Tag: Supreme Court

Voting Rights in Massachusetts and Mississippi

During last week’s oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder – the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – Chief Justice Roberts questioned the Solicitor General concerning the rationality of the VRA’s coverage formula (Section 4(b)) by comparing non-covered Massachusetts with Mississippi, which remains subject to federal preclearance based on registration and voting data from 1964.  As the Chief Justice pointed out (page 32 of the transcript), Massachusetts has the “worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout” while Mississippi “has the best.”  Massachusetts likewise “has the greatest disparity in registration between white and African American” while Mississippi is third best in the nation, “where again the African American registration rate is higher than the white registration rate.”

The Chief Justice’s remarks apparently angered the Massachusetts Secretary of State.  According to a Politico story, Secretary William Galvin found it “just disturbing that the chief justice of the United States would spew this kind of misinformation” and that the “2010 numbers don’t support what Roberts is saying.”  Galvin continued: “He’s wrong, and in fact what’s truly disturbing is not just the doctrinaire way he presented by the assertion, but when we went searching for an data that could substantiate what he was saying, the only thing we could find was a census survey pulled from 2010 … which speaks of noncitizen blacks … .  We reached out to academics at many institutions … and they could find no record either, they were puzzled by [Roberts’s] reference.”

But it’s Secretary Galvin who has his facts wrong—a mistake he could have avoided simply by reviewing the lower court decision that the Supreme Court is considering.  In his dissenting opinion, D.C. Circuit Judge Stephen Williams examined the voter registration and voting statistics from the 2004 presidential election – not the 2010 mid-term elections—because it was the last national election before Congress reenacted Section 5 in 2006.  The question the Supreme Court is considering—which seems to be lost on Galvin – is whether Congress acted appropriately in retaining the same coverage formula that has been in place since 1975 despite significant changes in the country.  To answer that question, the Court must of course look at the statistics that were in the 2006 legislative record. And those statistics, which are publicly available and come directly from the Census Bureau, fully vindicate the Chief Justice’s statement.

Supreme Court Could Also Strike Down DOMA on Federalism Grounds

One of the more interesting and potentially influential amicus briefs in United States v. Windsor, the case challenging DOMA Section 3, is one filed by a group of federalism scholars, all of whom have some connection to Cato and/or are generally sympathetic to the positions we take at the Center for Constitutional Studies. As Dale Carpenter puts it on the Volokh Conspiracy blog:

Today I’m proud to join three of my co-Conspirators — Jonathan Adler, Randy Barnett, and Ilya Somin — as well as Ernie Young and Lynn Baker in filing an amicus brief in United States v. Windsor arguing that DOMA Section 3 is unconstitutional. While this conclusion is shared by 69% of constitutional law professors around the country, our route to that end is probably not as widely shared.

Our view is that Section 3 fails equal protection review for a reason quite distinct from the standard approaches relying on heightened-scrutiny analysis.  Whatever else may be its constitutional defects, Section 3 is not a constitutional exercise of any enumerated federal power.  It is also not a “necessary and proper” measure to carry into execution any of Congress’s enumerated powers.  Instead, it is an unprecedented expansion of federal authority into a domain traditionally controlled by the states.  The federal government claims a hitherto unknown and sweeping power to determine marital and family status.  While Congress has not (yet?) claimed a statutory authority to bar states from recognizing specific marriages, it has greatly complicated and burdened their police power to do so through the enforcement of DOMA. It may well be that Congress has authority to limit access to specific federal benefits otherwise available to validly married people.  But Section 3, as an across-the-board enactment untethered to any specific power, is not plainly adapted to serve any “legitimate” interest of the federal government.

This may be an appealing argument for those on the Court who take federalism seriously and have a problem with Section 3 but may not be ready to extend the constitutional right to marry to same-sex couples. Coincidentally, the justice most likely to fall into that category is Anthony Kennedy—who will almost certainly be the swing vote in these cases—but the four “conservative” justices could also sign on to something like this even as they vehemently reject the broader constitutional argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry (the Prop 8 case) or in future cases challenging state denials of marriage licenses.  The four “liberal” justices, meanwhile, don’t care about limiting federal power through constitutional structure, but will presumably vote to strike down Section 3 on equal protection grounds.

Indeed, as I wrote in December, “I could see an opinion stating that marriage is an issue that our federal system leaves to the states and the federal government has to respect each state’s definition of it in granting benefits based on that status. That would mean that federal benefits would operate differently in different states, but so be it; gay married couples would have an incentive to live in the growing number of states that recognize their relationships.”

This federalism argument may ultimately be too clever because the federal government certainly does have the power to define the terms in its statutes, which would collapse the issue in Windsor back to whether the restriction on DOMA’s definition of marriage survives equal protection analysis (on which see Cato’s brief). It would also probably be a mere way-station on the road to full marriage equality, becoming increasingly academic as more states allow same-sex marriage. But, as I said, it’s more likely to resonate with certain members of the Court—and could have the potentially more important benefit of strengthening federalism in other areas of policy.

It would also mean the striking down of arguably the most signficiant federal law on federalism grounds in the modern era. We shall see.

“Equality Under the Law” Requires State-Sanctioned Marriage to Be Available to Same-Sex Couples

The idea of equality under the law dates back to the foundations of democracy and the ancient Greek word “isonomia.” “Equal justice under law” remains so essential today that it is engraved in the cornice of the Supreme Court building.

In 1868, Congress and the states codified this important ideal into the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment: “No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” As the text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment plainly show, the Equal Protection Clause guarantees to all persons — regardless of race, sex, or any other group characteristics — equality under the law, including the legal right to marry the person of one’s choosing.

In 2008, however, California voters passed Proposition 8, a ballot initiative reversing a California Supreme Court ruling that had authorized same-sex marriage and restricting the right to marry to opposite-sex couples only. Both the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional, for reasons ranging from the violation of a fundamental right to the impropriety of removing rights/benefits once granted.

With the case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, now before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Cato Institute has joined the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) on an amicus brief that focuses on supporting marriage equality under the Equal Protection Clause. Our brief explains that the purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was not exclusively to address the disparaged rights of former slaves but, as the historical record shows, was intended to be universal in its protection of “any person” within U.S. jurisdiction.

The broad and sweeping guarantee of legal equality was understood at the time to secure and protect the equal rights of all individuals, so as to prohibit arbitrary and invidious discrimination. The framers of the Fourteenth Amendment understood marriage to be a personal, individual right that, when established by a state, must be made available on an equal basis to all.

Moreover, the Constitution also protects fundamental rights against state infringement under the substantive liberty provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. Decades of Supreme Court cases protecting the equal right to marry — without regard to race, being behind on child support payments, or even imprisonment — have been rooted in both the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee of equality under the law and the Fourteenth Amendment’s broader liberty protections, which converge in securing for all persons an equal right to marry.

Prop. 8 denies gays and lesbians the liberty to marry the person of their own choosing, places a badge of inferiority on same-sex couples’ loving relationships and family life (with the full authority of the state behind it), and perpetrates an impermissible injury to these individuals’ personal dignity. It thus directly subverts the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, and is an affront to the inalienable right to pursue one’s own happiness that has guided our nation since its founding.

We urge the Supreme Court, which will hear Perry on March 26, to invalidate Prop. 8 as a violation of the foundational guarantee that all persons shall have equality under the law.

See also my op-ed with CAC’s Doug Kendall, which further explains our reasoning – and stay tuned for another joint brief tomorrow in United States v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act case also on the Court’s docket this term.

Supreme Court Rejects Roving License to Detain People Incident to Far-Away Search

While the Fourth Amendment may not have passed the smell test in one Supreme Court ruling yesterday – which problem would effectively go away if we ended the Drug War – it handily survived questionable police tactics in a far more important case, Bailey v. United States.  

In Bailey, the Court rejected the argument that police should be able to detain someone anywhere at any time if they see that person exiting a location for which there’s a valid search warrant.  Instead, by a 6-3 vote in an opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court ruled that the power to detain incident to the execution of a search warrant – established in the 1981 case of Michigan v. Summers – is limited to the “immediate vicinity” of the premises to be searched.  

The police may want broader detention powers, but none of the justifications for the Summers exception to the normal probable cause requirement – officer safety, facilitating the search, preventing flight – remain in cases where police detain someone beyond that immediate vicinity.  In Bailey, police saw the defendent leave a home they were about to search and, rather than detaining him there and executing the search warrant, followed and subsequently stopped him nearly a mile away. 

As I wrote last summer when Cato joined the ACLU in filing a brief in the case, the government’s argument here had to fail for at least three reasons: 

First, the extension of Summers lacks any limiting principles to the power to detain without probable cause.  A warrant to search a particular place would be transformed into a roving license to detain any person thought to be associated with that place.

Second, the attempt to establish a limiting principle by requiring the detention to occur “as soon as practicable” is inconsistent with the underlying values of the Fourth Amendment and provides no clear guidance to officers.

Third, the extension of Summers is unnecessary to ensure that officers maintain control of the premises during a search.  The detention of an individual away from the searched premises is merely a means of holding someone pending the speculative emergence of probable cause.

The Supreme Court agreed, albeit with an unusual trio of dissenting justices: Stephen Breyer, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

Congratulations to Kannon Shanmugam, the co-author of the “Looking Ahead” piece in last year’s Cato Supreme Court Review, who argued Bailey.  (Full disclosure: My fiancee, Kristin Feeley, was on the briefs – so congratulations to her too.)

The Second Amendment Protects Both Keeping and Bearing Arms

Even before its recent enactment of ill-advised and (at least partially) unconstitutional gun-control measures, New York was no stranger to draconian restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. The Empire State, like most states, requires a license to carry a handgun outside of one’s home, but differs from many by requiring prospective licensees to show “proper cause” before obtaining a license. State officials have broad discretion in finding such proper cause, which for non-celebrities typically requires proof of extraordinary personal danger documented by threats to one’s life — effectively leaving criminals, bodyguards, and retired law enforcement officers as the only armed civilians in public places.
 
Unable to make such a showing and thus denied licenses, a diverse group of New Yorkers, represented by Alan Gura — who successfully argued District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) at the Supreme Court — filed suit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the licensing scheme. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the law after purportedly applying “intermediate scrutiny,” which allows a challenged statute to survive only if it is “substantially related to the achievement of an important governmental interest.”
 
But the Second Circuit gave short thrift to the Second Amendment, treating New York’s restrictions as garden-variety legislation rather than measures infringing on a core constitutional right. In legal terms, the court effectively employed “rational-basis review,” which simply requires legislation to be rationally related to a legitimate government interest. Instead of requiring the state to show that its restriction on carrying firearms for basic self-defense has some concrete connection to public safety and crime prevention, the court deferred to the political branches by finding that assessing “the risks and benefits of handgun possession” and creating licensing schemes are “precisely the type of discretionary judgment[s] that officials in the legislative and executive branches of state government regularly make.”
 
The plaintiffs have now asked the Supreme Court to review that ruling and provide guidance to all lower courts regarding how to evaluate laws in tension with the Second Amendment. Today, Cato filed a brief supporting that petition. Like any constitutional right, the Second Amendment has no force absent a clear jurisprudential doctrine that ensures its enforcement. While the Second Circuit has applied a very deferential standard, other courts have expounded different doctrines since the Supreme Court ruled in Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. For example, the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit demands that a restriction on Second Amendment rights satisfy a heightened level of scrutiny that requires “an extremely strong public-interest justification and a close fit between the government’s means and its end.” Given divergent lower-court rulings and the current political climate, the Second Amendment is in dire need of a clarified and robust standard of review — much like that afforded other constitutional rights, requiring federal and state governments to prove that laws infringing those rights are narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest. Whatever the standard of review may ultimately turn out to be, Kachalsky v. Cacacse provides an excellent vehicle for the Supreme Court to pronounce it — and to show that the Second Amendment protects more than the right to keep a gun in one’s home.

Will Debate Constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act — Anytime, Anywhere

Three years ago, some law professors were having a hard timing finding someone to debate the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate.  I naively stepped up to the plate, which resulted in over 100 debates, speeches, panels, and public events (and, as we know, an invalidation of the mandate but salvage of the relevant provision in the form of a tax).

Now we see a similar predicament with respect to Section 5 of the Voting Right Act, the provision that effectively makes the federal government a proconsul with respect to election administration in a seemingly random assortment of states, counties, and towns around the country.  As I’ve blogged and written in a Supreme Court brief, Section 5’s extraordinary powers were justified only under Jim Crow’s exceptional conditions; the Voting Rights Act’s success in eradicating those conditions has happily obviated Section 5’s constitutional legitimacy.  (As I noted more recently, and wrote in another brief, Section 2 has its problems as well.)

Yet my view isn’t shared in legal academia – surprise, surprise – and a leading election law scholar posits that “the case for Section 5’s constitutionality is so clear that the liberal election law professors simply have the better of the argument!”  Three weeks before the Supreme Court hears argument in the pivotal case of Shelby County v. Holder, there is apparently a dearth of scholars willing to speak out against this egregious violation of federalism and equal protection.

Well, in the words of How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson, challenge accepted!

I may not be full-time faculty anywhere – is that a negative? – but I hereby announce that I will travel anywhere at anytime to debate the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Whoever sets up the debate has to pay my travel expenses and take me out to a nice dinner, but that’s it.  Any takers?

Modern Voting Rights Act Takes Another Constitutional Stumble

In 2009, Irving, Texas, was forced to redraw its city council districts after a federal court held that its multi-member-district system discriminated against Hispanic voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which protects the rights of racial and linguistic minorities to elect their preferred candidates (whatever that means). Following complex Section 2 precedent, the court employed the requisite “citizen of voting age population” (CVAP) standard and found that, in the absence of at-large elections, Irving’s Hispanic voters could have constituted their own majority district.

When Irving finished redrawing its map, the total population count of residents inhabiting each district was roughly equal and one was indeed majority-Hispanic. Because the redistricting process used total population instead of CVAP, however, that particular district had a significant concentration of non-citizen residents. A relatively small constituency of eligible voters in that district thus had their votes so “over-weighted” that their voting power was effectively double that of voters in the other districts (which, again, were similarly populated but had twice the number of eligible voters).

Irving citizens sued the city, alleging violations of their voting rights as guaranteed by the one-person, one-vote (OPOV) principle under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a dismissal of these claims, following circuit precedent holding that the decision to use either total population or CVAP when applying OPOV should be left to elected officials’ discretion. Astonishingly, even though courts are required to use CVAP when examining Section 2 racial-discrimination claims—see above—the Fifth Circuit completely ignored the CVAP disparities in the redrawn districting plan.

Cato has now filed an amicus brief supporting the Irving citizens’ request that the Supreme Court take the case. We have frequently argued that courts confront a “bloody crossroads” when trying to reconcile the modern Voting Rights Act with the Constitution. Here, not only has the Fifth Circuit illustrated the tension between Section 2 and the Fourteenth Amendment, but similar rulings in the Fourth and Ninth Circuits—either deferring to the political branches or precluding the use of CVAP altogether—have heightened the conflict.

The Fourteenth Amendment and OPOV are emphatically within the province of the judiciary to enforce. We thus urge the Court to review the intolerable contradiction that arises when Section 2, intended to enforce the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, is used to violate OPOV.

While once a functional proxy for equalizing the voting strength of eligible voters, the total population metric has become imprecise and outmoded. In areas with high concentrations of non-citizen, non-voter residents, it can conceal substantive demographic differences that undermine the principle of voter equality. CVAP, by contrast, is the most precise measure of the substantive electoral equality and the proper means for reconciling the conflict between Section 2 and the Fourteenth Amendment.

The name of the case is Lepak v. City of Irving. The city and certain activist groups that have intervened in the case will now file their opposition to the petition for review, and then the Supreme Court will decide this spring whether to take the case and set it for argument in the fall.