Category Archives: Constitutional Law

8th Annual Equality Conversation at CUNY School of Law: Beyond Digital Divides

The Annual Equality Conversations at CUNY School of Law typically pair a CUNY Distinguished Professor with a Professor of Law for an interdisciplinary discussion of a topic relevant to the “Liberty, Equality, and Due Process” (LEDP)  with an audience of all 1L students in the required LEDP course, faculty members, and guests.

The topic for this year’s conversation is Technology and Education

cathy-n-davidsondsc_0003It features Distinguished Professor Cathy Davidson, Director of CUNY Futures Initiative (pictured left)

and Professor of Law Natalie Gomez-Velez, Director of CUNY Law’s Center for Latino/Latino Rights and Equality (pictured right).

If you are not a member of the law school community and are interested in attending, please contact Professor Ruthann Robson.

Past conversations have been published and include:

A Discussion of Poverty, Class, and Economic Justice Between Frances Fox Piven and Stephen Loffredo, 11 N.Y. City L. Rev. 1 (2007).
A Conversation on Health and Law, with Janet Calvo & Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg, 12 N.Y. City L. Rev. 63 (2008).
Translating Equality: Language, Law And Poetry, A conversation with Kimiko Hahn and Jenny Rivera, 13 N.Y. City L. Rev. 233 (2010).
Work, Work, and More Work: Whose Economic Rights A Conversation Between Stanley Aronowitz and Shirley Lung, 16 CUNY Law Review 391 (2013).

Constitutional Challenge to New York’s Loitering for Prostitution Law

Is New York’s Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in a Prostitution Offense, NY Penal Code § 240.37[2], unconstitutional?  An important new complaint filed in the federal court by The Legal Aid Society in D.H. v. City of New York argues that the statute, facially and as applied, is unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause and that its enforcement violates First Amendment rights to expression, Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection, and Fourth Amendment rights.

John Singer Sargent, Street in Venice, 1882, oil on wood

John Singer Sargent, Street in Venice, 1882, oil on wood

Essentially, the complaint alleges that the statute does not provide people with adequate notice of the conduct they should avoid to preclude arrest and results in the inclusion of First Amendment protected speech, expressive conduct, and association.  Further, these lack of statutory guidelines have meant that law enforcement actions under the statute have been arbitrary as well as discriminatory on the basis of classifications involving race, ethnicity, gender, and gender identity.

In addition to the statutory arguments, plaintiffs allege that the NYPD guidelines and practices have failed to remedy the problems and have in fact exacerbated them.  One central allegation regards attire:

Furthermore, the purported guidance provided in the NYPD Patrol Guide is equally vague and otherwise flawed, thereby increasing arbitrary enforcement. For instance, the NYPD Patrol Guide instructs officers that an arrestee’s “clothing” is “pertinent” to the probable cause inquiry. At the same time, the NYPD Patrol Guide does not provide any objective criteria regarding what types of attire may or may not have probative value for purposes of establishing probable cause, thus encouraging officers to make arrests based on individual, subjective opinions regarding what clothing someone who might be “loitering for the purpose of prostitution” would wear.    In pre-printed affidavits provided by prosecutors (also referred to as supporting depositions), which prompt the arresting officer to describe “revealing” or “provocative” clothing, officers often respond by citing a wide range of innocuous attire, such as “jeans,” a “black pea coat” or a pair of leggings.

[¶ 54].  The “black pea coat” as grounds supporting a solicitation for prostitution charge attracted attention in 2013 when a judge dismissed a charge which was based on the defendant “wearing a black peacoat, skinny jeans which revealed the outline of her legs and platform shoes.”

The unconstitutional inequality in the application of NY Penal Code section, §240.37[2] is analogous to the equal protection problems in New York City’s practice of stop and frisk.  Recall that a federal judge found NYC’s practices violated equal protection in her opinion in Floyd v. City of New York, later stayed – – – and thereafter clarified – – – by the Second Circuit, followed by the City’s new administration agreeing with the decision and abandoning the appeals.  One of the complaint’s pendent state law claims is a violation of the city’s own prohibition of bias-based profiling, NYC Admin. Code §14-151 (passed in 2013 by City Council overriding the then-mayor’s veto).

Loitering statutes in general, and more specifically loitering (and even soliciting) for “criminal sex” statutes, whether that sex is criminalized because it is commercial, public, or “unnatural” (as in previous sodomy prohibitions), have always been constitutionally problematic.  And the use of dress or appearance to establish “probable cause” or to constitute elements of a crime are constitutionally suspect. It will be interesting to see whether or not the City defends the action, and if it does, how vigorously.

[cross-posted at Constitutional Law Professors Blog]

SCOTUS Starting its New Term: Preview of Constitutional Cases

1024px-courtequaljusticeThe United States Supreme Court hears only small fraction of cases: The Court hears about 80 cases a year, of the approximately 8,000 requests for review filed with the Court each year, flowing from the approximately 60, 000 circuit court of appeals decisions and many more thousands of state appellate court opinions. And of this small fraction, generally about half involve constitutional issues, including constitutional criminal procedure issues.

Not surprisingly then, with the new Term starting October 3, the traditional first Monday in October, there are only a handful of constitutional law cases included among the less than 30 the Court has already accepted.

The CUNY Law Review will be holding an event Thursday, September 29, 2016 at 6pm at the law school with professors discussing the new Term. More info here.

Here’s a quick rundown of the questions the Court will be considering with more detail over at the Constitutional Law Professors blog.

Can – – – or how can – – – a state legislature redistrict the state and take into account racial demographics?  The Court is set to hear two racial gerrymandering cases, both of which involve the tensions between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause with underlying political contentions that Republican state legislators acted to reduce the strength of Black voters; both are appeals from divided opinions from three-judge courts. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the challenge is a lower court finding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  In McCrory v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case involving North Carolina, the challenge is to a three-judge court’s decision finding a constitutional Equal Protection Clause violation.

In another Equal Protection Clause case, the question involves sex discrimination by the United States in its immigration law. In Lynch v. Morales-Santana, the underlying problem is differential requirements regarding US presence for unwed fathers and unwed mothers to transmit citizenship to their child; the Second Circuit held that the sex discrimination was unconstitutional, subjecting it to intermediate scrutiny under equal protection.

Are religious organizations entitled to be treated “equally”?  Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Pauley also includes an Equal Protection issue, but the major tension is between the Free Exercise of Religion Clause of the First Amendment and principles of anti-Establishment of Religion. Like several other states, Missouri has a so-called Blaine Amendment in its state constitution which prohibits any state monies being used in aid of any religious entity. Missouri had a program for state funds to be awarded to resurface playgrounds with used tires; the state denied the Trinity Lutheran Church preschool’s application based on the state constitutional provision; the Eighth Circuit sided with the state of Missouri.

There are also several cases involving the criminal procedure protections in the Constitution.  Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado involves a claim of racial bias on a jury in a criminal case. The Colorado Supreme Court resolved the tension between the “secrecy of jury deliberations” and the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury in favor of the former interest. The court found that the state evidence rule, 606(B) (similar to the federal rule), prohibiting juror testimony with some exceptions was not unconstitutional applied to exclude evidence of racial bias on the part of a juror.  Bravo-Fernandez v. United States involves the protection against “double jeopardy” and the effect of a vacated (unconstitutional) conviction. It will be argued in the first week of October. Moore v. Texas is based on the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, with specific attention to capital punishment and the execution of the mentally disabled. In short: what are the proper standards for states to make a determination of mental disability?

Finally – – – at least for now – – – the Court will also be hearing a constitutional property dispute.  Murr v. Wisconsin involves the Fifth Amendment’s “Taking Clause,” providing that private property cannot be “taken” for public use without just compensation. At issue in Murr is regulatory taking. The Court granted certiorari to a Wisconsin appellate court decision regarding two parcels of land that the Murrs owned since 1995; one lot had previously been owned by their parents. Under state and local law, the two lots merged. The Murrs sought a variance to sell off one of the lots as a buildable lot, which was denied. The Murrs now claim that the denial of the variance is an unconstitutional regulatory taking. The Wisconsin courts viewed the two lots as the “property” and concluded that there was no regulatory taking.

Look for updates as the Court adds more cases to its docket.

 

Is the issue of sex-segregated facilities in schools headed to the United States Supreme Court?

Short answer: Probably sooner rather than later.

lossy-page1-480px-thumbnail.tifA Virginia school board has filed a stay application in the United States Supreme Court pending a petition for writ of certiorari to the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in G.G. v. Glouster County School Board.  In G.G., a divided panel, reversing the senior district judge, concluded that Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination,  20 U.S.C. § 1681(a), requires schools to provide transgender students access to restrooms congruent with their gender identity. (The senior district judge had not reached the Equal Protection claim, so it was not before the Fourth Circuit.)  In construing Title IX, the Fourth Circuit relied upon a January 7, 2015 opinion letter from the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, with a similar conclusion.  The Fourth Circuit accorded deference to the agency interpretation of Title IX because the relevant regulation was ambiguous – – – perhaps not in the plain meaning, but in its application.

Meanwhile, thirteen states have filed a complaint and application for preliminary injunction in Texas, based on the same letter.  The central challenge is failure to conform with the Administrative Procedure Act, including notice and comment for rule-making.  However, the complaint also alleges that the federal government defendants “violated the Spending Clause” by engaging in “unconstitutional coercion” by “economic dragooning,” relying in part on the famous  “Obamacare” case, NFIB v. Sebelius in which the Court upheld most the ACA, but found constitutional issues with the medicaid expansion funding.

More legal discussion over at Constitutional Law Professors Blog here.

[image via]

No Damages for (Unconstitutionally) Disciplining Prisoner Speech

Maybe you’ve heard of Daniel McGowan?  He’s  well known as an environmental activist who lives in Brooklyn and featured prominently in the 2011 documentary, If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.  

220px-IATF_posterHe went to federal prison for arson in connection with his “activities,” but gained transfer to the Brooklyn House Residential Reentry Center (“RRC”) near the end of his sentence with work passes and other privileges.  While at RCC in April 2013, McGowan published an article on Huffington Post entitled “Court Documents Prove I was Sent to Communication Management Units (CMU) for my Political Speech.”

Interestingly enough, the publication of this article about being disciplined for political speech caused McGowan to be disciplined.  The RCC manager to essentially revoke the RRC status and remand McGowan back to the Bureau of Prisons – – – in solitary confinement –  – – for an infraction of a regulation that provided “an inmate currently confined in an institution may not be employed or act as a reporter or publish under a byline.”

If that “byline regulation” sounds as if it might be a violation of the First Amendment, it is.  It was challenged and a federal district judge in Colorado in 2007 ruled that it was.  The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) did not appeal, and in fact the BOP instructed staff not to enforce it.  In 2010, the BOP issued an interim regulation rescinding the byline regulation; in 2012 it issued the final rule.

McGowan was lucky; he had lawyers who  soon figured out the byline regulation under which he had been charged was no longer in force and McGowan was returned to the RRC.

But McGowan sued the RCC personnel for a violation of the First Amendment.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, affirming the district judge, rejected the claim in its opinion in McGowan v. United States, concluding that the BOP was insulated by qualified immunity.  Qualified immunity protects the government from liability for violation of a constitutional right unless that right was “clearly established” at the time of the violation.  Here, despite the conclusion of a district judge six years prior that the byline regulation was unconstitutional and the rescission of the byline regulation by the BOP, the Second Circuit held that the right the byline regulation infringed was not clearly established:

We conclude that, at the time the alleged violation occurred, our case law did not clearly establish that McGowan had a First Amendment right to publish his article. The Supreme Court has held that “when a prison regulation impinges on inmates’ constitutional rights, the regulation is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). This test is “particularly deferential to the informed discretion of corrections officials” where “accommodation of an asserted right will have a significant ‘ripple effect’ on fellow inmates or on prison staff.” Id. at 90. For example, the Supreme Court has upheld “proscriptions of media interviews with individual inmates, prohibitions on the activities of a prisoners’ labor union, and restrictions on inmate‐to‐inmate written correspondence.” Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223, 229 (2001) (citations omitted).

In short, the ” only authority that McGowan has identified that involved expression similar to that at issue in this case is a district court opinion, which, of course, is not binding.”  The court also rejected claims sounding in tort regarding the BOP’s failure to follow its own regulations.

So McGowan has no remedy for the BOP enforcing a rescinded and it seems unconstitutional regulation that caused his removal from a work program to solitary confinement.

If a tree falls . . . .

Muhammad Ali at the Supreme Court

muhammad Ali

Bust photographic portrait of Muhammad Ali in 1967. World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg

With the reported death of Muhammad Ali, f/k/a Cassius Clay, a look back at Clay v. United States (1971) seems appropriate.  In Clay, the Court reversed Ali’s conviction for “willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces.”

The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali’s claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the “religious” requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970).  The Department of Justice had stated:

‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant’s claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’

more here

New York Federal Judge Decides Transgender Identity Gets Heightened Protection

The context is an arrest during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests on Brooklyn Bridge and an allegation that there was differential treatment of a transgendered protester And while the complaint raised several constitutional claims,  United States District Judge Jed Rakoff has allowed the Equal Protection Clause claim to proceed in his opinion  in Adkins v. City of New York.

  800px-Brooklyn_Bridge_at_Night

Interestingly, the judge based his opinion on the Second Circuit’s 2012 decision in United States v. Windsor   which of course was affirmed on other grounds by the United States Supreme Court.  Judge Rakoff wrote

[The Second Circuit in] Windsor held that gay people were a quasi-suspect class on the basis of four factors: gay people have suffered a history of persecution; sexual orientation has no relation to ability to contribute to society; gay people are a discernible group; and gay people remain politically weakened. While transgender people and gay people are not identical, they are similarly situated with respect to each of Windsor’s four factors.

Judge Rakoff then applied each of the factors (derived from the famous Carolene Products’ footnote four) to hold that transgender people are a quasi-suspect class.  Indeed, Judge Rakoff decided that in each of the factors, transgender people more easily meet the factor than “gay people” did at the time of the Second Circuit’s decision in Windsor.  For example, on the political weakness factor, Judge Rakoff reasoned:

Fourth, transgender people are a politically powerless minority. “The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination.” Windsor, 699 F.3d at 184. Particularly in comparison to gay people at the time of Windsor, transgender people lack the political strength to protect themselves. For example, transgender people cannot serve openly in the military, see Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03 at 48 (incorporating changes as of September 13, 2011), as gay people could when Windsor was decided. See Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Pub.L. No. 111–321, 124 Stat. 3515. Moreover, like gay people, it is difficult to assess the degree of underrepresentation of transgender people in positions of authority without knowing their number relative to the cisgender population. However, in at least one way this underrepresentation inquiry is easier with respect to transgender people: for, although there are and were gay members of the United States Congress (since Windsor, in both houses), as well as gay federal judges, there is no indication that there have ever been any transgender members of the United States Congress or the federal judiciary.

In applying intermediate scrutiny, the judge rejected the government’s argument that there was an important safety interest by concluding that there were no actual safety concerns according to the allegations of the complaint (taken as true in the procedural posture of the motion to dismiss).  Judge Rakoff continued:

Moreover, defendants cannot argue their actions were substantially related to ensuring plaintiff’s safety when they removed him from an allegedly safe place and caused him injury, albeit minimal injury, by handcuffing him to a wall next to the sole bathroom in the precinct.

The judge found that the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, especially given that the Second Circuit’s decision in Windsor occurred after the October 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest.  However, the judge found that the City of New York could be held liable under a specific pattern on conduct in the unequal treatment of transgender persons.

Thus, the case moves to settlement as so many of the Occupy arrest cases have done – – – unless New York City chooses to appeal the decision that transgendered individuals merit intermediate scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

[adapted from Constitutional Law Professors Blog]

It’s Bill of Rights Day: Why Isn’t it a paid holiday? And what are we celebrating?

Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC“Forgive yourself if you haven’t made any special plans for Bill of Rights Day again this year. It’s not a federal holiday after all. Indeed, Congress has made sure that any recognition of Bill of Rights Day would not create a bona fide holiday (really, who needs another day off?) and would not require any funds be spent commemorating the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution.”

More from my column on Bill of Rights Day (who started it and why?)  – – – and the Bill of Rights (was it really about rights? was the first amendment first because it was most important? ) – – –  is here.

And then there’s that nasty omission of equality, although President Obama incorporated it in his proclamation this year.

 

Sexual Conversion Therapy at the UN and in the US

Hieronymus_Bosch_053_detail

                                                           Hieronymus Bosch

Sexual conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy or sexual orientation change efforts (“SOCE”) seek to “convert” a patient’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual (never the reverse). The goal of this “therapy” is to “cure” homosexuality.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has recently been spearheading efforts to have the United Nations Committee Against Torture consider whether sexual conversion therapy in the US constitutes torture as defined by the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Meanwhile, in the United States, two states have prohibited the practices – – – at least when provided by licensed therapists on patients who are minors.  The statutes of both California and New Jersey were challenged as infringing on therapists’ First Amendment rights of free speech. Federal appellate courts upheld both statutes, but on very different theories.  Here’s my discussion of the cases for the American Psychological Society.

 

Same-Sex Marriage May Be On Its Way to the Supreme Court

The Sixth Circuit’s opinion today in DeBoer v. Snyder upheld the constitutionality of several same-sex marriage bans, reversing the district court decisions in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.  This bucks the trend in which circuit courts have declared such bans unconstitutional: the Seventh Circuit in  Bogan v. Baskin and  Walker v. Wolf,  decided in September, regarding the same-sex marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin; the Tenth Circuit in Herbert v. Kitchen, an opinion issued in June regarding Utah’s prohibition and Smith v. Bishop, extending Herbert’s reasoning to the ban in Oklahoma; and the Fourth Circuit in Bostic v. Rainey regarding Virginia’s ban.

800px-United_states_supreme_court_buildingAnd – – – more importantly – – – it creates a “circuit split” making the possibility that the United States Supreme Court will accept discretionary review much more likely.

The Sixth Circuit’s opinion is a divided one by a three-judge panel. The majority’s basic theme is judicial restraint: judges, especially federal judges, should not be deciding the issue. The dissenting judge begins her opinion with a scathing assessment of the scholarly quality of the majority’s opinion:

The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy.

Legal analysis and a link to the full text of the opinion is available in my post on the Constitutional Law Professors blog here