Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, in which a 5-4 majority upheld a Florida law that forbids candidates running in contested elections for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign contributions, even though the state permits such candidates to raise money through surrogates (campaign committees) and also allows candidates to find out who contributed to their campaigns. In the space below, I identify four key takeaways from this "sleeper" ruling by the Court, a ruling that affords important insights about constitutional doctrine and also about the membership of the Roberts Court.

1. The Speech Clause Juggernaut May Be Losing Steam

The (unsuccessful) challenge to the Florida law was brought under the First Amendment; the defendant in Williams-Yulee argued that Florida's ban on personal solicitation was a regulation that singled out certain speech-a personal request for money-because of its content, in violation of free speech principles. The Court acknowledged that the Florida law was a content-based regulation of political speech (and, as explained in more detail below, thus purported to apply "strict scrutiny" to the matter), but nonetheless upheld the law because of the important countervailing interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

In holding that public perceptions of integrity should carry the day, the Williams-Yulee ruling stands in contrast to the great majority of free speech cases decided by the Court over the last generation. Since the early 1990s, the overwhelming majority of plausible free speech claims (and the defendant's claim in Williams-Yulee was certainly plausible) that have reached the Court have prevailed, and expressive autonomy has regularly trumped competing constitutional and societal values. Over the last quarter-century, the Court has invoked the Speech Clause to invalidate federal, state, or local laws and regulations in well over fifty cases, averaging close to three cases each year, a substantial number given the Court's small yearly docket of between seventy and eighty cases for most of that period.

But a quantitative inquiry tells only part of the story. It is particularly noteworthy that First Amendment claims grounded in expressive autonomy rights have not just been winning, but have been winning against-and requiring significant sacrifices of-other values that traditionally have enjoyed high esteem in our legal, social, and constitutional traditions, including the efficient functioning of labor unions, the protection of military honor and military families, antidiscrimination laws and norms, election and campaign finance regulation intended to make elections more free and fair, parental control over the upbringing of their children, and consumer protections, among others.

Whether Williams-Yulee represents simply one exception to this great tide of free speech victories, or instead should be viewed as part of the beginning of a more balanced approach to free speech cases remains to be seen. There are at least two (and maybe more) other interesting and difficult free speech decisions yet to be decided this Term. The first is a case that considers the extent to which the First Amendment protects against prosecution individuals who utter words that cause objectively reasonable people to feel fear (Elonis v. U.S.), and the second is a case about how readily a State can discriminate among messages on personalized automobile license plates (Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans). It is possible that the free speech claimants in both of those cases (who assert plausible, if to my mind flawed, free speech arguments) will also lose. If that happens, commentators will begin to wonder whether the free speech juggernaut is indeed beginning to slow.

2. "Strict Scrutiny" Is in the Eye of the Applier

As I noted above, the Court in Williams-Yulee applied strict scrutiny-which requires the government to prove that the law in question is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest-to the Florida election regulation. But, as Justice Scalia remarked in dissent, "[although the Court] purports to reach [its] destination by applying strict scrutiny, . . . it would be more accurate to say that it does so by applying the appearance of strict scrutiny." In particular, the Court seemed quite tolerant of underinclusiveness in Florida's scheme, whereas significant underinclusiveness usually prevents a statutory scheme from being considered "narrowly tailored" in the way that strict scrutiny dictates.

For example, the defendant pointed out that Florida permits candidates to write personal thank-you notes to donors (guaranteeing that the candidates will know who the donors are) and also allows campaign committees to act explicitly on behalf of candidates in directly soliciting donations. If personal solicitations by candidates undermine "public confidence in judicial integrity," why do not these other practices create the same harm? The Court acknowledged that Florida does allow activities that might create some suspicion over whether judges are beholden to or favor donors, but concluded that "narrowly tailored" does not mean "perfectly tailored," and that the "First Amendment does not put a State to [an] all-or-nothing choice." For the Williams-Yulee majority, it was sufficient that Florida has targeted the "conduct most likely to undermine public confidence[,]" and that personal solicitations are "categorically different" from solicitations by campaign committees. The Court did not go to great lengths to explain this "categorical" difference, other than to say that while committee and personal solicitations may be "similar . . . in substance, a State may conclude that they present markedly different appearances to the public."

Importantly, though, the Court did not cite to, or seem to insist upon, any proof by the State that these two types of solicitations were viewed differently by the public. Indeed, when the Court said that a State "may conclude," it was using language most often associated with deferential review-where benefits-of-the-doubt about the real-world state of affairs are given to the government-not the language of truly strict scrutiny, in which the government must establish not just that its views are plausible, but that its views are grounded in actual fact.

3. Stare Decisis Is Often Not Very Powerful at the Court

The seemingly generous implementation of strict scrutiny brings up another important facet of Williams-Yulee-its tension with the most relevant Supreme Court case in the realm of judicial election regulation. There is, as one of the Williams-Yulee opinions put it, "only [one] prior case concerning speech restrictions on a candidate for judicial office"-the 2002 case of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White. And in that case the Court (in striking down Minnesota's judicial election regulation) applied a stricter version of strict scrutiny.

In White five Justices used the First Amendment to strike down a Minnesota law that prohibited candidates for judicial office from speaking out on controversial issues of the day. The law at issue prohibited a candidate for elected judicial office from "announc[ing] his or her views on disputed legal or political issues." The prohibition went beyond candidate "promises" and forbade, for example, a candidate from criticizing a past court decision and indicating a willingness to consider a different result in similar cases down the road.

Minnesota argued that it needed to regulate candidate speech to ensure that the public believes that judges are sufficiently open-minded about important matters that might come before them, an interest very similar to Florida's goal of "preserving public confidence in judicial integrity." But Justice Scalia's opinion for the majority in White rejected this justification for Minnesota's law because the scheme was woefully underinclusive, insofar as judicial candidates were not prohibited from voicing their views prior to the time they became declared candidates. The Court rejected the argument, made by dissenting Justices, that "statements made in an election campaign pose a special threat to open-mindedness because the candidate, when elected judge, will have a particular reluctance to contradict them." The Court said that the idea that judges feel particularly constrained by statements they make qua candidates is "not self-evidently true[,]" and thus cannot carry the day given the "burden [on the government] imposed by our strict scrutiny test to establish th[e] proposition that campaign statements are uniquely destructive of open-mindedness [or the appearance of open-mindedness]."

The tension between White and Williams-Yulee is clear. In the former, the State lost because it did not prove that campaign statements were "uniquely" destructive of the appearance of open-mindedness, but in the latter the State prevailed because it was allowed to "conclude" (without any proof) that personal solicitations "present markedly different" appearances to the public as compared to committee solicitations. Why Minnesota had to prove "unique" destruction of confidence whereas Florida could simply reasonably surmise "markedly different" problems of public perception is left unexplained.

Let me be clear here that I think the overall approach of Williams-Yulee is largely correct and that the analysis of the White majority was largely misguided. As I have written in law review articles and elsewhere, while the First Amendment protects one's right to speak about the bench, there is no right to to sit on it, and the Tenth Amendment gives states broad powers to regulate the process by which people become judges. The key point is not merely that judges are not supposed to be politicians; it is that throughout American history, we have often selected judges (but not legislators or chief executive officers) without the use of contested elections. And in these non-election processes, what would-be judges have said and done is held against them by government decisionmakers. Just as the president and the Senate certainly, and permissibly, may refuse to make someone a federal judge because of what that person has said, even though such refusals are undeniably "content-based" and indeed "viewpoint-based," and thus might, in other contexts, run afoul of basic First Amendment principles, a state should be generally available to deny judicial office to candidates who speak in ways that contradict certain judicial decorum norms set by the state. (There is the separate question, implicated in both White and Williams-Yulee, of whether the sanction for violating campaign rules can extend beyond mere disqualification for judicial office, which is a topic I save for another day.)

But my point here is not that Williams-Yulee's result is wrong-only that its application of strict scrutiny is not very authentic and that its leniency contradicts the approach in White.

4. Chief Justice Roberts Is no Clone of Chief Justice Rehnquist

How do we explain the tension between White and Williams-Yulee? The answer seems to rest largely on changes to the Court's personnel. White was a 5-4 case, with the majority consisting of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas. The dissenters were Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer.

In Williams-Yulee, the remaining White dissenters (Ginsburg and Breyer) are (predictably) in the majority, and the remaining members of the White majority (Justices Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas) are (predictably) in the dissent. Between White and Williams-Yulee, Justice Alito replaced Justice O'Connor, and voted the same way as we would have expected her to vote, and Justices Kagan and Sotomayor replaced Justices Stevens and Souter, and voted the same way as we would have expected them to vote. So far, so good-an even swap.

But Chief Justice Roberts, who replaced Chief Justice Rehnquist, did not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor here. So what was a 5-4 majority in favor of the First Amendment claimant in White became in Williams-Yulee a 5-4 majority in favor of the State. Chief Justice Roberts apparently has a different view of judicial elections (and the extent to which First Amendment protections for election-related speech apply to them) than his mentor and former boss. Whether there is a broader divergence between Chief Justice Roberts and his predecessor in First Amendment cases is a question that might be worthy of more attention now that the Roberts Court is finishing its first decade.

May 8, 2015

The (Limited) Utility of State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs): Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

Cross-posted from Justia’s Verdict. Co-authored with Professor Alan Brownstein.

As we noted in a column for this site two weeks ago, state religious freedom restoration acts, or RFRAs, such as the recently amended Indiana religious liberty statute, have been criticized on the ground that they are intended to permit discrimination against gays, lesbians, and same-sex couples in the provision of goods and services. Given the intensity of this national controversy, we think it would be useful to take a step back-indeed, to take several steps back-and look at the historical background and evolution of the RFRA device. In this column, we focus not on any particular state statute but rather on three general topics: (1) the purpose of the earliest state RFRA laws and how that purpose relates to the goals of the more recently enacted and proposed legislation; (2) the virtues (and drawbacks) of enacting a general religious liberty statute as opposed to adopting religion specific accommodations on a case-by-case basis; and (3) the best way, in light of the current controversy about the conflict between state RFRA laws and anti-discrimination principles, to move forward when state legislatures consider these laws.

The Purpose of Early State RFRAs and What It Tells Us About the Recent Legislative Efforts

As we discussed in Part One, the Supreme Court, in 1990, decided the case of Employment Division v. Smith, a dispute involving the right of Native Americans to use the proscribed substance of peyote in their religious rituals. The Court ruled that neutral laws of general applicability are not subject to any rigorous scrutiny even when these laws have the effect of burdening religious practices. Unless the state targets religion-think of a law prohibiting Catholics from attending Mass-the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment simply does not require the state to explain or justify a law that has the effect of prohibiting religiously mandated practices or requiring the performance of religiously prohibited conduct.

The Smith decision came as a surprise to many, perhaps most, constitutional scholars. Based on prior cases, the parties to Smith had assumed that the Free Exercise Clause required, even in the context of neutral laws of general applicability, the government had to justify burdens on religious practice by showing that laws creating such burdens were narrowly tailored to accomplish compelling governmental interests. It is true that the Supreme Court, in applying this "strict scrutiny" narrow tailoring/compelling interest test had very rarely actually ruled in favor of a plaintiff asserting a free exercise claim against a general law. But it had often reached its conclusion by nuanced application of strict scrutiny, rather than rejection of the need for meaningful governmental justification altogether. Prior to Smith, lower courts could not summarily dismiss free exercise claims. After Smith, the door to the federal courts was, in effect, locked tight against free exercise claimants.

The Smith decision drew fire both from legal scholars and advocacy groups. In 1993, Congress enacted the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), essentially to reinstate, as a matter of federal statute, the strict scrutiny religious liberty rights regime that individuals and institutions had previously understood to emanate from the Constitution itself. But in 1997, in City of Boerne v. Flores, the Supreme Court held that Congress exceed its enumerated powers in enacting RFRA insofar as RFRA applied to and regulated state and local governments. After Boerne, RFRA could be constitutionally applied only to burdens on religion created by the federal government.

This was the legal and political background against which several states considered the enactment of the first wave of state RFRA laws. It is important to recognize three conditions that characterize the consideration of state RFRA laws during this initial period in the late 1990s. First, support for or opposition to these laws did not correlate tightly to party affiliation. There was no doubt concern by some liberals about the application of state RFRAs to civil rights laws, but this concern was only part of the debate and did not cause legislators to be divided along party lines in their ultimate views on state RFRAs. In California, for example, in 1998, a state RFRA law passed both houses of the Democratic legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson.

Second, general concerns about the correctness of the Smith holding fueled the movement toward state RFRAs. Religious liberty proponents continued to believe and argue that free exercise rights should count for something if they were substantially burdened even by a neutral law of general applicability.

Third, the arguments in favor of state RFRAs were not grounded just in abstractions; they were nested in actual cases and real-world narratives. A pair of real-life settings received particular attention. One was land-use regulation. Religious congregations, it was argued, often found it extremely difficult to develop land to construct new houses of worship because of restrictive state and local zoning laws. Many towns didn't seem to want new venues of worship in residential areas, or commercial districts, or even in agricultural zones. And minority faiths seemed to bear the brunt of these regulatory restrictions. The other narrative involved the religious freedom of prison inmates. It was widely believed that state prison authorities imposed relatively arbitrary burdens on the ability of inmates to engage in worship or other religious activities.

The first and third of these conditions no longer exist today. As to the first, religious liberty legislation is far too often a partisan political issue at this moment, with Republicans favoring state RFRAs and Democrats opposing them.

And, importantly, as to the third, the pair of persuasive narratives for adopting a state RFRA-the burdens created by state and local land use regulations on congregations trying to develop land for a new house of worship and the difficulties state prison inmates experienced in engaging in religious worship and exercise-were effectively dealt with by federal legislation. In 2000, Congress enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). RLUIPA requires state and local governments to justify under rigorous review land use regulations or decisions that substantially burden the use of land for religious purposes and prison regulations and decisions that substantially interfere with the ability of inmates to engage in religious worship or otherwise follow the dictates of their faith. Because RLUIPA invokes Congress's Spending Clause power to attach conditions to federal funding-and because virtually all state and local governments and prisons depend on federal funding-RLUIPA has been upheld and applied by countless lower federal courts and (in the context of the prison provisions) the Supreme Court.

Recent state RFRA laws and proposals can still be justified by the second backdrop condition animating the first generation of state RFRAs-the abstract idea that Smith created a gap in the protection of religious liberty, and that religious activity deserves to be protected to some extent against even neutral laws of general applicability. But because, other than the land-use and prison settings, there are no easily described categories of state regulatory activity that burden religion in ways most people find problematic, a modern state RFRA might seem like a solution in search of a problem. Indeed, the only unifying narrative that describes a general problem, as opposed to isolated cases, to which modern RFRAs might be directed is the narrative grounded in religious objections to same-sex marriage and the claims for exemptions from civil rights regulations that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

This is the crux of the problem. Legislators and governors who argue that they support a state RFRA law today for reasons that have nothing to do with discrimination related to same-sex marriage have a difficult time persuading anyone of their position because there are no religious liberty narratives involving significant real-world areas of concern other than civil rights laws. The original, principled basis for enacting state RFRA laws still exists, and state RFRAs certainly may be of value to religious individuals or institutions in occasional varied circumstances-religious burdens do arise outside of land-use and prison contexts as we demonstrated with some hypothetical examples at the end of Part One of this series-but there is no well-organized storyline here that can be easily understood and valued. In other words, because, after RLUIPA, the contexts in which state RFRAs might provide needed protection do not fall into any easy-to-define or easy-to-predict categories of regulation, avoiding antidiscrimination laws is the primary narrative that is still left standing. It is the one that most people see. And, to be frank, it certainly appears to be the primary motivation for the introduction of new RFRA bills in state legislatures these days.

A General Religious Liberty Statute Versus Religion-Specific Accommodations on a Case-by-Case Basis

Assuming that some exemptions for religious activity outside of the land-use and prison arenas may be worthwhile, the question becomes whether a state statute (e.g., a RFRA) is the best way to facilitate them. Another way of framing the issue is, given that some religious exemptions will be recognized by government, whether we are better off determining when exemptions should be granted by having the more political branches of government evaluate practice- or sect-specific requests for accommodation, or whether it would be preferable to enact a general religious liberty statute, like a state RFRA, and shift the task of determining when an exemption is appropriate to the judiciary. We think general religious liberty statutes have some important virtues over religious practice- or sect-specific accommodations.

First, the general religious liberty statute is, by definition, general. It seeks formally to apply the same standard to all faiths. Thus, a religious person's ability to obtain an exemption will not, in theory at least, depend on his or her ability to influence the political branches of government. It is true that judges, like legislators, may also be unfamiliar with or unsympathetic to religious minorities. Still, under a general religious liberty statute, a minority faith with insufficient muscle to achieve an accommodation through political channels has an additional forum where its claims can be heard-a court of law.

Second, the business of obtaining sect- or practice-specific accommodations has other serious drawbacks. Restricting religious exemptions to the political branches of government politicizes religion. The freedom to practice one's faith becomes a benefit controlled by the government. Accordingly, religious groups have to organize politically as religious groups to obtain the exemptions their faith requires.

Third, and related, a system in which all accommodations are political actions requires religious individuals and groups to spend their political capital on freedoms that should be theirs as of right. This system operates like a political tax on religion.

Fourth, if the ability to practice one's faith depends on a religious group's political power in a jurisdiction, we create an incentive for religious people to live in communities where there are a sufficiently large number of co-religionists to influence the government. A legal regime that promotes the segregation of communities along religious lines is problematic and much less desirable than a regime that facilitates the religious integration of our communities.

Of course, there are problems with general religious liberty statutes as well. The standard of review to be applied by courts in these laws is intrinsically subjective, value-laden and unpredictable. No one can really be sure how a given court will interpret and apply the law to the facts of any given case. Accordingly, the protection provided to religious liberty may turn out to be much narrower or much broader than the community anticipated when it enacted the law. In theory these statutes can be amended to cure wrongly decided cases, but there is no guarantee that the political branches of government will be capable of effectively monitoring and responding to errant RFRA decisions by courts.

Moreover, the indeterminacy inherent in these laws means that, at least initially and in all cases of first impression, they will provide little guidance either to potential defendants or to plaintiffs. In the context of anti-discrimination laws, uncertainty imposes serious burdens on all the relevant parties. Service providers do not know if they are permitted to deny services for same-sex weddings, for example, because of their religious objections to such ceremonies. And same-sex couples lack the security of knowing that they cannot be denied the services they seek when they attempt to patronize a provider of wedding services.

While we recognize that reasonable people can disagree on this point, we think on balance there are legitimate reasons for a state to consider enacting a state RFRA law. But that does not mean that we think the RFRA law should operate to provide exemptions in all cases in which religious exercise is substantially burdened by law.

What is the Best Way for State Legislatures to Balance State RFRAs and Anti-Discrimination Principles?

Church-state scholars generally agree that most RFRA challenges to civil rights laws governing for-profit economic activity will and should be unsuccessful. The state has a compelling state interest in protecting members of particular classes against discrimination in the workplace and in places of public accommodation. And conventional civil rights laws are the least restrictive means available to accomplish this egalitarian goal. Still, no one is certain that all RFRA claims against regulations prohibiting discrimination will fail. Nor is there agreement as to which claims, if any, deserve to succeed.

Because RFRA laws are unlikely to provide any kind of expansive protection to discrimination in employment or public accommodations based on religious beliefs, an obvious solution to the controversy surrounding these laws would be to enact a civil rights carve-out that limits the scope of the RFRA legislation. Indiana amended its RFRA law to provide explicitly that the law does not authorize, or establish a defense for, discrimination in employment or places of public accommodation. Such a civil rights carve-out would make the RFRA law available to protect religious liberty in in various idiosyncratic circumstances in which general laws unnecessarily burden religious practice, but would preclude any possibility that the law would undermine the enforcement of anti-discrimination regulations.

The argument against a civil rights carve-out is that it could carve out too many RFRA claims. Many proponents of state RFRAs argue that there are at least a limited number of situations in which religious exemptions to some civil rights laws are justified, and yet these claims would be excluded from protection under a general civil rights carve-out. These arguments often focus on caterers, bakers, florists and photographers who provide goods and services for wedding ceremonies and receptions, but the arguments are not limited to these commercial activities.

We think the appropriate response to these concerns is straightforward. In addition to adopting a broad civil rights carve-out from the state RFRA, the state could negotiate explicit exemptions-exceptions to the carve-out, if you will-to cover the limited number of situations in which faith-based discrimination might deserve to be protected against civil rights laws. From a policy perspective, this approach would have several advantages. It would provide more clarity than a generic state RFRA. It would guarantee religious exemptions to civil rights laws in specific circumstances where they were thought to be particularly justified. It would avoid any concern that the law would be interpreted too broadly to protect discrimination in inappropriate circumstances. And it would allow a state RFRA to be adopted to protect religious liberty in all of the situations that do not involve discrimination in violation of civil rights laws.

Our suggested course of action may be challenged, however, by the argument that such negotiations in the legislature about the particular exceptions to a civil rights carve-out would be futile. The two sides debating religious liberty and gay rights issues are so polarized that they would never agree on explicit limited exemptions. We are unconvinced that this will always be the case-particularly if states that currently do not protect gays and lesbians or same-sex couples from discrimination bring legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity to the bargaining table. Working out what the specific exemptions for religion-based discrimination will undoubtedly be hard political work. But that is no reason not to engage in the attempt.

May 1, 2015

New Research from the Faculty at UC Davis School of Law

Here is a look at some of the most recent scholarship from UC Davis School of Law faculty from the Social Science Research Network's Legal Scholarship Network. Click through the links to download the works.

LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP NETWORK: LEGAL STUDIES RESEARCH PAPER SERIES
UC DAVIS SCHOOL OF LAW

"Productive Tensions: Women's NGOs, the 'Mainstream' Human Rights Movement, and International Lawmaking" Free Download
Non-State Actors, Soft Law and Protective Regimes: From the Margins (Cecilia M. Bailliet ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012).
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 422

KARIMA BENNOUNE, University of California, Davis - School of Law

Non-govermental organizations (NGOs) are among the most discussed non-state actors involved in the creation, interpretation, and application of international law. Yet, scholars of international law have often over looked the critical issue of diversity among NGOs, and the differing stances they may take on key international law issues and controversies. This oversight exemplifies the ways in which international law scholarship sometimes takes overly unitary approaches to its categories of analysis. Feminist international law questions the accuracy of such approaches. When one unpacks the "NGO" category, one often discovers multiple NGO constituencies reflecting conflicting concerns and perspectives. Hence, feminist international law theories should reflect a view of NGOs as international lawmakers that is equally complexified.

This chapter will focus on one example of such NGO diversity, namely the inter-NGO dynamic sometimes found between women's human rights NGOs and what is often termed the "mainstream" human rights movement. These relationships have long been complicated . At times these constituencies are allies with the same international law priorities. At other times they are opponents or at least involved in what might be described as a tense dialogue. Sometimes the "mainstream" human rights groups become themselves the targets of the lobbying of women's human rights groups. Indeed, women's human rights NGOs and other human rights NGOs may have very different views of particular inter­ national law questions . Over time, however, the women's rights groups have often - though not always - prevailed on human rights groups to evolve their view of international law in a more gender-sensitive direction.

This dialectical relationship between women's groups and other human rights groups has played out in numerous arenas, including in the 1990s debate over the definition of torture, and, most recently in regard to the need to (also) respond to atrocities by fundamentalist non-state actors in the context of critiquing the "war on terror:' In each instance, women's groups and other human rights NGOs have some­ times had uneasy, multifaceted and shifting relationships that have shaped critical international lawmaking processes and debates. Groups within both of those broad categories of NGOs have also taken diamet­rically opposed positions at times. All of these sets of complexities, these putatively productive tensions, have both enriched and rendered more difficult the role of NGOs as lawmakers, and must be reflected in any meaningful theorizing of the issue.

What then should these layered inter-NGO dynamics tell us about our conception of "NGO" as a category of analysis, and about the role of NGOs in the creation and practice of international law? What can analyzing these dynamics tell us about how progress can most success­ fully be made toward a feminist reshaping of international law? This chapter will consider each of these questions in light of several case studies.

I come at this subject from a range of vantage points, having been an Amnesty International legal adviser, having also worked closely with a range of women's NGOs, and currently as an academic. Hence, I will try to look at these questions at the intersection of both academic and these various practitioner perspectives. To that end, this chapter begins with a brief overview of NGOs and their roles on the inter­national law stage, as described in the literature. An examination of the categories used here follows, interrogating the meaning of the terms, "women's human rights NGO" and "mainstream human rights NGO." Subsequently, the chapter reviews the case studies drawn from practice, first with regard to NGO interaction concerning the definition of torture, and then bearing on responses to the "war on terror." It then concludes with a brief application of the lessons learned from these case studies about the meaning of NGO participation in international lawmaking.

"Administering Section 2 of the VRA After Shelby County" Free Download
Columbia Law Review, vol. 115 Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 372

CHRISTOPHER S. ELMENDORF, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cselmendorf@ucdavis.edu
DOUGLAS M. SPENCER, University of Connecticut, School of Law
Email: dspencer@berkeley.edu

Until the Supreme Court put an end to it in Shelby County v. Holder, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was widely regarded as an effective, low-cost tool for blocking potentially discriminatory changes to election laws and administrative practices. The provision the Supreme Court left standing, Section 2, is generally seen as expensive, cumbersome and almost wholly ineffective at blocking changes before they take effect. This paper argues that the courts, in partnership with the Department of Justice, could reform Section 2 so that it fills much of the gap left by the Supreme Court's evisceration of Section 5. The proposed reformation of Section 2 rests on two insights: first, that national survey data often contains as much or more information than precinct-level vote margins about the core factual matters in Section 2 cases; second, that the courts have authority to create rebuttable presumptions to regularize Section 2 adjudication. Section 2 cases currently turn on costly, case-specific estimates of voter preferences generated from precinct-level vote totals and demographic information. Judicial decisions provide little guidance about how future cases - each relying on data from a different set of elections - are likely to be resolved. By creating evidentiary presumptions whose application in any given case would be determined using national survey data and a common statistical model, the courts could greatly reduce the cost and uncertainty of Section 2 litigation. This approach would also end the dependence of vote-dilution claims on often-unreliable techniques of ecological inference, and would make coalitional claims brought jointly by two or more minority groups much easier to litigate.

"Bait, Mask, and Ruse: Technology and Police Deception" Free Download
128 Harvard Law Review Forum 246 (2015)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 423

ELIZABETH E. JOH, U.C. Davis School of Law
Email: eejoh@ucdavis.edu

Deception and enticement have long been tools of the police, but new technologies have enabled investigative deceit to become more powerful and pervasive. Most of the attention given to today's advances in police technology tends to focus either on online government surveillance or on the use of algorithms for predictive policing or threat assessment. No less important but less well known, however, are the enhanced capacities of the police to bait, lure, and dissemble in order to investigate crime. What are these new deceptive capabilities, and what is their importance?

"Richard Delgado's Quest for Justice for All" Free Download
Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, 2015, Forthcoming
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 421

KEVIN R. JOHNSON, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: krjohnson@ucdavis.edu

This is a contribution to a symposium celebrating Richard Delgado's illustrious career in law teaching. This commentary offers some thoughts on Delgado's contributions to pushing the boundaries of Critical Race Theory - and legal scholarship generally - in seeking to create a more just society. This ambitious program has been the overarching theme to his scholarly agenda throughout his career.

"Leaving No (Nonmarital) Child Behind" Free Download
48 Family Law Quarterly 495 (2014)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 414

COURTNEY G. JOSLIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cgjoslin@ucdavis.edu

Almost ten years, in 2005, I wrote a piece for the Family Law Quarterly describing the legal status of children born to same-sex couples. This Essay explores the some of the positive and some of the worrisome developments in the law since that time. On the positive side, today many more states extend some level of protection to the relationships between nonbiological same-sex parents and their children. Moreover, in many of these states, lesbian nonbiological parents are now treated as full, equal legal parents, even in the absence of an adoption.

There are other recent developments, however, that should be cause for concern. Specifically, this Essay considers recent legislative proposals that contract (rather than expand) existing protections for functional, nonmarital parents. I conclude by arguing that while advocates should celebrate the growing availability of marriage for same-sex couples, they must also be careful not to push legislative efforts that inadequately protect the large and growing numbers of families that exist outside of marriage.

"Amici Curiae Brief of Family Law Professors in Obergefell v. Hodges" Free Download
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 420

COURTNEY G. JOSLIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: cgjoslin@ucdavis.edu
JOAN HEIFETZ HOLLINGER, University of California, Berkeley - School of Law
Email: joanhol@law.berkeley.edu

This Amici Curiae brief was filed in the Supreme Court on behalf of 74 scholars of family law in the four consolidated same-sex marriage cases.

The two questions presented in the cases concern whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license or recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex. Those defending the marriage bans rely on two primary arguments: first, that a core, defining element of marriage is the possibility of biological, unassisted procreation; and second, that the "optimal" setting for raising children is a home with their married, biological mothers and fathers. The brief demonstrates that these asserted rationales conflict with basic family laws and policies in every state, which tell a very different story.

"Fracking and Federalism: A Comparative Approach to Reconciling National and Subnational Interests in the United States and Spain" Free Download
Environmental Law, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2014
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 424

ALBERT LIN, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: aclin@ucdavis.edu

Hydraulic fracturing presents challenges for oversight because its various effects occur at different scales and implicate distinct policy concerns. The uneven distribution of fracturing's benefits and burdens, moreover, means that national and subnational views regarding fracturing's desirability are likely to diverge. This Article examines the tensions between national and subnational oversight of hydraulic fracturing in the United States, where the technique has been most commonly deployed, and Spain, which is contemplating its use for the first time. Drawing insights from the federalism literature, this Article offers recommendations for accommodating the varied interests at stake in hydraulic fracturing policy within the contrasting governmental systems of these two countries.

"Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas" Free Download
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 426

LISA R. PRUITT, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: lrpruitt@ucdavis.edu
J. CLIFF MCKINNEY, Independent
Email: cmckinney@QGTlaw.com
JULIANA FEHRENBACHER, Independent
Email: jfehr@ucdavis.edu
AMY DUNN JOHNSON, Independent
Email: adjohnson@arkansasjustice.org

This policy brief, written for and distributed by the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission, reports two sets of data related to the shortage of lawyers in rural Arkansas. The first set of data regards the number of lawyers practicing in each of the state's 25 lowest-population counties and the ratio of lawyers per 1,000 residents in each of those counties. This data is juxtaposed next to the poverty rate and population of each of county.

The policy brief also reports the results of a survey of Arkansas lawyers and law students, the latter from both the University of Arkansas Fayetteville Law School and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock/Bowen School of Law. These surveys probed respondents' attitudes toward rural practice, among other matters. The policy brief reports a summary of those responses. Finally, the policy brief reports on a 2015 legislative proposal aimed at alleviating the shortage of lawyers serving rural Arkansans.

This policy brief is a forerunner to a fuller, academic analysis of these and other data sets relevant to the geography of access to justice in Arkansas. That analysis will appear in an article that will be published by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Journal (forthcoming 2015). The authors anticipate that these investigations in Arkansas may provide a model for other states concerned about the shortage of lawyers working in rural areas.

"Using Taxes to Improve Cap and Trade, Part I: Distribution" Free Download
75 State Tax Notes 99 (2015)
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 425

DAVID GAMAGE, University of California, Berkeley - Boalt Hall School of Law
Email: david.gamage@gmail.com
DARIEN SHANSKE, University of California, Davis - School of Law
Email: dshanske@ucdavis.edu

In this article, the first of a series, we analyze the distributional issues involved in implementing U.S. state level cap-and-trade regimes. Specifically, we will argue that the structure of California's AB 32 regime will unnecessarily disadvantage lower-income Californians under the announced plan to give away approximately half of the permits to businesses and pollution-emitting entities.

 

April 24, 2015

How Best to Understand State Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRAs)

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict. Part one in a two-part series of columns. Co-authored with Alan Brownstein.

Over the past month or two, religious accommodation laws that have been enacted or proposed by states have attracted much attention in the media and among legal analysts. Such state laws are often called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, or RFRAs-named and patterned after the federal RRFA adopted by Congress after the Supreme Court's 1990 decision in Employment Division v. Smith, where the Court interpreted the First Amendment free exercise protection narrowly to reject a claim by Native Americans to use the prohibited drug peyote for religious purposes. RFRAs require that before government is allowed to impose a substantial burden on the practice of someone's religion, the government must have a compelling objective that cannot be accomplished by any narrower means for doing so. State RFRAs have been around in some states for a few decades, but this spring saw a new round of state legislative activity in places like Indiana and Arkansas, presumably triggered by the anticipated tension between the tenets of some religions and the ruling most analysts expect the U.S. Supreme Court to render this summer making clear that the legal institution of marriage cannot be denied to same-sex couples.

Other Verdict columnists have already offered insights and arguments about the best way to understand and interpret state RFRAs. In this two-part series, we offer our own take on the state RFRA movement and how best to incorporate it into a nation dedicated to free religious exercise and separation of church and state at once. In Part One, in the space below, we offer some reactions to the doctrinal analyses presented in a recent essay by Verdict columnist Michael Dorf. In Part Two, in a few weeks, we widen the focus to examine more fundamentally how and when state RFRAs came about and what their origin should mean for how they should be implemented.

Mike Dorf's Analysis of State RFRAs in the Context of Private Litigation

Mike Dorf's elegant doctrinal analysis of state RFRAs focuses on whether these laws "should apply in private litigation [i.e., litigation in which neither party is a government entity] if the statute is silent on the matter." Mike offers a couple of arguments for why state RFRAs perhaps ought not to apply to private lawsuits altogether. His first argument begins with a reminder that RFRAs are designed to "restore" the "constitutional right to free exercise of religion that was weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1990 peyote decision. Because a RFRA restores a constitutional right that applies only against the government, it is natural to assume that a RFRA should be available only in litigation against the government."

But, as Mike rightly points out, oftentimes constitutional rights are at stake and vindicated in cases in which the government is not a party, but in which a party is using some law or policy the government has adopted as the basis for its legal position. So, for example, when a public-figure plaintiff sues a magazine under the state tort law of defamation, the defendant can properly invoke the First Amendment as a defense, even though the plaintiff is a private individual rather than the government, because the plaintiff is relying on state-adopted tort law for his claim. It is the state, through the creation of its tort law, that is effectively burdening the defendant's speech.

Or, as in another example Mike offers, if a state passes an alimony law that treats men and women unequally, such a law can be challenged in a lawsuit between a divorcing husband and wife, even though the state is not a party, because one of the parties is so directly invoking the state law as the basis for asking a court to do something.

Mike properly acknowledges that even in the context of religion, a state's fingerprints can be all over a burden imposed on someone's religion, even if the state is not doing the litigating. So, for instance, if a state gives a landowner's neighbor a right to veto the landowner's decision to expand his building, and a church that wants to expand is blocked by a vetoing neighbor, the church might seek to invoke the free exercise of religion as a basis for resisting the veto, even if the opposing party in the lawsuit is the neighbor to whom the state has given the veto right instead of the state agency itself.

Does Private Litigation Under a RFRA Implicate State Action in a Way Different From Cases in Which Government Is a Party?

After all this, however, Mike argues that the state's involvement in RFRA cases is distinct in a way that perhaps argues against allowing state RFRAs to be invoked in private litigation. Says Mike, about the examples he offered earlier: "When [a defamation defendant] invoked the freedom of the press against [the defamation plaintiff], it objected that the [state] tort rule was defective in permitting a public figure to prevail [under a standard] that afforded insufficient protection for free speech. . . [And] [w]hen [a husband] resisted his alimony obligation, he complained that the [state] statute favoring women over men denied him equal protection of the laws. In these, and many other situations, the party invoking a rights provision in private litigation argues that some legal rule or standard violates his, her or its own rights. In contrast, a RFRA claim does not challenge any rule or standard."

Here is where we think we disagree with Mike. A RFRA claim does challenge a rule or standard-the rule or standard on which the private party opposing the religious claimant is relying in the private litigation. The fact that the right a RFRA claimant seeks to invoke is a statutory (RFRA-created) right to religious accommodation, rather than a constitutional right (such as the right to free speech or equal protection), is beside the point; remember, RFRAs are designed to "restore," by statute, the liberties previously recognized under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The RFRA claimant has been conferred a right, just as much as a free speech or equal protection claimant has been. And state law, it is alleged in RFRA cases, is protecting the other party's ability to violate that right-by substantially burdening the religious claimant's exercise of his or her religion.

Mike's instinct that a RFRA claimant is not alleging that any state law creating a burden is "defective" is understandable but, we think, wrong. A law challenged by a RFRA claimant is indeed "defective" in the legally technical but important sense that it (allegedly) fails to adequately accommodate religion, which is what the RFRA seeks to guarantee. In the defamation case alluded to above, state tort law wasn't defective in any a priori sense; it was defective only in the sense that it failed to sufficiently accommodate free speech. And RFRA claimants make the same claim as to religion.

Indeed, the example Mike offers concerning the neighbor's veto over land-use decisions seems to illustrate our point. If a church's plans to expand are blocked by a zoning board, clearly the church could invoke both the First Amendment prior to 1990, and a state RFRA nowadays. The same should be true if the opposing party is not the zoning board, but the vetoing neighbor. The law giving the neighbor veto power is defective not in a generic sense, but only in the sense that it may have the effect of frustrating religious freedom. Yet it ought not to matter whether the opposing party is the government or the neighbor himself, or whether the claim is brought under the First Amendment (before it had been watered down) or a RFRA (that seeks to reclaim the undiluted religious right).

We think our analysis makes sense in part because a state can (and often does) elect to have a lot of different kinds of laws enforced through private causes of action-and when it chooses to do so we often find there to be "state action" in the enforcement. The Supreme Court's willingness to find state action involves several factors and seems to vary depending on the particular freedoms that are at issue. We note that the Court has taken a particularly expansive approach to state action in interpreting the Establishment Clause, and it would not be unreasonable to argue that a similarly expansive understanding of state action should apply Free Exercise values. And if there is state action, if the burden would be sufficient to trigger free exercise review if the state itself enforced the law, why should it make any difference if the law is enforced by a private party?

What About Third-Party Burdens?

Mike's second argument for perhaps not applying state RFRAs to private litigation arises from the fact that in all private litigation, accommodating religion creates "the potential for substantially burdening a third party." And the Supreme Court, in the recent Hobby Lobby decision and elsewhere, has given indications that accommodating religion when such accommodation takes the form of inconveniencing government is one thing, but religious accommodations that impose on third parties may be another thing entirely.

Like Mike, we think third-party burdens ought to figure prominently in any application of state RFRAs. But we are not sure a prophylactic rule prohibiting invocation of a RFRA in all private litigation is necessary to properly take account of third parties. Because state law may allow private individuals who don't suffer much, if any, injury to be in litigation against religious adherents (remember that state courts are not limited by the Constitution's Article III standing rules), and because some third-party injuries may be of such a nature that avoiding them cannot reasonably be thought to be a compelling government interest, we think the better course is not to categorically reject RFRA claims in private litigation, but to examine any third-party burdens on a case-by-case basis. When racial or gender discrimination is at issue, the third-party costs will justify denying the accommodation. But imagine the following two hypotheticals:

  1. Suppose a municipal stadium district has a rule that says no one can wear hats taller than 5 inches to sporting events, because people's views get blocked, and allows for a private right of action in small claims court by aggrieved persons. Suppose someone wears a turban to a football game, and gets sued for $500 by another fan seated behind him who had to stand up more often to see the action.
  2. Or suppose a City bans discrimination in the provision of goods and services against people who openly display tattoos. A religious small businessperson who runs his business out of his home declines to serve a patron because the patron refuses to cover up a sexist tattoo on his upper arm, and display of such an image in the home violates the religious tenets of the businessperson. The aggrieved customer sues.

In both of these examples, accommodating religion does create some state-recognized burdens on third parties. But are they the kinds of burdens that would justify a flat, prophylactic rule prohibiting invocation of a RFRA in all private litigation? We are not yet sold on that. Thus, if a state RFRA does not by its terms prevent its application to private litigation (and, of course, every RFRA must be interpreted in light of its own language, read in the context of the entire statute), we think the better course may be to examine each such private litigation case on an individual basis, to look carefully at the extent of state action and third-party burdens.

In Part Two of this series, we locate state RFRAs in a larger historical and doctrinal context, and offer some thoughts on how to give meaning to state RFRAs while avoiding some of the externalities and complications with which Mike is properly concerned.

April 10, 2015

Some “Teachable” First Amendment Moments in the Supreme Court’s Oral Argument About Confederate Flags on Texas License Plates

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

In today's column, I analyze the Supreme Court oral argument held a few weeks ago in Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, a case involving the First Amendment and Texas's regulation of license plates. Motor vehicles registered in the State of Texas must display a state-sanctioned license plate. Most vehicles use a standard-issue Texas plate that has a simple no-frills design and displays a random series of letters and numbers. Texas, like many other states, also permits individuals to submit personalized, or vanity, plates in which the numbers and letters on the plate form a message (such as "HOTSTUFF," a hypothetical example Justice Scalia used at oral argument).

In addition, Texas permits what are called "specialty" license plates, in which the overall design of the plate (but not the sequence of numbers and letters), is custom-made and might contain symbols, colors and other visual matter that is more elaborate than the relatively plain design of the standard-issue plates. Specialty designs may be adopted by the Texas legislature or proposed by private individuals or organizations. Specialty plate designs that come from outside the legislature must be approved (as must personalized vanity plates) by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles Board, and the Board by law "may refuse to create a new specialty license plate if the design might be offensive to any member of the public" (a term that Texas authorities construe as meaning offensive to a significant segment of the public.) At least some specialized designs, once approved, can be used by members of the general public. As of a month ago, there were about 450 specialty designs that had been approved in Texas, around 250 of which are usable by the public. Although the majority of license plates in Texas are the plain-vanilla non-specialty plates, it is not uncommon on the Texas roadways to see license plates that make use of one of the approved specialty designs.

Applicants who seek approval of specialized plate designs must pay thousands of dollars to have their designs considered, and people who use the already approved designs pay for the privilege, the proceeds going to various state agencies.

The Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the memory and reputation of Confederate soldiers. SCV applied for a specialty license plate that featured the SCV logo, "which is a Confederate battle flag framed on all four sides by the words 'Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896.'"

When this design was rejected by the Motor Vehicles Board (one of only a dozen or so designs that have been rejected), SCV sued, arguing (successfully in the lower court) that the State's decision to reject the design on the ground that the content of the design-in particular, the depiction of the Confederate flag-might be offensive to some observers constituted impermissible content- or viewpoint-based regulation of expressive activity insofar as the specialty license plate, while State property, is akin to a forum for speech that the government has created and opened up to people to use to express themselves. Texas, for its part, argues that because the State owns all license plates, and because the State of Texas name appears on all plates, including specialty plates, any expression on license plates constitutes "government speech" or at the very least a hybrid of government speech and private speech. Because the government is a (if not the) speaker in this setting, Texas argues, it necessarily has the authority to accept and reject whichever messages it chooses.

The case raises many fascinating and complex constitutional issues-far too many to meaningfully address in a single column. But in the space below, I use three particular kinds of questions that Justices asked at oral argument to illuminate important and often misunderstood aspects of First Amendment doctrine.

Less Can Be More (Important) Under the First Amendment

Let us first consider Justice Kennedy's questioning of the SCV lawyer. One of the things Justice Kennedy pointed out is that if Texas is not permitted to exclude Confederate flags (or Swastikas, or other potentially objectionable material) from license plates, it will almost certainly choose to abandon the specialty (and also the vanity) license plate design program altogether, and simply use old-fashioned, plain vanilla license plates. The result, said Justice Kennedy, is that we would end up with less, rather than more, speech, because individual expression that is currently taking place on specialty or vanity plates would no longer be permitted, and people would be forced to resort to things like bumper stickers, which they may not like or make use of as much as specialty plates. "If you prevail," Justice Kennedy asked SCV's lawyer, "you are going to prevent a lot of Texans from conveying a message. . . . So in a way, your argument curtails speech?"

Justice Kennedy's question is actually a profound but rarely explored one, in that the First Amendment's aversion to content- and viewpoint-based laws may indeed sometimes lead government to enact content-neutral counterpart laws that, quantitatively speaking, restrict far more speech. For example, a law that says "no pro-life rallies in the park after 6pm" is clearly unconstitutional, because it regulates speech on a matter of public concern in a traditional public forum in a viewpoint-based way. But if such a law is replaced with a law (that very well might be upheld) that simply prohibits all rallies in the park after 6pm-a so-called content-neutral regulation of time, place or manner-the result could be an even greater overall reduction in speech.

Of course, it is possible that by forcing government to regulate in a content-neutral way, we may actually make it harder for government to regulate speech at all, so that the end result could actually be an increase in the aggregate level of speech. In the example I gave above, perhaps it would politically difficult to pass a law prohibiting all rallies in the park after 6pm (because many kinds of groups may want to hold rallies, and overcoming the political opposition of all of these groups-as opposed to the merely the pro-life advocates-may not be feasible). If that is true, then striking down the law prohibiting pro-life rallies after 6pm will, in fact, increase rather than reduce the amount of speech.

But oftentimes (as in the SCV case) striking down a law on First Amendment grounds may in fact lead to less speech, but it still can be the right constitutional thing to do. The fact that sometimes we invalidate laws in ways that will create less speech overall tells us that maximizing the aggregate quantum of private speech is not the only thing the First Amendment is concerned with. Preventing the government from distorting the debate, by disabling some points of view, or by locking in majoritarian preferences (as is often the case when "offensive" speech is disfavored) is also an important objective. So too is making individuals feel that government respects them and does not act paternalistically and treat them the way parents treat children by telling them what topics they should be focusing on.

What's Good for the Goose. . . .

A second line of questioning of SCV's lawyer, this time by Justice Sotomayor, concerned whether the State should be given the same kind of free speech respect as individuals enjoy. Justice Sotomayor pointed out that that in the Court's most famous license-plate case to date, Wooley v. Maynard, the majority struck down a requirement that New Hampshire drivers make use of a state-issued license plate bearing the State's message "Live Free or Die." Justice Sotomayor then asked: "In Wooley we said we can't compel the individual[s] to put something on their plates that they disagree with . . . Why isn't the reverse true for the government [if it doesn't want to be associated with the Confederate flag]?"

Justice Sotomayor's symmetry instinct (which assumed arguendo that the Texas specialty license plate regime represents at least a hybrid of government and private speech) is very interesting but ultimately unpersuasive, to me at least. There are lots of constitutional rules that protect individuals that do not protect government in a symmetrical way. For example, a criminal defendant is entitled to have access to all exculpatory evidence in the government's possession, but the government is not entitled to all incriminating evidence in the defendant's possession, even though both sides are trying equally hard to prove their case.

I think there is asymmetry here as well. Even though the government can operate as a speaker, it is not a specific beneficiary of the First Amendment, and certainly shouldn't enjoy all the same First Amendment protections individuals (like the individuals who litigated in Wooley) do. Ultimately, the reasons the drivers in Wooley could not be forced to bear the State's message were rooted in individual dignity and autonomy aspects of the First Amendment. Institutional and organizational actors, as opposed to individuals, can be forced to be a vehicle for government messages and are relegated to engaging in counter-speech as a way of distancing themselves from any government message they don't like. This was true in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights (FAIR), a case last decade that upheld (9-0) a federal law that required law schools to allow military recruiters onto campus facilities to recruit students, notwithstanding the law schools' opposition to the then-existing policy of the military to discriminate against gays and lesbians ("Don't Ask, Don't Tell"). Like law schools, the State of Texas does not have the same kind of dignity and autonomy attributes that individual motorists have, and so (even granting that Texas has the authority to act as a speaker) requiring Texas to live with the private message on specialty plates and disclaim any endorsement of the message or design on a specialty plate by adding something like "Views on this license plate do not reflect the views of the State" does not violate the Constitution the same way requiring individuals to promulgate such disclaimers would.

The Relevance (or Not?) of a Profit Motive

A third interesting exchange involved the overridingly important question of whether the specialty plates can properly be thought of as pure (or at least hybrid) government speech at all. The State's lawyer argued that the fact that the government has retained the right to veto all specialty designs from the get-go makes this a government speech case, but that factor standing alone surely cannot be dispositive. If a public airport withheld for itself the power to ban any leaflets whose message it found unattractive, that would not justify its excluding leaflets in favor of affirmative action while permitting leaflets against it. Control is, as many Justices pointed out, a circular kind of argument about government power. Deciding what is and is not government speech is much more complicated than that.

One potential factor was mentioned by Chief Justice Roberts a few times, and that is the profit motive by the State. Why, he asked, should we view these specialty plates as government expression at all when government's real goal here was not to raise awareness (about anything) but to raise money? This, too, is an interesting instinct. As with Justice Sotomayor's question, if we analogize to private individual speech, the government fares better; the fact that a private individual or corporation is motivated by a desire to make a profit does not make his/its expression any less constitutionally valuable: the New York Times newspaper represents classic First Amendment speech even though it is published in order to make money.

But as was true for Justice Sotomayor's symmetry argument, here too I am not sure we should treat the government the same as individuals. It does seem a bit untoward that the State would raise revenue by charging people thousands of dollars for the privilege of submitting license plate designs, and then reject those whose content it doesn't like. The idea that the State was (mis)using the specialty-design applicants, and the moneys they paid, for its own monetary gain was one of the most sympathetic aspects of the SCV's case, which was otherwise not very sympathetic given that the Confederate flag has historically been tightly associated with slavery and insurrection (not to mention the fact that SCV's lawyer took the position that the State could not, consistent with the First Amendment, reject designs with swastikas on them.)

The opinions that emerge from this case in the coming months could be very interesting.

April 7, 2015

Academic highlight: Johnson on the demise of immigration exceptionalism

For SCOTUSblog by Amanda Frost, Professor of Law at American University. Original blog post here.

Kevin Johnson, who covers the Court’s immigration docket for SCOTUSblog, has posted an article analyzing trends in Supreme Court immigration cases over the last five years.  Although the Supreme Court has frequently departed from the normal rules of constitutional and statutory interpretation in immigration cases, Dean Johnson’s study of the 2009 through 2013 Terms suggests that “immigration exceptionalism” may be on its way out.

One clear example of immigration exceptionalism is the “plenary power” doctrine, under which the Supreme Court has given Congress unusual leeway in regulating immigration.  The Court first invoked that doctrine 125 years ago in Chae Chan Ping v. United States to bar judicial review of federal laws excluding Chinese immigrants from the United States.  In recent years the Court has retreated from that position, but it has never explicitly abandoned the plenary power doctrine.  After closely analyzing the Supreme Court’s immigration decisions from 2009 through 2013, Johnson concludes that the Court has “slowly but surely moved away from anything that might reasonably be characterized as immigration exceptionalism,” including its previous reliance on the plenary power doctrine, bringing “U.S. immigration law into the legal mainstream.”

In addition to this insight, Johnson’s article provides a thorough review of the major immigration cases over the last five years, such as Padilla v. Kentucky (holding that a noncitizen could raise an ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on an attorney’s failure to accurately inform him of the possible immigration consequences of a criminal conviction) and Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting and Arizona v. United States (addressing whether federal immigration laws preempt state laws regulating non-citizens).  Immigration constitutes a surprisingly large percentage of the Court’s docket — the Court heard five immigration cases in the 2011 Term alone — and thus Johnson concludes that the “Justices consider immigration to be an important national issue worthy of attention.”  Happily for readers of SCOTUSblog, he will continue to analyze the Court’s immigration decision for us in the years to come.

March 26, 2015

Live Blog from UNAM International Immigration Conference


Our UC Davis Delegation: Cruz Reynoso, Beth Greenwood, Leticia Saucedo, and me

I am blogging live today from an immigration conference at UNAM in Mexico City. Visit Immigration Prof Blog for the latest entries!

March 25, 2015

International Immigration Conference in Mexico City

UC Davis School of Law, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and the Monterrey Institute of Technology are co-sponsoring an international conference on immigration at UNAM in Mexico City on March 26.

I am joining immigration experts Professors Leticia Saucedo and Cruz Reynoso from UC Davis to participate in a conference with colleagues from Mexico's top universities to explore the history of immigration policy and law, the present context of immigration in labor and the environment, and the human impact of immigration on families, their daily lives, and their human rights. The program will also examine the future of immigration law and policy as it impacts both the United States and Mexico.

Here is the schedule for the conference.  The Deans of the sponsor law schools (Dra. Maria Castaneda Rivas (UNAM), Kevin Johnson (UC Davis), and Gabriel Cavazos (Monterrey Tech)) will welcome the participants.

Panel 1 is entitled "Overview, History, and Culture of Immigration."  Panelists included Professors Nicolás Foucras (Monterrey Tech) and Gabriela de la Paz (Monterrey Tech).  I am also on the panel and my presentation will focus on the history of immigration law and enforcement in the United States.

Panel 2 ("Undocumented Immigrants in the US:  Impact, Challenges and Enforcement") includes Professors Leticia Saucedo (UC Davis), Cruz Reynoso (UC Davis), and Gregory Hicks (University of Washington).

Panel 3 ("Impact on Individuals") includes Professors Mariana Gabarrot (Monterrey Tech), Dean María Leoba Castaneda Rivas (UNAM), and Leticia Saucedo  (UC Davis).

Panel 4 ("Long Term Immigration Policy") includes Gerry Andrianopoulos (Monterrey Tech) and Victor Hugo Perez Hernandez (UNAM). I will discuss possible reforms to U.S. immigration law and policy.

The conference follows an "Immigration Dialogue" for law deans from the Pacific Rim hosted by UC Davis School of Law in October 2014. The conference provided an opportunity for legal experts to explore challenging issues related to immigration as it impacts both countries.

Beth Greenwood, Executive Director International Programs and the LL.M. program (UC Davis), and Concha Romero were instrumental in organizing the conference.

March 16, 2015

Breaking News: California Grants Law License to Hong Yen Chang

Today, the California Supreme Court today issued its opinion in In Re Hong Yen Chang. The first line says it all: "We grant Hong Yen Chang posthumous admission as an attorney and counselor at law in all courts of the state of California." (emphasis added).

More than a century ago, Chang was denied the opportunity to practice law in California because of his race.  Professor Jack Chin, a leading civil rights law professor, has been working on the case with the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association students and the law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP.

Congratulations to all involved in this important effort to right a historic wrong. Congratulations, too, to the family of Hong Yen Chang, many of whom are lawyers right here in California.

See coverage of today's developments from major news outlets including Reuters, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press, among others.

March 13, 2015

Reflections on the Oral Argument in the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Case

Cross-posted from Justia's Verdict.

The U.S. Supreme Court last week heard oral arguments in an important case involving federalism and election regulation, Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. As I have explained in a two-part series of columns (beginning with this one), Arizona is one of only two states (California being the other) where voters—responding to state legislatures’ tendency to engage in problematic gerrymandering—passed an initiative giving the job of drawing congressional districts to an independent redistricting commission (IRC) instead of the regular state legislature. The elected Arizona legislature brought a lawsuit and appealed the lower court ruling to the Court, arguing that the so-called Elections Clause, Article I, section 4 of the federal Constitution, which gives power to undertake districting in the first instance to the “legislature” of each state, prevents the people of a state from divesting the elected state legislature of district-drawing power.

One Generally (and Recurringly) Surprising Aspect: Federalism Inversion

Many aspects of the oral argument weren’t shocking. I continue to believe, for reasons I explained in the earlier column, that the challenge to the IRC is flawed, but many analysts anticipated that the more conservative Justices would be sympathetic to the arguments made by the elected legislature, which is being represented by former Bush Administration Solicitor General Paul Clement, and these Justices did seem to be. On the other hand, some liberal Justices generally seemed more receptive to the arguments in favor of the IRC, made by its lawyer, former Clinton Administration Solicitor General Seth Waxman. Though expected by Court watchers, this coalitional breakdown is itself surprising in at least one historical respect: the liberal Justices seem more inclined to favor “states’ rights” by giving states latitude to experiment with different modes of district drawing, while the conservative Justices seem disinclined to permit states free reign. In the 1980s and 1990s, conservative Justices were the ones who generally thought the federal Constitution allowed for broad state experimentation, and the liberals thought that states did not have as much running room. But beginning with Bush v. Gore, it is now hard to know how the conservative/liberal framework (which is, of course, overly simple but nonetheless somewhat useful) maps onto federalism matters. We see the same potential complexity in the pending Obamacare case, King v. Burwell, where liberal rather than conservative Justices will likely construe the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in a particular way so as to avoid imposing costs on states that might not have been fully aware of the potential consequences of their decisions not to set up their own healthcare exchanges.

A Surprising Inattention to Standing

In a few other respects, though, the oral argument in the Arizona case was surprising by any standard. For one thing, the Court included in the grant of review a question of whether the elected legislature had standing to sue (and the matter was briefed), yet the Justices asked no questions of Mr. Clement about whether his client did enjoy standing. There were some standing questions asked of the lawyer representing the United States (which supported the IRC as an amicus in the case) when he said he thought the elected legislature lacked standing, but one would think that if there is a question raised in a case about the plaintiff’s standing, the Justices would ask the lawyer representing the plaintiff to explain why the Court can hear the case. The burden to establish standing is on the party seeking to invoke federal judicial power, and yet the Justices gave Mr. Clement a pass on this in oral argument, even though the standing question is far from easy. (For an explanation of why the standing question is a complex one, readers may want to consult an earlier Verdict column focusing on that question).

And when they did engage in the standing analysis at all, the Justices seemed not to know what they themselves had said in past standing cases, including a particularly relevant one. Justice Kennedy, in questioning the lawyer for the federal government, intimated that the Court’s cases do not say that just because another plaintiff might be a better candidate to bring a lawsuit, the Court should deny standing to the party actually in front of it. And the federal government’s lawyer acknowledged that the Court often says close to the opposite—that the “even if [the Court’s rejection of standing in a given case] would mean no one would have standing to sue, that’s not a reason to find standing.” But what both of them seemed to forget is that in the standing case most germane to the Arizona legislature’s dispute, Raines v. Byrd—where the Court denied standing to members of Congress in a case challenging the Line Item Veto Act—the majority did suggest that whether another party might be a better candidate for standing was a factor that might cut against standing for the members of Congress. As Chief Justice Rehnquist’s opinion put it: “We also note that our conclusion . . . [that Congresspersons lack standing does not] foreclose[] the Act from constitutional challenge (by someone who suffers judicially cognizable injury as a result of the Act). Whether the case would be different if . . . [this] circumstance[] were different we need not now decide.” The clear implication of that last sentence is that the existence of a “better” candidate for standing may very well affect whether the Court is willing to stretch standing doctrine for the sake of the plaintiff actually before the Court.

A Surprisingly (and Problematically) Narrow View of Past Cases and U.S. History

This isn’t the only passage from previous cases that the Justices seemed to have forgotten they said. Justices Kennedy and Scalia repeatedly pressed Mr. Waxman for any instances elsewhere in the Constitution in which the Court had indicated that the word “legislature” was not necessarily a limited reference to the elected representative legislature, but could include the people themselves—the lawmaking authority. While Mr. Waxman had no clear answer, one thing he could have said is that Justice Scalia himself has intimated that “legislature” might in some constitutional contexts be read to include the people. In Salazar v. Colorado, in 2003, a case involving whether Colorado could involve state courts in discharging the power that Article II of the Constitution gives to “the legislature” of each state to prescribe the manner in which presidential electors shall be selected, Justice Scalia (along with Justice Thomas) joined an opinion, dissenting from a denial of certiorari, which said: “Conspicuously absent from the Colorado lawmaking regime, under the Supreme Court of Colorado’s construction of the Colorado Constitution to include state-court orders as part of the lawmaking, is participation in the process by a body representing the people, or the people themselves in a referendum” (emphasis added).

The Justices seemed somewhat forgetful not just of past statements in cases, but also of American history, in particular, the path by which U.S. senators came to be directly elected by the people. The text of the original Constitution (prior to the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913) provided that senators should be picked by the “legislature” of each state. Justice Kennedy, trying to draw a sharp distinction between the “legislature” and the people of the state based on this textual feature of the 1787 document, observed at argument that “until 1913, for close to a hundred years, many States wanted to have direct election of the senators . . . and not one State, not one State, displaced the legislature. It took the Seventeenth Amendment to do that. . . It seems to me that [for this reason] history works against the IRC.”

With all due respect, Justice Kennedy’s historical account here is extremely and problematically simplistic, in that many states did effectively, to use his term, “displace[] the legislature” in picking U.S. senators. Beginning in the mid-1800s, state-level political parties and organizations sought ways to involve the people more directly in selecting senators, and were devising increasingly effective ways to limit state legislators’ discretion in their choice of federal senators. What evolved into the most sophisticated approach, the so-called “Oregon Plan” (or Scheme), began simply as an opportunity for state legislative candidates to formally pledge to follow the will of the voters, as expressed through an advisory popular election, when it came time to pick the next federal senator. The pledges were considered merely moral at first. But as other states began to follow Oregon’s lead, more creative and more coercive devices were employed. Nebraska, for example, pioneered a “scarlet letter” approach, in which elected legislators who broke the pledge they took as state legislative candidates were burdened with a ballot notation to that effect in the event they sought state legislative reelection. Other states followed suit, crafting variations on the Oregon and Nebraska devices to suit their local needs. Oregon voters ultimately adopted a state constitutional amendment that, as a matter of state law, legally bound state legislators to select the U.S. Senate candidates who were most popular among state voters. By 1912, when the U.S. Senate approved the Seventeenth Amendment, nearly sixty percent of the senators were already selected by some means of direct election (and thus had nothing to fear from it). For this reason, it seems likely that even without ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment, direct election would in fact be with us today in most, if not all, states. In reality then, the Seventeenth Amendment was a formalizing final step in an evolutionary process.

Of course, the Oregon state constitutional provision binding state legislators, the Nebraska scarlet letter devices, and the somewhat similar measures from other states were never litigated in the U.S. Supreme Court or in lower courts. Yet that fact may itself be telling. Does Justice Kennedy think that these devices were in fact unconstitutional because they improperly deprived the elected legislatures of power Article I gave to them? If so, would Justice Kennedy be prepared to call into question the legitimacy of the senators elected from all the states that employed such devices for over a decade? And the actions taken by these Senates? And if not, doesn’t this historical episode support the Arizona electorate and its desire to experiment via the IRC?

In deciding what the word “legislature” in the Constitution means, in Article I and elsewhere—and whether that term can be read to include the people themselves—the Court should, at a minimum, be more careful and sophisticated in taking account of what the Court or various of its Justices have said, and what the full historical record of American democracy reveals.