February 2017

  • February 24, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Joseph Blocher, Professor of Law, Duke Law School

    Last week, the en banc Eleventh Circuit struck down a Florida law limiting doctors’ freedom to speak to their patients about guns. The decision in Wollschlaeger v. Governor—also known as the “Docs v. Glocks” case—is a victory for the First Amendment, and no threat to the Second.

    The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians all encourage their members to ask patients about firearms in the home, and to stress the importance of firearm safety. In 2011, based on what the court characterized as “six anecdotes” of patients complaining about doctors’ questions or comments about guns, Florida adopted the Firearms Owners’ Privacy Act, which restricted doctors’ ability to speak with their patients about firearms.

    As Eugene Volokh has explained, the law limited doctors’ ability to ask patients whether they own guns, generally forbade them to record disclosed information about gun ownership, and banned them from “unnecessarily harassing a patient about firearm ownership during an examination.”

    Each of these provisions, the Eleventh Circuit held, violates the First Amendment—even if they are not considered to be viewpoint-discriminatory, and even if evaluated under heightened rather than strict scrutiny. (The court severed and upheld a separate provision providing that doctors “may not discriminate against a patient based solely upon the patient’s exercise of the constitutional right to own and possess firearms or ammunition.”)

    Free speech advocates will find this result unsurprising, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s decision 2015 in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which indicated a broad scope for the content-discrimination principle and the strict scrutiny that comes with it. And yet Wollschlaeger has drawn a great deal of attention, in part due to the common misperception that it presents a conflict between the First and Second Amendments.

  • February 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Harper Jean Tobin, Director of Policy, National Center for Transgender Equality

    Gavin Grimm, a high school senior in Virginia, had to sit through two public school board meetings during his sophomore year while his neighbors openly discussed his body parts and restroom use while pointedly referring to him as a “young lady,” calling him a “freak,” or comparing him to someone who thinks he is a dog. Gavin is a transgender boy. He had used the boys’ restroom at school for weeks with the full support of his fellow students before those school board meetings, where the school district ultimately decided to bar him from the boys’ restroom. For the over two years since then, Gavin has had to make a “walk of shame” to the nurse’s office each time he needs to use the restroom, a daily reminder that his school thinks he isn’t worthy of being treated like his peers.

    There are hundreds of thousands of transgender students like Gavin in schools all across the country. K–12 schools, as well as colleges and universities, began developing policies over a decade ago to answer everyday questions about supporting transgender students. Today, over 40 percent of U.S. K­­–12 students attend schools with local policies or statewide laws or guidelines that clearly support transgender students’ rights to learn in a safe environment and be treated according to their gender identity, including when it comes to using facilities. 

    Enter Title IX. Starting in 1999, a growing number of federal courts began to rule that federal sex discrimination laws applied to discrimination against transgender people. The rulings relied on two major Supreme Court precedents: Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989), which held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), which stated that Title VII applies to any gender-based discrimination, not just specific scenarios Congress imagined in 1964. Eventually, five federal appeals courts and over a dozen district courts agreed that Title VII, Title IX, and other sex discrimination laws applied to anti-transgender bias, while only a handful disagreed.

  • February 23, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Louise Melling, Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Center for Liberty at the ACLU

    Religious freedom protects the right to our beliefs.  But does it protect the right of institutions to discriminate? The ACLU, staunch defender of religious liberty, says no. The answer for United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch appears to be yes. It is the province and duty of the Senate to press Judge Gorsuch on his stance during the confirmation hearings, as this question promises to be central to significant cases likely to come before Court in the near future.

    The opinions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit that Judge Gorsuch joined and authored addressing Religious Freedom Restoration Act challenges to the contraceptive coverage rule of the Affordable Care Act raise troubling questions about his understanding of religious liberty, principles of equality, and their intersection.  Three points are worth noting.

    First, and most significant, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Tenth Circuit, ruling en banc, gave short shrift, and even embraced the harms, to women that would result were the rule enjoined as to Hobby Lobby.  The court acknowledged that women denied coverage (in that case to four methods of contraception) would suffer an economic burden, but went on to say, “Accommodations for religion frequently operate by lifting a burden from the accommodated party and placing it elsewhere.”   In other words, the court, with Judge Gorsuch joining, accepted that employees should bear the cost of their employer’s religion.

    That’s a position the Supreme Court declined to embrace in its Hobby Lobby decision. The Court affirmed the Tenth Circuit and ruled for the arts and crafts giant, but its ruling, unlike that of the Tenth Circuit, rested on the premise that the government could extend the accommodation it provided to religiously affiliated nonprofit entities to for-profit companies. Critically, that accommodation was designed to ensure that employees would continue to receive seamless coverage of contraception from the insurer. In the Court’s opinion, the effect then on “the women employed by Hobby Lobby … involved in these cases would be precisely zero.” The same cannot be said under the Tenth Circuit’s reasoning, which Judge Gorsuch joined.

  • February 22, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts*

    To pay for the hallmarks of a decent middle-class life, American families have found it increasingly necessary to borrow money. We tell our children that a college degree is essential for their success in the modern economy, but few students can afford the ever-increasing costs of higher education without incurring student loans. (1) We extoll the virtues and benefits of homeownership, but the high cost of housing requires most homeowners to have a mortgage loan. (2) As middle-class wages have remained stagnant, consumers have looked to credit to pay for essential expenses like transportation, medical bills, and childcare. As a result, many American households find themselves deeply in debt.

    Too often, these debts have proven to be disastrous. Countless students sought to learn essential job skills and borrowed heavily to do so, but instead became the victims of high-cost, fraudulent, for-profit schools that offered no meaningful vocational training. (3) Homeowners across the country are still grappling with the consequences of the predatory subprime mortgage loans that caused the financial crisis of 2008. (4) While debt may allow some families to succeed, debt cripples the aspirations and ambitions of many others— approximately seventy-seven million Americans have at least one delinquent debt on their credit report. (5) 

    Given the challenges that consumer debt poses to the economic security of so many people, I applaud the Harvard Law & Policy Review for devoting this issue to discussing the rights and obligations of creditors and debtors and to the appropriate policy responses to America’s ongoing struggles with debt.

  • February 22, 2017
    Guest Post

    This piece originally appeared on The Guardian

    by Joshua Matz, Associate at Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber LLP

    It is not every day that a federal court cites Ex parte Endo, the 1944 Supreme Court decision which invalidated the detention of loyal, law-abiding Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. But these are not ordinary times.

    Shortly after taking office, President Donald J. Trump unleashed pandemonium by suddenly announcing a temporary ban on travel into the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations, in addition to a temporary ban on all refugees. Experts cried foul, warning that Trump’s order violated the constitution and made America less safe.

    Amid vigils and protests, federal courts issued a flurry of rulings against Trump’s order. The broadest ruling was issued by Judge James Robart, who Trump promptly denounced on Twitter.

    On Feb. 7, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard oral argument on an emergency motion to overturn Judge Robart. More than 130,000 people live-streamed the hearing.

    The Department of Justice represented Trump in the court of appeals and took several astonishing positions. Most remarkably, it warned that “judicial second-guessing of the President’s national security determination in itself imposes substantial harm on the federal government and the nation at large.”

    Trump (through his tweets) and his lawyers (in their briefs) thus argued not only that Trump should win on appeal, but that judges would cause grave harm merely by questioning his order.