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

 

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

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

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)

 

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

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

 

Not Quite Down Pat: New First Amendment Bivens Action Emerges from TSA Employees’ Interference with Recording of “Pat Down” Search

Dyer v. Smith et al., No. 3:19-cv-921 (E.D. Va.) February 23, 2021


The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia recently denied transportation security agents’ motion to dismiss in a suit precipitated by the agents’ insistence that a travelling couple stop  video recording agents patting down — physically searching outside the clothes — one partner, and that anything already recorded be destroyed. 

The federal district court reviewed and rejected factors cautioning against expansion of Bivens actions, observing that the law is clear not only through decisions but also by custom that there exists a recognized First Amendment right to gather news and, as a corollary proposition, to record officials in the conduct of official business.  The court concluded that in the absence of any available remedy, the couple’s Bivens action may proceed.  

JustLawful Observation:  This straightforward summary may provoke an “of course!” response, but that response might be a bit hasty, given that the court recognized a new Bivens action, when in the wake of Hernadez v. Mesa, 528 U.S. ____ (2020), decided during the last Supreme Court term, it was thought that Bivens actions would soon be unicorns:  fanciful but imaginary.

Counsel for the transportation agents thinks so, too, and is pursuing interlocutory review.E.D. Virginia Opinion:

Dyer v Smith, No. 3:19-cv-921 (E.D. Va.) February 23, 2021

Request for Interlocutory Review:

Dyer v. Smith, No. 3:19-cv-921. Defendants’ Memorandum Supporting Motion to Certify Interlocutory Review

Recent U.S. Supreme Court Consideration of Bivens Actions:

Hernandez v Mesa, 528 U.S. , 140 SCt 735, 206 LEd2d 29 (2020)

Commentary on the Future of Bivens Actions

SCOTUS Sharply Limits Bivens Claims—and Hints at Further Retrenchment. Robertson, C. ABA Practice Points. April, 2020.

The Preacher Talked to Me and He Smiled: Supreme Court Upholds Injunction Permitting Minister’s Presence at Alabama Prisoner’s Execution

Commissioner v. Smith, No. 20A128, 592 U.S. ____ (February 11, 2021).


Justice Kagan, with three others, has opined that Alabama failed to meet the strict scrutiny test applicable under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Alabama’s global prohibition on ministerial presence at execution substantially burdens a prisoner’s religious exercise, and Alabama failed to demonstrate that this preclusion is the least restrictive means of advancing the compelling state interest in prison security.  As such, the injunction permitting the prisoner to have a religious presence at execution is proper and will not be dissolved.

Justice Thomas, without writing separately,  would have granted the petition to dissolve the injunction.

Justice Kavanaugh and Chief Justice Roberts would grant the petition as reflecting a non-discriminatory policy, but would encourage states to implement measures that would fulfill requests such as the inmate’s here and thereby avoid protracted litigation. 

 

Commissioner v. Smith, 20a128, 592 U.S.__(February 11, 2021)




Supreme Court Holds Federal Officials May Be Liable Individually for Damages for Violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act


Tanzin, et al. v. Tanvir, et al., No. 19-71.  Opinion issued December 10, 2020.


The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) was Congress’ attempt to re-introduce the highest standard of review for analyses of the constitutionality of laws that burden religion.  To survive a RFRA challenge, a measure that substantially burdens religious exercise must serve a compelling government interest by the least restrictive means. 

Prior to the enactment of RFRA, Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), a decision that remains both widely criticized and widely discussed, held that in general there is no constitutional offense to be found in generally applicable neutral laws that may incidentally burden religion. Enacted in 1993, RFRA was intended to restore the higher standard of review that Smith was perceived to have eroded.  

The scope of available remedies provided but not enumerated in RFRA is the subject of the case just decided, in which the plaintiffs objected to the government’s having placed them on “no fly” lists because, they asserted, they refused to act as informants for religious communities for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  

Plaintiffs sued federal officials in their individual capacities.  Claims for injunctive relief were mooted by their removal from “no fly” lists, but plaintiffs would not abandon their claims for money damages.

The trial court that dismissed the claims for monetary damages was reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which concluded that the language of RFRA providing “appropriate relief” to claimants and permitting actions against “the government” includes federal officials in their individual capacities.  The Supreme Court has agreed. 

Justice Thomas has proffered a textual analysis in support of the Court’s decision to reject the government’s argument that “government” as used in RFRA is limited to acts of officials in their official capacities, and that “government” cannot extend to the individual assets of federal employees which would be reached to satisfy judgments.

An ordinary and limited meaning of a word in a statute changes where Congress chooses to change the use of the word, Justice Thomas observed.  RFRA expands the definition of “government” to include officials or persons acting under color of law.

Officials are “persons” who are answerable under RFRA and judgments against them can be considered to be relief against the government.

Moreover, the “under color of law” language that appears in RFRA echoes the language of a principal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, which has been interpreted to apply to suits against officials in their official capacities. 

In general, “appropriate relief” may be fashioned according to context, but from common law forward money damages against officials have been available even where the sovereign itself is immune from suit.

In addition, although the 1988 Westfall Act precludes common law claims against federal officials, constitutional and statutory remedies are preserved.

Just as the language of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 is an appropriate source of comparison for analysis of the scope of a cause of action under RFRA, so does the availability of money damages under Section 1983 serve as support for recognizing claims for money damages under RFRA. 

This is all the more apt, Justice Thomas states, where Section 1983 permits relief for violations of First Amendment interests.  In that RFRA was intended to return the law to the status quo ante Smith, monetary damages should be available in service of that end, to re-establish and to maintain a full panoply of relief.  

Congress did not limit redress under RFRA to equitable remedies, although it could have, and it is plain that such remedies will not be adequate, and hence not appropriate, Justice Thomas concluded, where costs have been incurred and losses occasioned which cannot be cured by any form of injunctive relief.

Neither the spectre of separation of powers concerns nor the desire for a presumption against monetary damages, as raised by the government, can transform those questions into matters for judicial intervention, the Court continued, where addressing such questions is the province of the legislative branch. 

With policy soundly committed to Congress, the Court noted that its decision does not in any way diminish the availability of qualified immunity defenses. 

JustLawful Observation:  The brevity of this opinion ought not be confused with the scope of its potential reach.  At a minimum, it will have all officialdom on its toes when it comes to matters impacting religion.

19-71 Tanzin v. Tanvir (12_10_2020)

Back to Bakke: First Circuit Finds No Error in Harvard’s Admissions Practices


Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College, No. 19-2005 (1st Cir.)  November 12, 2020.


An advocacy group, questioning whether Harvard College’s admissions practices were unlawfully racially based, brought suit in federal district court.  The group was unsuccessful there and that result has not been disturbed on appeal.  

In general, racial ‘balancing’ in admissions practices is impermissible, as it is little other than impermissible racial “quota” practices by another name, but the same ratio of applicants to admissions over time does not necessarily reflect a quota.

Over a ten year period, Harvard’s racial percentages fell within a narrow range.  Harvard utilized one page summaries to illustrate the racial composition of classes.  

The court found that the number of admitted Asian applicants increased from 3.4% in 1980 to 20..6 in 2019 while applicants ranged from 4.1% in 1980 to 22.5% in 2014.  Without elaboration, the court concluded that this is inconsistent with a quota.  The court observed that the proportion of asian applicants to Asian admissions remained consistent over time.  

The court observed that stasis in the composition of classes reflects stasis in the pool of applicants.  Without more, the First Circuit found no error in the district court’s determination that neither quotas or balancing were in play in Harvard’s admissions procedures.  

The First Circuit found unobjectionable Harvard’s continuous monitoring of admissions as permissible in supporting its diversity goals without evidencing balancing or quota practices

The student advocacy group argued that Harvard applied race as a “mechanical plus” precluding individual considerations and permitting race as a decisive factor in admissions.

Where race can benefit any applicant and where race is individualized, mechanica arguments fail.  The court observed that racial diversity is not exclusive and has no more prominence than other diversity in Harvard’s contextualized admission practices.  The court found Harvard’s practices, which do not employ an impermissible fixed “points” practice, to be holistic with race, neither mechanical nor decisive.

The First Circuit upheld rejection of the argument that race was decisive because other racial groups were admitted in greater numbers than Asians of high academic achievement.  

The First Circuit noted that Supreme Court precedent has permitted racial impact greater than that evidenced by Harvar.  In one case, eliminating race as an admissions criteria would cause a 72.4% decrease in minority admissions, while in this case the change would be 45%, less than that permitted in the first case. 

The First Circuit stressed that race cannot be decisive for minimally qualified applicants but in this case race is not decisive for highly qualified applicants in a competitive process.  

The First Circuit rejected the perception of the United states government as amicus that Harvard considers race at every step of its admissions process.  The First Circuit rejected the United States’ premise that race may be considered only at only point in the admissions process and found that holistic considerations, including race, may be part of the admissions process throughout.  

Similarly, the First Circuit found unavailing the argument that the Supreme Court has found that race as a consideration must have a  stopping point because this exhortation was never mentioned in subsequent Supreme Court opinions.  

Precedent has never required universities to define an end point for the utilization of race as an admissions criteria and there is no error in Harvard’s not setting a ceiling on admissions.

Harvard’s having crafted, considered, and yet rejected as unworkable proffered alternatives to race in its admissions process does not mean that its evaluations were defective or inadequate.  

The First Circuit rejected the claim that Harvard impermissibly treated Asian students less favorably than others.

The presence of some subjectivity in admissions will not establish intentional discrimination, the First Circuit found, citing early discussion fo flexible admissions systems.  Any risk of subjective bias training the admissions process is mitigated by the requirement that admission cannot occur except through the vote of a majority of forty members of an admissions committee.  

The appellate court found unobjectionable the district court’s failure to find flawed as stereotypical references to Asians as “quiet,” “flat,” or other terms where such language was used concerning applicants from other groups. 

The court found no error in changes to admissions rating guidance to employees that race may not be considered an admissions rating criteria, nor was an increase in Asian admissions after the initiation of litigation as guidance is reviewed probative of discrimiation, as admissions guidance is reviewed and revised annually and Asan admissions have been increasing steadily over time.

Worries over inclusion or exclusion of personal ratings were dismissed by the court although the student advocacy group attempted to demonstrate that while inclusion of personal rating did not impact the likelihood of an Asian applicant’s admission the exclusion of this information would have a negative impact.

The essence of correlation between the rating and admission does not compel a finding of causation or ‘influence.’  

The district court did not err in considering several sources of evidence indicating that correlation but not causation was established.  The First Circuit upheld the district court’s conclusion that whether or not the personal rating is included in admission has no material effect, varies over time, and is not always negative.  

The district court opined that implicit bias was possible for unsupported and speculation about the explanation for significant variance in modes. The First Circuit found this exploration would not compel setting aside, as plain error, the conclusion that there was no intentional discrimination.  

Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard College, No. 19-1-01A (1st Cir.) November 12, 2020