Guest Post

  • June 30, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director, Human Rights Campaign

    Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in two cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Burwell (Hobby Lobby), in which the Justices were asked to decide whether requiring a corporation to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a “substantial burden” on the corporation with religious objections, and whether corporations are covered by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). The Court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations are exempt from complying with the ACA contraception mandate based on religious belief under RFRA.

    The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community watched this decision with bated breath. Though ostensibly about birth control, the potential ramifications of this case could have been far-reaching. Religious beliefs have long been used as a basis to deny LGBT people access to basic civil rights. In the past year alone, more than a dozen states contemplated passing laws that would have permitted business owners to deny LGBT people services if the owner cited religious reasons for their actions. In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg expresses her concern that Hobby Lobby could lead to RFRA being used to permit discrimination against minority groups including LGBT people.

    Yet, in what is otherwise a very damaging decision, the Court expressly attempted to limit the implications of this ruling by explaining, “The principled dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield.” Justice Alito may have chosen race to illustrate his point, but the significance for the LGBT community is clear—employment non-discrimination laws are “precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal” of equal opportunity. Hobby Lobby will NOT serve as a free pass to utilize religion as a means of avoiding laws with which business would rather not comply.

  • June 27, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Daniel Tilley, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Florida; ACS Next Generation Leader

    By now it is cliché to observe that the advancements in equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the past decade or so have been simply astounding. The victories have indeed been incredible, manifested not just in the securing of formal legal equality in some legislative and regulatory bodies but also dramatic shifts in public opinion and major wins in courts and administrative agencies (and, most recently, in President Obama’s announcement of a forthcoming executive order banning workplace discrimination against LGBT employees of federal contractors). This is something to celebrate.

    But the fight is far from over, and complacency is not an option. The triumphs of the past few years have created a sense of inevitability that can serve as a useful advocacy tool but that may also blind us to the challenges that remain ahead. Some things—like marriage for same-sex couples—really are inevitable (and I am proud to be the lead counsel in the ACLU of Florida’s case challenging Florida’s ban on recognizing marriages of same-sex couples); but marriage equality is only inevitable because countless people have been working for decades (and are continuing to work) to make it so. While the marriage equality movement will hopefully be sliding into home plate in one of the next two Supreme Court terms, there remains a long, hard road ahead on other issues.

    For example, many people are still shocked to hear that most states have no laws explicitly prohibiting employers from firing someone simply for being gay or transgender. While litigation will have a role to play in that fight as well, the real heavy lifting will have to be done in state legislatures (and not a single southern state has a non-discrimination law barring discrimination against LGBT people). Despite supermajority support for employment protections for LGBT people, legislatures are fertile ground for the harmful stereotypes and misinformation about LGBT people that continue to exist, thanks in substantial part to the harmful and misguided work of anti-LGBT groups.

  • June 26, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Peter M. Shane, the Jacob E. Davis and Jacob E. Davis II Chair in Law, Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law. This piece is cross-posted on RegBlog, where it was originially published.

    As losses go, NLRB v. Noel Canning is going to be pretty easy for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and future presidents to live with.

    In a 5-to-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Article II’s Recess Appointments Clause empowers presidents to fill vacancies that occur at any time and during any recess—intra-session or intersession—of sufficient length. The Court did invalidate President Obama’s January, 2012, recess appointments of three NLRB members, but only on a narrow two-part rationale. First, a series of pro forma Senate sessions held between December 17, 2011, and January 23, 2012, were effective in dividing this 37-day break into periods of adjournment no longer than three days. Second, periods of intra-session adjournment shorter than 10 days are “presumptively” too short to count as recesses that trigger the president’s recess appointments power. (There is some ambiguity in the majority opinion whether the 10-day rule now applies even to intersession adjournments, which, as far as I know, no party ever argued.) Because of the pro forma sessions – which the D.C. Circuit had not addressed at all – the NLRB owes the Noel Canning Co. a do-over in its unfair labor practice proceeding.

    All in all, it was a good day for the legacy of Chief Justice John Marshall. The majority eschewed implausible claims for the supposed clarity of plainly ambiguous constitutional text, in favor of a constitutional reading that was guided by a history of interbranch practice. Marshall would have approved the Court’s framing of the intra- versus inter-session recess problem:

    The question is not: Did the Founders at the time think about intra-session recesses? Perhaps they did not. The  question is: Did the Founders intend to restrict the scope of the Clause to the form of congressional recess then prevalent, or did they intend a broader scope permitting the Clause to apply, where appropriate, to somewhat changed circumstances? The Founders knew they were writing a document designed to apply to ever-changing circumstances over centuries. After all, a Constitution is “intended to endure for ages to come,” and must adapt itself to a future that can only be “seen dimly,” if at all …We therefore think the Framers likely did intend the Clause to apply to a new circumstance that so clearly falls within its essential purposes, where doing so is consistent with the Clause’s language.

    In short, pragmatism trumped an overconfident textualism.

  • June 25, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Susan Freiwald, Professor of Law, University of San Francisco School of Law

    The Supreme Court faced the specific question in Riley v. California as a matter of first impression – can police search a cell phone’s contents under the “incident to arrest” exception to the warrant requirement?  But several courts have recently established a privacy-protective trend when they addressed the broader question – when does new technology render pre-digital precedents inapposite?  The Supreme Court’s decision fits the trend in two key ways.  First, the Court refused to credit the government’s explanation of the technological challenges it faced, and, instead, relied on its own sophisticated understanding.  Second, the Court recognized the need to evaluate how new technology presents new answers to the inquiries behind the precedents.  Like recent federal appellate cases, and unlike the Court’s decision in United States v. Jones, however, the Riley decision announced a bright line warrant requirement for searches of cell phones that recognized that more nuanced rules would grant law enforcement agents excessive discretion.

    Skepticism towards the government’s arguments about new technology.  In past cases, courts have generally deferred to government lawyers for information about the new technologies agents use and confront in their investigations.  Ex parte litigation and the defense bar’s lack of access has exacerbated an information disadvantage.   For example, the ACLU has recently tried to obtain more information about government use of stingray devices designed to mimic cell towers and obtain location and other personal information.

    In recent cases, however, courts have brought a more jaundiced eye to the government’s claims.  In Riley, the Supreme Court rejected the government’s claim that, without a ruling in its favor, agents would lose crucial information.  Educated by technologists, amici, and academics and other researchers, Justice Roberts explained that agents could merely pop a cell phone in a Faraday bag to protect against remote wiping.  (The opinion does merge encryption with passcode locking).  Nonetheless, the Court’s knowledgeable skepticism reminds me of the Eleventh Circuit’s recent approach to cell site location data in United States v. Davis.  In that case, the court dispensed with the government’s claim that such information is not as invasive as GPS tracking information.  Because phones follow people inside as GPS trackers on their cars do not, the court found even more justification for a reasonable expectation of privacy in cell site location information.   The courts’, and particularly the Supreme Court’s, increased technological savvy represents an important shift. 

    A refusal to “mechanically” extend pre-digital precedents to new technologies.  In past cases, the government has argued that, even though cases involve new technology, they may be easily decided based on prior rules.  The Riley opinion rejected the government’s argument that it could “mechanically” apply the incident-to-arrest exception merely because people carry cell phones the same way they carry cigarette cases.  Instead, the Court reviewed the rationales of protecting officer safety and preserving evidence and determined that neither of them justified the massive privacy intrusion of searching a cell phone without a warrant (at least without exigent circumstances or some other like exception). 

  • June 24, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Justin Pidot, Assistant Professor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Member, Board of Directors, ACS Colorado Lawyer Chapter; Faculty Advisor, University of Denver Sturm College of Law ACS Student Chapter

    The Supreme Court handed down its decision in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA yesterday. While vacating aspects of the EPA’s decision, the Court chose to leave EPA with authority to address the vast majority of the polluters the agency sought to regulate. In so doing, the opinion also offers a twist on the Court’s continuing debate about statutory construction and administrative law. 

    Those needing a  refresher on this case, please refer to my two previous ACSblog posts, here and here. For the purposes of understanding the opinion, suffice it to say that the case involves EPA’s “tailoring rule,” which applies one of the more arcane provisions of the Clean Air Act – the Prevention of Significant Deterioration provisions (or “PSD”) – to greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). In so doing, EPA regulated two categories of sources: those subject to PSD regardless of their GHG emissions (referred to as “anyway sources” because they are already subject to PSD anyway). And those only subject to PSD because of the amount of GHGs they emit.

    The High Court’s View of the Tailoring Rule

    Justice Scalia authored the opinion for the Court, which was largely favorable to EPA despite his staunch opposition to Clean Air Act regulation of greenhouse gases in the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA case. Writing for a seven-member majority, Scalia upheld the tailoring rule’s requirement that “anyway sources” control GHG emissions.  Writing for the conservative bloc of five justices, Scalia also ruled that EPA unreasonably applied PSD to sources that would not be subject to PSD but for their GHG emissions. 

    Practically speaking, this is a significant win for EPA. As Scalia acknowledges, “anyway sources” account for 83 percent of GHG emissions from stationary sources. EPA strenuously defended its authority to regulate “anyway sources”—both in its briefing and at argument—and its emphasis clearly paid off. The sources the Court’s conservatives exempted from the reach of PSD account for only an additional 3 percent of emissions.

    The decision also suggests that seven of the justices now view the issues decided in the Massachusetts v. EPA case as settled. Only Justices Thomas and Alito expressed the view that the case should be overruled.