John Roberts

Sonia Sotomayor, John Roberts, and the Riley Decision

In a piece just published at Salon, I look at John Roberts’ citation in his Riley v. California decision of Sonia Sotomayor’s concurrence in US v. Jones, the opinion every privacy argument has invoked since she wrote it two years ago. I argue Roberts uses it to adopt her argument that digital searches are different.

A different part of Sotomayor’s concurrence, arguing that the existing precedent holding that you don’t have a privacy interest in data you’ve given to a third party “is ill suited to the digital age,” has been invoked repeatedly in privacy debates since she wrote it. That’s especially true since the beginning of Edward Snowden’s leaks. Lawsuits against the phone dragnet often cite that passage, arguing that the phone dragnet is precisely the kind of intrusion that far exceeds the intent of old precedent. And the courts have – with the exception of one decision finding the phone dragnet unconstitutional – ruled that until a majority on the Supreme Court endorses this notion, the old precedents hold.

Roberts cited from a different part of Sotomayor’s opinion, discussing how much GPS data on our movements reveals about our personal lives. That appears amid a discussion in which he cites things that make cellphones different: the multiple functions they serve, the different kinds of data we store in the same place, our Web search terms, location and apps that might betray political affiliation, health data or religion. That is, in an opinion joined by all his colleagues, the chief justice repeats Sotomayor’s argument that the sheer volume of this information makes it different.

Roberts’ argument here goes beyond both Antonin Scalia’s property-based opinion and Sam Alito’s persistence-based opinion in US v. Jones.

Which seems to fulfill what I predicted in my original analysis of US v. Jones — that the rest of the Court might come around to Sotomayor’s thinking in her concurrence (which, at the time, no one joined).

Sotomayor, IMO, is the only one ready to articulate where all this is heading. She makes it clear that she sides with those that see a problem with electronic surveillance too.

I would take these attributes of GPS monitoring into account when considering the existence of a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements. I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on.

[snip]

I would also consider the appropriateness of entrusting to the, in the absence of any oversight from a coordinate branch, a tool so amenable to misuse, especially in light of the Fourth Amendment’s goal to curb arbitrary exercises of police power to and prevent“a too permeating police surveillance,”

And in a footnote, makes a broader claim about the current expectation of privacy than Alito makes.

Owners of GPS-equipped cars and smartphones do not contemplate that these devices will be used to enable covert surveillance of their movements.

Ultimately, the other Justices have not tipped their hand where they’ll come down on more generalized issues of cell phone based surveillance. Sotomayor’s opinion actually doesn’t go much further than Scalia claims to when he says they can return to Katz on such issues–but obviously none of the other Republicans joined her opinion. And all those who joined Alito’s opinion seem to be hiding behind the squishy definitions that will allow them to flip flop when the Administration invokes national security.

Sotomayor’s importance to this decision likely goes beyond laying this groundwork two years ago.

There’s evidence that Sotomayor had a more immediate impact on this case. In a recent speech — as reported by Adam Serwer, who recalled this comment after yesterday’s opinion — Sotomayor suggested she had to walk her colleagues through specific aspects of the case they didn’t have the life experience to understand.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue opinions on many of its biggest cases this term, and Sotomayor offered few hints about how the high court might rule. She did use an example of a recent exchange from oral argument in a case involving whether or not police can search the cell phones of arrestees without a warrant to explain the importance of personal experience in shaping legal judgments.
“One of my colleagues asked, ‘who owns two cell phones, why would anybody?’ In a room full of government lawyers, each one of them has two cell phones,” Sotomayor said to knowing laughter from the audience. “My point is that issue was remedied very quickly okay, that misimpression was.”
The colleague was Chief Justice John Roberts, who along with Justice Antonin Scalia,seemed skeptical during oral arguments in Wurie v. United States that anyone but a drug dealer would need two cell phones.

“That’s why it’s important to have people with different life experiences,” Sotomayor said. ”Especially on a court like the Supreme Court, because we have to correct each other from misimpressions.”

In my Salon piece, I suggest that some years from today, some Court observer (I had Jeffrey Toobin in mind) will do a profile of how Sotomayor has slowly brought her colleagues around on what the Fourth Amendment needs to look like in the digital age.

I come away from this opinion with two strong hunches. First, that years from now, some esteemed court watcher will describe how Sonia Sotomayor has gradually been persuading her colleagues that they need to revisit privacy, because only she would have written this opinion two years ago.

Of course, it likely took Roberts writing the opinion to convince colleagues like Sam Alito. Roberts wrapped it up in nice originalist language, basically channeling James Madison with a smart phone. That’s something that surely required Roberts’ stature and conservatism to pull off.

But if this does serve as a renewed Fourth Amendment, with all the heft that invoking the Founders gives it, I’ll take it.

Riley Meets the Dragnet: Does “Inspection” amount to “Rummaging”?

It’s clear today’s decision in Riley v. California will be important in the criminal justice context. What’s less clear is its impact for national security dragnets.

To answer the question, though, we should remember that question really amounts to several. Does it affect the existing phone dragnet, which aspires to collect the phone records of every person in the US? Does it affect the government’s process of collecting massive amounts of data from which to cull an individual’s data to make up a “fingerprint” that can be used for targeting and other purposes? Will it affect the program the government plans to implement under USA Freedumber, in which the telecoms perform connection-based chaining for the NSA, and then return Call Detail Records as results? Does it affect Section 702? I think the answer may be different for each of these, though I think John Roberts’ language is dangerous for all of this.

In any case, Roberts wants it to be unclear. This footnote, especially, claims this opinion does not implicate cases — governed by the Third Party doctrine — where the collection of data is not considered a search.

1Because the United States and California agree that these cases involve searches incident to arrest, these cases do not implicate the question whether the collection or inspection of aggregated digital information amounts to a search under other circumstances.

Orin Kerr reads this as addressing the mosaic theory directly – which holds that a Fourth Amendment review must consider the entirety of the government collection — (and he is the expert, after all). Though I’m not impressed with his claim that the analogue language Roberts uses directly addresses the mosaic theory; Kerr seems to be arguing that because Roberts finds another argument unwieldy, he must be addressing the theory that Kerr himself finds unwieldy. Moreover, in addition to  this section, which Kerr says supports the Mosaic theory,

An Internet search and browsing history, for example, can be found on an Internet-enabled phone and could reveal an individual’s private interests or concerns—perhaps a search for certain symptoms of disease, coupled with frequent visits to WebMD. Data on a cell phone can also reveal where a person has been. Historic location information is a stand-ard feature on many smart phones and can reconstruct someone’s specific movements down to the minute, not only around town but also within a particular building. See United States v. Jones, 565 U. S. ___, ___ (2012) (SOTOMAYOR, J., concurring) (slip op., at 3) (“GPS monitoring generates a precise, comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.”).

I think the paragraph below it also supports the Mosaic theory — particularly its reference to a “revealing montage of the user’s life.”

Mobile application software on a cell phone, or “apps,” offer a range of tools for managing detailed information about all aspects of a person’s life. There are apps for Democratic Party news and Republican Party news; apps for alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions; apps for sharing prayer requests; apps for tracking pregnancy symptoms; apps for planning your budget; apps for every conceivable hobby or pastime; apps for improving your romantic life. There are popular apps for buying or selling just about anything, and the records of such transactions may be accessible on the phone indefinitely. There are over a million apps available in each of the two major app stores; the phrase “there’s an app for that” is now part of the popular lexicon. The average smart phone user has installed 33 apps, which together can form a revealing montage of the user’s life.

I’d argue that the opinion as a whole endorses the notion that you need to assess the totality of the surveillance in question. But then the footnote adopts the awkward phrase, “collection or inspection of aggregated digital information,” to suggest there may be some arrangement under which the conduct of such analysis might not constitute a search requiring a higher standard. (And all that still leaves the likely possibility that the government would scream “special need” and get an exception to get the data anyway; as they surely will do to justify ongoing border searches of computers.)

Of crucial importance, then, Roberts seems to be saying that it might be okay to conduct mosaic analysis, depending on where you get the data and/or whether you actually obtain or instead simply inspect the data.

That’s crucial, of course, because the government is, as we speak, replacing a phone dragnet in which it collects all the data from everyone and analyzes it (or rather, claims to only access only a minuscule portion of it, claiming to do so only through phone-based contacts) with one where it will go to “inspect” the data at telecoms.

So Roberts seems to have left himself an out (or included language designed to placate even Democrats like Stephen Breyer, to say nothing of Clarence Thomas, to achieve unanimity) that happens to line up nicely with where the phone dragnet, at least, is heading.

All that said, Robert’s caveat may not be broad enough to cover the new-and-improved phone dragnet as the government plans to implement it. After all, the “connection” based analysis the government intends to do may only survive via some kind of argument that letting telecoms serve as surrogate spooks makes this kosher under the Fourth Amendment. Because we have every reason to expect that the NSA intends to — at least — tie multiple online and telecom identities together to chain on all of them, and use cell location to track who you meet. And they may well (likely, if not now, then eventually) intend to use things like calendars and address books that Roberts argues makes cell phones not cell phones, but minicomputers that serve as “cameras,video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers.” Every single one of those minicomputer functions is a potential “connection” based chain.

So while the new-and-improved phone dragnet may fall under Roberts’ “inspect” language, it involves far more yoking of the many functions of cell phones that Roberts finds to be problematic.

Then there’s this passage, that Roberts used to deny the government the ability to “just” get call logs.

We also reject the United States’ final suggestion that officers should always be able to search a phone’s call log,as they did in Wurie’s case. The Government relies on Smith v. Maryland, 442 U. S. 735 (1979), which held that no warrant was required to use a pen register at telephone company premises to identify numbers dialed by a particular caller. The Court in that case, however, concluded that the use of a pen register was not a “search” at all under the Fourth Amendment. See id., at 745–746. There is no dispute here that the officers engaged in a search of Wurie’s cell phone. Moreover, call logs typically contain more than just phone numbers; they include any identifying information that an individual might add, such as the label “my house” in Wurie’s case. [my emphasis]

The first part of this passage makes a similar kind of distinction as you see in that footnote (and may support my suspicion that Roberts is trying to carve out space for the new-and-improved phone dragnet). Using a pen register at a telecom is not a search, because it doesn’t involve seizing the phone itself.

But the second part of this passage — which distinguishes between pen registers and call logs — seems to be the most direct assault on the Third Party doctrine in this opinion, because it suggests that data that has been enhanced by a user — phone numbers that are not just phone numbers – may not fall squarely under Smith v. Maryland.

And that’s important because the government intends to get far more data than phone numbers while at the telecoms under the new-and-improved phone dragnet. It surely at least aspires to get logs just like the one Roberts says the cops couldn’t get from Wurie.

Think, too, of how this should limit all the US person data the government collects overseas that the government then aggregates to make fingerprints, claiming incidentally collected data does not require any legal process. That data is seized not from telecoms but rather stolen off cables — does that count as public collection or seizure?

Perhaps the language that presents the most sweeping danger to the dragnet, however, is the line that both Kerr and I like best from the opinion.

Alternatively, the Government proposes that law enforcement agencies “develop protocols to address” concerns raised by cloud computing. Reply Brief in No. 13–212, pp. 14–15. Probably a good idea, but the Founders did not fight a revolution to gain the right to government agency protocols.

Admittedly, Roberts is addressing a specific issue, the government’s proposal of how to protect personal data stored on a cloud that might be accessed from a phone (as if the government gives a shit about such things!).

But the underlying principle is critical. For every single dragnet program the government conducts at NSA, it dismisses obvious Fourth Amendment concerns by pointing to minimization procedures.

The FISC allowed the government to conduct the phone dragnet because it had purportedly strict minimization procedures (which the government ignored); it allowed the government to conduct an Internet dragnet for the same reason; John Bates permitted the government to address domestic content collection he deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment with new minimization procedures; and the 2008 FISCR opinion approving the Protect America Act (which FISCR and the government say covers FAA as well) relied on targeting and minimization procedures to judge it compliant with the Fourth Amendment. FISC is also increasingly using minimization procedures to deem other Section 215 collections compliant with the law, though we know almost nothing about what they’re collecting (though it’s almost certain they involve Mosaic collection).

Everything, everything, ev-er-y-thing the NSA does these days complies with the Fourth Amendment only under the theory that minimization procedures — “government agency protocols” — provide adequate protection under the Fourth Amendment.

It will take a lot of work, in cases in which the government will likely deny anyone has standing, with SCOTUS’ help, to make this argument. But John Roberts said today that the government agency protocols that have become the sole guardians of the Fourth Amendment are not actually what our Founders were thinking of.

Ultimately, though, this passage may be Roberts’ strongest condemnation — whether he means it or not — of the current dragnet.

Our cases have recognized that the Fourth Amendment was the founding generation’s response to the reviled “general warrants” and “writs of assistance” of the colonial era, which allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. Opposition to such searches was in fact one of the driving forces behind the Revolution itself.

Roberts elsewhere says that cell searches are more intrusive than home searches. And by stealing and aggregating that data that originates on our cell phones, the government is indeed rummaging in unrestrained searches for evidence of criminal activity or dissidence. Roberts likely doesn’t imagine this language applies to the NSA (in part because NSA has downplayed what it is doing). But if anyone ever gets an opportunity to demonstrate all that NSA does to the Court, it will have to invent some hoops to deem it anything but digital rummaging.

I strongly suspect Roberts believes the government “inspects” rather than “rummages,” and so believes his opinion won’t affect the government’s ability to rummage, at least at the telecoms.  But a great deal of the language in this opinion raises big problems with the dragnets.

Unanimous: Cops Need a Warrant to Access Your Phone Data

SCOTUS just unanimously held that cops generally need a warrant to access your cell phone data. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion. The opinion is here.

I’m reading now to figure out what it means. Will update accordingly.

This passage is getting widely cited:

These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that  the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy. A smart phone of the sort taken from Riley was unheard of ten years ago; a significant majority of American adults now own such  phones.

I’m amused by the way Roberts deals with the government’s belated encryption argument.

Encryption isa security feature that some modern cell phones use in addition to password protection. When such phones lock, data becomes protected by sophisticated encryption that  the password. Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae in No. 13–132, p. 11.

[snip]

And data encryption is even further afield. There, the Government focuses on the ordinary operation of a phone’s security features,apart from any active attempt by a defendant or his associates to conceal or destroy evidence upon arrest.

We have also been given little reason to believe that either problem is prevalent.

[snip]

Similarly, the opportunities for officers to search a password-protected phone before data becomes encrypted are quite limited. Law enforcement officers are very unlikely to come upon such a phone in an unlocked state because most phones lock at the touch of a button or, as a default, after some very short period of inactivity. See, e.g., iPhone User Guide for iOS 7.1 Software 10 (2014) (default lock after about one minute). This may explain why the encryption argument was not made until the merits stage in this Court, and has never been considered by the Courts of Appeals

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Former Presiding Judge, John Bates, Makes Compelling Case to Eliminate FISA Court

As you read John Bates’ “comments” about the NSA Review Group’s recommendations, it’s worth keeping two things in mind about him:

  • He has a history of dismissing legally important cases out of caution — arguably excess caution — over getting involved in matters reserved for the political branches, a caution he did not exercise here.
  • In August 2011, after Bates asked NSA to tell him how many entirely domestic communications were being caught via upstream collection (and after Bates had told NSA domestic collection of US person data was only illegal if they acknowledged it), they did not provide the number. And he didn’t make them. He did however, in the same exchange, rubber stamp NSA’s authority to conduct back door searches into US person communications.

In other words, Bates has long been overly solicitous of Executive power, and contrary to some claims, his work on the FISC actually reinforces, rather than refutes, claims that the Court is a rubber stamp.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that his comments actually make a fairly compelling — albeit unintentional — case for eliminating the FISC (at least for all its expanded uses since 2001) altogether.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sympathetic to some of Bates’ stated concerns. The concerns about workload (which Bates raises in his first and second bullets, but relegates to his last paragraphs) are real, and have been recognized by a number of people in the FISC debate. Bates points to some real constitutional issues in constructing an advocate for the court (which, again, have been pointed out, with potential solutions, by others).

But ultimately Bates’ comments (which may also reflect the concerns of Chief Justice John Roberts, whose authority he invokes in commenting on FISC matters) object to anything that might make FISC more of a … court.

Consider his argument against a Special Advocate. He worries a special advocate would harm what he (the same guy who couldn’t get the government to divulge how many Americans are getting swept up in domestic upstream collection) claims is candor.

Perhaps most troubling, however, is our concern that providing an institutional opponent to FISA applications would alter the process in other ways that would be detrimnetal to the FISC’s timely receipt of full and accurate information. As noted above, the current process benefits from the government’s taking on — and generally abiding by — a heightened duty of candor to the Court. Providing for an adversarial process in run-of-the-mill, fact-driven cases may erode this norm of governmental behavior, thereby impeding the Court’s receipt of relevant facts. (As noted above, the advocate would rarely, if ever, serve as a separate source of factual information.) Instead, intelligence agencies may become reluctant to voluntarily provide to the Court highly sensitive information, or information detrimental to a case, because doing so would also disclose that information to a permanent bureaucratic adversary.

Even setting aside the number of times I’ve been able to find factual problems with claims made in the few FISC filings so far released (suggesting advocates could provide factual and technical details the government doesn’t want to), this is a tacit admission that the FISC is not considered a bureaucratic adversary by the government.

This is particularly troubling given that, as Bates portrays the process, the “FISC may request or receive information from the applicant informally through the legal staff” (which according to Judge Walton’s portrayal of the process, means via the phone). The only paper trail of the process, then, are (again relying in part on Walton) the written analysis of the FISC’s staff attorneys. Which would mean an advocate would require “broad access” to these “draft decisions and memoranda from legal staff,” would would violate “ethical canons and separation-of-powers principles,” in turn “infring[ing] on the independence of the judges’ decisionmaking.”

One reason Bates objects to a Special Advocate, then, is that the Government would have to write all its requests down, which might affect their candor.

If that isn’t already troubling, Bates’ observation that “even relatively routine national security investigations involve changing facts” raises additional concerns. Bates describes FISC judges making decisions on a sometimes undocumented set of moving facts, facts which the targets of such surveillance have never been permitted to see, much less challenge, in court.

Then there’s Bates’ stated worries about the problems an advocate would present for the FISA Court of Review (and again, some of this may reflect John Roberts’ concern, as SCOTUS is the ultimate court of appeal). Some of this, again, reflects resource concerns. But even those resource concerns — such as the possibility the FISCR would have “to hire its own staff” reveals that the FISCR relies on the same staffers who drive FISC decisions in the first place. It is not, as it turns out, an independent court of its own.

Which makes the Constitutional concerns raised by the wacky decisions of the FISC, starting with its secret redefinition of “relevance” (without even benefit of independent dictionary definitions), all the more urgent. There is no standing to challenge these issues outside of the courts; with the FISC structure, there is apparently no fully independent court of appeal. And the Chief Justice wants to keep it that way.

Which means part of what Bates is defending is the authority for a bunch of District Court Judges to serve as Appellate Judges for some of the most Constitutionally novel issues raised by national security.

Yet Bates also seems to be defending the Court’s ability to remain ignorant about some things the Executive does. He rejects any proposal to serve as an oversight check on the Executive (this is another concern I have some sympathy for). But he does so in a document including this disclosure raised in objection to requiring warrants to conduct back door searches. (Snoopdido noted this passage last night.)

Decisions about querying Section 702 information are now made within the Executive Branch. As a result, the Courts do not know how often the government performs queries of data previously acquired under Section 702 in order to retrieve information about a particular U.S. person. It seems likely to us, however, that the practice would be common for U.S. persons suspected of activities of foreign intelligence interest, e.g., engaging in international terrorism, so that the burden on the FISC of entertaining this new kind of application could be substantial.

Remember: Bates is the guy who first approved NSA and CIA’s use of these back door searches (relying in part on the prior 3-year history of FBI’s use of them). But he has apparently never gotten enough “candor” from the Executive — either before or after he approved this — to know how and how often the Executive is using these searches!

Then he goes on to explain that the Executive might need to use back door searches to get the content of Americans they can’t otherwise target under FISA.

For a variety of reasons, a U.S. person suspected of such activity may not otherwise be a FISA target. For example, there may be probable cause to believe that a U.S. person is engaged in international terrorism, but intelligence agencies may not have the ability to implement current forms of FISA collection against that person because of the person’s location or lack of information about particular facilities.

Granted, what Bates is describing is the use of reverse targeting to get around technical difficulties, not legal ones (though I wonder how he’s sure about the legal case if the government has never made it).

But it is reverse targeting, the use of a back door search to get to the US person content, without a warrant, via collection on another target. This is forbidden by the law. Yet he describes it as one reason why the FISC shouldn’t get involved in reviewing warrants for this kind of search, which (as he describes it) violates the law.

Against the background of admitting that the FISC doesn’t always require the government to write down its requests and that it doesn’t want to approve warrants for activity that by his description violates the statute because the government should be permitted to continue violating the statute, Bates then objects to the recommendations to eliminate bulk collection and provide more review of 215 and NSLs, in part because of the burdens they’d pose for the Court. Most curiously, Bates says that if reforms eliminated NSL gag orders, the government would begin to use Section 215.

Those changes would like result in the government’s decreasing its reliance on NSLs for records subject to such a disclosure requirement and instead bringing to the FISC more applications under Section [215] for production of such records, in order to avoid disclosure of such information to private parties.

If the government could still get bulk Section 215 orders, I agree, they might well use those instead.

But Jim Comey — to the extent he can be believed in comments that were clearly misleading — said he’d end up using grand jury subpoenas instead. So a guy with years of involvement in prosecuting terrorism cases at least claims that he not only could — but would prefer to — use grand jury subpoenas for this information over the FISC.

Which would alleviate the need to routinely eliminate gags, because review in any criminal proceedings would provide the kind of transparency and review necessary for such things (this is a point Peter Swire made in yesterday’s hearing).

The reason we need a FISC is because the government — often through inadequate notice to defendants — has succeeded in avoiding the kind of review courts normally bring. But John Bates reveals a number of ways in which the court that is supposed to be providing that review has failed to do so. And Jim Comey, at least, thinks some of this could move back to real courts.

So why not? Why not move this, with all the gags grand jury subpoenas get and the national security experience judges have acquired over the last decade and all the normal constitutionally required review process, back to normal Title III Courts?

I admit it. Bates makes an excellent case for eliminating the FISC case, at least for all the exotic bulk programs the government has been inventing in secret.

GOP Not Anxious to End John Roberts’ Unilateral Reign Appointing FISA Judges

FWIW, Roger “Broccoli” Vinson aside, John Roberts has been appointing some solidly conservative, but nevertheless not lockstep Republicans to the FISA Court in recent years. But especially given the degree to which the FISC is now playing what former FISC judge James Robertson called a policy role, it is all the more inappropriate to have the Chief Justice, of whatever party, unilaterally pick FISC judges.

And some members of Congress — Adam Schiff in the House and Richard Blumenthal in the Senate — are trying to change that.

Curiously, however, while Republicans are happy to cosponsor legislation to force FISC to publish their opinions, Schiff, at least, has had no success finding a Republican cosponsor to support moves to take the FISC appointments out of John Roberts’ hands.

Schiff’s having a tougher time finding GOP co-sponsors for a second measure that would require Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation of FISA judges. Currently they are appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

I guess whatever claims GOP Representatives make about wanting to impose some controls on this dragnet take a back seat to maximizing party influence?

The Marriage Equality Decisions

Picture-1The moment of truth has finally come on the long and tortured path through the Supreme Court for the marriage equality movement. Without further adieu, the Defense Of Marriage Act has been struck down as unconstitutional under Equal Protection grounds in a 5-4 opinion authored by Anthony Kennedy. A lack of standing has been found by the court in the California Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, thus meaning the case will revert to the Ninth Circuit decision.

Frankly, everybody in the universe is going to have instantaneous analysis and opinion on the nature and import of these two decisions. I will likely be along with the same on particular aspects later, but for now I want to get the decisions and opinions up here so that one and all can read and discuss them. Below I will give the links to the opinions and the critical language blurbs from each.

United States v. Windsor (DOMA): Here is the opinion. As stated above, it is a 5-4 split authored by Justice Kennedy, joined by the liberal bloc of Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissent in separate dissents written by Roberts and Scalia.

The opinion is very broad in range and focuses on Section 3 of DOMA, which will effectively obliterate the law. The key holding comes at the end of Kennedy’s majority opinion:

DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA in- structs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the mar- riages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8): Here is the opinion. As stated above, the court found a lack of standing by the appellants Hollingsworth (Prop 8 Proponents). ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SCALIA, GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS, ALITO, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined. So, just to be clear here: The liberals are the reason the court could not issue a decision granting ALL Americans the right to marriage equality that citizens in California, and the other few states who have state law marriage equality, will enjoy.

Anthony Kennedy, by his crystal clear decision and language he penned in the Windsor DOMA decision, and his willingness to find standing and rule on the merits in the Prop 8 case, was ready to make it happen. And all the liberal justices, save for Sonia Sotomayor, prevented it.

The court has remanded Hollingsworth back to the 9th Circuit with instructions to enter a similar ruling based on lack of standing/jurisdiction. That means that the broad and sweeping decision entered by Vaughn Walker in the district court trial will become law in California.

Now, to again be clear, I expect there will be litigation attempts by the Equality Haters to try to restrict Walker’s decision to the two plaintiff couples and/or the two respective counties at issue in the original Perry complaint. I do not believe that will bear any fruit and fully expect full marriage equality to exist across all of California, but it may not be as immediate as it should. We shall see.

In closing, a very good day for marriage equality and LGBT rights. The DOMA decision is broad and provides for heightened scrutiny in evaluating marriage and sexual identity issues; that portends well for future rights litigation. And, of course, DOMA is dead. Also heartwarming that all of California’s citizens will have their rights protected; it is, however, sad that this will not extend to all Americans.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

DOMA’s Day At The Supremes

RainbowNiagraFallsUPDATE: HERE IS THE AUDIO OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

I am going to do something different today and put up a post for semi-live coverage – and discussion – of the DOMA oral arguments in the Supreme Court this morning. First, a brief intro, and then I will try to throw tidbits in here and there as I see it during and after the arguments.

The case at bar is styled United States v. Windsor, et al. In a nutshell, Edith Windsor was married to Thea Spyer, and their marriage was recognized under New York law. Ms. Spyer passed away in 2009 and Windsor was assessed $363,000.00 in inheritance taxes because the federal government, i.e. the IRS, did not recognize her marriage to Spyer in light of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Litigation ensued and the 2nd Circuit, in an opinion written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, struck down DOMA as unconstitutional and ruled in favor of Edith Windsor. Other significant cases in Circuit Courts of Appeal hang in the lurch of abeyance awaiting the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, including Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, Gill v. OPM and Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management.

As an aside, here is a fantastic look at the restaurant where Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer met nearly 50 years ago.

Arguing the case will be Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli again for the United States, Paul Clement for the Bi-Partisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) on putative behalf of Congress, because the Obama Administration ceased defending DOMA on the grounds it was discriminatory and unconstitutional, and Robbie Kaplan for Edith Windsor. Clement and Verrilli are well known by now, but for some background on Robbie Kaplan, who is making her first appearance before the Supremes, here is a very nice article. Also arguing will be Harvard Law Professor Vicki Jackson who was “invited” by SCOTUS to argue on the standing and jurisdiction issue, specifically to argue that there is no standing and/or jurisdiction, because the Obama Administration quit defending and BLAG will argue in favor of standing and jurisdiction.

Here is a brief synopsis of the argument order and timing put together by Ed Whelan at National Review Note: I include Whelan here only for the schedule info, I do not necessarily agree with his framing of the issues).

Okay, that is it for now, we shall see how this goes!

Live Updates:

10:39 am It appears oral arguments are underway after two decisions in other cases were announced.

10:51 am RT @SCOTUSblog: #doma jurisdiction arg continues with no clear indication of whether majority believes #scotus has the power to decide case.

11:00 am By the way, the excellent SCOTUSBlog won a peabody award for its coverage of the Supreme Court.

11:05 am @reuters wire: 7:56:34 AM RTRS – U.S. SUPREME COURT CONSERVATIVE JUSTICES SAY TROUBLED BY OBAMA REFUSAL TO DEFEND MARRIAGE LAW

11:15 am Wall Street Journal is reporting: Chief Justice John Roberts told attrorney Sri Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general, that the government’s actions were “unprecedented.” To agree with a lower court ruling finding DOMA unconstitutional but yet seeking the Supreme Court to weigh in while it enforces the law is “has never been done before,” he said.

11:20 am Is anybody reading this, or is this a waste?

11:32 am @SCOTUSblog Kennedy asks two questions doubting #doma validity but nothing decisive and Chief Justice and Kagan have yet to speak.

11:40 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Chief Justice Roberts repeatedly expressed irritation at the Obama administration, telling Ms. Jackson, the court-appointed lawyer, and without specifically mentioning the administration, that perhaps the government should have the “courage” to execute the law based on the constitutionality rather instead of shifting the responsibility to the Supreme Court to make a decision.

11:45 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Paul Clement, attorney for lawmakers defending the law, argued that the went to the very heart of Congress’s prerogatives. Passing laws and having them defended was the “single most important” function of Congress, he argued.

11:52 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Justice Scalia and Mr. Srinivasan parried on whether Congress should have any expectation that laws it passes should be defended by the Justice Department. Mr. Srinivasan said he wouldn’t give an “algorithm” that explained when Justice lawyers would or wouldn’t defend a statute, but ceded to Justice Scalia’s suggestion that Congress has no “assurance” that when it passes a law it will be defended. That’s not what the OLC opinion guiding the Justice Department’s actions in these cases says, Justice Scalia interjected.

11:56 am Associated Press (Brent Kendall) One of the last questions on the standing issue came from Justice Samuel Alito, who asked whether the House could step in to defend DOMA without the Senate’s participation, given that it takes both chambers to pass a law.

11:59 am Bloomberg News During initial arguments today on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that a federal law that doesn’t recognize gay marriages that are legal in some states can create conflicts.
“You are at real risk of running in conflict” with the “essence” of state powers, Kennedy said. Still, he also said there was “quite a bit” to the argument by backers of the law that the federal government at times needs to use its own definition of marriage, such as in income tax cases.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that when a marriage under state law isn’t recognized by the federal government, “One might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?”

12:05 pm @SCOTUSblog Final update: #scotus 80% likely to strike down #doma. J Kennedy suggests it violates states’ rights; 4 other Justices see as gay rights.

12:07 pm The argument at the Court is well into the merits portion of the case now

12:09 pm Wall Street Journal (Brent Kendall) Justice Kennedy, however, jumped in with federalism concerns, questioning whether the federal government was intruding on the states’ territory. With there being so many different federal laws, the federal government is intertwined with citizens’ day-to-day lives, he said. Because of this, DOMA runs the risk of running into conflict with the states’ role in defining marriage, he said.

12:12 pm It is pretty clear to me, from a variety of sources I am tracking, that the Court has serious problems with DOMA on the merits. Clement is getting pounded with questions on discrimination, conflict with state laws and federalism concerns. Pretty clear that if standing is found, DOMA is going down.

12:15 pm Wall Street Journal (Brent Kendall) Justice Ginsburg again says the denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples pervades every area of life. DOMA, she said, diminished same-sex marriages to “skim-milk” marriages. Justice Elena Kagan (pictured) follows a short time later saying DOMA did things the federal government hadn’t done before, and she said the law raised red flags.

12:19 pm @reuters wire: U.S. SUPREME COURT CONCLUDES ORAL ARGUMENTS ON FEDERAL LAW RESTRICTING SAME-SEX BENEFITS

12:30 pm @AdamSerwer Con Justices contemptuous of Obama decision not to defend DOMA but still enforce law. Kennedy said “it gives you intellectual whiplash”

Okay, as I said earlier, if the Justices can get by the standing issue, it seems clear that DOMA is cooked. I think they will get by standing and enter a decision finding DOMA unconstitutional as to Section 3, which is the specific part of the law under attack in Windsor. That effectively guts all of DOMA.

That is it for the “Live Coverage” portion of the festivities today. It should be about an hour and a half until the audio and transcript are available. As soon as they are, I will add them as an update at the top of the post, and will then put this post on the top of the blog for most of the rest of the day for further discussion. It has been bot a fascinating and frustrating two days of critical oral argument; please continue to analyze and discuss!

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court

Picture-1A momentous morning in the Supreme Court. All the work, analysis, speculation, briefing and lobbying culminated in an oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry lasting nearly an hour and a half – half an hour over the scheduled time. There are a lot of reports and opinions floating around about what transpired.

Here is Tom Goldstein

Here is Reuters led by Lawrence Hurley and David Ingram

Here is Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog

Here is USA Today

Here is Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks with a video report

Here is Ryan Reilly and Mike Sacks with a written report at HuffPost

Suffice it to say, we do not know a heck of a lot after oral arguments than we did right before them. The full range of decision is on the table. However, there were certainly some hints given. Scalia and Alito are very hostile, and Thomas is almost certainly with them in that regard although he once again stood mute. Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor seemed receptive to the Ted Olson’s arguments. Breyer oddly quiet and hard to read. As is so often the case, that left Anthony Kennedy in effective control of the balance.

If Kennedy’s tenor at argument is any guide, and it isn’t necessarily, he is unlikely to sign on to a broad ruling. In fact he may be struggling with standing, but that is very hard to read. Several commenters I have seen interpreted Kennedy’s questions as having a real problem with standing and signaling a possibility of punting the case on that basis. From what I have read so far, I wouldn’t say that…and neither does Adam Serwer, who was present at argument.

So, in short, I would summarize thusly: Standing is a bigger issue than I had hoped, and there is more resistance to a broad ruling than I had hoped. But the game is still on. Remember when Jeff Toobin’s train wreck/plane wreck take after the ACA oral arguments; you just don’t know and cannot tell.

I will likely be back later after analysis of the pertinent material. For now, let me leave you with that material and media so you too can hear and see the groundbreaking day in the Supreme Court:

Here is the full transcript of the oral arguments

Here is the audio of the proceedings

Enjoy, and I look forward to discussing this! And, again, there will be updates to this post throughout the day, so keep checking for them.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

The Case Against Marriage Equality Backlash

LadyJusticeScalesOne of the relentless memes that keeps cropping up in the marriage equality battle is that, were the Supreme Court to grant full broad based and constitutionally protected marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case, there would be a destructive backlash consuming the country on the issue.

A good example of the argument was propounded by Professor Eric Segall at the ACSBlog in a piece entitled “Same-Sex Marriage, Political Backlash and the Case for Going Slow”:

There may be a better way. The Court could strike down DOMA under heightened scrutiny making it clear that government classifications based on sexual orientation receive heightened scrutiny. The Court could dismiss the Proposition 8 case on standing grounds (there are substantial standing arguments which the Court asked the parties to brief). This combination would leave all state laws (except perhaps California’s) intact but subject to likely successful challenges. Obviously, this would be a slower and more expensive route to marriage equality, but it might make the right more secure over time while decreasing the chances of serious backlash.

I know that it is easy for a straight male like me to suggest that the Court should refrain from quickly and forcefully resolving the same sex marriage issue on a national basis. But issues that some gays care deeply about are not limited to marriage equality, just like feminists face many challenges other than abortion such as equal pay, equality in the military, and glass ceiling barriers. Where gender equality would be without Roe is unknowable but even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has observed that the right to choose today might be more secure if the Court hadn’t decided it “in one fell swoop.” I don’t know what will happen if the Court announces a national rule on same-sex marriage but history strongly suggests that a more incremental approach might better serve the long term interests of people who identify themselves as liberals and progressives, including gays and lesbians.

I like and respect Eric quite a lot, but I cannot agree with him, nor other advocates of this position (for further discussion of the “Roe backlash” theory, see Adam Liptak in the New York Times). I have long strongly advocated for a full, broad based, ruling for equality for all, in all states, most recently here. But the issue of “backlash” has not previously been specifically addressed in said discussions that I recall.

Fortunately, there are already superb voices who have addressed this issue. The first is from Harvard Law Professor Michael Klarman in the LA Times:

What sort of political backlash might such a decision ignite?

Constitutionalizing gay marriage would have no analogous impact on the lives of opponents. Expanding marriage to include same-sex couples may alter the institution’s meaning for religious conservatives who believe that God created marriage to propagate the species. But that effect is abstract and
Continue reading

A Path To Civil Rights History For the Supreme Court, Obama and Verrilli

Supreme Court CoolJust about a month ago, in urging the Obama Administration to file a brief in favor of marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court, I described the stakes:

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.

It was true then, it is true now. To the everlasting credit of of President Obama, Solicitor General Verrilli and the Administration, they did indeed file a brief in support. It was a surprisingly strong brief with a clarion call for full equality based upon heightened scrutiny; yet is was conflicted with a final ask only for a restricted ruling limited in application to either just California or, at most, a handful of somewhat similarly situated states. In short, the ask in the Administration’s brief was not for equality for all, in all the states; just in some.

On the eve of one one of the seminal moments of Supreme Court history – it is easily arguable this is far more of a defining moment than the ACA Healthcare scuffle was – it is again incumbent on the Administration to give the justices the headroom to make a broad decision granting equality for all.

Even in the short time since the Obama Administration filed their brief, between February 28 and now, the mounting tide of public opinion and desire for full equality has grown substantially in multiple ways. Colorado, a state where the thought was once beyond contentious, passed full civil union equality and Governor Hickenlooper signed it into law. And a new comprehensive Washington Post/ABC News public poll has found that a full 58% of Americans now support the legality of gay nuptials, and a whopping 81% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 so support.

The writing is on the wall, and the trend overwhelming. And it simply does not make sense for the Obama Administration to buck this tidal wave and argue only for equality in a handful of states, with equality for some, but far from for all. Barack Obama and Donald Verrilli laid every bit the foundation needed to argue for broad based full equality – in all states – in their brief.

It is time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Verrilli to step up and forcefully tell the Supreme Court that full equality is the right way to rule. The Court granted Solicitor General Verrilli time to express the Administration’s position in the oral argument Tuesday; he should use it in the name and cause of full broad based equality. It is a time for leadership; this is a moment for Mr. Obama and his attorney to display it.

By the same token, it is also time for the Supreme Court to do the same. So often it has been argued the “Court should not get out in front of popular opinion”. Bollocks, the Court should refuse to put themselves behind public opinion, and an ever strengthening one at that, by shamefully ducking the perfect opportunity to stand for that which the Constitution purports to stand, equal protection for all.

There are a myriad of legal arguments and discussions, and just about every commenter and expert in the field has been offering them up over the last week. I will leave that to another day, after the court has heard the oral arguments, we have our first inclination of what the justices are focused on, and the case is under advisement for decision.

For now, here are a couple of warms ups for Tuesday’s oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry/Prop 8 and Wednesday’s oral argument in United States v. Windsor/DOMA. First a nice little video “Viewer’s Guide to Gay Marriage Oral Arguments” with Supreme Court barrister extraordinaire, and SCOTUSBlog founder, Tom Goldstein. Here is a handy flow chart of all the different possibilities, and the why for each, of how the court may rule on both cases. It is really pretty neat and useful tool.

The briefing is long done now and the Justices understand the issues. But if the ACA/Healthcare cases taught us anything, it is that Justice Roberts is concerned about the legacy and esteem of the court. And Justice Kennedy has already shown how committed he is to fairness in social justice issues and willing to even go out on limbs ahead of controversial public opinion with his written opinions.

At this point, the most effective leverage is not repeated discussion of the minutiae of law, but rather the demonstration of the righteousness of full equality. History will prove fools of those who sanction continued bigotry against marital equality, and anything less than a broad based heightened scrutiny finding, for equality for all people, in all states, is a continuation of such unacceptable bigotry.

UPDATE: Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA has a piece out today that embodies my point in the post perfectly. Discussing the disastrous and ugly 1986 decision of the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to uphold sodomy laws when times and opinion had already changed, and the profound regret felt by Anthony Kennedy’s predecessor, Lewis Powell, Professor Winkler writes:

Kennedy is clearly a justice who considers how his legacy will be shaped by his votes. In 1992, when the Supreme Court was asked to overturn Roe in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy originally sided with the conservatives to reverse the controversial privacy decision. Like Justice Powell in Bowers, Justice Kennedy then changed his vote. He went to see Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, and explained that he was concerned about how history would judge Kennedy’s decision to end constitutional protections for women’s right to choose.

Like many people, Justice Kennedy may believe that the public tide against marriage discrimination is growing and that gay marriage is inevitable. History is not likely to be kind to those justices who vote to continue relegating LGBT people to second-class citizenship. As the swing justice ponders how to rule in the gay-marriage cases, Justice Powell’s well-known regret over Bowers, and the widespread recognition that Bowers was wrongly decided, will almost certainly weigh on his mind.

Adam’s article is worth a full read. And I agree with it completely.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz @seattletimes @nigelduara 30 hours overtime in a day?? "Lax" seems a wee bit 'o and understatement.
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bmaz @ArizonaLuke @brahmresnik @noprezzie2012 @cocoasaurus That's pathetic. Grow up little punk.
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bmaz @ArizonaLuke @brahmresnik @noprezzie2012 @cocoasaurus Right back at ya, Mr. Mindless "Producer of Events"
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bmaz @JulieATate @attackerman Isn't it like 4 am or something there on the other side of the country? What you doing up girl?
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bmaz @ArizonaLuke @brahmresnik @noprezzie2012 @cocoasaurus Do you get paid to troll people with that bogus Alinsky shit, or just have no life?
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bmaz @fordm Lorde knows
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bmaz @fordm Matt.....
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