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May 26, 2017

The Shifting Ground of Redistricting Law

(Cross-posted from Balkinization)

Chris Elmendorf

The tectonic plates of redistricting law are starting to slide—and quickly. Earlier this year, a three-judge district court struck down Wisconsin’s state legislative map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the first such holding by any federal court in more than a generation. Federal courts in Maryland and North Carolina have also issued supportive rulings in current partisan gerrymandering cases, allowing the plaintiffs' claims to proceed to trial.  

Meanwhile, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Cooper v. Harris, the North Carolina racial gerrymandering case, augurs a major recontouring of the redistricting landscape as the Equal Protection plate comes crashing into the Voting Rights Act (VRA) plate. Section 2 of the VRA has long been understood to require the drawing of electoral districts in which racial minorities can elect their “candidates of choice” in locales where white and minority voters have very different political preferences. Yet since the 1990s, the equal protection clause has required strict scrutiny of any district in whose design race was the “predominant factor.” The Constitution disfavors the intentional sorting of voters among districts on the basis of their race. Until recently, however, it was widely thought that the “predominant factor” test for racial sorting / equal protection claims would be met only as to districts in which both (1) minority citizens comprise a majority of the voting-age population, and (2) the district’s boundaries are wildly incongruent with “traditional districting principles,” such as compactness and respect for local government boundaries.

But in Bethune Hill v. Virginia, decided two months ago, the Supreme Court clarified that the “predominant factor” test is satisfied whenever race was the overriding reason for moving a group of voters into or out of a district, irrespective of the district’s apparent conformity to traditional criteria. Then, in the unanimous portion of Cooper v. Harris, the Court applied strict scrutiny to a district because the state had “purposefully established a racial target” for its composition, and selectively moved heavily black precincts into the district to achieve that target. In the Republican redistricting plan at issue in Cooper, the target was 50% black. In a Democratic gerrymander of North Carolina, the target would probably be smaller, perhaps 40% black, to more efficiently distribute reliable black Democratic voters while continuing to enable the election of some black candidates. But the actual threshold (50% vs. 40%) seems legally irrelevant.

How then is a state to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which, as noted above, has long required states to create districts with enough minority voters (a "racial target") to consistently elect minority “candidates of choice.” One unhappy possibility is that the Court will simply undertake to free redistricters from the latter obligation, holding Section 2 unconstitutional or narrowing it beyond recognition on the basis of an asserted conflict with the anti-sorting equal protection principle. 

Another possibility is that federal courts will require redistricters to follow a path established by Alaska's Supreme Court as a matter of state constitutional law. In Alaska, the state must first redistrict blind to race, then evaluate the resulting map for compliance with Section 2, and then make whatever minimal (?) changes are necessary prevent a Section 2 violation. Cooper v. Harris hints at this approach. Striking down District 1, the Court explained: "North Carolina can point to no meaningful legislative inquiry into what it now rightly identifies as the key issue: whether a new, enlarged District 1 [enlarged to comply with one person, one vote], created without a focus on race but however else the State would choose, could lead to § 2 liability.”

Insofar as today’s decision in Cooper advances the Alaska framework, the million dollar question will be how a state redistricting authority must assess its initial race-blind map for compliance with Section 2. Here the law could evolve in any number of directions, but given the Supreme Court’s aversion to racial targets, the Court may well allow states to count for Section 2 compliance purposes any district in which minority voters are likely to wield some influence (say, any district with a Democratic majority, or any district in which Democrats would lose their working majority if no minority voters went to the polls). This would represent a dramatic change in the law of Section 2, since until now nearly all courts have focused on the question of whether districts enable the election of authentic candidates of choice of the minority community, rather than minimally acceptable (and usually white) Democrats.

Of course, all of this is somewhat speculative. Writing at SCOTUSblog, Kristen Clarke and Ezra Rosenberg argue that Cooper and Bethune Hill, read together, require plaintiffs bringing a racial sorting / equal protection claim to show (as the trigger for strict scrutiny) quite a bit more than the existence of a firm racial-composition target plus the movement of voters to achieve the target. I’m not convinced, but for now, there’s enough looseness in the doctrine for lower courts to go either way on this question. 

What is clear is that the Supreme Court, unhappy about racial sorting, is on guard against pretextual justifications for the practice. As Justice Kennedy for the Court remarked in Bethune Hill, “Traditional redistricting principles . . . are numerous and malleable . . . . By deploying those factors in various combinations and permutations, a State could construct a plethora of potential maps that look consistent with traditional, race-neutral principles. But if race for its own sake is the overriding reason for choosing one map over others, race still may predominate.”

Going forward, any redistricters who undertake to draw districts with a racial-composition target (majority-minority or otherwise) would do well to announce that the target is merely one objective to be considered and balanced alongside many others, rather than a categorical command. The crossing of fingers is also recommended.
May 19, 2017

Guest Blogging on Concurring Opinions about Whiteness, Class, Rurality

I've been guest blogging for the past few weeks over at Concurring Opinions and invite you over to that blog, on "the law, the universe, and everything" to see what I've been writing.  I've done a four-installment review/commentary on J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.  Spoiler Alert:  I'm not a big fan but, in the end, suggest that the book can help law profs better understand the low-income white students who (thankfully, yes, thankfully!) show up in our classrooms from time to time.  My posts are:

On Donald Trump, J.D. Vance, and the White Working Class

Hillbilly Elegy as Rorschach Test

The "Shock and Awe" Response to Hillbilly Elegy:  Pondering the Role of Race

On Ree Dolly, J.D. Vance and Empathy for Low-Income Whites (or, What Hillbilly Elegy is Good for)

I've also done a bit of writing about rurality, with these posts:

Rurality and Government Retreat

Local Journalism as Antidote to Echo Chambers and Fake News

Also related to rurality are these posts about spatiality and abortion access. 

Did You Hear the One About the Alaska Legislator Who Said ... 

Sanger's Tour de Force on Abortion (with a Blind Spot for Geography)

Carol Sanger of Columbia Law responded to my post about her new book, About Abortion:  Terminating Pregnancy in the 21st Century, here.  I love the fact she says I get the "last word" in our exchange over the significance of geography.

I expect to post another item or two before my term as a guest blogger expires in about a week. 

May 16, 2017

Supreme Court Immigration Watch: The 2016 Term -- Look Out for Six Decisions

(Cross-posted from Immigration Prof)

There are a number of immigrations cases currently before the Supreme Court (and here).  We should get decisions by the end of the Term in June and will should get a better idea of how the newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, looks at immigration law.

The cases before the Court raise a variety of different types of issues.  The decisions could affect the direction of judicial review of the constitutionality of immigration laws and policies.  In recent years, as explained in this article, the Supreme Court has slowly but surely moved immigration law into the mainstream of American jurisprudence. 

The cases, which have been discussed regularly on this blog, include:

1.  Sessions v. Morales-Santana Argued November 2016.  Gender Distinctions in Derivative Citizenship.

Issue(s): (1) Whether Congress’s decision to impose a different physical-presence requirement on unwed citizen mothers of foreign-born children than on other citizen parents of foreign-born children through 8 U.S.C. 1401 and 1409 (1958) violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection; and (2) whether the court of appeals erred in conferring U.S. citizenship on respondent, in the absence of any express statutory authority to do so.    The Second Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Loheir, found that the gender distinction for citizenship was unconstitutional. 

The Supreme Court has been divided on the constitutionality of gender distinctions in the citizenship laws in previous cases.  See, e.g., Nguyen v. INS (2001); Miller v. Albright (1998).  This case allows the Court to reconsider the issue.

 

2.  Jennings v. Rodriquez Argued November 2016.  Constitutionality of Immigration Detention.

Issue(s): (1) Whether noncitizens seeking admission to the United States who are subject to mandatory detention under 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b) must be afforded bond hearings, with the possibility of release into the United States, if detention lasts six months; (2) whether criminal or terrorist noncitizens who are subject to mandatory detention under Section 1226(c) must be afforded bond hearings, with the possibility of release, if detention lasts six months; and (3) whether, in bond hearings for noncitizens detained for six months under Sections 1225(b), 1226(c), or 1226(a), the noncitizen is entitled to release unless the government demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the noncitizen is a flight risk or a danger to the community, whether the length of the noncitizen’s detention must be weighed in favor of release, and whether new bond hearings must be afforded automatically every six months. 

The Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, affirmed the district court’s permanent injunction insofar as it required automatic bond hearings and required Immigration Judges to consider alternatives to detention.  The panel also held that immigration judges must consider the length of detention and provide bond hearings every six months for class members detained longer than twelve months, but rejected the class’s request for additional procedural requirements.

 

3.  Sessions v. Dimaya Argued January 2017.  Constitutionality of Criminal Removal Provisions.

Issue(s): Whether 18 U.S.C. 16(b), as incorporated into the Immigration and Nationality Act's provisions governing an immigrant's removal from the United States, is unconstitutionally vague.  In a rare move, the Ninth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, stuck down a statute including the reference "crime of violence" as unconstitutionally vague.   The Board of Immigration Appeals had found that  burglary was a "crime of violence" for removal purposes.  Dimaya was a lawful permanent resident from the Philippines who had lived in the United States since 1992. 

 

4.  Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions  Argued February 2017.  Interpretation of "Sexual Abuse of Minor" for Removal.

Issue:  Whether a conviction under one of the seven state statutes criminalizing consensual sexual intercourse between a 21-year-old and someone almost 18 constitutes an “aggravated felony” of “sexual abuse of a minor” under 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act – and therefore constitutes grounds for mandatory removal.

 

5.  Hernandez v. Mesa Argued February 2017.  Liability for Cross Border Shooting by Immigration Officer.

This case raises the following questions (1) Whether a formalist or functionalist analysis governs the extraterritorial application of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unjustified deadly force, as applied to a cross-border shooting of an unarmed Mexican citizen in an enclosed area controlled by the United States; (2) whether qualified immunity may be granted or denied based on facts – such as the victim’s legal status – unknown to the officer at the time of the incident; and (3) whether the claim in this case may be asserted under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents.

 

6.  Maslenjak v. United States Argued April 2017.  Impact of Misrepresentation for Purposes of Denaturalization. 

The denaturalization case raises the question whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit erred by holding, in direct conflict with the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 1st, 4th, 7th and 9th Circuits, that a naturalized American citizen can be stripped of her citizenship in a criminal proceeding based on an immaterial false statement.  Amy Howe in a preview to the argument on SCOTUSBlog concludes:

"The stakes in this case are high, not just for Divna Maslenjak but also for the millions of people who became naturalized U.S. citizens in recent years. Most of those naturalized citizens, of course, did not make false statements during the process of securing citizenship. But a ruling in the government’s favor could potentially expose many new citizens to the possibility of losing their right to live in the United States, even if their false statements did not necessarily influence the government’s decision to give them citizenship."

Maslenjak v. United States makes it six immigration cases before the Supreme Court this Term, a large number compared to the   immigration cases reviewed the last few Terms.

***

The Court will consider the six immigration cases against a backdrop of considerable public discussion -- and many legal challenges -- to President Trump's executive orders on immigration enforcement.    The role of the courts in reviewing the immigration actions of the President have been debated publicly over the last few months.

Stay tuned as we will see decisions in those cases, which involve crime-based removals, constitutional challenges to provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, a cross-border shooting, deference to agencies, and more.

Part of the reason that we see extreme measures in the immigration laws is the limited scope of constitutional rights of immigrants recognized by the Supreme Court. Historically, under the plenary power doctrine, noncitizens outside the United States have had few, if any, rights to enter the country. In contrast, noncitizens inside the country have seen the steady expansion over time of rights, especially to procedural due process.

Over the last fifty years, the Supreme Court has moved toward a more normal immigration jurisprudence and away from the plenary power doctrine. That trajectory has been marked by the use of ordinary methods of statutory interpretation in interpreting the immigration statute; the Supreme Court also has adhered to ordinary administrative deference doctrines in the review of immigration decisions. Moreover, the Court on a number of occasions has applied routine constitutional avoidance doctrines to avoid invoking the plenary power doctrine, which is out of synch with modern constitutional jurisprudence, and its harsh results. This pattern of avoiding the decision of constitutional questions in ensuring judicial review of immigration matters can be understood as an effort by the Court to avoid invoking the plenary power doctrine and its stark outcomes.

Commentators have observed the slow movement of immigration law toward the mainstream of constitutional jurisprudence. In essence, the plenary power doctrine is slowly but surely eroding away. In a number of cases, the Supreme Court effectively moved toward expanding the rights of noncitizens seeking admission into the United States.] Among other indications, in Kerry v. Din (2012), six Justices found that a State Department consular officer's denial of a visa was subject to rational basis review, which is a move away from the doctrine of consular non-reviewability.

One possibility is that, in the current cases before the Court, the decisions will move us toward a more unexceptional immigration law that is more consistent with general American constitutional law.

President Trump’s immigration initiatives push the envelope of contemporary constitutional norms, virtually daring the courts to address their constitutionality. By taking brash immigration policy measures that test constitutional limits, such as the travel ban and expanded expedited removal, the Trump administration ultimately may force the Supreme Court to reconsider the plenary power doctrine.Conclusion

The aggressive Trump immigration measures likely will continue to generate legal challenges centering on the rights of immigrants. Courts, which have been moving in a direction toward further recognition of immigrant rights for at least a generation, may intervene – as some have already – to curb some of the excesses of the Trump immigration initiatives. However, the long term solution to the problems of the modern immigration system is legislative reform of the immigration law. Deep and enduring reform of the comprehensive immigration statute forged in the Cold War is necessary for the nation to effectively and fairly address the immigration realties of the 21st century.

 In short, the coming weeks may tell us a good deal about the future of immigration law in the United States.  Stay tuned.

 

 

May 4, 2017

Plenary Session on Being Undocumented at UC in the Trump Era

Maria Blanco of the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center (housed at UC Davis School of Law) is speaking at the 8th Annual University of California International Migration Conference at UC Berkeley on May 13.

The topic is "Being Undocumented at UC in the Trump Era."

Find more information and registration details at haasinstitute.berkeley.edu/undocu2017.

 

 

May 4, 2017

Commentary on the California State Constitution, Co-authored by Darien Shanske, Is New in Paperback

This announcement from Oxford University Press:

Oxford University Press is happy to present the first paperback edition of the Oxford Commentaries on the State Constitutions of the US: The California State Constitution by Joseph R. Grodin, Darien Shanske, and Michael B. Salerno.

The California State Constitution provides an outstanding constitutional and historical account of the state's basic governing charter. In addition to an overview of California's constitutional history, it offers an in-depth, section-by-section analysis of the entire constitution, detailing the many significant changes that have been made since its initial drafting in 1849. This treatment, along with a table of cases, index, and the bibliography provides an unsurpassed reference guide for students, scholars, and practitioners of California's constitution.

The second edition updates and expands the previous edition published in 1993. The book provides new analysis, with citations to court decisions and relevant scholarly commentary, as well as accompanying explanations and a lengthy introduction to provide historical and thematic context. This new edition also contains a foreword by the current Chief Justice of California, Tani Cantil-Sakauye.