Constitutional Cake Wars Continue in Colorado: Baker Found to Have Discriminated Against Transgender Customer

Scardina v. Masterpiece Cakeshop and Jack Phillips, No. 21CA1142 (Colo. App.). Opinion January 26, 2023.


On the day that the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in a case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop and Jack Phillips, petitioner Scardina telephoned the bakery to request a pink cake with blue frosting.  Having secured Phillips’ spouse’s agreement to provide the cake, Scardina stated that the cake was inteded to celebrarte gender transition.

The cake shop and its proprietor then declined to provide the cake. Expressive and religious reasons were cited.

Scardina sued, citing violation of the Colorado Civil Rights Act.

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission settled with Masterpiece Cakeshop and Phillips.  After procedural maneuvers of note only to attorneys, Scardina prevailed in court, and the Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld the trial court’s conclusions.

The Court of Appeals observed Masterpiece Cakeshop’s and Phillips’ refusal to provide the pink cake with blue frosting, because it bore no written message, could not fall within the “offensiveness rule,” a loosely constructed, somewhat doubtful, secular corollary to religious objections.  

The court rejected the compelled speech challenge, observing that not all expressive conduct is protected.  Here, where the cake that admittedly have been provided to others but for the customer’s wants, the court found it impossible to conclude that protected expression was in issue.

The bakery’s and the baker’s objection to being tied to an expression also failed, as the court likened the provision of the cake, even if it could be seen as carrying a message, carried no more connection to a message than would attach to a person who provided balloons for a birthday party.  

While recognizing the Phillips’ deep religious convictions, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that those convictions must yield where a neutral statute of general applicability, like the anti-discrimination law, is involved, and where no additional constitutional right, as intimated in Employment Division v. 0 Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990) could be found, no more heightened analysis would be needed.

The appellate court refused to hear concerns about bias in the proceedings below.  Although there were some minor issues concerning pronouns, the appellate court could find no way in which the bakery or the baker had been treated less than civilly.

Scardina v Masterpiece Cakeshop Inc 2023 COA 8 Colo App 2023

 

“Doctor! Doctor! Give me the news!” Federal court in California says doctors can give patients news without threat of state sanctions for “misinformation,” at least for now.


Hoeg, et al. v. Newsom, 22-cv-1980 (E.D. Cal.); Hoang, et al. v. Attorney General, 22-cv-0214 (E.D. Cal). Order and opinion issued January 25, 2023.


California doctors have alleged that California elected and appointed officials may violate rights protected through 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 by threatening enforcement of a California statute prohibiting the provision of ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’ relating to scientific knowledge and standards, particularly where terms are vague and standards are susceptible of rapid change.

California enacted legislation prohibiting physician dissemination of “misinformation,” defined as false information contrary to scientific consensus.  The statute also prohibits intentional dissemination of misinformation, characterized as “disinformation.”  Both such offenses must occur in the context of the patient-physician relationship.  Violations re considered unprofessional conduct subject to disciplinary action.

The federal district court for the Eastern District of California has observed that plaintiffs’ claims implicate First Amendment “chilling effect” concerns, favoring standing, particularly where self-censorship is implicated.

Standing is liberally construed where statutory vagueness implicates First Amendment interests, as the Supreme Court has held that “the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas…”  (citation omitted).

This means that even if a statute does not apply to a person, if the statute interfrers with a right to receive information, standing to challenge that law exists.

Because the members of the associational plaintiffs would have standing to sue individually, the associations have standing.

Unconstitutional vagueness may be found where a statute leaves a speaker in doubt as to what is prohibited, thereby inhibiting speech.

The California statutory scheme provides that violation of the dissemination of misinformation/disinformation standards could be found where the information in issue could be outside “contemporary scientific consensus,” but the court found those terms to be vague as lacking in established meaning, leaving providers to guess what is prohibited.  This is especially so, the court observed, where “scientific consensus” is not fixed but is rapidly changing, subjecting providers to all the more heightened guesswork.

The court noted that precedent indicates that “the changing nature of a medical term’s meaning is evidence of vagueness.” Slip op. at 24. Forbes v. Napolitano, 236 F.3d 1009, 1012 (9th Cir. 2000).  

While no objective meaning of a statute’s term can be found, as is observed of “misinformation,” it is likely that a vagueness challenge will prove successful.

The inclusion of reference to a “standard of care” compounds confusion rather then providing clarification that might save the statute from a vagueness challenge.  Slip op. 15 26, n. 9.  Even if plausibly comprehensible, the statute improperly conflates advice, information and treatment.  Id.

The falsity required to find a disinformation violation is likewise constitutionally defective, the court observed, where what is “settled” is rarely so.

This separate ‘falsity’ element of the statute, even if it were to offer truthfulness as a defense, fails where “drawing a line between what is true and what is settled by scientific consensus is difficult, if not impossible,” the court has opined.  This is particularly so, the court noted, where evidence and inquiry is rapidly changing, as in pandemic conditions.  Slip op. at 27.

Any limiting construction proffered fails to save the statute, the court has observed, as the proffered construction would require rewriting the statute.

In granting a preliminary inunction against enforcement of the statute pending resolution on the merits, the court cautioned that its ruling was confined only to the Section 1983 vagueness challenge, and was not intended to reach the merits of the First Amendment claims.

Justlawful note:  If the court did not reach the First Amendment issues here, it is not unfair to say the court came fairly close to so doing.  The court may have its own reasons for guardedness: perhaps it was to dissuade an interlocutory appeal.

Justlawful Copyright NoteJustlawful very much hopes that Robert Palmer, if he were alive, would consider a citation to his 1978 recording, written by Moon Martin, to be a compliment rather than an infringement,.  Should that hope fail, Justlawful would argue that this limited reference to a well known lyric would be fair use.

Hoeg, et al. v. Newsom and Hoang, et al. v. Attorney General Opinion January 25, 2023

California’s Public Access Law Requires Access to Professor’s Emails About Articles Later Withdrawn or Corrected


Iloh v. Regents of the University of California and The Center for Scientific Integrity, No. G060856.  Opinion January 13, 2023.


A science watchdog entity submitted a public records request to the University of California after the departure of a professor whose work had been retracted or corrected after publication.  The departed professor failed to obtain injunctive relief, having argued that the records were not public records subject to disclosure, notwithstanding that a university email address was used in discussions about publication. 

The California Court of Appeals has affirmed the denial of injunctive relief.

Ms. Iloh argued that she acted on her own behalf in subjecting material for publication.  

The appellate court observed that California’s Public Records Act compels disclosure of public records unless exempted.  Parties may bring challenges under the act to compel disclosure but parties seeking to prevent disclosure, as here, must initiate an independent investigation to demonstrate that the government lacks discretion to disclose the records in issue.  

The first inquiry is whether the documents in issue are public records, for if they are not, statutory claims do not apply.

To be a public record, a document must be related to the conduct of public business and be prepared, owned, used or retained by the government.

The use of a public entity’s email system makes the correspondence in issue owned, used or retained by a public entity.

In this case, the professor’s publications were related to and in furtherance of her position at a public university, making them part of the “public’s business.”  

Although the appellate court acknowledged Iloh’s ‘catchall” interest in research integrity and freedom, the post-publication documents in issue do not merit the protections afforded pre-publication exchanges, particularly where public interest in academic integrity would favor disclosure.  

The appellate court declined to transform the catchall exemption into one which would create a pre- and post- publication bright line rule:  each case must be evaluated independently.

The Court of Appeals, like the trial court, could not find the personnel records exemption applicable, particularly where correspondence was in issue and where, even if some documents made their wa to Iloh’s personnel file, the public interest in disclosure outweighs any claim to privacy Iloh asserts with respect to public records.

The appellate court declined to reverse the trial court order because the trial court relied on CPRA and not “reverse” CPRA cases, reasoning that the trial court’s conclusion may be sustained if it can be seen as correct on any theory.  As the court’s reasons for denial of injunctive relief were sound, there is no abuse of discretion, and the trial court’s order is upheld. 

Iloh v. Univerity of California, No. G060856. California Court of Appeal, January 13, 2023.

Faith in the Workplace:  Supreme Court to Consider Standard Employer Must Meet Concerning Employee Requests for Religious Accommodation, as Well as Whether Burdens on Co-Workers May Meet that Standard 


Groff v. DeJoy, No. 22-174.  Certiorari granted January 12, 2023.


Forty five years ago, the Supreme Court opined that an employer need not accommodate and employee’s religious practices where doing so would involve more than a de minimus cost to the employer, as so doing would meet the “undue hardship standard provided in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended; 42 U.S.C. Sections 2000d-2(a)(1),(2).    Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, 432 U.S. 63 (1977).  

The Court will now consider whether the Trans World Airlines v. Hardison standard is met where hardship falls on a claimant’s co-workers rather than the employer and the employer’s business. 

The breadth of prohibitions on discrimination because of religion contemplated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is not inconsiderable, as the statute provides that “all aspects of religious observances and practices, as well as belief…” must be accommodated unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on an employers’ business.

Petitioner began working for the United States Postal Service i(USPS) in 2012, and resigned in 2019.  Plaintiff observes a Christian Sabbath on Sundays, which precludes work. 

A contractual arrangement for weekend package delivery between the USPS and Amazon.com, Inc. created an increased demand for weekend postal workers.

Groff was informed that he would have to work on Sundays or lose his job.  Groff refused but offered to work extra on other days.  The employer agreed to elicit volunteers to work Sundays instead of Groff.  The arrangement worked imperfectly for two years.

USPS declined to continue to accommodate Groff during non-peak shifts on Sundays, applying progressive discipline when Groff refused to work.  During peak periods, Groff’s accommodation created additional work for other employees.

With some disagreement, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that asking the USPS to exempt Groff from Sunday work would create an undue burden on the USPS.  

Advocates for Groff argue that the “more than de minimis” TWA v. Hardison standard weakens prohibitions against religious discrimination, effectively nullifying them and placing religious exemptions on a different footing from other other rights protected by Title VII.

The United States Postmaster General opposes restructuring of religious accommodations through this case, arguing that Title VII is silent respecting “undue hardship,” making the TWA v. Hardison decision sound.

The Postmaster General points to financial necessity as the impetus for agreeing to delivery service for Amazon.  Other employees were directly burdened when they had to work when Groff did not.  

The Postmaster General has submitted that the “undue burden” standard would be met under any circumstances in this case, particularly where acceding to Groff’s demands would violate both the USPS’s agreements with Amazon.com and with the postal workers’ union.  

No briefing order has been issued nor has a date for oral argument been set. 

Groff v. DeJoy, Petition for Certiorari

Groff v. DeJoy Opposition to Certiorari

Groff v. DeJoy, Reply of Petitioner

Supreme Court Will Review the Nature of True Threats and First Amendment Protections 


Counterman v. Colorado,  No. 22-138.  Certiorari granted January 13, 2023.


The Supreme Court has decided to review a question left unanswered in Elonis v. United States, No. 13-983, 575 U.S. 723 (2015).  If “true threats” are not protected by the First Amendment, then what, if any, state of mind must be present to remove such protections and thereby permit prosecution for stalking or other speech-related matters. 

According to petitioner Counterman, confusion surrounding the standard that existed pre-Elonis has, consistently with a prediction from Justice Alito, exploded post-Elonis, leaving nine federal circuits and eighteen states/jurisdictions requiring objectivity based on what a reasonable hearer would think of the words, with two federal circuits and four states demanding proof that the speaker in question intended a threat.  Another state requires knowledge and two require recklessness.  Nine circuits include states applying conflicting standards.

Colorado illustrates the state-federal conflict in this case. Petitioner was convicted in state court only with reference to objective measures.  Had he been tried in federal court, Counterman’s state of mind – whether he intended a treat – would have been critical to conviction.

The abandonment of any state of mind requirement for speech crimes would, petitioner argues, abandon the First Amendment.  

Petitioner was arrested and charged with stalking after Facebook exchanges caused discomfort in the state’s witness, and he was convicted without reference to whether he was aware that he knew he would cause distress, only that he knew he was sending a message.

Counterman has sought review not only because of the contortions and conflicts among state and federal courts but also because criminal law, which seeks to curb malevolent will, stands in contrast to First Amendment protections, which assure liberty to speak in many ways including unpleasant ways, without fear of criminal prosecution.  

Employing an objective standard – what a hearer, not a speaker, would think – reduces crime to negligence and conflicts with the First amendment as the low standard could criminalize otherwise innocuous, even if offensive, speech.  

The law ought rarely prosecute ‘accidental’ crimes and never countenance ‘accidental’ speech crimes.  The latter from the outset would chill otherwise permissible speech.  A state of mind requirement permits a speaker to speak without fear that his words will result in arrest and confinement.

Culpability in the absence of context, and likely imposed during a cold reading, cannot be sustained where the imposition of criminal liability would erode the speech protections of ordinary citizens. 

Colorado has strenuously object to granting certiorari, but its arguments have not persuaded the Court at this juncture.  Colorado points to Counterman’s admission that his conduct violated the stalking statute.  The presence of a speech component in a conduct-focused crime does not permit a clear constitutional analysis.

Colorado has argued that its view comports with Supreme Court precedent which permits conviction on the basis of conduct.

The Colorado court’s application of a context driven, multi factor objective analysis of petitioners’ statements permits assessment of stalking while leaving protected speech undisturbed, the state has argued. 

Colorado has argued that First Amendment protections do not extend only to speakers who would be robbed of speech protections in the absence of requiring evidence of an accused subjective mental state.  Colorado has argued that contextual analysis protects speech while permitting an objective view of threatening acts and speech.  

No briefing schedule has been issued and no oral argument date set.  

Counterman Petition for Certiorari

Counterman Brief in Opposition

Counterman Reply Brief for Petitioner

Amicus Briefs

Counterman Amicus Cato Institute

Counterman Amicus Rutherford Institute

Dismissal of Claim Arising from Allegedly Racially Based Student Harassment Affirmed by Fifth Circuit

B.W., a minor, by next friends v. Austin Independent School District, No. 22-50158 (5th Cir.) January 9, 2023.


Plaintiff sued the school district for race based discrimination and retaliation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, asserting that the school district was indifferent to mistreatment suffered when plaintiff appeared in school wearing clothing or carrying signs identified with conservative figures.  Incidents included a locker room encounter in which students from one ethnic group taunted students from another ethnic group, including plaintiff, and an individual student’s lunchroom threat to kill all who support those identified with plaintiff’s clothes.

 

Plaintiff withdrew from school and initiated claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 premised on the school district’s alleged violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, Title Vi, and Texas law.

 

Plaintiff alleged that with knowledge of the harassment plaintiff was suffering, the school district acted with deliberate indifference to his rights, and failed to provide him with a safe environment.

 

The Fifth Circuit affirmed dismissal premised on insufficient evidence, as there were only infrequent race based remarks which were not seen as sufficient to support a Title VI claim.  Title VI concerns only intentional discrimination which can be found if there is deliberate indifference to known harassment.  No such evidence existed on the plaintiff’s record, the court concluded, as plaintiff was tainted for ideological, not racial views.  In particular, no inference could be drawn by identifying the plaintiff’s race with that of a conservative political party, as no evidence indicated any race is precluded from participating in the conservative group.

 

The Fifth Circuit panel noted that plaintiff failed to develop any argument that the school district could be liable for deliberate indifference to student on student harassment, and therefore that this otherwise potentially compelling argument would not be addressed. Slip. op. P. 14, n.1.

 

The plaintiff’s retaliation claim was properly dismissed, as the complaint did not reveal any action taken because plaintiff opposed any unlawful practice or in response to any protected activity in reporting harassment.

 

The Fifth Circuit observed that nothing in the opinion indicates that the appellate court has looked away from the bullying plaintiff described, only that the law cited “does not support a claim for bullying generally.”  Slip. op. At 16.  


B.W. v. Austin Independent School District, No. 22-50158.0 (5th Cri.) January 9, 2023

First Amendment Protection Not Lost in Michigan “Hate Speech” Case, Michigan Appellate Court Opines

CNN v. SEB, No. 359007 (Mich. App.)  January 12, 2023.  


Michigan’s Court of Appeals has vacated a personal protection order seen to have been supported by “hate speech.”

The parties are embattled neighbors who routinely feud over a shared driveway.  One such ruckus included a racial taunt between the parties referring to the race of a neighbor who was an observer and a stranger to the fight.  

The Michigan Court of Appeals has held that notwithstanding the distasteful remark, no threat was present which  would exempt the speaker from First Amendment protections, and as such, it would not support the issuance of a personal protective order.  

CNN V SEB Michigan Court of Appeals No. 359007 Opinion January 11, 2023

 

Nice Would Be Nice, But Vulgarity Does Not Support Criminal Charge, Pennsylvania Trial Court Concludes


Commonwealth v. Muhammad, No. 690 MDA 2022 (Pa. Sup. Ct.)  January 11, 2023.


Muhammad was convicted of disorderly conduct stemming from an explosion of vulgarity and noise when she attempted to enter a county courthouse without a required mask. 

Muhammad succeeded in obtaining reversal of the conviction, arguing that her use of vulgarity did not mean that the standards of obscenity ink the state statute, which conforms to the standards established concerning sexually offensive language.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that non-sexual offensive and disrespectful words do not meet the statutory standards for disorderly conduct.  Pennsylvania precedent compels this conclusion.  Moreover, the Commonwealth agreed with Muhammad’s view.

Notwithstanding their decision, a separate concurrence acknowledged the force of controlling precedent but implored the legislature to address the issue, and noting that Muhammad “deserves to be penalized for the public use of explicit, offensive language directed at Luzerne County deputies in the courthouse annex,  a place where the rule  of law is sacrosanct.”  Slip op. Concurrence, p. 1. 

Commonwealth v. Muhammad, Pa. Super. Ct. January 11, 2023 Opinion

Commonwealth v. Muhammad, Pa. Super. Ct. January 11, 2023 Concurrence

Eighth Circuit Again Upholds Permanent Injunction Precluding Government Enforcement Against Religious Objections to Regulations Requiring Provision of Gender Transition Services

The Religious Sisters of Mercy, et al. v. Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 21-11174 (8th Cir.) Opinion December 9, 2022.

Franciscan Alliance, et al., v. Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 21-1890 (8th Cir.) Opinion August 26, 2022


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) references and incorporates provisions found in civil rights laws which preclude discrimination on the basis of sex.  Throughout regulatory iterations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and in light of the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the scope of prohibitions in the civil rights laws in Bostock v. Clayton County, 140 S. Ct. 1731 (2020), and further in the light of the absence of religious exemptions in some regulatory provisions, plaintiffs have presented objections to federal courts, stating that any requirement that they provide gender transition treatment would unduly burden sincerely held religious beliefs, all in violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

In the most recently decided case, a federal district court awarded summary judgment to plaintiffs, finding that the government’s acts and regulations substantially burdened the Catholic entities’ practice of religion and finding that less restrictive means existed that would allow the government to meet its legislative goals, e.g., through cost assumption or the awarding of subsidies to other providers for the benefit of transgender individuals seeking transition care.

Observation: This litigation encompasses actions by all coordinate branches of the federal government and their agencies.  Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have agreed to join forces to pursue enforcement of laws pertaining to discrimination in transitional health care.  It may be wondered whether both obfuscation through repeated regulation and the joining of forces has been intended to deter challenges to the federal government’s positions.

The federal government has presented multiple jurisdictional challenges to plaintiffs’ complaints, asserting that plaintiffs lack standing and the issues lack ripeness.

The Eighth Circuit has concluded that plaintiffs face a credible threat of enforcement action.  The appellate panel rejected the idea that the matter is not ripe where plaintiffs’ stance concerning transgender services is in clear violation of federal law.  Judicial review is apt where plaintiffs face an “impossible choice:”  plaintiffs must choose to violate federal law or to violate their religious beliefs, an untenable burden.  Slip Op. at 38.

The Eighth Circuit has established an expansive view of what is required to establish irreparable harm.  All that is required is that plaintiffs establish a likely violation of RFRA:  “…irreparable harm accompanies a substantial burden on an individual’s rights to the free exercise of religion under RFRA.”  Slip Op. at 39 (citations omitted).

The appellate panel affirmed the award of permanent injunctive relief to plaintiffs with the exception of certain parties found not to have established associational standing.

The Religious Sisters of Mercy, et al. v. Becerra, et al., No. 21-1890 (8th Cir.) December 9, 2022

Franciscan Alliance, et al. v. Becerra, et al., No. 21-11174 (8th Cir.) August 26, 2022

Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to (Trump-Requested) Special Master: “You’re Fired!”

Trump v. United States of America, No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.) Opinion and Order entered on December 1, 2022, reversing and vacating order of United States District Court granting plaintiff Trump equitable relief in a September 5, 2022 order authorizing the appointment of a Special Master to oversee review of documents and things seized from the former President’s residence in August, 2022.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has concluded that the trial court hearing former President Trump’s request for judicial oversight of the review of materials seized from his residence was in error in granting the relief sought.  As courts of limited jurisdiction, federal courts cannot exercise equitable jurisdiction absent “callous disregard” of the constitutional rights of an individual to whom a warrant is directed. Such circumstances are not present in this case notwithstanding that a former President is involved.  Were the courts to permit challenges to warrants duly authorized and executed in non-extreme circumstances, challenges to searches and seizures would be routinely challenged, impeding, if not crippling, the work of federal investigators.  An urgent need for specific items, denial of which would precipitate grave and irreparable harm, might be grounds for relief, but the general assertions presented in this case do not demonstrate such a need.  Recitals of statutory possessory interests are not availing where all seizures involve items of possessory interest. 

Trump v. USA, No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.) Order and Opinion December 1, 2022

 

Social Media Providers Resist as Unconstitutional New York’s New Law Requiring Monitoring of Online Activity for “Hate Speech”

Volokh, et al. v. LetitiaJames, Attorney General of the State of New York, No. 22-cv-10195 (S.D.N.Y.)

A legal scholar and blogger and two related internet platforms seek to enjoin enforcement of New York’s new law, effective tomorrow, December 3, 2022, that will require them to monitor content appearing on their site for “hate speech.” The plaintiffs must develop and publish a statement about “hate speech” and must not only monitor for “hate speech,” but also provide mechanisms for submission of complaints and must respond to all complaints.

Failure to comply with the state’s plan for eradication of certain disfavored speech will result in per violation per day penalties. In addition to imposing penalties for perceived non-compliance or violations of the law, the Attorney General may issue subpoenas and investigate the social media entities themselves. Plaintiffs argue that the compliance and non-compliance features of the law are unconstitutional burdens, and that the law in its entirely chills constitutionally protected speech.

Plaintiffs submit that the law unconstitutionally burdens protected speech on the basis of viewpoint and unconstitutionally compels speech. Plaintiffs object to the law as overly broad and vague, offending not only the First but also the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as established in controlling Supreme Court precedent. Moreover, plaintiffs argue that New York’s new “online hate speech” law is preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. New York cannot compel the social media providers to act as publishers where the federal law precludes doing so.

The law appears to have been hastily cobbled together after a mass murder last summer said to have been racially related. While similar measures have languished in the New York legislature, the undeniably horrible losses of life provided a political moment through which New York might seek to impose speech restrictions online. No legislative findings justifying the law’s enactment were made, and many significant terms are undefined. Similarly problematic is that the law requires no intent in order for the state to impose penalties on the online platforms. The perception of one reading or seeing the online content controls whether “hate speech” exists.

At this writing, the state has not responded to the plaintiffs’ requests for injunctive and declaratory relief. The matter has been referred to a special master. No scheduling order or information concerning a hearing, if any, concerning the request for injunctive relief has been found.

Volokh v. James, No. 22-cv-10195 (S.D.N.Y.)

Expedition upon Expedition: Former President Trump Seeks Supreme Court Intervention to Reverse the Eleventh Circuit’s Intervention in Special Master Proceedings; Department of Justice Seeks to Speed Up Appellate Review

Trump v. United States. No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.); Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (S.D. Fla.). Application to Vacate the Eleventh Circuit’s Stay of an Order Issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Petition to the Associate Supreme Court Justice of the United States for the Eleventh Circuit submitted October 4, 2022.


Former President Trump seeks the aid of the United States Supreme Court in vacating an order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit which stayed a lower court’s order.  The lower court’s order precluded the use of documents with classification markings in  a criminal investigation while the documents were under review by a Special Master appointed by the court.  The Eleventh Circuit’s order countermanded that determination which in turn permitted resumption of use of the documents in criminal investigations.

The former president argues that the Eleventh Circuit had no power to rule on the Department of Justice’s request, as the ruling was an interlocutory, or non-final ruling.  Such rulings are not permitted except in limited circumstances.

At the same time, the Department of Justice seeks to press ahead in its request for appellate review of the federal district court’s actions.

 

Application to Vacate Eleventh Circuit Order October 4, 2022

Opposition to Appellant’s Motion to Expedite Appeal October 3, 2022

Motion to Expedite Appeal September 30, 2022

Carry On, Criminal Investigators! Eleventh Circuit Stays District Court Order Prohibiting Use of Classified Documents Seized from Former President’s Residence Pending Special Master Review


Donald J. Trump v. United States of America, No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.) Order issued  September 22, 2022 (Not For Publication).


In recent weeks, on application by former President Donald J. Trump, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida issued an order appointing a Special Master to assist in reviewing materials seized during an August search of the former president’s residence at Mar-a-Lago.  Pending completion of the Special Master’s review, the court ordered federal investigative officials to refrain from using any of the seized materials bearing classification markings, but specifically noted that classification review could continue.  The trial court denied the United States’ motion to stay that portion of the order that would preclude use of documents with classified markings in any ongoing criminal investigation and that would require submitting the documents with classification marking for review by the Special Master.  

The United States sought interlocutory review in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Eleventh Circuit reviewed the trial court’s order according to principles governing issuance of injunctions, and found that the trial court, which has broad, yet not unbounded discretionary to such relief, erred in granting relief in the absence of evidence of callous disregard for the former president’s interest and in the presence of potential for serious harm to the government’s and the public’s interest if investigation is foreclosed.  The Eleventh Circuit has stayed the preclusion and turnover portions of the trial court’s order.

Trump v. U.S. No. 22-13005 (11th Cir.) Order of September 21, 202

Fifth Circuit Concludes the First Amendment Protects Speech, Not Censorship, Finding No Infirmity in Texas Law Promoting Fair Access to Internet Platforms


Net Choice, LLC, et al., v. Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, No. 21-51178 (5th Cir.) September 16, 2022.


Plaintiffs are internet technology platforms which have objected to recently-enacted Texas legislation intended to preclude viewpoint censorship.  Plaintiffs argue that the bill on its face violates the platforms’ First Amendment rights.

A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit  has published its perceptionthat Net Choice and other plaintiffs have an inverted view of the First Amendment, which assures persons of the right to freedom of speech but which does not incorporate a corollary, but unenumerated, right to restrain speech.  In its September 16, 2022 opinion, the panel stated:

Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say.

Slip op. at 2.

The panel dismissed the notion that, as the platforms would have it, providers could terminate the accounts of anyone, particularly anyone articulating a disfavored view.

A platform might achieve market dominance by promising free speech, yet once ensconced as “the monopolist of ‘the modern public square’,” the platform might about face to cancel and ban anyone the platform’s employees might choose to disfavor.  Slip Op. at 2, citing Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S. Ct. 1730, 1737 (2017).

The Texas bill in question precludes large media platforms from engaging in viewpoint discrimination with respect to access, excepting non-protected speech and speech specifically restricted by federal law, such as speech harmful to minors or other protective measures. Slip op. at 4.  Those who are restricted and believe this to be wrongful may seek relief in courts.  The state also might enforce the statute.

In addition, platforms must publish their moderation and use policies to the state concerning their moderation activities and actions, and mandates a complaint and appeal process for the platform’s users.

The Fifth Circuit panel noted that pre-enforcement facial challenges to to new laws, particularly any law concerning speech, are disfavored. Not only are courts constrained to decide only cases and controverses, but also federalism and comity concerns arise when federal courts review state laws before states have had the opportunity to do so.   To this must be added the extraordinarily high standard that attaches to facial challenges:  the challenging party must show that under no circumstances could the law in question be valid.

Here the challenge is one of overbreadth, a judicial doctrine intended to avoid chilling speech or association.

In this case the concern is not one of chilling speech, but of chilling censorship.  Censorship is inconsistent with the ‘pure speech’ that the overbreadth doctrine addresses.  Censorship is, at most, expressive conduct, to which only the most attenuated protections might attach.

No case directly supporting facial application of the overbreadth doctrine to censorship has been found, the court observed, and the as-applied challenges the platforms cite were presented when there were concrete challenged applications, unsuitable for use as a mechanism for invalidating a statute not yet operative.

Overbreadth challenges are intended to protect strangers to the litigation who could not lodge as-applied cases and whose speech would be chilled by an overly broad law.

The Fifth Circuit squarely rejects the notion that the Texas legislation inhibits speech by inhibiting platforms’ removal of speech, denouncing as inapt the platforms’ attempts to recast their censorship as protected speech.

The court also has declined to locate within the platforms’ notions of ‘editorial discretion’ any specifically protected speech interest.  Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 hinders rather than advances the platforms” arguments.

The panel did not favor the planforms’ strained construction of censorship as speech to be protected, while nonetheless insisting no speech is involved in invoking the protections of Section 230.

Even if editorial discretion could be seen as a protected legal category, advanced content arrangement and censorship could not meet qualification as a protected category.  No such category of individual discretion has been recognized.  As the Texas stattue neither forces the platforms to speak or interferes with their speech, the Texas legislation is not constitutionally defective.

While standing alone the Texas statute is constitutionally sound, Section 230 removes all doubt, for it specifically states that platforms are not publishers or speakers when they host others’ content.

The appellate panel has concluded that Texas was correct in characterizing the social media platforms as “common carriers’ subject to nondiscrimination regulations.”  Slip op. at 53.

The court rejected the platforms’ assertion that the platforms are not part of the communications industry, for their own representations confirm that communications is their purpose.  The platforms hold themselves out to the public as ‘traditional’ common carriers do, ostensibly serving all on the same terms.  Slip op. at 54.

The court also rejected the idea that platforms might elide that common carrier obligations by  promulgating their own internal regulations for use.  This is immaterial, in that the same terms apply to all.

The circularity of the platforms’ argument that they are not common carriers because they engage in viewpoint discrimination, a position offered in order to avoid common carrier regulation is “upside down,” much as is the argument that they cannot be common carriers because they remove some obscene speech, as the law permits this, much as transit carriers would be permitted to oust ill behaved riders.  To put a fine point on it:

The Platforms offer no reason to adopt an ahistorical approach under which a firm’s existing desire to discriminate against its customers somehow gives it a permanent immunity from common carrier nondiscrimination obligations.

Slip op. at 55.

Moreover, at this time it is difficult to avoid recognizing that the public interest in a wide swath of  topic’s underlies and informs much, if not most, use of social media and other internet platforms.

Several federal courts of appeal have recognized platforms as public forums.  Slip op. at 56. Where such platforms serve as central locations for public debate, exclusion from the forums is exclusion from public debate.  Slip op. at 56.  Additionally, the platforms are central operators in economic life, generating wealth through advertising and access.  Platforms may become entrenched in a particular area that cannot be reproduced by competitors, and thus is irreplaceable to users.

Government licensing is not necessary to establish common carrier monopoly, but if it were, Section 230 would suffice.

The platforms’ arguments about state nondiscrimination rules applicable to common carriers overlook that challenges to such laws were successful only where the laws did not further anti-discrimination but supported discrimination.  Other cases from the Lochner era have been long ago been discredited and cannot be revived now.

The platforms’ similarity to common carriers only undermines their assertion that their speech rights are involved.  Common carriers transport the speech of others, but this does not involved any speech rights of the carriers.

Even if the platforms’ speech interests were implicated, facial pre-enforcement relief could not be granted where the content and viewpoint neutral legislation would survive intermediate scrutiny.

The platforms’ complaints about what they assert are burdensome disclosure and reporting requirements do not merit pre-enforcement relief, and the platforms do not point to any impingement on any First Amendment rights that would arise during compliance.  Moreover, any additional effort needed to tailor existing complaint processes does not imply any chilling effect, as the processes are intended to impede censorship, not speech.  Hypothesized flaws in the process do not merit pre-enforcement review, because the platforms cannot show that the lion’s share of the legislation is unconstitutional.

The Fifth Circuit has declined to follow the eleventh Circuit, which recently enjoined a Florida law inhibiting platforms” censorship.  The Florida law only concerned censorship of politicians campaign speech. The Florida law “prohibits all censorship of some speakers, while [the Texas law] prohibits some censorship of all speakers.”  Slip op. at 80.  Moreover, the Florida law implicated the platforms’ own speech by forbidding the platforms from adding addenda to others’ content.   Finally, the fines to be levied under the Florida law are onerous when compared with the non-monetary equitable relief provided to platform users by the Texas law.

The Fifth Circuit does not join the Eleventh Circuit’s view that there is a recognized category of protected speech called “editorial discretion,” The Fifth Circuit further refuses to consider censorship as protected speech and further does not agree that the common carrier doctrine does not support the imposition of nondiscrimination obligations on the platforms.

In a separate concurrence, Judge Edith H. Jones agreed that forbidding censorship is not forbidding speech:

In particular, it is ludicrous to assert, as NetChoice does, that in forbidding the covered platforms from exercising viewpoint-based “censorship,” the platforms’ “own speech” is curtailed. But for their advertising such “censorship”—or for the censored parties’ voicing their suspicions about such actions—no one would know about the goals of their algorithmic magic. It is hard to construe as “speech” what the speaker never says, or when it acts so vaguely as to be incomprehensible. Further, the platforms bestride a nearly unlimited digital world in which they have more than enough opportunity to express their views in many ways other than “censorship.” The Texas statute regulates none of their verbal “speech.” What the statute does, as Judge Oldham carefully explains, is ensure that a multiplicity of voices will contend for audience attention on these platforms. That is a pro-speech, not anti-free speech result. 

Slip op. at 91.

Even if speech were involved, Turner Broadcasting v. FCC, 512 U.S.  622 (1994), found that, if speech is involved where cable companies choose channels, under intermediate scrutiny ‘must carry’ preferences are content neutral.  Cable companies did not need to modify their own speech, the mandated speech was not associated with the operators, and the selection of channels could silence competitors.

Additionally, even if the platforms are correct in arguing that Texas’ legislation might chill the platforms” speech, this will not survive a faction attack:

Case by case adjudication is a small burden on the Goliaths of internet communications if they contend with Davids who use their platforms. 

Slip op. at 92.

Judge Leslie H. Southwick separately concurred in part and dissented in part.  Judge Southwick agreed that a facial attack on a state law is unlikely to succeed and that the platforms’ businesses are of great public importance.  He rejected the idea that the court’s conclusions can be recast by an ill-fitting speech/conduct distinction.

The judge observed that what the majority perceives to be censorship he perceives to be editing, and editing in a novel format, having its closest analog in newspaper editorial functions which the Supreme Court has found to be protected First Amendment activity.  Slip op. at 96.

If the First Amendment is involved, this judge agrees with the Eleventh Circuit that the government does not have a substantial interest in preventing unfairness, but the private actors do have an interest in freedom to be unfair.   Slip op. at 108-109.

Moreover, prohibitions on the de-platforming or de-monetizing go too far in attempting to serve any interest the government may have in protecting the free flow of information.  Slip op. at 110.

The judge believes that the common carrier cases do not strip carriers — here, platforms — of a First Amendment right to their own speech. Slip op. at 110-111.  Similarly, Section 230 does not impact platforms’ rights to moderate content. Slip op. at 111. Section 230 exists to underscore that a platform that publishes third party content does not endorse it or adopt it as its own.

Although concurring with the panel’s judgment, Judge Southwick cautioned that when platforms make decisions about permissible speech and its presentation. the platforms are involved in activity which is protect by the First Amendment, which does not require fairness.  Slip op. at 113.

NetChoice, et al. v. Attorney General of Texas, No. 21-51178 (5th Cir.) Opinion issued September 16, 2022

“The Very Objects of the Offense”: DOJ Asks Appellate Court to Stay Trial Court Order Enjoining Investigation Using Materials Seized from Former President’s Residence with Classified Markings


Trump v. United States, No. 22-13005-F (11th Cir.); Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (D. Fla.).


The United States seeks immediate appellate intervention in order to stay the order of the U.S. District Court in Florida which appointed a Special Master to review documents and things seized during an August 8, 2022 search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence.  The trial court ordered the United States to stop using the documents seized in the government’s ongoing criminal investigation, which includes investigation into whether the former president wrongfully retained national security materials.

The United States submits to the appellate court that the approximately 100 documents bearing ‘Classified’ markings are the very documents the government needs to build its case.   The United States first made this argument to the trial court, which denied relief, but which directed the newly-appointed Special Master to prioritize review of the documents with ‘Classified’ markings.  The court observed that the government had not established any urgency concerning these documents and that the court was not obliged to adopt unquestioningly the position of the United States.

The trial court has outlined a protocol for review of the documents seized which will permit both parties to view the documents, determine which ought to be considered privileged, and submit their recommendations or disagreements to the Special Master.  The Special Master will in turn make recommendations to the trial court, which will, if need be, conduct review de novo.

The former  president as plaintiff is expected to pay for all of the Special Master proceedings, which must be concluded by November 30, 2022.

The newly appointed Special Master, a retired federal judge, has scheduled an initial conference with counsel on September 20th, and has invited submission of agendas not later than September 19th.


Trump v. United States, No. 22-13005-F (11th Cir.) Motion for Partial Stay Pending Appeal, September 16, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order of Special Master, September 16, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order Appointing Special Master, September 15, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order Denying Stay, September 15, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Declaration of Special Master, September 15, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) United States’ Reply in Support of Motion for Stay Pending Appeal, September 13, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Parties’ Joint Filing Respecting the Court’s Appointment of a Special Master, September 9, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Donald J. Trump’s Response in Opposition to Motion for Partial Stay Pending Appeal, September 12, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Plaintiff’s Proposed Order of Appointment of Special Master, September 9, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) United States’ Proposed Order of Appointment of Special Master, September 9, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-MAC (D. Fla.) United States’ Motion for a Partial Stay Pending Appeal, September 8, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-MAC (D. Fla.) Declaration of Asst. Dir. Counterintelligence, FBI, September 8, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Notice of Appeal, September 8, 2022

Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294-AMC (D. Fla.) Order, September 5, 2022

A Labor Day of Law: Federal Court Agrees to Appoint Special Master in Challenge to Search at Mar-a-Lago, Enjoins Investigators from Use of Materials Under Review


Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (MAC).  Order entered September 5, 2022.


Citing the need “to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity,” the federal judge assigned to hear former President Trump’s request for appointment of a Special Master to review materials seized pursuant to an unannounced search of his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago has granted that request.  

Having concluded that the circumstances warrant the exercise of the court’s equitable jurisdiction and supervisory powers, the court examined the equitable considerations supporting or negating the propriety of the appointment of a Special Master.

The court rejected the government’s argument that the former president could not seek relief because in the government’s view the former president does not own the materials seized.  Not only is this not wholly true, the court observed, but property ownership is no precondition to assertion of Fourth Amendment interests.

The idea that the former president cannot challenge the search fails, in the court’s view, because the issue before the court is not standing on the merits of any claim, but standing to seek equitable relief in the form of a special master, which the court has found to be present.  

The argument that there exists concern only for materials subject to the attorney client privilege but not the executive privilege also fails, the court found, as the government’s assertion that the executive privilege is lost the moment a president vacates the office lacks support in the law.  

The court rejected the notion that the work of a government privilege review team obviates the need for a special master.  While adequate in some cases, the court observed, this is not an ordinary case, and to the extent that there have been instances of some materials not being cabined by the government privilege review team, even if inadvertent, highlights the need for independent review. 

The court has elicited suggestions for appointees to act as Special Master to be filed by the parties by September 9, 2022. 

The government has been ordered not to make use of any of the seized materials under review by the Special Master in any criminal investigation at least during the conduct of the Special Master’s review.  The government may continue its classification and national security review.  

2022 09 05 Trump v US 22-81294 Order

More Translucent than Transparent, Unsealed Government Inventory and Investigative Status Report Indicate Government’s Quest for Evidence Continues


Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (AMC).  Minute order entered September 2, 2022.

The federal district court in Florida has heard argument concerning the former president’s request for appointment of a Special Master and for other relief, and has directed that the government’s investigative status report and inventory of items seized at the Mar-a-Lago residence be unsealed, with an order to follow.

The federal investigative team has advised the court that it is reviewing materials seized at Mar-a-Lago, has separated them into items with classified markings and those without, has taken care to conform its work to that of a privilege review team.

The federal investigative team has advised the court that the review of the materials seized is in pursuit of an “ongoing criminal investigation.”  The status report explains that materials are being reviewed for relevance to unstated charges:

The investigative team has reviewed the seized materials in furtherance of its ongoing investigation, evaluating the relevance and character of each item seized, and making preliminary determinations about investigative avenues suggested or warranted by the character and nature of the seized items. The seized materials will continue to be used to further the government’s investigation, and the investigative team will continue to use and evaluate the seized materials as it takes further investigative steps, such as through additional witness interviews and grand jury practice. Additionally, all evidence pertaining to the seized items — including, but not limited to, the nature and manner in which they were stored, as well as any evidence with respect to particular documents of interest — will inform the government’s investigation. Thus, it is important to note, “review” of the seized material is not a single investigative step but an ongoing process in this active criminal investigation.

Notice by Investigative Team of Status of Review, page 2.

The status report is clear that the review of seized materials is not in support of conclusions reached with respect to any violations of criminal or civil law, but in support of investigation of whether any violations of criminal or civil law may have occurred.  The review team is clear that such materials may be used in grand jury proceedings.

Should materials become part of grand jury proceedings, disclosure of the nature of any such materials would become highly restricted in accordance with Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 6(e).

The status report notes that a federal agency is also reviewing the materials seized to determine the threat to national security should such documents be released.

The government investigators have assured the court that due care has been and will be exercised to consider whether any materials are subject to the attorney client privilege.

The newly unsealed inventory provides information about the place from which materials were seized, the number of items in each container, and the nature of the items, such as “magazines” or “newspapers”, clothing, gift items, books, photographs, or items with classification markings.

2022 08 30 Notice by Investigative Team of Status of Review unsealed 2022 09 02

2022 08 30 Detailed Property Inventory Pursuant to Court’s Preliminary Order unsealed 2022 09 02

Counsel for Former President Urge Court to Reject Any Notion that Ownership is a Prerequisite to Challenge to Search and Seizure at Mar-a-Lago Residence


Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-81294 (AMC).  Movant’s Reply to United States’ Response to Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief, filed August 31, 2022.  Hearing September 1, 2022 at U.S. District Court in Florida at 1 p.m. 

Counsel for former president Donald J. Trump argue that no precedent exists for the government’s argument that in the absence of a property interest –that interest to be determined by the government — an individual seeking to challenge a search and seizure of his residence has no recourse because, in the absence of a property interest — that interest to be determined by the government — the individual who lacks an ownership interest in materials seized lacks standing to seek review.  In the absence of standing, the court has no power to hear the case.  

The government’s argument, counsel have submitted, has no support in extant Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, which recognizes that it is governmental intrusion that is central to the Fourth Amendment’s restrictions on governmental power.  What is necessary is “a legitimate expectation of privacy in the premises searched or the items seized.” Reply Memorandum at 5, quoting United States v. Rackley, 742 F.2d 1266, 1270 (11th Cir. 1984).   The government’s position is not only in error as a matter of constitutional law, but the government fails to recognize that the question before the court is the propriety of appointment of a Special Master, which is directed to the power of the court to grant equitable relief. 

Counsel for the former president observe that any authority to conduct privilege review presented within the application for the warrant issued prior to the search and seizure at Mar-a-Lago was narrowly constrained a a certain portion of the property, yet as the government insists that its review is complete, it would appear that the government exceeded those bounds. 

The government’s argument that the court ought not insert itself into what has been styled a ‘national security’ review by a government entity cannot succeed.  Power to adjudicate matters relating to governmental exercise of powers is at the core of the need for a federal judiciary.  

Counsel note that the government has not conducted itself with the high standards which it purports to uphold, as evidence by the dramatic — and apparently staged — submission to the court of a photograph showing documents bearing “classified” cover sheets.

The former president is in need of an inventory of items seized in order to assert his interests in materials gathered through use of criminal process in a matter that ought to have been a routine discussion of items sought for a presidential library under the Presidential Records Act.  

Movant’s Reply to United States, No. 22-81294 August 31, 2022

 

United States Avers Evidence Suggesting Former President Concealed Records Required Warrant Authorizing Search and Seizure of Personal Residence

Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-cv-81294 (AMC).

In response to briefing order issued by the federal district court in Florida, the United States alleged today that it sought to obtain judicial authority to search and seize the former President’s residence because, in doubt concerning the completeness of the custodian of records attestation that records provided to the government were complete, that “[t]he government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.” United States Response to Motion for Judicial Oversight and for Additional Relief at 10.

The United States argues that the former president has no ownership interest in the records seized, as these belong to the United States under the Presidential Records Act. As the former president is perceived to lack any interest in the records seized, he has no standing to contest the seizure.

Neither does the former president have any interest in return of any personal items seized during the good faith execution of a search warrant, as the United States asserts was the case with the search conducted at the former president’s residence on August 8, 2022.

The United States has advised the court that its review of the records seized has been completed, rendering moot the appointment of a special master, the propriety of which the United States contests.

United States’ Response to Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief

Attachment to United States’ Response to Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief

At Your Service: Having Submitted to the Supreme Court an Amicus Brief Arguing Against Post-Presidential Retention of Executive Privilege, Several Counsel Seek Appointment as Special Master in Challenge to Mar-a-Lago Search and Seizure


Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-cv-81294 (CAC).

The judge assigned to former President Donald Trump’s case against the United States concerning search of his Mar-a-Lago residence has indicated that a special master may be appointed to review the documents seized.  

The court has not solicited bids for appointment of a special counsel. 

Today a group called National Security Counselors submitted a letter to the court offering the curriculum vitae of individuals believed to be competent to serve. 

As evidence of experience, the group has filed a copy of an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court last term in opposition to a petition for certiorari by former President Trump concerning federal records.  There it was argued that no individual claim of presidential executive privilege ought to survive the end of an administration. 

 

Letter to Court Seeking Appointment August 30, 2022

Notice of Proposed Special Master Candidates August 30, 2022

Curriculum Vitae of Proposed Special Masters August 30, 2022

Amicus Brief in Supreme Court 21-932

 

 

Everything is Under (Our) Control, Government Assures Court in Challenge to Search and Seizure at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Residence

Trump v. United States, No. 22-cv-81294 (AMC). Notice of Receipt of Preliminary Order and Attorney Appearance, filed August 29, 2022.

The United States has advised the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida that the government will provide a detailed, non-public inventory of materials seized at the former president’s residence on August 8, 2022.

The government also indicates that privilege and national security review of the materials seized is underway. The government states that such review was begun before the court issued its August 27th order indicating an intent to appoint a Special Master, intimating that such an appointment will not be necessary.

Notice of Receipt of Preliminary Order August 29, 2022

Inclined to Appoint Special Master to Review Mar-a-Lago Materials Seized, Federal Judge demands Status of Review and Itemization of Seized Materials by Tuesday, August 30, with Hearing Set for September 1, 2022.

Donald J. Trump v. United States, No. 22-cv-81294 (AMC) (S.D. Fla). Preliminary Order on Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief entered August 27, 2022.

In the Matter of the Search of Mar-a-Lago, No. 22-cv-81294 (AMC) (S.D. Fla.) Movant’s Supplemental Filing in Support of Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief filed August 26, 2022.

Former President Donald J. Trump has challenged the constitutionality of a search and seizure conducted at his Mar-a-Lago residence on August 8th and has moved the court for the Appointment of a Special Master to manage review of the documents and things seized.  

The federal court in the Southern District of Florida has indicated a “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master, subject to the submission of briefs on August 30 and 31st and a hearing before the court on September 1, 2022 at 1 p.m.

The court has ordered the United States to provide a detailed report of the status of its review of the seized materials as well as a detailed account of what was seized and removed from the Mar-a-Lago residence on August 8.

Supplementing its initial motion to the court, counsel for the former president note that the redacted affidavit supporting issuance of the warrant authorizing the search, released on August 26, provides little insight into any necessity for it, particularly as continuous cooperation had been demonstrated, and particularly as the use of police powers seemed needless where compliance with a civil statute, the Presidential Records Act, was said to be in issue.

Published reports indicate that national security agencies are reviewing materials seized.  Whether review will be said to be complete by the time of this week’s briefing, which could be argued to obviate any need for a special master, remains to be seen.  See Classified Documents Seized from Trump’s Home Undergoing Security-Risk Assessment.  Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2022.  

 

2022 08 27 22-81294 Preliminary Order on Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief

2022 08 26 22-81294 Movant’s Supplemental Filing in Support of Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief

 


 

Redacted Affidavit in Support of Warrant to Search Former President’s Residence Reveals Background Information and Theory Concerning Alleged Presence of Classified Materials But Conceals Details


 

In re: Sealed Search Warrant, No. 22-mj-8332 (BER). Redacted Affidavit in Support of an Application Under Rule 41 for a Warrant to Search and Seize docketed August 26, 2022.


The Department of Justice has complied with the U.S. District Court’s order to file a public copy of the affidavit supporting a search and seizure of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence, which occurred on August 8, 2022.  

 

The Department of Justice has outlined the reasons for the redactions made to the documents, which were reviewed by the court before the affidavit was released.  The federal government sought redactions to protect: 1) witness identities; 2) investigative plans or “roadmaps”; 3) Rule 6(e)[grand jury] materials; 4) law enforcement safety; 5) privacy of involved individuals.

 

The redacted affidavit recites that in January, 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) received fifteen boxes of documents transferred from the former president’s Florida residence.  NARA became concerned because documents bearing classification markings were included in the transmittal, and was also concerned about the organization and presentation of those materials.  

 

NARA contacted the Department of Justice about these concerns, which prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a criminal investigation to explore how documents bearing classification markings were removed from the White House, the nature of any storage at the former president’s Florida residence, whether additional materials were stored there, and who was involved in the removal and storage of classified informative in an unauthorized space. 

 

Investigation confirmed the presence of documents marked classified within the transmittal to NARA.  Review prompted the observation that National Defense Information (NDI) was likely within those documents, and that the storage of the fifteen boxes sent to NARA had been at an unauthorized location. 

 

A section of the affidavit provides the caption “There is Probable Cause to Believe that Documents Containing Classified NDI and Presidential Records Remain at the Premises,” but the section is otherwise entirely redacted, with the exception of a recital concerning the location of documents in unauthorized spaces, a reference to ‘violations,’ and a description of the area to be searched.  Concern about the presence of third parties is expressed.  

 

Much of the affidavit recites what the Federal Bureau of Investigation proffers as support in the law for issuance of a warrant to search the former president’s residence and to seize any responsive materials found there, which would include materials believed to be subject to the Presidential Records Act.  

 

The affidavit mentions a published report describing the presence of moving vans at the former president’s Florida residence in January, 2021, and discloses that NARA was advised in May, 2021 that Presidential Records Act materials had been found and were ready to be retrieved. 

 

The affiant reiterates that inventory of the documents transferred to NARA in January, 2022 bore classification markings at high levels of restriction and that those documents were likely to contain National Defense Information (NDI).  

 

Because of believed violations of laws addressing the management of classified information and the belief that materials illegally possess would be found at the former president’s residence, a warrant was sought, with procedural assurances to ensure proper management of seized materials proffered.  

 

Notice of Filing by United States August 26 2022

[Redacted] Affidavit in Support of Application for Warrant Unsealed August 26 2022

[Redacted] Memorandum of Law Supporting Redactions Unsealed August 26 2022

[Redacted] Attachment Itemizing Redactions Unsealed August 26, 2022

 

 

The Best Disinfectant:  Magistrate Judge Orders Disclosure of Redacted Affidavit Supporting Warrant to Search Former President’s Residence by Noon Tomorrow, August 26th


In re: Sealed Warrant, No. 22-mj-8332 (BER).  


A federal magistrate judge in Florida has directed the Department of Justice to docket with the court a public copy of the affidavit, with redactions, supporting the magistrate judge’s issuance of a warrant authorizing the August 8, 2022 search of former President Donald Trump’s residence. 

Having reviewed proposed redactions as the court had requested of the government last week, the magistrate judge found that the government met its burden of demonstrating a substantial government interest in redacting portions of the affidavit, and that those proposed redactions are narrowly tailored to support the government’s interests. 

At this time, it is not known how extensive the redactions will be.

Prior to the court’s issuance of its order, media intervenors, joined by a group advocating public accountability, submitted a motion asking that portions of the government’s brief in support of its redactions be unsealed.  It does not appear that this request has been ruled upon.

There now appear three entries on the case docket that indicate that certain items will be sealed until further notice.  No description accompanies these entries. 

In addition, a declaration of an individual who recounts encounters with the former President’s associates, and who plans to publish a book concerning his experiences, has been docketed.  

JustLawful is unable to discern the significance of the notices that docketed entries are now sealed, nor is JustLawful certain of the significance of the sworn declaration. It is hoped that compliance with the Order to Unseal will illuminate the significance of both the docket notices and the declaration.

Today’s Relevant Documents:

2022 08 25 Order to Unseal

2022 08 25 Media Intervenors Motion to Unseal

2022 08 25 Florida Center for Government Accountability Joinder in Motion to Unseal

2022 08 25 Declaration

2022 08 25 Docket 22cv8332

Former President Challenges FBI Raid on Residence, While Magistrate Holds Affidavit in Support of Warrant Must be Disclosed


In the Matter of Search of Mar-a-Lago, 22-cv-81294 (S.D. Fl.).  Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief, August 22, 2022

In re: Sealed Search Warrant, 22-8332 (BER).  Order on Motions to Unseal, August 22, 2022.


Pursuant to a federal warrant, on August 8, 2022, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents searched for and removed materials from former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence.  Subsequently the former president was presented with a list of materials removed.  

Much speculation and discussion has attended this historic use of law enforcement personnel.  

The former president has raised Fourth Amendment challenges to the search of Mar-a-Lago.  Stressing that at all times documents relating to presidential records he was cooperative with federal authorities, he argues that the warrant itself was so nonspecific and overly broad as to offend the Fourth Amendment.

Moreover, the former president has moved for appointment of a Special Master to oversee the review of seized materials, arguing that a “clean team” of federal agents ought not be permitted to unilaterally conduct the review, and further arguing that the ‘receipt’ from the government is deficient in that it fails to describe fairly what was seized, precluding fair challenge to any review or disposition of seized materials. 

Although the scaffolding of the warrant has been disclosed, the affidavit has been withheld by the government, which has cited the personal safety of informants or witnesses and to potential disruption of ongoing investigations and proceedings.  Multiple media defendants have challenged that position, arguing that the public interest in this matter is sufficient to overcome the government’s interest in protecting sources and materials.

The magistrate judge who issued the warrant has agreed with the media intervenors, subject to any appropriate redactions, proposals for which he has invited the Department of Justice to submit by August 25.  

In re Matter of Search of Mar-a-Lago 22cv81294 (S.D. Fla.) Motion for Judicial Oversight and Additional Relief, August 22 2022.

In re Sealed Search Warrant 22mj08332 (BER) Order on Motions to Unseal August 22 2022.

Gadflies Allowed:  Maine School Board Cannot Banish Parent Whose Speech Causes Them Discomfort


McBreairty v. School Board of RSU22, et al., No. 1:22-cv-00206-NT (D. Maine).  Order granting temporary restraining order entered July 20, 2022. 


Public Schools, Public Participation.  Public schools in Maine are managed through town participation in Regional School Units, here RSU22.  The public is invited to participate in school decision making through time set aside for public comment at town school board meetings.  That public participation is governed by guidance requiring common etiquette and forbidding speech in excess of three minutes, gossip, complaints about individuals, defamation, and vulgarity.

Violation of these policies may result in removal from the meeting. 

Trouble in RSU22. Beginning in the autumn of 2021, and continuing until early May, 2022, parent and Hamden town resident Shawn McBreairty spoke at meetings about his concern that school library materials included sexual material not appropriate for students.

At times McBreairty was said to exceed three minutes’ speech, on one occasion he made a brash accusation, and he was criticized for playing a recording describing a sexual act that gave rise to his concerns.

In May, 2022, the school board wrote to McBreairty’s counsel, providing notice that McBreairty was suspended from attending further school board meetings for eight months.  Upon arrival at a June, 2022 board meeting, McBreairty was precluded from attending, and was issued a criminal trespass notice forbidding his attendance at RSU22 school functions, whether in person or online.

McBreairty sued the school board in federal court alleging violation of his First Amendment rights and demanding immediate injunctive relief.

Injunctive Relief and the First Amendment.  Courts cannot compel action or restraint from action before trial unless a complainant can demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits of his case, that irreparable harm would result if injunctive relief were not granted, that the balance of equities favors relief, and that the public interest would be served by relief.  

Irreparable harm is presumed when speech is restricted.  

Obscene speech is not protected by the First Amendment.  Here, however, the court found that McBreairty’s reference to a sexual act lacked prurience and was not, in the context, without merit.  Thus the speech found objectionable by the school board was nonetheless protected by the First Amendment.

Foraging through Forum Analysis.  The government must establish the constitutionality of any speech restrictions the government imposes.  Review considers the places where speech will occur and the purposes of any gathering.  “Forum analysis,” which proceeds from great liberality in speech to some restrictions upon speech, while superficially appealing, is nonetheless not infrequently something of a bog.

The federal court in Maine has provided a primer describing the degrees and kind of government restrictions that are n .  Traditional public forums, such as parks, streets, or other places historically used for public communications, are free from regulation except where a government can demonstrate that any restriction is neutral and narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest. While time, place and manner restraints may be imposed, alternative communication channels must exist.  

Where a government has designated that a space be open to the public, the same rules as for traditional public forums apply. 

Limited public forums are open to certain groups or for certain topics, and speech may be restricted provided no permissible speech is restricted on the basis of viewpoint and that any restriction is reasonable in light of a forum’s purpose.  

Nonpublic government property not traditionally or by designation used for public conversations may be subjected to speech restrictions provided that the goal of any restriction is not the suppression of disfavored speech.  

Looking to Other Court’s Conclusions in the Absence of Controlling Precedent.  Neither the U.S. Supreme Court of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has decided what sort of forum a school board meeting is, suggesting that the court might look to the determinations of other courts, most of which have found that school meetings are limited public forums.  

The court rejected McBreairty’s argument that school boards are traditional public forums subject to only the most narrow government restrictions.  School boards meet for particular purposes to discuss particular topics:  as such, school boards may reasonably impose order on those proceedings.    

As a limited public forum, a school board may regulate access in light of the forum’s purposes but the state may not unreasonably exclude speech based on viewpoint.  

Distinguishing between content and viewpoint based restrictions allows a governing body to restrict speech as it relates to the purpose of the forum while forbidding excluding points of view on matters that are otherwise related to a forum’s purpose.  

There May Be Some Discomfort.  The court found McBreairty’s public comments concerned the school.  Even if at times unorthodox or provocative, the court perceived that in the main McBreairty did not violate school board policy, although he did do so by referencing school personnel and exceeding time limits in speaking to the board.  

While the warning letter issued to McBreairty might have carried the potential to chill speech, as McBreairty appeared undeterred as a matter of fact, that issue is not central to the decision. 

Having rejected the idea that McBreairty’s speech was obscene, the court pointed with concern toward what appeared to be an ad hoc and cumulative approach to McBreairty’s appearances before the board.  Any discomfort experienced by the board cannot justify restricting protected speech.

This Long is Too Long.  Even if viewpoint discrimination were not conclusively established, an eight month ban on McBreairty’s presence at school board meetings is unreasonable, the court found.  

Injunctive Relief Awarded.  The court found that there is a likelihood that McBreairty will prevail on his as-applied First Amendment challenge and ordered the school to refrain from enforcing the penalties contained in its letter and in the trespass notice.  While the school board has an interest in the orderliness of its meetings, that does not require months-long forfeiture of First Amendment speech rights.

McBreairty v. School Board of RSU22, No. 22-cv-00206 (D. Maine). Order granting TRO July 20, 2022

Coach May Take a Knee: Supreme Court Holds Termination for Private Prayer in Public at Public School Event Is Impermissible



Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, No. 21-418.  Opinion released June 27, 2022


Joseph Kennedy, a football coach for the Bremerton School District in Washington, lost his job because he knelt in prayer at the football field midpoint after games.

No formal proceedings or games were underway at the time.  

Fearing violation of the Establishment Clause, the school district disciplined the coach because the school district believed that observers would think that the school district endorsed the coach’s beliefs.

The Court found the school district erred in its perception of the law.  Writing for the Court, Justice Gorsuch commenced:

Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s. Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.

After several years of what appeared to be unobjectionable prayer at practice, positive feedback from another school caused Kennedy’s school district to be concerned about the impression he was creating with ‘inspirational talks,’ on-field prayer, and locker room prayer.  The school forbade Kennedy to engage in any religious activity to “avoid the perception of endorsement.”  Slip Op. at 3.  The school opined that school employees’ Free Exercise rights must yield to the school’s interest in precluding a perception of endorsement.

The coach ended his prayer practices after receiving correspondence spelling out the school’s position.  Nonetheless, after a game, he return alone to pray on the football field because he sensed that he had broker his commitment to God.

No one was in the studio at the time.

Kennedy asked that the school district permit him to continue his post game solitary prayer practice.  

The school district denied his request, reiterating that the couch could not while on duty engage in activities that might suggest endorsement. 

Media coverage was sparked when the coach bowed his head at midfield after the game.  Others joined the coach in prayer, while the Bremerton team was occupied singing the school fight song.

The School District posted notices forbidding public access to the filed, while discussions among officials observed that the issue was changing from the coach leading the students to the coach engaging in private prayer.  

Several rounds of testing and resetting prayer limits and accommodations ensued.  The School District issued a public explanation of its choices and rationales.

Coach Kennedy’s annual performance evaluation for 2015 was poor and rehire was not recommended.  The evaluation said that the coach failed to follow policy and failed to supervise student athletes after games.  Slip Op. at 8.

Kennedy sued the school district.  He was denied injunctive relief on his Free Speech and Free Exercise claims at the trial and appellate level. The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, cautioning that denial of the petition did not indicate agreement with the courts below. 

Another round of litigation ensued.  The coach’s free speech claim was denied and he was again denied relief for his Free Exercise claim at the trial and appellate level.  The trial court held that the school district had a compelling interest in prohibiting post-game prayers which if permitted would violated the Establishment Clause. Slip Op. at 9. 

The Ninth Circuit, observing that the coach was on the football field only because of his position with the school, held that the School District would have violated the Establishment Clause if it failed to stop the prayer.  Avoidance of Establishment Clause violation was seen as a compelling state interest. 

Rehearing en banc in the Ninth Circuit was denied, with concern that it was error to hold that had the school not disciplined the coach, the school district would have violated the Establishment Clause. Others dissenting from the denial of rehearing questioned the perception that the Establishment Clause comes into play in any case in which a “reasonable observer” could perceive endorsement. Slip Op. at 10. 

The Supreme Court opinion in Kennedy stresses that the Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses work together, and that the Free Speech clause protects expressive religious activities, while the Free Exercise clause protects religious exercise as such. 

The added protection for free religious expression int he free speech clause reflects the Founder’s distrust of government attempts to regulate religion.

If a plaintiff meets his initial burdens, the state must show its justification is in compliance with case law.

The school district admitted its intent was to suppress Kennedy’s religious activity and its policies were not neutral. The performance evaluation included standards not generally applicable, such as post-game supervision of students.

Precedent recognizes that First Amendment rights are not shed at the schoolhouse gate.  Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School Distinct, 393 U.S. 503, 506 (1969).

Precedent also suggests a two-step inquiry will help to understand how free speech and government employment are to be approached.  At times, state efficiency in managing its services may outweigh a public employee’s free speech interests.  Slip Op. at 16.

Coach Kennedy’s prayers were not related to his public duties.  Any mantle of public investment in his role as a teacher had limits, including limits that would prevent private activity.  Slip Op. at 19.

Although generally the school district must satisfy strict scrutiny to justify its actions, in this case the school district could not prevail under a more lenient standard.

The Supreme Court has rejected the idea that the school district was justified in disciplining the coach, for to have forgone discipline, in the school’s view, would have violated the Establishment Clause.  Such a reading suggests a Constitution at war within its clauses, rather than acting in a complementary fashion. Slip Op. at 21. 

The Court announced that it has not only rejected Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), but also the extension of Lemon to an “endorsement” component featuring the perceptions of a “reasonable observer.”  Slip Op. at 22.  

The Establishment Clause cannot serve as a “hecklers’ veto” to proscribe religion based on “perception or “discomfort.”  Id.  

The government has no obligation to purge any material that an observer might consider to involve religion.  

History, practice, and understanding are to serve to analyze Establishment Clause claims in lieu of Lemon.  Slip Op. at 23.  

The Court was unpersuaded by what it perceived to be an 11th hour argument that petitioner coerced students to pray with him, as no support for this can be found in the record.  Slip Op. at 24-27.  Assertions of tacit or implied authority, relying on hearsay, offer no substantiation for such a claim.  Slip Op. at 27.  Coercion cannot be manufactured by ‘deeming’ any religious behavior to be coercive.  Slip Op. at 28. 

The Court vigorously rejected the nation that the First Amendment compels conflict among constitutional guarantees, concluding;

Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. And the only meaningful justification the government offered for its reprisal rested on a mistaken view that it had a duty to ferret out and suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination. 

Slip Op. at 31-32.

Justice Thomas concurred to question whether the Court ought to consider the limited “public concern” Free Speech protection accorded public employees.  The Court does not indicate what an employer must do to justify any restriction on religious activity.  As there was no need to do so because the Court found the school district  could offer no constitutionally sound reason for its behavior,  Justice Thomas questions the intimation that the “balancing” test applied in free speech cases might be imported to srve in free exercise claims.

Justice Alito concurred to observe that the decision at hand does not establish what standard ought to apply to expression under the Free Speech clause, only that retaliation for expression “cannot be justified on any of the standards discussed.” 

Dissenting Justices Sotomayor, Breyer and Kagan found no authorization in the Constitution which would permit the conduct at issue in this case.  Moreover, overruling Lemon in this decision is of great consequent, as in doing so the Court rejects decades of concerns about endorsement. 

The majoriey read the record far too narrowly, Justice Sotomayor writes, overlooking the real community disruption caused by the petitioner. 

The issue was incorrectly framed, in her view.  The question is not the protection of private prayer at work but whether persona religious beliefs may be incorporated into a public school event. Sotomayor, dissent, Slip Op. 13-14.

The majority has overlooked that the public prayer at a public school comes close to being speech within the coach’s official duties, winch view would cause the speech to lose any First Amendment protections without regard to the conflict between the  clauses.

Permitting an individual’s religious practice in the context described violates the Establishment Clause,  particularly where public schools must maintain neutrality to fulfill their obligations.

Failure to address the tension between the constitutional clauses silently elevates one constitutional interest over another, an undesirable practice.

The idea that the perceptions of a reasonable observer ought to be considered in evaluating Establishment Clause claims ought not be so handily dismissed, for it is that very perception that has give rise to much concern in public schools.  Nor should the question of coercion be dismissed, as it is not unreasonable to consider whether by their very nature public schools, in structure and administration, embody at least a modicum of coercion. 

21-418 Kennedy v. Bremerton School Dist. (06_27_2022)

 

Up in Arms! Supreme Court Holds New York’s Demand that Permit Seekers Demonstrate Special Need for a Gun Violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., et al. v. Bruen, Superintendent Of New York State Police, et al., No. 20–843. June 23, 2022


The opinion of the Court issued today begins by reciting that Supreme Court precedent has established the right of “an ordinary, law-abiding citizen to possess a handgun in the home for self defense.”  District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U. S. 570 (2008); McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U. S. 742 (2010). While the parties to this suit agree that there exists a similar right to carry handguns outside the home, petitioners argue, and the Supreme Court has agreed, that New York’s handgun licensing scheme, which requires that an applicant make a showing of “proper cause” for issuance of a license, violates the Second and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

 

Handguns have been regulated in New York since the early 20th century.  To obtain a license to carry a handgun outside the home, New York requires an applicant to demonstrate that special cause exists that makes a license necessary.  The applicant must show that he or she needs special self protection beyond that which is needed by the general community.  

 

No statute defines the “proper cause” which must be found to exist for a license to be granted, the undefined standard appears to be high, requiring particular threats or danger.  

 

Judicial review of denial of a license is limited.

 

Most states mandate licensing where minimal criteria are met.  New York and six other states confer discretion in licensing.  The most common reason for denial of a discretionary license is failure to demonstrate cause or suitability.  

 

Both petitioners here were awarded limited licenses that forbade carrying a concealed weapon in public spaces.  Unlimited licensing was denied before of a perceived failure to meet the “proper cause” standing by demonstrating a “unique need for self-defense.”  Slip Op. at 7.

 

As the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had previously upheld New York’s “proper cause” standard as advancing an “important government interest,” petitioners failed to obtain relief in the Second Circuit.

 

Today the Supreme Court rejected the line of cases subsequent to Heller and McDonald that have applied history and means-end scrutiny in Second Amendment cases. 

 

Today the Supreme Court announced that the Second Amendment presumptively protects conduct covered in the plain text of the Second Amendment. Regulation –no matter how important the government cause – is impermissible unless it is consistent with historical firearm regulation.  Slip Op. at 8. 

 

Post-Heller, post-McDonald analyses have looked at whether a regulation falls outside core Second Amendment protection, through historical analysis.  Regulations not within this scope do not enjoy Second Amendment protection.  Where there is ambiguity or insufficient history to inform consideration, however, the courts look to whether a regulation addresses activity close to the core Second Amendment right and “how severely the regulation burdens that right.”  Kanter v. Barr, 919 F. 3d 437, 441 (7th Cir. 2019). 

 

The “core” Second Amendment protection is self defense in the home, the Circuit Courts of Appeal have conceded, with some exceptions.  Outside the home, regulations, if not seen as “core,” require strict scrutiny. Non-core regulation needs to meet only intermediate scrutiny.  

 

In today’s case, the Supreme Court rejects this analytical scheme notwithstanding tha the parties agree to it.  Ensuring that any asserted interest reflected in the text of the Second Amendment, in accordance with history, is correct. Any further analysis need not apply means-end dissection but the regulating government entity must show that the regulation under consideration is historically sound, refecting “the outer bounds of the right to keep and bear arms.”  Slip Op. at 10.  

 

The historically informed textual analysis reflects the Court’s determination that the Second Amendment is not novel but that it represents codification of an existing right.  Historic support for any analysis may be found in legal scholarship; 19th century case law, Congressional and public discourse, and post-civil war commentary.  

 

The Supreme Court today emphasized that the Heller decision, informed by history, focused on the extremity of a ban on all handguns.  

 

The difficulty with judicial means-ends testing is that the enumerated rights within the Second Amendment removes decision making power from the government, including the courts.  Slip Op. at 14. 

 

With respect to enumerated rights, “the Supreme Court observed in Heller:   “A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all.” Heller, 554 U.S. at 634.  Judicial deference to legislative determinations in applying means-ends analysis overlooks, and in so doing overrides, the means-ends analysis the people already made in enumerating a Constitutional right.  Slip Op. at 17. 

 

Today’s opinion, without equivocation, makes clear that regulation of enumerate rights requires the government to prove that any action with respect to those rights is constitutional.  This will ordinarily call on history.  

 

The New York State Pistol and Rifle Ass’n decision does not shirk from undertaking the review of history that the Court today commended to the inferior appellate and trial courts.  

 

The Court’s review prompted the Court to conclude that prior to the Civil War, carrying firearms in public was regulated, sometimes included surety statutes that incentivized safety, and sometimes restricted carrying firearms provided carrying was generally permissible.  

 

The Court’s review did not find a home in history for New York’s imposition of a “proper cause” requirement:  law-abiding, ordinary citizens have not, historically, been precluded from carrying arms in public for self-defense.  Slip. Op. at 51.  Only a very few, ‘outlier’ laws and decisions would support New York’s position, and such laws and decisions, sometimes limited by the very transitory nature of the territories in which they were found, were not enough to counterbalance the overarching ordinariness of carrying arms for self defense.

 

Emancipation brought with it the recognition that all freed slaves must be able to access all rights enjoyed by others, a recognition often staunchly resisted in practice.  Yet this struggle, in the Court’s view, only underscored the importance of being able to bear arms for self defense.

 

The Court’s review compelled its conclusion that the state failed to meet its burden of finding a tradition that would justify the ‘proper cause’ requirement:  “The Second Amendment guaranteed to all Americans the right to bear commonly used arms in public subject to certain reasonable, well defined restrictions.”  Heller, 554 U.S. at 581.  

 

Valid restrictions include considering the intent accompanying carrying arms, the manner of carrying, or exceptions to carrying, such as before government officials.  Other than the outliers noted by the Court, governments have not required applicants for licensure to demonstrate a need for self defense that exceeds that of the public generally.  Slip Op. at 62. 

 

The Court stressed that the right to bear arms in public for self defense is not inferior to other rights, nor is the Second Amendment subject to rules not applicable to other guarantees in the Bill of Rights. No requirement exists that a citizen must demonstrate to a government a special need to exercise any such right.  Slip. Op. at 63.  

 

The “proper cause” requirement violates the Fourteenth Amendment as it inhibits citizens form exercising Second Amendment rights, the Court has concluded.  

 

Justice Alito wrote a separate concurrence in counterpoint to the dissent, observing that the dissent seems to have wandered afar from the determination that central to the Second Amendment is the right to self-protection, within or without the home.

 

Recitations of catastrophic events or crimes involving guns is immaterial to the Court’s core concern in this case, nor is judicial arrogation of analysis of an enumerated right by means-end analysis of utility where the core principle is a guarantee against government intrusion, including intrusion by the courts.

 

Justice Kavanaugh, with Chief Justice Roberts concurred in the Court’s perception that the text, history, and tradition test iterated in Heller and McDonald is to be applied in determining whether  order to understand the  government regulation impedes exercise of the Second Amendment right to carry guns for self-defense. 

 

The two concurring justices noted that the instant decision does not disturb any mandatory licensing schemes.  Those remain intact.  In this case the discretion conferred by New York’s statute unconstitutionally impairs, by demanding special justification, exercise of a guaranteed right to self defense.  

 

Recognition of the right to self defense by carrying a gun does not prohibit recognition that some persons and some settings preclude possession and carrying of guns nor does it preclude imposition conditions on sale of weapons.  Finally, the two justices noted that the opinion concerns weapons that were in use at the time the Second Amendment was adopted. 

 

Justice Barrett concurred separately to note that the Court left open and unresolved proper approaches to post-ratification practices as they bear on original meanings of the Constitution.  Of equal significance is the Court’s failure to resolve in this case whether courts ought to rely on understandings of an individual right at the time of the Bill of Rights or at the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Readers ought not take the opinion to endorse “freewheeling” references to history across the 19th century in order to understand the original meaning of the Bill of Rights. 

 

Justice Breyer, with Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, have dissented, lamenting the gun deaths that plague the United States.  The Court ought not to have opined in this case without a trial, without an opportunity to develop a record that would illustrate the state’s compelling need for regulation in order to prevent gun violence, or without consideration of the dangers of guns.  

 

The dissenters examine not only the perceived need to regulate gun carrying in an effort to restrain gun violence but also suggest, through the presentation of other historical views, that the majority’s review may have been incomplete.  

 

20-843 New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen (06_23_2022)

If Maine Subsidizes Secondary Schools, It May Not Exclude Sectarian Schools, Supreme Court Concludes


CARSON, AS PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF O. C., ET AL. v. MAKIN, No.  20-1088.  U.S. Supreme Court June 21, 2022.


Maine is the most rural state in the nation.  Some geographic “School Administrative Units” have no public secondary schools through which to provide the education promised by the state. To ameliorate the strain families who must make arrangements for their children, Maine offers tuition assistance to parents so that their children may access secondary education through qualified schools outside the geographic confines of the School Administrative Units.

At one time, Maine did not distinguish between sectarian and non-sectarian schools for purposes of funding parents’ preferences.  In 1981, Maine determined that this practice was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Parents who selected schools with religious orientation challenged Maine’s denial of tuition assistance as violative of the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause, triggering what appears to be an annual (or at least semi-annual) head on collision between the Establishment Clause, which precludes government endorsement of religion, and the Free Exercise Clause, which forbids government interference with religious practice.

While the petitioners’ litigation was pending, the Supreme Court struck down a Montana statute that forbade aid to any church controlled school as offensive to the Free Exercise Clause.   Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, 591 U. S. ___ (2020).  While this removed from the consideration of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit any reliance on prior precedent that would affirm Maine’s refusal to provide tuition assistance that would permit students to attend sectarian schools.

Nonetheless, the First Circuit distinguished away Espinoza because Maine, unlike Montana, concerned itself with religious use of funds as opposed to a blanket prohibition based on religious identify. Moreover, the First Circuit perceived another distinguishable difference between Montana and Maine, because Maine intends to provide the equivalent of a public school education not otherwise available in a student’s location.  As public school education is secular, no constitutional harm is done by limiting tuition assistance to parents whose children will attend secular schools.

The Supreme Court’s majority has concluded that the Maine tuition assistance scheme fails to comport with the Free Exercise Clause because it conditions the availability of an otherwise available public benefit based on a requirement of ‘non-sectarianism’ within accredited schools.

That the Free Exercise Clause prohibits indirect burdens on religious exercise has recently been re-emphasized by the Court, not only with respect to participation in public contracts, as in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, 582 U. S. ___ (2017), but also with respect to providing funding assistance to private education, as in Espinoza, supra.  In neither case can religion be interposed as a disqualifier precluding access to benefits otherwise available to all. 

The Court noted that a state need not fund private education.  If a state chooses to do so, however, the state may not preclude participation because of religious affiliation. 

In dissent, Justice Breyer expressed fear that the majority view — which requires other citizens to subsidize, through taxation — aid to religious views they might find objectionable — threatens to foment the kind of discord that the tension between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses were intended to inhibit.  This is all the more so in this case, where not just religious affiliation but religious instruction within the curriculum is in issue. 

In Justice Breyer’s view, the Religion Clauses serve the nation well by precluding state involvement in religion and by prohibiting state restraint of religion.

Justice Breyer sees the majority’s decision as introducing religion into public education, the provision of which is contemplated by Maine’s statutory scheme.  

Notwithstanding the not infrequent tension between the religion clauses, their overall purpose is to function as complements in creating a government that is benevolently neutral. The Court has previously expressed that the Religion Clauses ”permit religious exercise..without sponsorship or interference,” as this would “insure that no religion be sponsored or favored, none commanded, and none inhibited.” Walz v. Tax Comm’n of the City of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 669 (1970).  

Separately dissenting, Justice Sotomayor has expressed dismay that the Court has chartered a dangerous course, essentially eviscerating the Establishment Clause in service of the Free Exercise Clause.  Justice Sotomayor observes that, rather than stressing that the government need not fund religious activity, the Court has embraced the idea that the states may now be compelled “to subsidize religious indoctrination with taxpayer dollars.”  Sotomayor, J., Dissent, Slip. Op. at 3.

Carson v. Makin, 596 U.S. ____ (2022)

Supreme Court Vacates Stay of Injunction Precluding Effectiveness of Texas’ Law Addressing Perceived Social Media Censorship

Net Choice, et al. v. Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, No. 21A720, 596 U.S. ____. Order granting emergency petition entered May 31, 2022.



Texas legislation prohibiting content-based deplatforming or deprioritizing of social media posts remains subject to an injunction precluding its effect pending determination of the merits of challenges of the constitutionality of the statute. The Supreme Court has vacated the Fifth Circuit’s stay of a district court injunction precluding the effect of the law. 

Justice Alito has dissented from the grant of the petition, stressing that the questions presented by the case invite the Court’s review, particularly as those questions do not fit squarely within First Amendment precedent.  Neither public event, publication, public marketplace, or common carrier provisions anticipate the advent of and market power of social media platforms.  

The dissenting justice notes that the state perceives impossible incongruity between the social media platforms’ position that they may enjoy immunities under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 for publication of others’ content while at the same time enjoying First Amendment protection for refusing to publish that content.

Justice Alito observes that the likelihood of success on the merits must be demonstrated as to all aspects of the injunctive relief provided, but this is not the case with respect to the disclosure requirements of the Texas law concerning social media platforms’ publication standards, which are to be reviewed under less stringent standards for constitutional review of commercial speech.

Of importance is that the Texas law applies only prospectively, a circumstance which, in a certain light, renders injunctive relief pending review somewhat superfluous, as no action against any social media company has yet occurred and any action remains open to constitutional challenge if and when it occurs. 

The novelty of the questions presented, while inviting exploration, does not justify federal interference in state sovereignty, which is the result where, as here, the Supreme Court serves as a source of preclearance authority.

Justice Alito’s dissent has been joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch.  Justice Kagan would deny the emergency petition, but has neither joined the dissent nor written her own opinion.

Netchoice, LLC v. Paxton, 21A720, 596 U.S. ____ , May 31, 2022

The Eleventh Circuit Opines that Much of Florida’s New Regulation of Social Media May Violate the First Amendment, in Contrast to Recent Orders of the Fifth Circuit to the Contrary Now Awaiting Emergency Review in the Supreme Court


NetChoice, LLC and Computer & Communications Industry Association, d/b/a CCIA v. Attorney General of the State of Florida, et al., No. 21-12355 (11th Cir.) Order and Opinion issued May 23, 2022, affirming in part and vacating in part an injunction issued by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.


Several states, including Florida and Texas, have enacted legislation aimed at compelling social media to be open to all, without banning, de-prioritizing, or de-platforming entities or posts because they present disfavored views. Texas’s law applies to the general practices of large social media sites, while Florida has addressed access by political candidates and journalists.

When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to enjoin the effectiveness of Texas’s statute, NetChoice and CCIA presented an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on May 13, 2022. Just as briefing closed on the emergency petition, the Eleventh Circuit issued its opinion, which has been added to the record of the emergency petition as supplemental authority.

Unlike the Fifth Circuit, holding its legal cards close to the vest, so to speak, and issuing a non-unanimous order without opinion, the Eleventh Circuit has published a 67 page opinion examining whether it is likely that NetChoice and CCIA will succeed in demonstrating that Florida’s law is unconstitutional. Concluding that it is likely that the law will be shown to be unconstitutional, and observing that ongoing infringements of First Amendment rights are presumed to cause irreparable harm, and noting that neither the state nor the public has any interest in enforcing unconstitutional law, the Eleventh Circuit has upheld most, but not all, of the injunctive relief granted by the Northern District of Florida.

Principles Endure. The Eleventh Circuit opened its opinion by noting that new principles are not necessarily needed when new technologies emerge. The First Amendment continues to prohibit government interference in speech while protecting the speech of private actors.

‘Not Really Private’ Private Entities. Florida asserts that social media platforms are not truly private entities and has enacted legislation prohibiting de-platforming political candidates, de-prioritizing messages about political candidates, or removing content provided by an “journalistic enterprises” because of its content.

The Eleventh Circuit Disagrees. The appellate court has found that social media entities are private actors that enjoy First Amendment protections. Editorial judgement about content are protected. That protection would be unconstitutionally burdened by Florida’s legislation, not only in its editorial and content-based directives but also in its demands for disclosure of a rationale supporting any and all content moderation decisions. These observations support enjoining aspects of the Florida law.

How It Works. The Eleventh Circuit has offered a ‘primer’ about what social media platforms are” collectors of others’ speech, broadly defined to include text, photography, and video “posts” published to others. Platforms may have billions of users or exist as smaller sites for specialized interests. Several social media platforms are household names: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Private Enterprises, Private Choices. No one is obliged to avail themselves of the content social media entities provide. The government cannot restrict citizens’ access to social media platforms but that right of access attaching to citizens does not include a right to compel the platforms to accept or consume any content.

Whose Speech Is It? Much, if not most, speech on social media platforms is not created by the platforms themselves, but some speech belongs to the platforms, as is the case with publishing terms of service or community standards defining what is permitted, or creating addenda or warning, or publish a platform’s own content.

Neither Conduits nor Storage Devices, but Curators. Social media enterprises are best seen as curators and arrangers of content according to users’ wishes, while at the same time removing content that violates the terms of service or community standards.

These activities make the platforms active intermediaries who have created virtual spaces where participants can be both speakers and listeners.

The Eleventh Circuit views content moderation as curation that promotes the creation and development of niches and communities, and promotes values and points of view.

Why Florida Sought Legislative Intervention. Florida’s social media legislation was intended to address perceived silencing of conservative views by technology ‘oligarchs’.

Florida perceives social media platforms to be akin to public utilities which, as common carriers, are to remain accessible to all and to viewpoints.

Sweeping and Problematic. The Eleventh Circuit notes that Florida’s law, while aimed at “big tech oligarchs,” as defined by size and revenue, does sweep in smaller sites, such as Wikipedia and Etsy. An initial specific exclusion of Disney Corporation was repealed.

Three features of the Florida legislation are problematic, in the appellate court’s view: content moderation, disclosure obligations, and user data retention.

Strict in Theory, Fatal in Fact. The Eleventh Circuit perceives that Florida’s legislation regulates speech within the meaning of the First Amendment, and its content moderation provisions are subject to strict scrutiny, making it unlikely the legislation will survive.

Pre-Emption Awaits Another Day. As the court based its analysis on the First Amendment, it is not necessary to consider the issue of federal preemption of the Florida law by 47 U.S.C. Section 230.

Gutting Editorial Discretion. Denying social media platforms the ability to prohibit some posts, as the Florida law does, impairs the very exercise of discretion that the First Amendment prohibits, the Eleventh Circuit observes.

Not an Indiscriminate Host. The notion that by opening a social media space to some — essentially serving as a host to speakers — a social media enterprise must open that speech to all, following historic decisions, failed to persuade the Eleventh Circuit with respect to the Florida legislation.

Social Media’s Own Speech. If the issue of mandating open doors and open access were not enough to impair the social media companies’ editorial discretion, and by extension, their First Amendment rights, the Florida law, in the court’s view, impedes the platforms’ capacity to exercise their own speech rights.

Common Carrier Analogy Fails. Seeking to minimize the impact of First Amendment review, the state has relied heavily on the notion that social media platforms are common carriers indefensible to society, an idea rejected by the Eleventh Circuit notwithstanding that the court was uncertain whether the state asserts that the common carrier status has already been attained or whether the state would legislate that status into existence.

Social media platforms do not behave as common carriers available to all to transmit communications of their own choosing, the Eleventh Circuit observes. Social media platforms may appear to be open to all but in fact users must accept the platforms’ terms and community standards. Moreover, Supreme Court opinions have not considered cable operators to be common carriers, and the Court has declined to place online media on the same footing as broadcast media for supervisory and regulatory purposes.

The Eleventh Circuit sees that online platforms as analogous to cable providers that retain editorial discretion over their offerings.

Finally, Congress has specifically distinguished and exempted internet services form other communications media in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and within the same legislation has protected social media from liability for publication in ways not extended to common carriers that must serve all, the Eleventh Circuit reasoned.

What Part of “Constitutional Guarantees” Did Florida Not Understand? If the social media platforms are not already common carriers, which the appellate court finds they are not, the state possesses no power to legislate the platforms’ First Amendment rights out of existence by nomenclature. Even if the social media platforms’ vast market powers suggest that they ought to be treated as common carriers, this would not carry the day. Legislation cannot create in social media the fundamental characteristics inherent in and required of common carriers to hold themselves out to the entirely of the public, without exception. While some entitles may come to be a means of rendering services of public interest, marketplace success in itself will not compel forfeiture of First Amendment rights.

The exercise of expressive editorial judgment by the social media platforms means that those platforms are not common carriers. Any imposition of limits on their First Amendment rights must survive strict scrutiny, which, with some exceptions, is not the case with Florida’s law.

The Nature of the Violations. Florida’s law would restrict editorial judgment through forbidding de-platforming political candidates, manipulating the presentation of content by or about candidates, and censoring or manipulating journalistic enterprises. Legislatively requiring consistency in decision- making and imposing time limits on restrictions present similar, if less obvious, impositions on social media platforms.

Permitting users to opt out of the platforms’ curation would interfere with the editorial processes and discretion exercise by the platforms to those users.

Compelled disclosures of platform activities inherently burden editorial judgment, but such commercial disclosures are subject to lesser scrutiny.

The Eleventh Circuit finds no First Amendment issues arise with respect to requiring platforms to permit users to access their stored records for at least sixty days after de-platforming.

Gimlet Eye or Casual Glance: Standards of Review. Content based speech regulations must survive strict scrutiny. While the state has admitted that the aim of its legislation is to address perceived mistreatment of conservatives and conservative views, this does not persuade the Eleventh Circuit to adopt the technology associations’ argument that this causes the entirety of the legislation to fail.

The state’s motivation in enacting legislation is not outcome determinative in review of an otherwise facially constitutional law. Moreover, the applicability of the law to some social media platforms and not others, while of concern, is insufficient to condemn the legislation in its entirety.

The Eleventh Circuit’s Reasoning. The appellate panel has concluded that NetChoice and CCIA may succeed on the merits of their content moderation claims. As some provisions refer specifically to content messaging, those trigger strict scrutiny, whereas de-platforming and opt-outs are neutral.

The “consistency” demanded of the social media platforms partakes both of content-based and neutral regulation. Because at their core they involve expressive activity, intermediary scrutiny is triggered, but even at that level, they are not likely to survive.

Disclosure of factual information in commercial settings need not meet even intermediate scrutiny, and may be reviewed on a rational relationship basis, making those regulations likely to survive.

The Eleventh Circuit has concluded that none of the content moderation measures would survive intermediate scrutiny and that the ‘explanatory’ disclosure requirements — why decisions were made — is likely unconstitutional. However,there is no likelihood of success on the merits of the rest of the legislation.

When intermediate scrutiny is applied to the legislation’s content moderation restrictions, the court is asked to consider whether the content moderation restrictions are narrowly drawn, that is, no greater than is essential, to further a substantial government interest unrelated to speech suppression.

The content moderation restrictions do not, in the court’s view, further any substantial government interest, which does not seem to have been seriously argued by the state. (Slip op. at 53.)

While it might be that the state, had they pursued such arguments, would claim an interest in curtailing private censorship, or in fostering use of of the internet, the government has no interest in “leveling the expressive playing field,” nor may it intervene where there is no right to a social media account.

The idea of restricting the speech of some to enlarge the voices of others is “wholly foreign to the First Amendment,” the Eleventh Circuit has concluded. (Slip op. at 59, quoting Buckley v. Valeo, 424, U.S. 1, 48-49 (1976)).

The assertion of a state interest in “promoting the widespread dissemination of information from a multiplicity of sources” would fail, as social media platforms do not act as gatekeepers, exercising control over most or all information. (Slip. Op. at 49, quoting Turning Broadcasting System v. FCC, 512 U.S. 622, 662 (1994).) A wealth of communications resources exist and are available to speakers Even if they are not of the magnitude of the social media platforms, this does not justify inhibiting the speech rights of private social media companies as the Florida law would do.

Moreover, the appellate court thinks it unlikely that the government has an interest in private utilities’ consistent application of rules or in prohibiting users from changing messages within certain time frames, in addressing sequencing of content, or in permitting or precluding participation in these processes.

Even if a substantial government interest were found, there is little likelihood that the preclusive restrictions and mandated activities are “no greater than is essential to the furtherance of interests.” (Slip op. at 61, citing United States v. O’Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 377 (1968).

Prohibitions on “deplatforming, deprioritizing, or shadow-banning” would make it impossible to address obscenities or terrorist threats, and indeed raises the specter of minors’ access to pornography. (Slip op. at 62). This wide a sweep stands the narrowness constraints applicable to legislation of speech regulations on its head, the court concludes.

Compelled disclosures. Disclosure requirements will survive constitutional scrutiny if as commercial speech they are related to protection of consumers, which is a recognized state interest, and are not unjustified or unduly burdensome, effectively chilling protected speech. (Slip op. at 63, citing Milavetz, Gallop & Milavetz v. United States, 559 U.S. 229, 250 (2010).

An exception to the likely unconstitutional disclosure requirements is requiring that information be provided to consumers about the terms of access to the platform and that the content moderation policies are not misleading. The court observed that there has not been a sufficient showing that publications of standards or that providing information about rules changes, views, and advertising information would be unduly burdensome.

The court has agreed with NetChoice that requiring detailed justification for and notice of each content moderation is likely unconstitutional even under commercial speech standards. The time constraints, compliance burdens, and prohibitive fines for insufficient “thoroughness” compound those burdens.

And in Conclusion. The remaining factors requiring review to substantiate injunctive relief are easily met, the Eleventh Circuit has determined. Ongoing First Amendment violations are presumptively irreparably harmful, and neither the state nor the public has any interest in enforcing an unconstitutional statute.

The district court’s order will be upheld in part and vacated in part, and the case remanded.

WHERE MATTERS STAND. JustLawful is not sage enough to know what the Supreme Court will do now that there is an apparent, if only partially articulated, conflict between two federal circuit courts of appeal. Others’ prognostications are welcomed.

In a Nutshell. Here is a link to the Eleventh Circuit’s synopsis of its parsing of the Florida statute.

Summary 11th Cir. Opinion

And in Full:

Here is the entire opinion.

NetChoice v. Florida No. 21-12355 (11th Cir.) Opinion May 23, 2022

 

Social Media Platforms Resist Regulation as Electronic Public Squares, Seeking U.S. Supreme Court Intervention in Ongoing Federal Appellate Litigation Against Texas

Netchoice, LLC and Computer and Communications Industry Association v. Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, No. 21A720 (U.S. Supreme Court). Emergency Application filed May 13, 2022


When the state of Texas passed legislation that would limit the ability of internet social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others to remove or to ban content the sites deemed undesirable or outside the private companies’ internal rules and user agreements, those companies immediately sought to enjoin the legislation, arguing that Texas’s bill violates the corporations First Amendment rights, including but not limited to exercising editorial discretion over content provided by others. 

The associations advocating for the social media sites successfully obtained an injunction halting the operation of the Texas law.  Recently the United States Court of Appeals, without issuing an opinion detailing its reasoning, stayed the operation of the injunction, prompting the associations to seek the United States’ Supreme Court’s intervention to vacate the appellate court’s order.

Texas, by its Attorney General, observes that the massive online presences of social media sites has caused them to become modern public squares and, as such, when a site its open to some views, it must be open to all.  Alternatively, Texas asserts that the platforms’ conduct may be regulated much as the conduct of common carries is, and that it is not speech but the act of removal of content or banning of posts or accounts that is open to statutory intervention without concern for the First Amendment. 

Social media sites strenuously resist being required to offer appeals from removal of content or banning of accounts, and complain that that reporting requirements imposed by Texas are overwhelming.  The companies state that compliance with Texas’s regime would be prohibitively costly and would require remaking of the corporations business methods, actions which would take a decade to accomplish.

The sites are extremely concerned because active operation of the Texas legislation will impact all operations throughout the United States. 

The petitioning associations enjoy the support of more than a dozen industry-related entities, First Amendment advocates, and others with interest in online activity.

Texas, by comparison, is supported by other states and a few critical voices.

The timing of issuance of a decision on the emergency petition, addressed to Justice Alito as justice for the Fifth Circuit, but in light of the stringent briefing deadline imposed on the parties, it may be that a decision will be forthcoming very soon.

The legislation in issue:

Text of Texas H.B. 20

The emergency petition, Texas’s opposition, and petitioners’ reply:

21A720 Supreme Court Vacatur Application

21A720 Response to Application

21A720 Reply in Support of Emergency Application

Amicus Submissions for Applicants:

21A720 Amicus Brief of Christopher Cox

21A270 Amicus Brief of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, et al.

21A720 Amicus Brief of Professor Eric Goldman

21A720 Amicus Brief of Floor64 d/b/a/Copia Institute

21A720 Amicus Brief of Center for Democracy and Technology, et al.

21A720 Amicus Brief of TechFreedom

21A720 Amicus Brief of Chamber of Progress, et al.

21A720 Amicus Brief of The Cato Institute

Amicus Submissions for Respondent:

21A720 Amicus Brief of Philip Hamburger, et al.

21A720 Amicus Brief of Florida and 11 Other States

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Officials Cannot Evade First Amendment Constraints on Speech Suppression Through Intimidation and Collusion with Internet Platforms, or Creation of an Unauthorized Disinformation Governance Board, State Attorney Generals Assert in Suit Against an Array of Federal Officials


Missouri and Louisiana v. Biden, et al.., No. 3:22-cv-01213-TAD-KDM (W.D. La.).  Complaint filed May 5, 2022.

Missouri and Louisiana v. Biden, et al., No. 3 22-cv- 01213 (W.D. La.) Complaint filed May 5, 2022

Missouri and Louisiana Attorney Generals, claiming injury to state constitutional interests and to state citizens’ speech freedoms, have filed a complaint against President Biden and multiple executive officials and federal agency heads, asserting that the Biden administration has colluded with technology platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in order to suppress and censor information unfavorable to federal government aims.  The recent creation of a bureaucratic governing board to manage removal of disfavored speech only advances these unconstitutional practices, the state plaintiffs say.

Plaintiffs seek declaratory relief declaring the administration’s actions violate the First Amendment as well as injunctive relief forbidding further unconstitutional activity.

The First Amendment serves as the cornerstone of the free exchange of ideas of information, without which competent self governance is impossible, the states say.  The federal government is constrained by the First Amendment from interfering with the guaranteed freedoms embodied in the First Amendment, including speech freedoms.  The government cannot escape its obligation to refrain from inhibiting speech by engaging private entities to censor speech.

Although the First Amendment does not ordinarily reach private actors, acts undertaken at the behest of or in collusion with the government may violate the First Amendment.  This is particularly so, the plaintiffs state, where the federal government has coerced private entities to cooperate with the government by means of threats of antitrust proceedings or revocation of immunities enjoyed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Truncating the flow of information to suit federal officials’ aims impairs states in protecting the interests of state citizens, particularly where state constitutions may secure more expansive speech protections that the United States Constitution, plaintiffs claim.

The Complaint filed on May 5 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana details instances in which, either directly or in collusion with technology platforms, federal officials have acted to suppress speech, serving their own political ends to the injury and detriment of the public, frequently cloaking their actions as attempts to guard against undefined and opaque “disinformation.”

Threats of antitrust actions or threats of loss of immunities have ensured technology companies’ compliance with federal officials’ dictates.   The adoption of facially private governing documents and policies that in fact are employed to serve the government, and which may operate in collusion with the government, cannot be interposed to shield either private or public actors from liability for suppressing and chilling speech.

An atmosphere of intimidation pervades social media sites, plaintiffs observe. Undertaken in fear of or in collusion with federal officials, the private companies’ practices of banning, shadow banning, limiting publication, and outright removal of social media account holders create unconstitutional prior restraints, chilling participation lest a similar fate ensue.

The state plaintiffs’ Complaint provides a chronicle of activity asserted to constitute First Amendment violations. If true, the plaintiffs’ allegations paint a picture of a government intent on serving its ends and not those of the public they were elected or appointed to serve.  Digital media fail to behave as an ‘electronic public square’ where those media represent an unparalleled “concentrated control” of speech.  Complaint, para. 53, citing Knight First Amendment Institute, 141 S. Ct. 1220, 1221 (2021).

Federal officials have conferred with private digital platforms to advise the platforms about content that ought to be flagged for removal, plaintiffs state.

Online platforms accomplish speech monitoring by means such as mechanical algorithms or outright speech suppression by permanent banishment of disfavored speakers, the plaintiffs offer, thereby denying the exiled any ability to communicate publicly.  Such measures not infrequently censor core political speech, to the detriment of political opponents and to the benefit of those directing the private companies’ actions.

Examples of digital platforms’ interference with First Amendment speech guarantees, undertaken to please or to appease federal officials have included suppression of information about location of the President’s son’s laptop, said to contain damaging information, on the eve of the Presidential election.

Plaintiffs aver that open discussion of the origins of the Covid-19 virus was precluded where, by agreement with a social media platform, a federal official who had been engaged in funding gain of function research abroad provided messaging favoring a government narrative which insulated the government and the official from review.

Relevant evidence that would permit public evaluation of the efficacy of face masks and government edicts demanding home confinement was also suppressed, plaintiffs submit.

The promotion of narratives favoring voting by mail, a methodology traditionally dismissed as inviting voter fraud, has also been alleged to involve social media.

Both the Executive and the Legislative branches have threatened technology companies directly and publicly, at times demanding removal of political opponents’ statements.

The recent creation of a board to govern “disinformation” is an Orwellian measure intended to withhold content from the public and to insulate the federal government from criticism, plaintiffs insist.   This has been done notwithstanding that there exists a constitutional guarantee of free speech, such guarantee not to be interfered with by curating and removing from public discourse that which disfavors the government.

Similarly dystopian, plaintiffs observe, is the view that speech is not speech but infrastructure, and thus susceptible of government regulation and oversight.  To this has been added the opinion that the public reacts emotionally and thoughtlessly to speech, and that speech is linked to violence, requiring online policing to protect the public.  One legislator has suggested that the public lacks the capacity to discern fact from fiction, a circumstance not to be addressed by providing more information, but instead, in the view of current federal officials, less information or none at all.

These activities, whether singularly or in combination, violate the First Amendment and severely damage public discourse, the plaintiffs say, causing sufficient danger to open discourse as to merit an injunction against further constitutional violations.

A Grand Old (Private) Flag at Boston City Hall: Supreme Court Clarifies Establishment and Speech Clause Interests


Shurtleff v. City of Boston, No. 20-1800, 595 U.S.      (May 2, 2022)


Private Flag Permitting at Boston’s City Hall Plaza.  Three flagpoles are situated on the public plaza surrounding Boston City Hall.  These flagpoles ordinarily display the flag of the United States and the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  At times the flag of the City of Boston is displayed but the third flagpole is available, upon request and approval, for display of commemorative flags.

Until 2017 the City of Boston approved every application for a permit that was presented to it but stopped short of granting a permit to fly a flag showing a religious symbol where the name of the flag but not the flag itself, mentioned a religious faith.  

A Boston City Official thought granting a permit for that flag would offend the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  Litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts and the U.S. Court of Appeals culminated in favor of the City of Boston, and review in the United States Supreme Court was then sought and obtained. 

Constitutional Purposes and Constraints.  Broadly stated, the Constitution of the United States constrains the government from acting against the interests of the people of the United States.   The Establishment Clause checks the power of the state by forbidding the government from adopting a faith as the government’s own, coercing the adoption of a faith, endorsing a faith while excluding others, and other errors.  The Free Speech Clause requires that where the government opens up a space for public participation, the government may not exclude or inhibit otherwise lawful speech, including the expression of religious views, in that space without committing the error of “viewpoint discrimination.”   

Clauses on a Collision Course, or So It Sometimes Seems.  Although in error, it is easy to see how an individual such as the decision-making official in Boston could think that permitting the presence of a flag with a religious symbol would be in error.  However, the Establishment Clause applies only to government action.  Were the space at City Hall and the flagpole to be considered a public forum for non-government speakers, the Establishment Clause would not preclude, and the Free Speed Clause would require, that all views, including religious views, be permitted. 

Justice Breyer’s Judicial Opening Farewell.  Justice Breyer wrote the Court’s opinion which unanimously held that the petitioner had been subjected to viewpoint discrimination, requiring that the judgment of the First Circuit be reversed.  Perhaps as a parting gift to the nation and the law, the Justice began with clarity and thereafter applied his inquisitive style of jurisprudence.  

Government speech and government created forums must be distinguished, he wrote.  A government created forum must be open to all without restriction based on viewpoint.  Government speech is not so constrained, as the government must be able to provides views and opinions in order to function as a government.  

This is all very clear until it is not.  In this case, had the city adopted the flag permitting and display process as its own, the city would be engaging in government speech and would not, in the ordinary case, be subject to the First Amendment.  On review it did not appear that the city was engaged in government speech, and thus its refusal to permit the petitioner’s flag was viewpoint discrimination. 

Meaningful distinctions between government and private speech become blurred where private speech occurs at the government’s invitation, where it is not always clear whether the government has transformed private speech into government speech, or whether the government has simply created a forum for private speech. 

Today the Court has opined that a ‘holistic’ approach must be undertaken to determine whether “the government intends to speak for itself or to regulate private expression.”  Slip. Op. at 6.  Introducing its approach, the Court offered:

Our review is not mechanical; it is driven by a case’s context rather than the rote application of rigid factors. Our past cases have looked to several types of evidence to guide the analysis, including: the history of the expression at issue; the public’s likely perception as to who (the government or a private person) is speaking; and the extent to which the government has actively shaped or controlled the expression.

Slip Op. at 2. 

In this case, the Court found evidence favoring the government except that the city had invited all participants and had approved all applications except the one in issue in this case, which was denied because the name of the flag, not the flag itself, signified a religion.  The city’s self-perception that the program was government speech stands in contrast to its practice of unrestrained permitting except in this case. 

Boston’s position was further weakened, the Court opined, because Boston had no written policies or guidance concerning flag permits, a situation which Boston might choose to rectify in the future. 

A brief reiteration:  Justice Kavanaugh concurs.  This case arose, Justice Kavanaugh has noted, because a city official misunderstood the Establishment Clause. Speech principles, not the Establishment Clause, forbid the exclusion of religious speech in public activity.  All views, secular or not, must be treated equally in public programs, benefits, facilities and related settings and activities. 

The end may be all right, but the means, not so much.  Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, concurs in the judgment and criticizes the controlling opinion.   Justice Alito disfavors the application of facts such as history, public perception and government control as guidance in analysis. The core question is whether the government is speaking or regulating private opinion.  Enlisting government speech analysis in viewpoint discrimination cases may cause more distortion than clarity. 

Such distortion is dangerous, Justice Alito writes, as the government may claim to have adopted speech as its own to conceal favoritism among speakers.  The critical question is who the speaker is.  The Court errs, in Justice Alito’s view, in asserting that precedent has established a settled methodology to be applied to government speech analysis.  No such test can be found.  The totality of the circumstances, not limited by key factors, governs such cases and review of particular factors is helpful only to the extent that it aids in the identification of the speaker.  

Government control is significant in identifying who a speaker is because speech over which the government exercises no control is not government speech, yet the concept of government control is central to analyzing censorship.   Requiring or withholding government control of private speech can be censorship but granting permission to speak does not transform speech into government speech.  

…neither “control” nor “final approval authority” can in itself distinguish government speech from censorship of private speech, and analyzing that factor in isolation from speaker identity flattens the distinction between government speech and speech tolerated by the censor. And it is not as though “actively” exercising control over the “nature and content” of private expression makes a difference, as the Court suggests, ibid. Censorship is not made constitutional by aggressive and direct application. 

Alito concurrence in judgment, Slip. Op. 4

While history may aid in illustrating what was considered in the past, it cannot serve to dictate results in a particular matter.  An overemphasis on tradition in this case favors the government simply because governments traditionally use flags for government messaging, but this cannot be of the consequence the Court affords it where the government activity in question is unorthodox, not traditional. 

A focus on public perception yields no good result where it cannot be presumed that the public can know, from casual observation,  who is speaking, where fear of misperception of private speech or government speech could promote exclusion of views, and where the government may always make plain to the public that the views expressed are not its own. 

The issue is not simply one of fashioning an analysis, Justice Alito stresses.  Risks of error pervade the Court’s “factored” test, but the greatest risk is the risk of aggressive application of the concept of government controls in service of censorship. 

Finally, creating a three-factor test but applying only one factor to direct the outcome highlights the weakness of such an approach.

Justice Alito would analyze whether the government is purposefully presenting its own message through its own agent without abridging private speech.  There should be no confusion about government speech where private citizens are ‘deputized’ to speak on the government’s behalf or where a private entity cedes its platforms for government speech. 

The Unbearable Persistence of Lemon.  Justices Gorsuch and Thomas concur in the judgment, but join to point to the errors not rectified but instead introduced into Establishment Clause cases by the Lemon test, itself a factor analysis which only serve to underscore how aptly the test is named.

Reliance on original meanings rather than on the much-loathed Lemon approach would return the law and the courts which administer the law to clarity after decades of great confusion:

“The thread running through these [Establishment Clause] cases derives directly from the historical hallmarks of an establishment of religion—government control over religion offends the Constitution, but treating a church on par with secular entities and other churches does not.   

Gorsuch concurrence in judgment, Slip Op. at 12. (citation omitted.)

20-1800_Shurtleff v. Boston, 595 U.S. (May 2, 2022)

Last Rights:  Supreme Court Concludes Death Row Inmate May Succeed in Asserting Undue Burden of His Religious Exercise Because State Denied Request for Minister’s Presence, Audible Prayer, and Touch During Execution 

Ramirez v. Collier, Executive Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, No. 21-5592, 595 U.S. ____ (March 24, 2022).  Opinion awarding petitioner Ramirez injunctive relief, reversing the decision of the Fifth Circuit affirming denial of a stay of execution, and remanding the case for further proceedings.


In 2004, John Ramirez stabbed Corpus Christi convenience store worker Pablo Castro twenty-nine times, an act that killed Castro and yielded $1.25 for Ramirez and his accomplice.

 

Ramirez fled the United States, but was apprehended near the Mexican border several years later, then was convicted of murder in the course of roberty, a capital offense.

 

Ramirez has assiduously yet unsuccessfully sought relief from his conviction.

 

Ramirez has sought to stay his execution because the State of Texas has denied him the presence of his spiritual advisor during his execution to provide audible prayer and to touch Ramirez during administration of lethal injections.  

 

Texas has promulgated several policies concerning the presence of religious advisors during executions. Although at times Texas has precluded all spiritual advisors from being present in the execution chamber, Texas has revised its protocols to permit the presence of spiritual advisors in the execution chamber.  

 

Ramirez grieved the state’s denial of his request that his spiritual advisor be permitted to pray aloud and to lay hands on Ramirez during Ramirez’s execution.  

 

Ramirez asked the United States Supreme Court to preliminarily enjoin the state from executing him prior to resolution of his claim under the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act (RLUIPA).

 

RLUIPA provides religious free exercise protections that, because of the act’s procedural structure, may be more adventitious to claimants than First Amendment claims.  RLUIPA requires the state to demonstrate that a substantial burden on the exercise of a sincere religious belief must meet “strict scrutiny” standards even if the law in question is one of general applicability.  

 

The Supreme Court in Ramirez’s case perceives that Ramirez’s request that his pastor be present, pray audibly, and lay hands on him as he is executed reflects a sincerely held religious belief.

 

The Court has concluded that Texas cannot substantiate its revocation of the time honored practice of vocal prayer because, as Texas asserts, there exists a compelling government interest in being able to minotaur sound within the execution chamber, which, the state posits could be hampered by audible prayer.  

 

The Court agreed that the interest exists but the state had not shown that a categorical ban on all audible prayer in the execution chamber is the least restrictive means of advancing that interest. 

 

Similarly, the Court acknowledged that Texas has a compelling interest in avoiding disruption in the execution chamber.  However, the Court found that because there exists in this case no indication that disruption might occur, a hypothesized fear could not meet the state’s burden. 

 

By tailor making the execution to suit the prisoner’s needs and to permit monitoring, to limit touch to areas that would not interfere with the procedure,  and to avoid disruption, the minister could be permitted to address the inmate only, subject to immediate removal upon any failure to comply with the rules.  These measures are less restrictive means through which Texas might advance the state’s interest.

 

Having concluded that Ramirez is likely to succeed on the merits of his case, the Court next concluded that if the Court failed to provide injunctive relief that Ramire would suffer irreparable harm, as he would be barred from exercising his faith in the last moments of his life. 

 

The public interest will not be harmed by granting relief in this case, as Ramirez does not seek an indefinite stay, and there is a strong public interest – as evidenced by the enactment of RLUIPA – in ensuring that prisoners subject to execution are not concomitantly subjected to undue burdens on their religious exercise. 

 

The Court dismissed Texas’s argument that Ramirez’s inequitable conduct should bar injunctive relief.  In the Court’s assessment, Ramirez has diligently asserted and pursued his claim and has not made a late claim on long known facts to manipulate or to cause delay rather than to seek redress. 

 

As RLUIPA claims are case specific, the Court has urged the states to adopt policies to address claims through a reasonable request process as well as to provide procedural training for spiritual advisors. 

 

As Ramirez succeeded in persuading the court that he is worthy of injunctive relief, the decision of the Fifth Circuit has been reversed, and the case has been remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

 

Matters Would Go Better if All Played Their Parts Better.  Justice Sotomayor, having joined in the opinion, has written separately to emphasize that both inmate and prisons administration must comply with not only RLUIPA, but also, with particular emphasis on the prison’s obligations, with the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).  All concerned, but especially Institutions administering process and procedures, must ensure that redress is available and accessible and that delay not be permitted to frustrate proceedings unduly.  

 

Accommodate, Don’t Litigate.  Justice Kavanaguh concurred separately, noting the emergence of religious exercise and religious equality claims in death penalty case, and commenting upon the difficulties the Court faces in defining not only conpelling interest but also refining the relative restrictivess of measure os addressing compelling interests.

 

Justice Kavanaugh urged the states to realize that much could be accomplished and a good deal of harm could be avoided if the states were to accommodate inmenat’s requests where it is possible to do so without sacrificing the states’ “compelling interests in safety, security, and solemnity,” as so doing would avoid litigation and aid in bringing closure to victims’ families. 

 

Doubting (Justice) Thomas. Justice Thomas dissented from the Court’s opinion, citing not only the violent nature of Ramirez’s crime, but also his evasion of responsibility, and what Justice Thoams perceived to be a strategic change in position to achieve delay.

 

Justice Thomas noted that Ramirez’s engagement in delay and manipulation has frustrated the state’s and the public’s interests in how justice ought to be served.  Moreover, Ramirez has caused repeated injury to victims, as each time a date of execution has been set, Ramirez has evaded it. 

 

Although Ramirez did not engage in a last minute flurry of filing claims, he did engage in piecemeal and persistent pursuit of claims, changing tactics as needed to seek his goal:  delay. 

 

Neither strategy is more or less inequitable than the other, in Justice Thomas’s view.

 

Justice Thomas found no merit in the view that Ramirez’s advancing a claim relating to a ‘traditional’ religions ritual supports the conclusion that is claim is sincere, particularly as the orthodoxy of a practice has no bearing on First Amendment protection.

 

Justice Thomas found Ramirez’s failure to comply with the Prison Litigation REform Act (PLRA) is fatal to his bid for relief before the Supreme Court.  Ramirez was obliged to, but did not, engage in informal resolution of his audible prayer claim nor did he mention the audible prayer claim in his grievance, precluding the state’s adjudication of his claim.  

 

21-5592 Ramirez v. Collier (03_24_2022)

 

Ramirez v Collier 10 F4th 561Mem 5th Cir 2021

 

The Times they are not a-changin’: awkward closing of Palin libel suit fails to provide path forward for standards governing publication of false statements about public figures

 

Palin v. The New York Times, No. 17-04853. 

Judgment for defendant entered February 15, 2022. 

Teleconference scheduled for February 23 at 4:00 p.m.  Public access at 888-363-4735 Access Code 1086415


In issue:  In 2017, Congressman Steve Scalise was shot while practicing with colleagues for an annual Congressional baseball game, causing news media to  echo concerns about gun violence that arose in 2011 when Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords sustained a gunshot wound to the head in a supermarket parking lot.

The New York Times opined that a perceived escalation of gun violence was traceable, in the Giffords case, of  incitement induced by a campaign document produced by Governor Palin which featured drawings of gun sight cross hairs on a map to indicate campaign targets.

The New York Times corrected itself but this did not, in Palin’s view, suffice to relieve the publication of liability for defamation.

While jurors were deliberating whether The New York Times ought to respond in damages to former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for its publication of  an admittedly inaccurate, promptly removed,  statement in an opinion piece, the court granted judgment in favor of The New York Times.

Although jurors had been cautioned against accessing media while deliberating, jurors reported that they learned of the entry of judgment through telephone notifications received prior to the jurors’ verdict for the New York Times.

The court was of the mind that entry of judgment for The New York Times could provide efficiencies after appeal:  If the jurors found in favor of plaintiff Palin, and the Second Circuit reversed the trial court, judgment for Palin in accordance with the juror’s findings could be entered, obviating the need for another trial.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  

Civil procedure thumbnail.  Judges may dismiss cases before trial, after trial, and after jury determinations in the court’s discretion if the court is of the view that a litigant cannot and, if after trial, has not, as a matter of law, established a case.  Rule 50, Fed.R.Civ.P.  Entry of judgment as a matter of law in accordance with Rule 50  modernizes the common law judgment non obstante verdicto (judgment notwithstanding the verdict), permitting courts the flexibility of entering judgment at almost any time.

The court has augmented the record to include statements to the jurors about avoiding media as well as cases relied on by the parties concerning the motion for judgment by the court, and has invited the parties to discuss any issues presented by the court’s and the jurors’ conclusions by telephone conference.

By entering judgment for the New York Times, the court indicated that the former governor had not produced evidence meeting the heightened standard for defamation of public figures announced more than a half-century ago in New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).

Law thumbnail. To prevail in a  defamation claim, a public figure must prove that the publication of a defamatory statement was done with “actual malice”, defined as knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard of whether the statement was false or not.  “Actual malice” does not mean subjective ill will but refers to publishing, as stated, with knowledge that a statement is false or with reckless disregard — more than negligence — with respect to truth or falsity.

This rarely met standard has provided insulation for publishers which some, including two justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, now sense merits revisiting.  Berisha v. Lawson, No. 20-1063, 594 U.S.  ____ (2021) (Justices Thomas and Gorsuch, writing separately, dissent from denial of certiorari).

At this writing there is no opinion concerning the final judgment on the docket for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and it is not known whether the court will issue one.

Recent case materials:

Order February 16, 2022

Order to Supplement Record February 16, 2022

Final Judgment February 15, 2022

Earlier case materials:

Palin v. New York Times (2nd Cir.) August 6, 2019

Palin v. New York Times, Opinion S.D.N.Y. August 29, 2017

Supreme Court Opinions:

Berisha v. Lawson, No. 20-1063, 594 U.S.___ (2021)

New York Times Company v Sullivan 376 US 254 11 L Ed 2d 686 84 S Ct 710 95 ALR2d 1412 1964

The New York Times, March 10, 1964

 

 

 

 

Disfavored, de-prioritized, and dismissed:  physicians’ association cannot sue congressman for working with media platforms on ‘misinformation’


Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and Kathleen Verelli, individually and on behalf of others similarly situated v. Adam Schiff, individually and as a member of Congress, No. 21-5080 (D.C. Cir.) (January 25, 2022).


 

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has affirmed dismissal of an action brought by a physicians’ association that provides information about vaccination online.  In its complaint, the association asserted that online platforms caused their site to lose preference in search results, as well as a beneficial comercial association, and that this was the result of agreement between the technology platforms and Representative Adam Schiff. 

In addition to allegedly disfavoring the physicians’ association, the association stated that government statements came to be incorporated in information offered online about vaccines.  Dispositive motions and the appeal did not establish whether the companies and the government worked together to present responses to the government’s inquiries or to fashion information presented on government websites.

The appellate court concluded that the physicians’ association lacked standing, a form of capacity, to bring suit, as the association cannot demonstrate a concrete injury traceable to the actions of the defendant which is redressable by a court.

The appellate court was dismissive of the physicians’ position that because its action is grounded in First Amendment concerns, the ordinarily stringent requirements of standing are not apt, as First Amendment injuries are presumptively damaging.  Deferential review of First Amendment claims applies to overbreadth challenges to statutes, not the willful acts of a government official to limit speech, as is alleged here.

The court observed that inquiries presented by the Congressman to the technology companies and their responses disclosing their policies does not provide any traceable source of harm to the petitioners.  Moreover, the technology companies stated that their policies and actions predated the government’s inquiries about their practices, further attenuating any inference that the two worked together to cause the physicians’ website to become disfavored.

Because the appellate court affirmed dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, the court found it unnecessary to consider either the legislative immunity enjoyed by members of congress or the statutory immunity enjoyed by technology providers under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.  

JustLawful note:  At the heart of the physicians’ associations’ case is the specter of the government outsourcing speech suppression, which is forbidden to the government by the First Amendment. Significant issues in maintaining open channels for speech could emerge were the government to encourage speech regulation by private entities not bound by the First Amendment as agents or proxies for the government, an undesirable situation made worse as the technology companies enjoy statutory immunity for as long as they are not providing content.  

Not long ago such an idea would be seen as the stuff of dystopian fiction.  However, cause for concern has become deeper and is now more frequently perceived to be grounded in reality.  Technology companies grow ever more active in removing materials from their sites, or in banning  participation on their sites, and enjoy immunity for doing so for so long as they are able to maintain that they are administering terms of service agreements rather than providing content.  

Providing content, which is not immune from suit, and providing site access, which is immune from suit, is a legacy of early days in internet development when courts were inclined to encourage the widespread adoption of online platforms. As a corollary, courts were inclined to discourage corporations from refusing to expand services for fear of defamation actions.  It was thought that Section 230 would take care of that, and by and large it has done so, but Section 230 immunity seems, to some, to grow ever more expansive as opportunities to be present online seem to grow ever less reachable or maintainable. 

The potential for government involvement in matters that impact opportunities to speak, whether directly with the entities, or indirectly through political financing, merits review and will likely invite additional challenges.  

 

Association of Physicians and Surgeons v. Schiff, No. 21-5080 (D.C. Cir) January 25, 2022

Rendering Unto Caesar, According to Caesar: Supreme Court Declines Review of City’s Revocation of Church’s Tax Exemption

Trustees of New Life in Christ Church v. City of Fredericksburg, No. 21-164 (S. Ct.) 525 U.S. _____. Order denying certiorari dated January 18, 2022.

Justice Gorsuch dissents from the court’s denial of certiorari of a dispute between local tax authorities and a church claiming tax exemption for a minister’s residence used not only as housing, but also as a gathering place for religious study and management of outreach works.

While acknowledging that state law permits tax exemption of a minister’s residence, the City of Fredericksburg denied the church this exemption. The city reviewed church governing documents and concluded that the church did not understand its own qualifications for “ministry”, and that, therefore, exemption must be denied.

The church rejected the city’s interpretation of the church’s views who might serve as a minister, relying on the church’s views of its governing structures.

A state court in Virginia agreed with the city. After the Virginia Supreme Court denied review, review in the U.S. Supreme Court was sought.

Justice Gorsuch is of the view that the First Amendment precludes the sort of deep dive into church governance that the City of Fredericksburg conducted in this case, finding the City’s claim that it may ‘verify’ church rules antithetical to established law rendering ecclesial considerations, which include church governance, outside the purview of civil authorities, including the courts.

History is clear that the United States was formed with escape from government oppression of religion firmly in mind, Justice Gorsuch opines. Thus, in the absence of fraud of deceit, civil authorities and the courts may not serve as interpreters of church law, but rater, church positions on ‘purely ecclesial’ matters are to be accepted as conclusive.

To the extent that this dispute appears to stand established law on its head, summary reversal would have been preferred, Justice Gorsuch concluded. Even if such an “obvious” error in what may be seen as a small case may be promptly corrected, Justice Gorsuch is of the view that permitting the error to stand is not the best way to proceed because “[b]ureaucratic efforts to “subject” religious beliefs to “verification” have no place in a free country.” Dissent, Slip. op. at 4.

Trustees of New Life in Christ Church v. Fredericksburg, Order dated January 18, 2020

Secular Semaphore:  Boston’s Sole Exclusion of Christian Flag in Otherwise Open Participation Program Faces Supreme Court Challenge


Shurtleff, et al. v. City of Boston, et al., No. 20-1800 (S. Ct.). Oral argument set for January 18, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Upon application, the City of Boston permits groups to utilize spaces owned or managed by the city for commemorative purposes.  Administered in conjunction with those spaces is a three flagpole display at Government Center, Boston’s City Hall.  

Applications appear to have been freely granted up until 2017, when a group called “Camp Constitution” applied to the city property manager for permission to raise a “Christian flag” at Government Center to commemorate the role of the Judeo-Christian tradition in Massachusetts history.  

Boston had never before denied an application for use of the flagpoles, but Camp Constitution’s application was denied not on the basis of the appearance of the flag proposed to be raised, identical in material respects to the Bunker Hill flag, but on the basis of its name, “Christian.”

The city property manager feared that the brief display of the flag raised Establishment Clause concerns.  The city’s law department concurred, as did the United States Court of Appeals, following judgment on an agreed upon statement of facts in the United States District Court.

The First Circuit perceived the flagpoles and the flags displayed upon them to be government speech exempted from the First Amendment speech clause.  

Camp Constitution, by its leader, Harold Shurtleff, argues before the Supreme Court that the government speech construction offered by the First Circuit was in error.  The city spaces available for private use, open to all but Camp Constitution, are forums governed by the rules applicable to such spaces, which preclude the government from excluding views concerning religion. 

Boston argues that Shurtleff is wrong on the facts, notwithstanding that the case was presented on an agreed-upon statement of facts before the trial court.  The flagpoles are exclusively government property, Boston asserts, such that any use of the flagpoles is or becomes government speech excluded from First Amendment speech constraints.

The Solicitor General of the United States has joined the proceedings as amicus supporting reversal of the First Circuit decision, asserting that the questions raised in the case affect federally managed lands and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Park Service, upon which properties many groups frequently seek to hold events.

Oral argument will be held at 10:00 a.m. today.

Shurtleff v. Boston, No. 20-1800 Brief of Petitioners

Shurtleff v. Boston, No. 20-1800 Brief of Respondents

Shurtleff v. Boston, No. 20-1800 Reply Brief of Petitioners

Shurtleff v. Boston, No. 20-1800 Brief of the United States as Amicus Curiae

Supreme Court Stays Stays of Healthcare Workers’ Vaccine Mandate, Finding Federal Authority Within Regulation of Medicare and Medicaid Programs


Biden, et al. v. Missouri, et al., No. 21A240.

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, et al. v. Louisiana, et al., No. 21A241.

Order and Opinion issued January 13, 2021.


The United States Supreme Court has granted the relief from stays entered in two United States District Courts enjoining the effectiveness of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rule requiring Covid-19 vaccination of staff of facilities and providers receiving or participating in Medicare of Medicaid programs.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), administers Medicare insurance for the elderly and Medicaid insurance for low income persons.

A core feature of both programs, the Supreme Court has observed, is that participation in those programs is contingent upon compliance with HHS patient health and safety regulations.

Medicare and Medicaid regulation is extensive and longstanding and include measures to guard against transmission of infectious diseases, the Court has found.

In November, 2021, HHS added Covid-19 staff vaccine compliance to regulations governing those receiving federal reimbursement or funding (“covered” facilities or entities), attaching penalties for failure to comply as well as potential termination of participation in federal financing.

In demanding that all persons working in covered facilities be vaccinated, the Secretary of HHS made findings concerning viral contagion and the likelihood that contagion would be inhibited by requiring vaccination.

In addition, the Secretary found that fear of contracting Covid-19 has inhibited people from seeking needed health care.

The Covid-19 vaccine mandate was promulgated as Interim Final Rule without notice and comment.

The Supreme Court has concluded that the Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to condition receipt of federal funding upon compliance with health and safety regulations.

Although the Covid-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers goes farther than other healthcare health and safety requirements, vaccination as a condition of employment is routine.  As vaccination is ordinarily administered by the states, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there has been no need for the federal government to step in to the process.

The Supreme Court rejected arguments that the Secretary failed to consider alternatives to vaccination or to support departure from previous ‘encouragement’ — but not requirement — of vaccination.

Even if the Secretary’s considerations and findings could be seen to be flawed, the Supreme Court observed, courts are not to disturb the Secretary’s determinations as arbitrary and capricious where the Secretary has proceeded “within a zone of reasonableness.”  Slip op. (per curiam) at 8 (citation omitted).

Objections to the Secretary’s excusing notice and comment are ill founded, the Court opined, because the arrival of the “flu season” has sufficient specificity to justify haste in implementing the Covid-19 vaccine rule  The Court found it unnecessary for HHS to confer with the states or to develop impact assessments before enacting its rule.

Finally, the vaccine mandate does not prohibit HHS involvement in the supervision or control of participants’ provision of services or the termination of employees, the Court concluded.  If the reading urged were adopted, almost all prior conditions of participation would fail.

A federal agency cannot act outside the power conferred upon it in an emergency, the Court reiterated.  This does not mean, however, that an agency is precluded from exercising authority that the agency has long been recognized to possess when  emergency conditions exist.

We disagree. Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Barrett dissent.  The dissenting justices have been unable to locate within the provisions cited by the government the authority to require an estimated ten million workers to submit to an irreversible medical procedure.  Rule-making powers that may be exercised for the administration of Medicare and Medicaid programs have not been shown to have a nexus with vaccination.  Adding to such general management authorities scattered references to ‘health and safety’ in order local such a nexus fares no better.

Bits of this and that. The ‘hodgepodge’ approach, as the dissent characterizes the majority’s analysis,  is not sufficient to support the majority’s finding that authorization for the Covid-19 mandate for healthcare workers exists.  References to health and safety measures found here and there will not suffice to support the kind of global regulatory power exercised here, nor can authority for exercise of such power be implied through ‘catchall’ language referring to undefined “other requirements” relating to health and safety.

Residual authority cannot be creatively implied, for it is a basic rule of statutory construction that where specific terms precede general terms, the general terms must consider matters similar to the specific terms.

General administrative requirements such as the provision of 24-hour services or record keeping cannot support a finding of authority for vaccination of all healthcare workers associated with covered facilities.

The one regulation that the dissent concedes might be relevant concerns infection control in long term care facilities but this relates to general sanitation, not vaccination.

The majority’s reliance on general regulatory powers granted to CMS does not provide evidence that authority to require healthcare employee vaccination exists.  The existence of some regulations does not support the majority’s finding that authority to issue the regulations in issue here has been granted.  Even the infectious disease control provisions concern sterilization and housekeeping and discuss vaccination only in the context of patient request for and consent to vaccination, and have nothing to do with the requirement imposed on employees through the Covid-19 rule.

Success in the Future is not Certain. The dissenting justices are of the opinion that the government applicants for relief from the federal district court stays have failed to demonstrate a strong likelihood of success on the merits, for in such vast measures as are in issue here, Congress must speak clearly, and nothing provided to the Court thus far shows that Congress has done so.

We disagree all the more. Justice Alito, joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch and Barrett, has provided a separate dissent.  Justice Alito opines that it is not likely that the federal government wil be able to show that there exists Congressional authorization to the Secretary to command that ten million workers submit to vaccination or lose their jobs.

The regulatory “hodgepodge” and scattered provisions as authorization was not forcefully argued by the government until its reply brief.  Stronger medicine than this is needed to cure the absence of any direct evidence to support legislative delegation to HHS to compel employee vaccinations.

Even if vaccination could be perceived to be authorized, the way in which HHS has conducted itself is fatally defective.  Administrative notice and comment, which is essential to ensuring public participation in rule-making, and which guards against lawmaking by unelected officials, has been undermined here.

Justice Alito, while recognizing that the majority has recognized only a likely hood of success on the merits, fears that the scope of the majority’s conclusions is dangerously broad.  The expansive view of regulatory powers embraced by the majority undermines fundamental principles of administrative law.  This in turn may induce extensive changes in executive branch behavior.

No good cause, no excuse. “Good cause” is necessary to excuse compliance with notice and comment provisions.  While no fixed standards supporting foregoing notice and comment exist, conditions excusing notice and comment require narrow construction.

The rationale for failing to comply with notice and commend procedures offered by the government fails to define what harm would ensue from the delay caused by notice and comment.  The ‘importance of vaccination’ will not in itself, define the harm to be avoided by suspending notice and comment.  It is not credible for HHS to argue that exigency excusing notice and comment exists where vaccines had already been in existence for ten months prior to the rule and millions of workers had been vaccinated by the time the CMS mandated issued.

No harm, yet still foul. CMS’ claim that no one was prejudiced by the failure to adhere to notice and comment  procedures obscures the fact that CMS must demonstrate good cause for doing so.  No requirement exists that respondents demonstrate a lack of good cause.  “No harm done” casts a backward glance that does not provide the good cause needed before suspending notice and comment.

Skipping the essentials bodes ill.  Notice and comment procedures are legislative limits on executive authority intended to ensure that executive agencies consider what they are doing “before restricting the liberty of the people they regulate”.  Alito dissent, slip op at 4.  (citation omitted). The majority’s adoption of CMS’ position endorses a regulate first, then listen approach which is especially dangerous where ten million workers must undergo an irreversible medical treatment or lose their jobs.

Biden v. Missouri, No. 21A240 and Becerra v. Louisiana, No. 21241. Order and Opinion January 13, 2022 (S.Ct.)

Supreme Court Stays OSHA Emergency Covid-19 Vaccination Regulation


National Federation of Independent Business, et al.  v. Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, No. 21A244

Ohio, et al. v. Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, No. 21A247

Order and Opinion issued January 13, 2022 (S. Ct.)


The United States Supreme Court has issued an order staying the effect of an Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring larger employers to adopt policies requiring and administer records concerning employees’ Covid-19 vaccination (the “vaccine mandate”).  OSHA’s regulation requires employers of more than 100 employees to require employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, or face termination.  Employers may offer weekly testing and continuous masking as an alternative to vaccination at the employees’ expense. 

The vaccine mandate is estimated to affect 84 million workers nationally.  Employers who fail to comply face fines.  

Why the Supreme Court intervened to stay the effect of the OSHA vaccine mandate. Applying established legal standards governing issuance of a stay, the majority of the justices have concluded that the employers and the states challenging the vaccine mandate are likely to prevail on the merits of their claims.

No authority to be found. Nothing in the statute creating OSHA or any measures relating to the Covid-19 pandemic reflects Congressional intent to expand OSHA’s powers to regulate and to administer workplace safety to include public health matters in general, the justices observed.  OSHA’s emergency Covid-19 measure purports to preempt public health concerns traditionally reserved to the states.

This is no small measure. The unprecedented scope of the OSHA emergency regulation, undertaken without notice and comment procedures as an emergency measure excusing compliance, indicates the need for clear congressional authorization of a measure which would exercise powers of vast economic and political significance. Slip opinion (per curiam) at 6, citing Alabama Assn. of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Servs., 594 U. S. ___, ___ (2021) (per curiam) (slip op., at 6).

OSHA is a  workplace, not a public health, administration. OSHA is authorized to implement measures to address workplace safety, but OSHA has no authority to act as a federal public health agency regulating daily life.

Some room to act may exist notwithstanding the stay.  Vaccination, the majority noted, cannot be undone at the work day’s end.  Although OSHA lacks the vast powers it has attempted to exercise, particular industry working conditions may indicate vaccination would support employee health and safety.  OSHA might develop targeted mandates, but the sweeping mandate before the Court is causally untethered to the workplace, and is without historic precedent that would indicate it to be apt. 

The balance favors the affected employers and employees. Not only is OSHA without authority to regulate vaccination, equity favors a stay, the Court’s majority noted, as billions in unrecoverable compliance costs and fines will be incurred by employers, and many would lose their employment because of the OSHA vaccine mandate.

Three justices concur.  Justices Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito joined in a concurrence outlining the importance of the Constitutional principles governing governance itself as applied to the OSHA vaccine mandate.

Constitutional constraints.  The Constitution cabins legislative powers by requiring any exercise of federal legislative power to be tied to an enumerated Constitutional power, as powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states, as is true of public health regulation. Congress cannot elide its limits by conferring legislative powers on executive agencies.  Thus, when an executive agency undertakes vast new measures, its authority to take such actions must be clear (the “major questions” doctrine) and may not be indirectly assumed (the “nondelegation” doctrine).  

Fie on a burgeoning bureaucracy. These concepts are not mere academic footnotes, the concurrence asserts, but they act as fundamental guards against “government of bureaucracy supplanting government of the people.”  Concurrence Slip Op. at 6, citing Scalia, A. A Note on the Benzene Case, American Enterprise Institute, J. on Govt. & Soc., July–Aug. 1980, p. 27. 

The vaccine mandate is not good by any measure. Application of these principles supports the Court’s stay.  OSHA can locate no clear congressional authorization for its actions, and even if one were believed to exist, the vaccine mandate would violate nondelegation principles, as such authority would confer upon OSHA unlimited discretion without any meaningful specific limits.

Three justices dissent. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan have dissented, opining that while examining the powers of coordinate branches, the Supreme Court has overstepped its limits as the majority has failed to recognize and to defer to agency expertise supporting the vaccine regulation, which regulation is of the very sort that OSHA exists to undertake.  

Up OSHA’s alley in any event. Workplace regulation is permissible even if similar hazards exist outside the workplace, and such regulation is apt where, as with the Covid-19 virus, workplace contagion is a recognized hazard which gravely threatens workers’ well-being.

The majority checks others’, but should also check itself. Although the majority focuses on the limits of legislative and executive powers, the majority fails to recognize that while executive agencies cannot act without legislative authorization, the Supreme Court may not read in or impose a limitation on agency action where none exists.  The Court has erred in issuing the stay, as the Court lacks the regulatory expertise that OSHA has.  Similarly, and also erroneously, the Court has incorrectly assessed the public interest served by OSHA’s undertaking measures to hinder the sickness and death the Covid-19 pandemic has precipitated. 

National Federation of Independent Business v. OSHA (01_13_2022)

Absent Administrative Notice and Comment, Amici Affected by the OSHA Vaccine Mandate Present Submissions to the U.S. Supreme Court Explaining Their Views


National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Department of Labor, No. 21A244,  consolidated with Ohio v. U.S. Department of Labor, No. 21A247. Oral Argument on  Applications for Emergency Stay of OSHA Vaccine Mandate set for Friday, January 7, 2022.

Biden v. Missouri, No. 21A240, consolidated with Becerra v. Louisiana, No. 21A241.  Oral Argument on Challenges to Stays of CMS Vaccine Mandate set for Friday, January 7, 2022. 


The principal parties will be heard on Friday, January 7, 2022 concerning whether the U.S. Supreme Court ought to intervene to stop the implementation of the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) mandating vaccination against the Covid-19 virus or testing/masking for all employers with more than one hundred employees.  Immediately thereafter, the Court will hear arguments concerning whether to dissolve stays imposed to halt the effect of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Rule requiring vaccination of health care workers in federally supported settings.

The parties are also seeking certiorari before judgment in their respective cases.  Whether the Court will reach that issue at the same time that it addresses preliminary relief is not known.

What is known is that just as vaccination has engendered controversy nationally, interest groups, advocates, elected leaders, former officials, and professional associations have seized the occasion to submit their views to the U.S. Supreme Court in amicus briefs.

In broad brush, proponents of a stay of the OSHA vaccine mandate argue that OSHA does not have the authority to implement such a measure.  In the absence of explicit Congressional delegation of authority, OSHA cannot act outside known statutory parameters without clearly articulated guidance.  In addition, proponents of a stay assert that OSHA has no public health authority, as that is a police power reserved to the states.  OSHA has no authority to act on an emergency basiss where no emergency exists.  To like effect, OSHA erred in failing to permit notice and comment concerning its proposed vaccine mandate, as no actual emergency presenting a grave danger that requires intervention and excuses notice and comment exist.  

Proponents of a stay of the OSHA vaccine mandate argue that vaccination is ineffective concerning transmission of the Covid-19 virus and that the ‘vaccination’ itself is actually a gene-modifying medical treatment. 

In addition to the sweep of the OSHA measure, the federal intrusion on constitutionally protected individual interests in both bodily integrity and consent to medical treatment are implicated, requiring a hard look in advance of implementation.  

Finally, and not insignificantly, one amicus suggests that the imposition of vaccination or testing and masking measures within workplaces will precipitate medical segregation, an adverse social consequence. 

Those who applaud the arrival of the OSHA mandate assert that the Covid-19 pandemic is the most deadly viral infection event in U.S. history and that the workplace is a petri dish for contamination, making vaccination or masking and testing a valid first line of defense.  Some amici fear that if the mandate is not implemented, the consequences will spill over to their businesses to dismal effect. 

Presented below are thumbnails of the various amicus submissions concerning the OSHA vaccine mandate.  While the CMS Rule requiring health care provider vaccination is of great importance, limitations of time and space prevent development of those arguments here. 

 


 

Advancing American Freedom in Support of Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Review

Advancing American Freedom in Support of Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Review

These advocates for traditional values oppose the encroachment of the federal judgment and the administrative state.  There are grave dangers inherent in governmental invocation of emergency measures, particularly where, as here, the vaccine mandate does not address an emergency but presents a “work around” to avoid the necessity of Congressional action and/or administrative notice and comment.  OSHA’s emergency powers are to be used sparingly, and even as such, only one survived judicial challenge.  


 

America’s Frontline Doctors as Amicus Curiae in Support of Applicant

America’s Frontline Doctors as Amicus Curiae in Support of Applicants

Member physicians do not believe the vaccines prevent the spread of Covid-19, and, as result, there exists no basis for segregation of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.  

The current vaccines are mischaracterized as such.  They are gene-modifying treatments that may reduce symptoms. 

The proper legal analysis should be derived from the strict scrutiny considerations of personal rights to refuse medical treatment.  The OSHA mandate would not survive such analysis, as it is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.  They do not inhibit contagion, and thus do not serve the arguably compelling state interest in public health.  And the vaccine mandate is not narrowly tailored as the treatments do not consider risk factors or natural immunity.  There is evidence that natural immunity confers a long term benefit and there are also newly developed treatments to assist in addressing the virus.  


 

American Medical Association, et al.as Amici in Opposition to Applications for Stay 

American Medical Association, et al. as Amici in Opposition to Applications for Stay

These established medical professional associations perceive a severe risk to public health through higher workplace transmissions.  Vaccination can reduce the risk of contraction of the virus, result in less severe cases of illness, and less contagion. 

Testing offers no greater protection than nothing at all.  Masking may be helpful, but is not as good as vaccination. 


 

American Public Health Association, et al. as Amici in Support of Respondents

American Public Health Association, et al. as Amici in Support of Respondents

Public health associations observe that airborne viruses make the workplace particularly hazardous.  Covid-19 mortality is higher for in-person workers.  

Vaccination provides some insulation against transmission.  Moreover, vaccination diminishes transmission and therefore, mutation. 


 

Center for Medical Freedom, et al. as Amici in Support of Applicants

Center for Medical Freedom, et al. as Amici in Support of Applicants

Conservative groups opine that the vaccine mandate is”exactly what the Framers most feared when they established the federal government:  a raw exercise of arbitrary power.”  (Amicus Brief, p. 3).  

OSHA is a child of the commerce clause. There is no authority to regulate anything i the absence of commerce, and the impact of inaction on commerce is not a valid premise for commerce clause legislation.  

Reliance on Jacobson is misplaced, a statue measure was in issue there and as more than a century of subsequent law has been amassed, placing Jacobson’s vitality in question, and this is particularly so where Jacobson was conceived during the ascendancy of the eugenics movement. 

Justice Gorsuch has already rejected Jacobson as a premise for emergency extra-constitutional federal health measures.  

There is no federal police power that would support a vaccine mandate.  

Moreover, the premics of the mandate is flawed, as it is false to say the unvaccinated cause the pandemic.

Death attributable to the Covid-19 vaccines, which are ene therapy, suggest the vaccines themselves present substantial hazards.  

Separation of powers principles caution against implementation of the sort the OSHA vaccine mandate contemplates. 


 

Constitutional Accountability Center as Amicus Curiae in Opposition to Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Review

Constitutional Accountability Center as Amicus Curaie in Opposition to Applications for Stay 

This progressive think tank and advocacy center submits that delegation with intelligible, principled guidance is appropriate, and that here that intelligible and principled guidance is found in the directive that OSHA may issue emergency orders where necessary to address a grave danger.  

Just because a measure is broad, this does not mean it is unintelligible.  Where such guidance has been provided, there should be no second-guessing agency action. 


 

Defending the Republic in Support of Emergency Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Certiorari

Defending the Republic as Amicus Support Applications for Stay

Defending the Republic is engaged in challenging the vaccine mandate applicable to the Department of Defense, arguing that the mandate presents unconstitutional infringements on religious freedoms and the right to refuse medical treatment. 

The vaccine mandates represent unprecedented federal usurpations of power.  Nearly the entirety of the adult federal workforce is being conscripted to receive an experimental and irreversible medical treatment.  


 

Former OSHA Administrators Charles Jeffress, David Michaels, and Gerard Scannell as Amici in Opposition to Emergency Applications for Stay(or Injunction) Pending Certiorari Review

Former OSHA Administrators in Opposition to Applications for Stay

Three former Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials oppose a stay of the OSHA vaccine mandate, as it would impede implementation of measures intended to stop Covid-19.  

OSHA may regulate exposure to workplace hazards, including communicable disease, and may develop measures for immunization with religious exemptions.  OSHA can include the impact of workplace hazards on families, and has responded to concerns with bloodborne illnesses, hazardous waste, and respiratory conditions.  

Where the Secretary acts within statutory authorization, Chevon deference should be the norm.  

Simply because a condition exists outside the workplace does not mean that OSHA cannot address the condition within the workplace.  


 

IU Family for Choice, Not Mandates, Inc. in Support of Applicants

IU Family for Choice, Not Mandates, Inc. in Support of Applicants

An Indiana university coalition advocates for medical autonomy within the university community.  The group supports freedom of choice and opposes medical segregation or discrimination regarding access to education, employment, housing and community events.  

Covid-19 vaccines do not prevent infection and transmission.  The vaccines are better considered to be medical treatments ameliorating more serious aspects of Covid-19, but they are not a public health measure.  

OSHA does not have the authority to require unwanted medical treatment.  It is noteworthy that the Centers for Disease Control changed the definition of”vaccine” to conform to Covid-19 therapeutics. 

The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard violates principles of bioethics concerning autonomy and choice in medical treatment.  

OSHA does not have police powers.  The states, not federal agencies, have police powers and those police powers are bound by the Constitution.  

OSHA cannot force the test/vaccine choice on the employee and pre-enforcement review requires a ‘harder look’ at such a measure.  Rigorous scrutiny is required where medical autonomy and consent are in issue.

Jacobson does not apply here because the OSHA mandate concerns a medical treatment, not a public health measure.  

A personal decision to refuse a medical treatment does not create a risk to others to whom disease might spread.  Refusal only impacts the person who refuses. 

The presupposition that vaccines would slow the spread of disease is in error.  


 

Jason Feliciano and the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers as Amicus in Support of Applications for Stay or Injunction

Jason Feliciano and the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers as Amicus in Support of Applications for Stay or Injunction

The individual and organizational amici provide credentialing for chaplains in the military.  The organization exists to promote religious free exercise.  

Amicus objects to the OSHA vaccine mandate as it is not a true vaccine, as the overwhelming survival rate of persons with Covid-19 infections suggests that there is no grave hazard, and as the mandate fails to consider religious concerns. OSHA does not have authority to impose measures where there is no hazard.  This is particularly problematic where the proposed measure does not inhibit transmission or contraction of the Covid-19 virus and associated illness.  Moreover, the fact that the Centers for Disease Control changed the definition of ‘vaccine’ to include the current injections is problematic.  

Those who resist vaccination are subject to punishment, either in the form of loss of their livelihoods, or, if masking and testing is chosen, in the form of fines, as the individual employee must bear the not insignificant costs of testing.  Further, testing does not provide valid information about contagion and thus is not helpful in curbing disease transmission, and a distinction between testing unvaccinated versus vaccinated individuals makes no sense, as both unvaccinated and vaccinated persons can transmit the Covid-19 virus.

Finally, the social costs of the vaccine mandate are difficult to calculate, as the mandate may usher in an era of medical segregation in which the vaccinated obtain a status superior to those who are not vaccinated.  


 

Liberty, Life and Law Foundation as Amicus in Support of Applicants

Liberty, Life and Law Foundation as Amicus in Support of Applicants

Concerned with constitutional liberties in the context of expanding federal powers, amicus foundation asserts that Jacobson was not a blank check.  Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905).  Congress must use especially clear language where, as here, Congress intends to upset the balance between federal and state powers.

Emergencies cannot be pretexts for denials of civil liberties and usurpation of powers.  The measures in issue raise concerns about bodily integrity, informed consent, and refusal of medical treatment.  

Jacobson was a narrow ruling which recognized the potential for government overreach.  Current analysis should require a compelling government interest.  Even if a compelling government interest could be found, the government has not chosen the least intrusive means of serving that interest.  


 

Local Unions 1249 and 97 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Support of Emergency Applications for a Stay Pending Certiorari Review  

Local Unions 1249 and 97 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Support of Emergency Applications for a Stay Pending Certiorari Review 

The electrical workers’ unions think that unvaccinated members should not be forced to choose between vaccination and supporting their families.  The vaccine mandate is well outside OSHA’s traditional bailiwick.

Unions can work with management quite effectively to develop Covid-19 policy.  Particularly as the virus and infections will change over time, it is preferable to allow for hands on negotiation rather than to accept top-down demands. 

Traditionally, OSHA does not regulate employers and employees.  Here, there are significant personal cost consequences to employees and a demand that employees subite to an irreversible medical procedure that affects the individual both when working and when not working. 

Although it is true that a hazard need not be solely a workplace hazard for regulation to be proper, the federal government does not routinely impose costs on employees.  


 

Members of Congress as Amici Curiae in Support of Applicants

Members of Congress as Amici Curiae in Support of Applicants

One hundred eighty three members of both houses of Congress fer the disregard of separation of powers principles that th eOSHA vaccine mandate represents.  Congress has not authorized OSHA’s action:  theser exist no deletion of power nor an intelligible principle to support delegation of power to OSHA.  Public health care does not fall within OSHA”s emergency powers, yet OSHA wants to expand those powers outside the workplace.  There is no grave danger that OSHA might address nor is a virus a toxic or hazardous agent as contemplated in the OSHA act.  

The vaccine mandate lacks the ‘necessity’ the OSHA statute requires and the measure itself does not inhibit contagion and contamination.  A rule that does nothing to address a (non-extant) grave danger is not a measure that is “necessary,” as the OSHA statute contemplates.

Equally problematic is the absence of any limiting principles application to ASHA’s actions, which gives rise to non-delegation concerns.  The purpose of reducing the number of unvaccinated individuals on its face exceeds OSHA”s jurisdiction to regulate some workplace safety concerns.  And even if there were authority to act, the failure of Congress to state clearly the principles to guide OSHA causes ‘major questions’ doctrine problems as the vaccine mandate upsets the federal – state power balance. 


 

National Disability Rights Network and the Judge David L. Bazelon Mental Health Law Center as Amici in Opposition to Applications for Stay 

National Disability Rights Network and the Judge David L. Bazelon Mental Health Law Center as Amici in Opposition to Applications for Stay 

Advocates for the physically and mentally disabled support the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard because, they assert, the physically and mentally disapbled are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 workplace infection, and face higher mortality rates if they are infected.  Those who refuse vaccination or refusing masking and testing present a new workplace hazard.   Studies suggest that the Emergency Temporary Standard is a necessary measure in mitigation.  Enjoying the Emergency Temporary Standard would disproportionately affect medically vulnerable and disabled persons. 


 

National Employment Lawyers Association and Jobs with Justice Education Fund in Opposition to Emergency Applications for a Stay or Injunction Pending Review

National Employment Lawyers Association and Jobs with Justice Education Foundation Amicus Brief

Acceptance of petitioners’ arguments would open many existing workplace regulations to challenge.

If workers are given a liberty interest superseding federal regulatory powers, then workers may refuse to work. 

The federal government has regulated workplaces in the past, i.e., with drug testing, permitting physical qualifications for work, mandating retirement, and regulating the use of hard hats or the advisability of beards.

With respect to major questions, judicial line drawing between major and minor issues is not committed to the judicial branch.

Petitioners’ Commerce Clause argument would invalidate all federal employment legislation.  It is well established that federal regulation may be applied to noneconomic activity with economic consequences.  


 

Small Business Majority, et al. in Opposition to Emergency Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Certiorari

Small Business Majority, et al. in Opposition to Emergency Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Certiorari

Small businesses fear that a stay will cause them to lose the protections that would flow from large businesses’ compliance with the OSHA vaccine mandate.  As some states have interfered with eemployers’ efforts to require vaccination, federal intervention is needed.  


 

Standard Process, Inc. in Support of Emergency Application for Administrative Stay, Stay, and Alternative Petition for Stay Certiorari Before Judgment

Standard Process Inc. as Amicus in Support of Stay and Certiorari Before Judgment

This whole food nutritional supplementation manufacturer fears that the OSHA vaccine mandate will precipitate mass employee resignations,and that, owing to Standard Process’s rural location, those employees will not be replaced.

Testing is not accessible in the way that the government would like to believe.  Equally importantly, employer compliance costs are extraordinary and are neither private nor self-contained.  

In all, the vaccine mandate needlessly undermines both private and public interests. 


 

Texas Values, et al. as Amici n Support of Applicants

Texas Values, et al. as Amici in Support of Applicants

States’ ‘family values” policy advocates object to widespread regulation of employees without notice and comment and without proper concern for religious exercise.  The administrative state is particularly prone to disregarding religious liberty. OSHA has taken the position that employees’ religious interests are outside OSHA’s purview, but even with their ‘proper’ administrative nice, those concerns do not receive fair treatment, as employers may disregard religious concerns where addressing them would require more than de minimis costs.  The public has been denied a voice in the development of this sweeping measure, a measure which lies outside OSHA’s statutory authority.  


 

Tore Says LLC in Support of Petitioners

Tore Says LLC as Amicus in Support of Petitioners

This multimedia news outlet focuses on the thinking of the founding fathers with particular concern for the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Corporations have constitutional rights, and ought to be free from government intrusion, as the government has only those rights which are granted to it by the people.  The Ninth Amendment guarantees against federal intrusion and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees against state intrusion. 

Because of the Ninth Amendment, there is no authority for the government intrusion that the vaccine mandate represents, but even if there were such a power to intrude, that power would be reserved to the states.  

Public health traditionally is entrusted to the states.  No federal police power exist to support the board exercise of federal powers in issue here.  


 

Washington Legal Foundation in Support of Applicants 

Washington Legal Foundation in Support of Applicants

This foundation supports free enterprise, individual rights, limited government, and the rule of law.  The vaccine mandates are causing supply chain issues and rising prices.  The vaccine mandate is not within OSHA’s authority but if it were notice and comment would be needed, not an emergency measure implemented outside ordinary procedure.  

The mandate presente employees with a forced choice between vaccination,testing, or losing employment.  

The emergency measure is odd in that in June, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit observed that OSHA need not issue a mandate.  This is all the more curious because the nation is more than one year, and closer to two years, beyond the inception of the pandemic, and the government wants to use an ‘emergency’ measure.

This is a fitting case for granting certiorari before judgment, given the time constraints presented by the Emergency Temporary Standard, which will expire by its terms in six months.  


 

We the Patriots USA in Support of Emergency Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Review and for Certiorari Before Judgment

We the Patriots USA in Support of Emergency Applications for Stay or Injunction Pending Review and for Certiorari Before Judgment

This group defines itself as promoting constitutional rights and offers that the vaccine mandate represents the largest disruption of personal choice and bodily integrity in history.  

Since Jacobson, substantive due process rights have developed in recognition of individual fundamental unenumerated rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.  

Tiers of tests for unenumerated rights have been inconsistently applied, sometimes utilizing strict scrutiny, and sometimes not, depending on whether bodily integrity or self-determination is in issue.  Abortion is recognized as a fundamental right, while refusal of medical treatment requires balancing of personal and state interests, with the scales favoring the state.  This uneven treatment of similar questions needs to be addressed.  

The vaccination or testing/masking alternatives are not true alternatives because the costs of testing, which must be borne by employees, are so prohibitive that the average employee is forced to submit to vaccination.  

The Commerce Clause concerns economic issues only and is not concerned with non-economic public health activity, which belongs to the states.  

It is not proper to characterize any skepticism concerning the vaccines as an “anti-vax” position.  The reliance on inconsistent statements of “experts” about Covid-19 is of great concern.  

The OSHA vaccine mandate is a major question because mandatory medical treatment for vast portions of the population is a major political and economic question.

State power to administer public health measures should be retained.  The regulation of containment and remediation of viral transmission is a state matter, but in any case the regulation of a virus is not a regulation of activity within the Commerce Clause.

Upholding the vaccine mandate would open the door to unprecedented federal regulation of public health questions.  

Stay of OSHA Covid-19 Private Employer Vaccine Mandate Dissolved:  Sixth Circuit Panel Finds Employers Failed to Meet Standard for Granting Stay


In re:  MCP No. 165, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Interim Final Rule; Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing; Emergency Temporary Standard 86 Fed. Reg. 61402. No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Order dissolving Fifth Circuit stay entered December 17, 2021.


The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is now administering consolidated litigation from all federal circuits relating to the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS)  issued November 5, 2021.

The Emergency Temporary Standard  mandates that employers with more than one hundred employees require that employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested frequently and masked.  

On December 17, a three-member panel of judges of the Sixth Circuit dissolved the stay of the ETS entered by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals prior to multi-district litigation consolidation.  

Two of the three judges have published an opinion providing  a point-by-point refutation of the Fifth Circuit’s views  One judge has written a separate concurrence.  A third has dissented.  

No stealing bases. It appears that the courts may be experiencing ’emergency’ fatigue, and even if this is not so, skipping procedural steps has been discouraged. Earlier in the week the Sixth Circuit denied motions for initial review en banc.  This will serve to inhibit the litigants in seeking immediate review in the U.S. Supreme Court prior to seeking rehearing en banc and could aid the Supreme Court, if such immediate review is nonetheless sought, in remanding the case to the federal appellate court for further proceedings.  

          In procedurally unrelated but topically similar litigation, the United States Supreme Court has denied a petition to stay New York’s vaccine mandate pending review of a petition for certiorari which argues that New York’s failure to provide for religious exemption from vaccination violates the First Amendment.

The Opinion in the Multidistrict Litigation.  The Sixth Circuit perceives the Covid-19 virus to be an ongoing causative agent, one which has killed people and shut down the economy, which prompted employers to seek guidance from the Department of Labor Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), which in turn, on November 5, 2021, issued an Emergency Temporary Standard requiring certain employers to require employee vaccination or face covering and frequent testing.

          The Fifth Circuit enjoined implementation of the ETS the day after it was issued.  The court affirmed its decision a week later.

          The Sixth Circuit now observes that OSHA may issue emergency orders bypassing public notice and comment proceedings where grave danger requires employee protection.

          The OSHA emergency measure does not require employee vaccination, the court has found, as employees may be masked and tested or work from home, but employers must maintain vaccination records or face penalties. 

The Sixth Circuit panel has examined the four established evaluative factors to be considered in staying any measure before litigation.

Petitioners’ Likelihood of Success on the Merits.

          Authority for OSHA’s Action Exists.  Contrary to the Fifth Circuit’s determination, the Sixth Circuit perceives that OSHA may regulate infectious diseases within its statutory authority. 

          The “major questions” doctrine cited by the Fifth Circuit is an interpretive tool permitting exception from deference to agency authority, but it is vague and it is in any case inapplicable where agency authority has not been expanded, the court has explained.  

          Same emergency, different authority. The OSHA Covid-19 employer mandate can be distinguished from the eviction moratorium declared unconstitutional earlier this year by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Centers for Disease Control lacks authority to regulate landlord-tenant relations, as the Supreme Court has found, but here, the Sixth Circuit panel has concluded, OSHA has established authority to regulate workplace safety.

          Moreover, OSHA gathered evidence substantiating its conclusion that an emergency exists.  The Sixth Circuit declined to find that any necessity permitting emergency intervention by OSHA be universal or absolute, but rather found that the persistence of workplace issues prompted issuance of the emergency temporary standard as the last arrow in the Secretary of Labor’s quiver. 

          The federal appellate judges dismissed attacks on the OSHA measure as over or under inclusive, finding that the efficacy of a measure, particularly an emergency measure, need not be perfectly calibrated or accompanied by a cost-benefit analysis.

          The panel dismissed the notion embraced by the Fifth Circuit that the OSHA mandate is in violation of the Commerce Clause, and impact on interstate commerce, such as viral contagion, is sufficient to establish a basis for federal law and federal preemption. 

          The Sixth Circuit judges found the non-delegation doctrine to be somewhat musty and in any case inapposite where it is well established that Congress may delegate to executive branch powers to act in the public interest or to protect public health. 

Whether Irreparable Harm Will Befall Petitioners in the Absence of a Stay. 

The Sixth Circuit explored the irreparable harm issue notwithstanding its view that its analysis of the petitioners’ assertions and arguments fail to demonstrate the likelihood of success on the merits, which could have ended the inquiry because the public interest analysis merges with the likelihood of success on the merits analysis where the government is a party.

The judges dismissed as “speculative” employers’ views of compliance cost, including loss of workers, and noted that if cited for non-compliance, an employer can always assert the impossibility of compliance as a defense.  The potential harm to the public of failure to implement Covid-19 contagion mitigation measures such as the OSHA employer mandate, in light of the harms already incurred by the nation, are staggering, and the risks to the public are only underscored where petitioners have not shown that they are likely to prevail on  the merits.  

Note well:  this panel’s opinion may not be within the judiciary’s bailiwick.

In a separate concurrence, Circuit Judge Gibbons has written to emphasize his view that the judicial branch ought not be as active in policy questions as this litigation has demanded.  The judge notes that questions of what the other branches might have done differently or “sweeping pronouncements” about constitutional law, themselves “untethered” to the present case, invite the judicial branch to exceed its limits.  Separation of powers principles preclude judicial second-guessing of coordinate branches.  Where a court concludes that an agency has acted within its authority and within constitutional bounds, the judge opined, the court ought not press further into realms committed to other branches’ expertise.  

Au Contraire:  Dissenting Judge Opines that Panel Analysis is Wrong

The dissenting member of the panel thinks the question of constitutional and statutory authority is squarely within the power of the judiciary.

The dissent wholly disagrees with the view that the OSHA emergency measure permits employers to decide how to manage workplace Covid-19 risks.  Employers must adopt written policies, demand that employees be vaccinated unless exempt, and pay employees who need time off to get vaccinated.  The mask and testing alternative was, by OSHA’s own admission, designed to be unpalatable as by its operation it imposes costs of testing on employers.

The dissent observes that it is not necessary that petitioners demonstrate a likelihood of success on each and every one of its theories in order to substantiate the need for a stay:  the potential to prevail on one theory would suffice.

Petitioners can demonstrate a likelihood of success, the dissent has concluded, because OSHA has exceeded its authority, which limits the promulgation of emergency measures to circumstances in which employees face grave danger and the emergency intervention is necessary to protect employees.

Where OSHA never made a finding that its rule was necessary, the rule cannot be upheld:  the insufficiency of extant measures, which is the justification offered by the Secretary of Labor, will.not meet the “necessary” standard. 

Moreover, effectiveness is a separate question that cannot be bootstrapped into a determination of necessity.

The dissenting justice rejects the notion that emergency measures, by their very nature, need not be as carefully crafted or supported as normative acts, and this is particularly so where OSHA has had nearly two years to consider protections and to evaluate alternatives.  Where no showing of necessity can be made, the emergency measure cannot be sustained.

Of similar concern is that the Secretary failed to locate a “grave danger” that would support the private employer vaccine mandate.  Although viral infection can be dangerous, there is no evidence showing that contracting the disease is a grave threat, as available data show varying levels of risk among different demographics.

There is no evidence linking contraction of Covid-19 to the workplace.  Those who are already vaccinated are not, by and large, imperiled.  Where a mortality rate of one in two hundred and two cases of infection is said to exist among the unvaccinated, OSHA has not met the “grave danger” requirement, particularly where no link to workplace harm has been shown.  

The dissent questions the panel’s minimization of the substance of the “major questions” concerns petitioners raise where OSHA has never issued an emergency measure of the scope of the Covid-19 employer mandate and, the dissent observes, the question is not simply one of the kind of measure OSHA may implement, but also its scope or degree (emphasis in text). 

Given the Supreme Court’s discussion of the “major questions” doctrine in declaring the CDC eviction moratorium to be invalid, it is not accurate to say, as this panel has, that the “major questions” doctrine is an arcane exception to deference to agency expertise.  

Finally, OSHA’s circumspection in other contexts supports similar caution here, and does not support promulgation of an expensive and unparalleled emergency measure.

Employers will be hamstrung by the costs of compliance and by the potential loss of employees that may ensue.  Similarly problematic is the loss that will result to individuals who submit to vaccination only to learn later, as they may,  that the command to do so was not supported in law. 

The dissent points out that OSHA cannot complain that petitioners have not substantiated their claims where by invoking emergency authority OSHA foreclosed the opportunity for notice and comment that would permit submission of evidence for agency consideration.  


Opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Dissolving Stay of OSHA Mandate

In re. MCP No. 165. Sixth Circuit Order December 17, 2021

Correspondence and Opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Denying Initial Hearing En Banc

In re. MCP No. 165, Sixth Circuit Order December 15, 2021

Order of the U.S. Supreme Court Denying Injunctive Relief with Dissenting Opinion

21A145 Dr. A v. Hochul, No. 21A 145 Order and Dissenting Opinion December 13, 2021

Federal Court Enjoins Enforcement of Mandated COVID-19 Vaccination of Healthcare Workers, Observing Not Only Authoritative and Procedural Deficiencies in CMS Order But Also Likelihood that Enforcement Would Exacerbate Crisis in Healthcare Access


Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 4:21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.)  Order and Opinion entered November 29, 2021.

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 4:21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.) Defendants’ Notice of Appeal filed November 30, 2021.


The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri has enjoined the federal government from implementing mandated COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare providers and other workers associated with facilities receiving Medicare or Medicaid support.  The United States has filed a notice of appeal from the injunction ordered on November 29th.

The federal trial court observes that the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), lacks Congressional authority for the actions it has taken, which because of its sweep would require explicit and clear authority if it authority could be delegated at all in light of the federalism question that the federal intrusion on private citizens’ health care decisions and the disruption of federal-state balance that the vaccine mandate present.  

Moreover, CMS erred in abandoning notice and requirement provisions, as no excuse for having done so, including any alleged emergency, can be found.

Of particular significance to the court is not merely the shift from encouraging to demanding vaccination of healthcare workers and the application of a one-size-fits-all policy without respect to the institution involved but also the threat to access to care that the mandate provides.

Provider institutions already face a shortage in workers that began before but has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. As mandated vaccination may precipitate additional worker shortages, which in turn will impact access to care, the court agrees that the threat of harm to the public because of mandated vaccination merits injunctive relief.

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 4:21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.) Order and Opinion November 29, 2021

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 4:21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.) Notice of Appeal filed November 30, 2021

Litigation Contagion:  With Thirteen Vaccine Mandate Petitions Consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, OSHA Seeks Emergency Dissolution of Stay Entered by Fifth Circuit


Memoranda concerning the stay of the vaccine mandate, entered by the Fifth Circuit and consolidated in the Sixth Circuit, are due on November 30, with responses due December 7th and replies due December 10.  At this posting, no action has been taken on the government’s motion to expedite briefing.


All together now. With multidistrict litigation underway in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) seeks emergency dissolution of the stay of the Emergency Temporary Standard (the “Vaccine Mandate”) entered by the United States Court #v Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  Some petitioners object to the administration proceeding on an emergency basis, while others ask that the Sixth Circuit transfer all the proceedings to the Fifth Circuit.

Nationwide Vaccination or Testing Required of Certain Employers Stayed. The OSHA Vaccine Mandate, which requires employers of 100 or more employees to require employee vaccination or testing concerning Covid-19 or face significant fines, which would by its terms take effect on December 6, 2021, was stayed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on November 12, 2021.  

Ruling on retention, modification, or dissolution of the stay front and center. The Sixth Circuit, to which all petitions in twelve federal circuits were transferred by order of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, has invited briefing on whether the stay ought to be vacated, amended, or extended.  The federal respondents seek dissolution of the stay on an emergency basis.  Several petitioners seek initial hearing en banc before the federal appellate court.

Constitutional concerns about a measure said to be for the common good.  The Fifth Circuit entered a stay of the Vaccine Mandate based on its perception that the Vaccine Mandate is a sweeping national measure that presents grave constitutional concerns.  In ordering the halt of the mandate, the appellate court, among other determinations, found no statutory authority with which OSHA could create such a measure.  In the absence of explicit authority from Congress, the federal agency exceeded its statutory as well as Commerce Clause powers and encroached on public health rights reserved to the states.  Where OSHA has no authority, in the Fifth Circuit’s view, to regulate a hazard that is not confined to the workplace, OSHA cannot dictate the behavior of individuals using employers as a conduit.

Emergency action is necessary to address potentially lethal health consequences. OSHA argues that the Covid-19 virus has killed hundreds of thousands of people and that OSHA”s gathering of evidence supporting requiring vaccination is empirically sound, and that OSHA”s findings ought not be disturbed by the courts.  The federal government asserts that authority for monitoring contagious diseases was established decades ago with respect to blood-borne pathogens.

Employers hamstrung by compliance, particularly where resistant employees threaten to quit if vaccination required.  Opposing employers resist the government’s position that employers’ estimates of the costs of vaccine compliance are speculative.  Employers resent the government’s determination to proceed on an emergency basis before the Sixth Circuit has developed a comprehensive case management order or ruled on several pending motions for initial review en banc.  

Mandate’s impact not confined to employers and employees Employers stress that the impact of the vaccine mandate, if permitted to take effect, will force employees to choose between their work or their personal autonomy before the year end holidays.  As many essential workers are involved, the impact of the mandate will be felt by the public at large, as goods and services will not be manufactured and provided as planned.

Get litigation back to where it once belonged. While acknowledging that the Sixth Circuit has shown deference to the Fifth Circuit, some petitioners seek transfer of the consolidated multidistrict litigation to the Fifth Circuit, which has, it is argued,  already acquainted itself with the issues in the time sensitive vaccine mandate cases  

JustLawful Note:  Few would dispute that the reach of the vaccination mandate is historic, and it is hardly speculative to believe that the matter will reach the United States Supreme Court, nor is it unreasonable to think that the Sixth Circuit will promptly address the motions now before it. 


Case Materials

BST Holdings, et al. v. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, et al., No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.).  Opinion and Order November 12, 2021.

BST Holdings et al v. OSHA, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.) Order November 12, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.).  Docket as of November 28, 2021.

In re. MCP No. 165,, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Docket as of November 28, 2021

In re:  Occupational Safety and Health Administration Interim Final Rule:  COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing:  Emergency Temporary Standard, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, Issued November 4, 2021.  United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MCP No. 165.  Consolidation Order, November 18, 2021.

In re: Occupational Safety and Health Administration Interim Final Rule: COVID-19 Vaccine and Testing: Emergency Temporary Standard, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, Issued November 4, 2021. United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, MCP No. 165. Consolidation Order, November 18, 2021.

Phillips Manufacturing and Tower Company, et al. v. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, No. 21-4028 (6th Cir.) Petition for Initial Hearing en Banc, November 17, 2021.

Phillips Manufacturing and Tower v. OSHA, No. 21-4028 (6th Cir.) Petition for Initial Hearing en Banc, November 17, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Initial Case Management Order, November 21, 2021.

Initial Case Management Order In re MCP No. 165 OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing

In re. OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61401, No. 21-4018, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Respondents’ Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021.

In re OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61401, No. 21-4018, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Respondents’ Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021

In re. OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61401, No. 21-4018, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.).  Respondents’ Motion to Amend Schedule for Stay Briefing and to Set Schedule for Merits Briefing, November 24, 2021

In re OSHA Rule on Covid-19, Respondents Motion to Amend Schedule for Stay Briefing, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) November 24, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Job Creators’ Network, et al. v. OSHA, et al.  Opposition to Respondents’ Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021.

In re OSHA Rule on Covid-19 Vaccination and Testing, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Job Creators’ Network et al. Opposition to Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Motion to Transfer by BST Holdings, et al., November 23, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Motion to Transfer by BST Holdings, et al., November 23, 2021

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.). Motion to Hold in Abeyance Government’s Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay, November 23, 2021

In re MCP 165 OSHA Rule on Vaccination and Testing, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Motion to Hold in Abeyance Government’s Emergency Motion to Dissolve Stay

In re. MCP No. 165:  OSHA Rule on COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing, 86 Fed. Reg. 61402, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.).  Order, November 23, 2021.

In re MCP 165, No. 21-7000 (6th Cir.) Order November 23, 2021

A Vaccination Compliance Cauldron: Ten States Insist Federal Covid-19 Healthcare Providers’ Mandate Is Constitutionally, Statutorily, and Procedurally Unsound

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.). Complaint filed November 20, 2021.


Ten states have joined in challenging the action of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in promulgating an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period (IFC) that conditions health care providers’ receipt of federal funding and reimbursement on employee or contractor vaccination against COVID-19.  

Providers and Employees Threatened. Health care providers whose employees fail to comply with the federally mandated demand that all health care workers be vaccinated against Covid-19 may lose federal funding,   As vaccination refusal will threaten employer compliance with the federal measure, unvaccinated employees may lose their jobs.

Exacerbation, Not Mitigation.  The states submit that this sweeping federal incursion on health care administration threatens to exacerbate an already extant crisis in health care provision, which crisis only deepened during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing states to undertake drastic measures to ameliorate the deadly synergies of two crises which individually would have sufficed to cause health care services to crater. 

          To the extant shortage of workers and threat of harm from viral infection the federal government has added a compliance burden that, the states contend, violates the interests of the states, the healthcare providers and entities within the states, and the healthcare workers who must submit to vaccination or face termination. 

State Standing.  Having brought their complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, the states and their attorneys general assert standing premised on exercise of parens patriae powers or statutory authorizations. 

Effective Immediately.  The Interim Final Rule, also called  the CMS vaccine mandate, became effective on publication on publication in the Federal Register on November 5th.  Its protocol demands at least partial vaccination compliance by the first week of December, a deadline that only compounds the problems the rule has caused, the states note.  

          Most significantly, the states argue, the Interim Final Rule is not merely factually detrimental to the provision of health care services, the rule itself and the manner in which the rule was crafted is in violation of central components of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the United States Constitution.

The CMS Vaccine Mandate Makes Matters Worse.  The complaining states assert that the sweeping federal incursion on providers’ rights will exacerbate and extant shortage of workers.  The federal scheme is an unconstitutional abridgment of rights traditionally reserved to the states, and is not only legally flawed but also is, as a practical matter, administratively disastrous, as the health care needs of densely populated urban areas are markedly varied from those of rural settings.  

The CMS vaccine mandate must be set aside.  The states ask that the federal court declare the CMS vaccine rule be declared invalid constitutionally and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and other statutes, and that its enforcement be enjoined.

Not an overnight development.  Healthcare workforce shortages predate the COVID-19 pandemic by decades, the states recount.  Nursing shortages, already critical, have been made all the more so by the demands for urgent and other care precipitated by the pandemic. Many nursing professionals feel they cannot continue to work as they have been.  Many have been attracted to positions offering better working conditions are higher compensation. 

          Staffing shortages threaten the capacity of hospitals to administer care.  To address pandemic care needs, states relaxed standards for the provision of services, permitted workers to work without vaccination, and expanded telehealth services.

          The states are critical of the implementation of the administrative rule per see where doing so represents and Executive Branch about face from federal non-involvement in vaccination to a nationwide push for COVID-19 vaccination compliance that threatens workers with loss of employment and provider entities with loss of available federal funding.   

Reaching beyond providers.  Where health care workers cannot work, providers will be unable to provide services, and the patient public will be denied care.  Each of these outcomes, the states observe, is contrary to sound policies of health care delivery.

A diverse panoply of providers under a single rubric.   There are fifteen categories of Medicare and Medicaid providers, encompassing urban and rural clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and home health agencies. 

          CMS reports that nearly all hospitals within the United States are connected in some measure to Medicare and Medicaid.  Although CMS has recognized the diverse purposes and practices of these categories of providers and suppliers, CMS has embroidered on all covered providers and suppliers the measures applicable to long-term care facilities, the states observe. 

          Moreover, CMS appears to recognize the adverse consequences of the vaccine mandate:  failure to comply will threaten health care workers with loss of employment, which in turn will deepen an already critical worker shortage, which in turn will impact access to care.

No comment.  The states point out that there has never before been a federal vaccination mandate, and that the newly-effective rule is unsound on multiple grounds.  The states notes that CMS abandoned the comment period ordinarily required for rules of the magnitude of the unprecedented healthcare vaccine mandate.  Moreover, CMS has failed to locate with accuracy its authority to promulgate the vaccine mandate.

Unauthorized rule-making. The states argue that there is no statutory authority for the CMS vaccine mandate, and that none of the authorities cited by the CMS as authorizing the mandate do so.  This legally unsupported rule will cause the states great economic harm, particularly as states will not only be threatened with loss of federal resources but the states’ own administrative resources have been conscripted to serve the federal government. 

Hindsight unavailing.  The states submit that the CMS has relied on post-hoc rationalizations to support the rule, an impermissible approach which renders the measure arbitrary, capricious, and not in accordance with law. 

Constitutionally intrusive.  The states argue that compulsory vaccination is traditionally a power reserved to the states.  The federal expansion of power over the states violates the Tenth Amendment, the states submit.

Doctrinally unsound.  The states argue that the CMS vaccine mandate is unsound as it is a measure of national breadth and depth that is not supported by clear Congressional directive, and thus runs afoul of the major questions doctrine.   Similarly, the co of a Congressional articulation of an intelligible guiding principle, the CMS vaccine rule violates principles of non-delegation.

Outside professional bounds.  The states observe that the CMS vaccine mandate is precluded by the Social Security Act, which forbids supervision or control over the practice and provision of medicine and medical services.

Procedurally flawed.  The states submit that the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) is not inaptly named, and that no sound excuse exists for CMS’ failure to adhere to notice and comment procedures which permit interested persons’ participation in administrative processes.  

          CMS not only failed to adhere to these processes but its rule became effective on publication with initial compliance to be completed within thirty days.  Additionally, CMS failed to comply with the sixty-day pre-publication requirement of the Social Security Act.  

Input not sought.  CMS failed to confer with the states concerning the mandate as it is required to do.

Unconstitutional conditions imposed.   The federal government may not impose conditions on funding unrelated to the programs impacted or without notice to the states that vaccination would be required in order to obtain federal funds.  

State resources conscripted.  In enacting measures which threaten providers’ finances through demands on employees, the states observe that is is an infringement on state powers for the federal government to demand that state administrative resources be expended in service of federal aims.

Declaratory and injunctive relief sought: looking forward. The states have requested declaratory and injunctive relief which would nullify the CMS vaccine mandate and prohibit its enforcement.  At this writing the federal court has not issued any orders relating to the case, although in light of the abbreviated time frame for compliance with the CMS vaccine mandate, it is anticipated that there will be activity related to this case soon.  

Missouri, et al. v. Biden, et al., No. 21-cv-01329 (E.D. Mo.) Complaint






As Vaccination Regulation Litigation Erupts, the Fifth Circuit Stays Mandate Pending Expedited Briefing


 

BST Holdings, et al. v. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.). Per curiam order entered November 6, 2021.


 

On Friday, November 5, both the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published regulations in the federal register respectively governing mandatory Covid-19 vaccination or testing and masking for employees of certain employers and governing mandatory vaccination within health care providing entities, the failure to comply with which would threaten federal financial support.

The same day, litigation challenging the labor based regulations was filed in four federal circuit courts of appeal. At this time, there are no known proceedings challenging the CMS regulation, although some have promised that litigation will be commenced.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, perceiving that the litigation presents “grave” issues of statutory and constitutional law, today stayed the mandate pending expedited briefing, to be completed by Tuesday, November 9.

The challengers in the Fifth Circuit are private employers impacted by the federal vaccine mandate, which governs entities with one hundred or more employees These private entities have been joined by several states.

The challengers argue that the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard which is proffered as the premise for mandating vaccination does not and cannot support that demand, as the authority of OSHA is limited to workplace hazards and dangers which would place a virus beyond its scope.

Even if it could be seen that regulation might be possible, it would be constitutionally impermissible on these facts, the challengers assert, as the present federal vaccination scheme does not touch upon interstate commerce, as any exercise of such powers in the absence of a defined Congressional standard violates the non-delegation doctrine, and as the power to address questions of public health in the manner envisioned here is reserved to the states for administration under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Moreover, the authority of the Department of Labor is constrained to administration of employment and work related matters, and it is beyond the scope of its powers to regulate individual health choices in the guise of imposing an obligation on employers.

Challenges to the new federal measures in other circuits raise additional claims, submitting to the courts that the vaccine mandate offends the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In that there is a limited period of time within which to challenge these regulations, it is likely that these cases will unfold quickly. It is less likely, however, that any of the litigation will ‘skip a grade’ and proceed on an emergency basis to the U.S. Supreme Court. In recent weeks the Supreme Court has on three occasions declined to hear petitions for emergency relief concerning vaccination mandates.

All this unfolds amid multiple challenges in other forums, not the least of which are challenges to regulations extending mandated vaccination beyond federal employees to employees of federal contractors.

The “headline power” of the private employer mandate discussed here ought not obscure the significance of any of the other litigation concerning the sweeping exercise of federal powers premised on a perceived public health emergency in itself has been called into question.

Order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit:

BST Holdings, et al. v. OSHA, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.). Per curiam order entered November 6, 2021_

Challenges to the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS):

BST Holdings, et al. v. OSHA, No. 21-60845 (5th Cir.) Petitioners Brief November 5, 2021

Commonwealth of Kentucky, et al. v. OSHA (6th Cir.) Petition Filed November 5, 2021

State of Missouri, et al., v. Joseph R. Biden, President of the United States, et al. (8th Cir.) Petition Filed November 5, 2021

State of Florida, et al. v. OSHA (11th Cir.) Petition Filed November 5, 2021

 

At the Hour of Our Death: Supreme Court to Consider Prisoner’s Plea for Prayer and Touch in Execution Chamber


Ramirez v.  Collier, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, et al., No. 21-5592.  Oral argument set for November 9, 2021.   


The Supreme Court will soon consider whether Petitioner Ramirez, sentenced to death for a capital crime, may prevail in his claim that the State of Texas’ has violated the Religious Land Use and Religious Persons Act by refusing Ramirez’s request that his spiritual advisor not only be present in the execution chamber but also be permitted to pray aloud and to lay hands on Ramirez during the execution.

 

RLUIPA was enacted after the Supreme Court concluded that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could not apply to the states.  Both statutes provide protections for religious exercise that may exceed the guarantees of the First Amendment, by shifting burdens of proof and persuasion and by permitting latitude in what may be considered a religious exercise.  

 

Thus a prisoner need not establish that a requested religious accommodation refers to a normative practice in any spiritual practice adhered to by the prisoner.  The state, however, must establish not only that its practices support a compelling government interest and that the state has employed the least restrictive means in furtherance of that goal.  

 

The presence of ministers in the death chamber has been permitted in Texas, in other states, and in the federal system.  At this time, Texas’ rules and regulations appear not to preclude such a presence, but interpretive guidance, some apparently issued in response to Ramirez’ requests, rule out vocalization and laying on of hands during and following the administration of lethal injections.

 

On its face Ramirez’s request appears compelling and its denial cruel.  What possible end could be served by denying a prisoner the solace of prayer and touch at death?  Safety and security, says the state.  

 

The state, through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice  opines that past procedures permitting religious attention at execution were supported by safety protocols permitting state employees, not volunteers, to provide religious support.  Sabotage and the creation of chaos in the execution room cannot be ruled out, the state argues, as such events are not without a basis in history and the likelihood of a disruptive occurrence is enhanced  if a volunteer minister would be so close to the prisoner that the disruption of the flow of medication or to removal of needles or restraints.  

 

Moreover,  the state argues that its practices and prohibitions respect the dignity of the prisoner by permitting audio surveillance from outside the execution chamber of the administration of lethal substances and the dying process.  Audible prayer would thwart that process, making it more likely that the state could not remediate the execution timely and enhancing the chance of an agonizing death.

 

Religious advocacy groups and scholars of religious freedoms have aligned with Ramirez, particularly in service of precluding interpretations of RLUIPA that would permit accommodations only if the state were affirmatively precluding a recognized religious practice.  

 

Several states have asserted that the states must be deferred to in fashioning acceptable execution chamber protocols.  The states fear a flood tide of litigation intended only to forestall executions, all in defiance of the Prison’ Litigation Reform Act, which would hamstring the state in administering sentences, thereby undermining the criminal justice system and principles of federalism. 

 

The United States has urged the Supreme Court to remand the case for resolution, particularly for further articulation of the parties’ interests.

 

Joining in advocating for bringing to a conclusion Ramirez’ litigation are the survivors of Carlos Ramos, who died after having been stabbed twenty-nine times by the Petitioner.   Ramos’ children, now grown, ask that the Court not be unmindful that at each stage of litigation the trauma of their loss is revived.  The Ramos family asks how it is that media attention appears to cast Ramirez as heroic, where their father was denied a sacramental death.  


JustLawful note:  This comment omits consideration of the exhaustion of remedies argument that is also presented in this case.

JustLawful Comment: Leaving aside the flood tides of dilatory claims, administration of justice, and federalism questions, which are not insignificant, it is difficult to believe that the requested ministerial presence and prayer and touch practices could not be accommodated through prison protocols protecting the interests of all.   “Accommodation” by definition suggests that each party yield — by inches if not by yards — to the other.  The parties seem disinclined toward such a perspective, yet the Court may order remand in furtherance of such a result, which would likewise aid the Court in avoiding unnecessary decisions.


Case Materials:

Brief of Petitioner Ramirez September 27, 2021

Brief for Respondents October 15, 2021

Reply Brief For Petitioner October 25, 2021

Ramirez v. Collier Joint Appendix Vol. I

Amicus Submissions in Support of Petitioner Ramirez

Amicus First Liberty Institute September 27, 2021

Amicus Scholars of the PLRA and Prison Grievance Systems September 27, 2021

Amicus The United States Conference Of Catholic Bishops September 27, 2021

Amicus Religious Liberty Scholars September 27, 2021

Amicus Becket Fund for Religious Liberty September 27, 2021

Amicus Christian Legal Society, et al. September 27, 2021

Amicus Spiritual Advisors and Former Corrections Officials September 27, 2021

Amicus Former Prison Officials September 27, 2021

Amicus Alliance Defending Freedom September 27, 2021

Amicus Protect the First Foundation September 27, 2021

Amicus Submissions in Support of the Respondents

Amicus Arizona, et al. in Support of Respondents October 15, 2021

Amicus Pablo Castro’s Children October 15, 2021

Amicus Criminal Justice Legal Foundation October 15, 2021

Amicus Submissions in Support of Neither Party

Amicus the United States September 27, 2021

Amicus Freedom from Religion Foundation et al. September 27, 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Supreme Court Grants Realtors’ and Landlords’ Petition for Relief from Stay of Judgment Vacating CDC Eviction Moratorium as Unconstitutional

Alabama Association of Realtors, et al. v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 21A23. Order granting emergency petition for relief from stay issued August 26, 2021.

The Supreme Court has lifted the stay of the United States District Court’s judgment vacating the Center for Disease Control order imposing a nationwide mortatorium on evictions. 

It is not only rare that the Supreme Court would reach down to a trial court to vacate that court’s order during the pendency of appellate litigation, it is even more rare that the Court would so forcefully tip its hand concerning the likely outcome should the merits of the litigation be reached:   The CDC’s exercise of power in issuing the eviction moratorium was so far outside its authority that, with respect to the likelihood of success of the realtors’ and landlords’ challenge, “it is difficult to imagine them losing.”  (Per Curiam opinion, p.5).  

Should a nationwide eviction moratorium remain desirable, Congress must specifically authorize such a measure. 

Three justices dissented, citing changed conditions supporting the issuance of a new eviction moratorium and finding that the statute granting the CDC powers to act to control communicable disease support the eviction moratorium orders.

21A23 Alabama Assn. of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Servs. (08_26_21)