strict scrutiny

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

Issues 

Does Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11(1), which prohibits individuals from wearing “political badges, political buttons, or political insignia” in the polling place, violate the First Amendment?

In this case, the Supreme Court will decide whether Minnesota’s Statute section 211B.11(1) political-apparel ban at polling sites violates the First Amendment. Petitioners Minnesota Voters Alliance, et al. (“MVA”) contend that the statute jeopardizes the right of voters to peacefully express themselves. According to MVA, the statute’s vague use of the word “political” allows poll workers to arbitrarily discriminate against voters wearing anything arguably political. MVA contends, under a strict-scrutiny analysis, that the ban on speech is not narrowly tailored to the government’s interest in promoting voting decorum and that there is no government interest that justifies a ban on all political apparel. Respondents Joe Mansky, et al. (“Mansky”) counter that the statute and its application have only prohibited political apparel that, from the perspective of a reasonable person, is related to ballot issues on election day in order to ensure that Minnesotans have the right to vote freely, without undue influence. Mansky maintains that the non-public forum analysis is the proper test to determine the statute’s constitutionality, and that the statute is reasonable and viewpoint neutral in light of the government’s goal to have polling sites focus on voting. This case will clarify the scope of the right to vote versus the right to self-expression, as well as analyze the rights of individuals when participating in democratic deliberation.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Is Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11(1), which broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment?

Section 211B.11, entitled “Election Day Prohibitions,” of the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act regulates behavior “near polling places.” Minn. Stat.

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Nevada Commission on Ethics v. Carrigan

Issues 

What level of scrutiny should a reviewing court apply to a state’s ethics provision regarding when an elected official must recuse himself from a vote?

Court below: 

 

The Nevada Commission on Ethics (“Commission”) censured Michael Carrigan, a city council member, for voting to issue a permit to a company employing his friend and campaign manager as a consultant. The Commission alleges that Carrigan violated a catch-all recusal provision requiring an official to disqualify himself when faced with a personal interest in a matter “substantially similar” to several enumerated interests. Carrigan argues that the provision is an impermissible burden on his First Amendment rights of expression and association and must be subject to strict scrutiny. The Commission contends that any infringement on the First Amendment is incidental, and therefore the United States Supreme Court should eschew strict scrutiny in favor of a lower standard of review. The Supreme Court of Nevada applied strict scrutiny and struck down the provision as unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court’s decision could affect the level of scrutiny at which recusal provisions are reviewed nationwide and the freedom of states to establish independent legislator voting restrictions.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the First Amendment subjects state restrictions on voting by elected officials to (i) strict scrutiny, as held by the Nevada Supreme Court and the Fifth Circuit, (ii) the balancing test of Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968), for government-employee speech, as held by the First, Second, and Ninth Circuits, or (iii) rational-basis review, as held by the Seventh and Eighth Circuits.

In 1999, Respondent Michael Carrigan was elected to the Sparks City Council and has since been re-elected twice. See Carrigan v.

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Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources 

• New York Times, Adam Liptak: Justices to Hear Case on Recusal Laws (Jan. 7, 2011)

• First Amendment Center, David L. Hudson, Jr.: Garcetti Would Be Unwelcome Element in Nevada Case (Jan. 11, 2011)

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Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education,

Issues 

Can school districts constitutionally use percentage-based range plans to assign students to public schools based on race in order to capture the benefits of educational diversity?

 

The Jefferson County Public School District in Jefferson County, Kentucky, requires that 15 to 50 percent of all students in each school be African-American. Petitioner Crystal Meredith claims that the district violated the Fourteenth Amendment when it rejected her application to enroll her son at a nearby school on the basis of race. To decide this case, the Supreme Court will have to determine whether racial diversity in K–12 public education is a compelling state interest and whether the district’s racial range mandate is narrowly tailored to further that interest. The decision will determine the extent to which schools are permitted to consider race in school assignment policies.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Should Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) and Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265 (1978) and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003) be overturned and/or misapplied by the Respondent, the Jefferson County Board of Education to use race as the sole factor to assign students to the regular (non-traditional) schools in the Jefferson County Public Schools?
  2. Whether the race-conscious Student Assignment Plan with mechanical and inflexible quota systems of not less than 15% nor greater than 50% of African American students without individually or holistic review of any student, meets the Fourteenth Amendment requirement of the use of race which is a compelling interest narrowly tailored with strict scrutiny.
  3. Did the District Court abuse and/or exceed its remedial judicial authority in maintaining desegregative attractiveness in the Public Schools of Jefferson County, Kentucky?

Desegregation of Schools in Jefferson County

The backdrop for this case was set in 1954. In Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the Supreme Court mandated the desegregation of public schools. Over subsequent decades, federal courts ordered school districts with institutionalized segregation plans to desegregate through a system of redistricting and busing. See Swann v.

Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank Professors Sherri Lynn JohnsonTrevor Morrison, and Michael Heise for their insights into this case.

The Supreme Court will hear this case in tandem with a companion case, Parents Involved in Community Sch. v. Seattle Sch. District ,  which involves a student assignment plan that uses race as a tiebreaker to balance high schools that differ by more than 15 percent from the racial  make up  of the Seattle public school system.

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Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al.

Issues 

Does the University of Texas at Austin’s use of racial preferences in its admissions process violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

 

In this case, the Supreme Court will consider whether the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”)’s admissions policy, which considers race, is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Abigail Fisher applied to UT for admission to its 2008 freshman class. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., 758 F.3d 633, 637 (5th Cir. 2014). As part of its admission process, UT  computes  and considers Personal Achievement Index (“PAI”) Scores, which include various personal characteristics of applicants, including their race. UT does not assign a numerical score or value to the elements of an applicant’s PAI. See id. at 638. Ultimately, UT denied Fisher admission based on her PAI scores, and Fisher would not have received a seat in the 2008 class, even with a perfect PAI score, regardless of race. See id. at 639. In Fisher I, Fisher alleged that UT’s admission policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court ultimately remanded that case to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, so the appeals court could consider whether UT’s admission policy survives strict scrutiny under Grutter v. Bollinger, 123 S. Ct. 2325 (2003). See Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 133 S. Ct. 2411 (2013). The Fifth Circuit held that the policy did survive strict scrutiny. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Fisher argues that UT’s pursuit of intra-racial diversity is not a clearly articulated compelling government interest, and its admissions scheme is not narrowly tailored to achieving that interest. See Brief for Petitioner, Abigail Noel Fisher at 25, 30, 38. UT argues that the Court has already held that a university’s interest in diversity is  compelling,  and that UT’s admissions policy is narrowly  tailored,  because race-neutral approaches are insufficient to achieve its interest. See Brief for Respondents, University of Texas at Austin, et al. at 25, 40, 42. The outcome of this case will affect the admissions schemes and racial demographics of universities. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Can the Fifth Circuit’s re-endorsement of the University of Texas at Austin’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions decisions be sustained under this Court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, including Fisher  v.   University  of Texas at Austin?

Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”) for admission to its fall 2008 class. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., 758 F.3d 633, 637 (5th Cir.

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Doe # 1 v. Reed

Issues 

Whether Washington’s Public Records Act (“PRA”), which makes signatures on referendum petitions part of public records, violates the First Amendment.

 

The dispute in this case centers on Washington's Public Records Act ("PRA"), which requires state and local governments to make public the identities of referendum petition signers. Petition signers challenged the constitutionality of this disclosure, but the Ninth Circuit held that disclosure of petition signers’ identities serves an important government interest and promotes government accountability. Specifically, petitioners, John Doe #1, et al. ("Doe #1"), argue that petition signing is core political speech and, therefore, is subject to First Amendment protections. Respondents, Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, et al. ("Reed"), contend that petition signing, especially the signing of referendum petitions, is not political speech. Rather, Reed asserts that signing a referendum is a legislative act and a "quintessentially public" exercise. Thus, in Doe #1 v. Reed the Supreme Court must decide 1) whether petition signers’ First Amendment rights to privacy in political speech, association, and belief requires strict scrutiny when a state compels public release of identifying information and 2) whether compelled disclosure of petition signers’ identities is narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

The district court granted a preliminary injunction protecting against public disclosure, as opposed to private disclosure to the government only, of those signing a petition to put a referendum on the ballot ("petition signers"). The Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that the district court based its decision on an incorrect conclusion of law when it determined that public disclosure of petition signers is subject to, and failed, strict scrutiny. The questions presented are:

1. Whether the First Amendment right to privacy in political speech, association, and belief requires strict scrutiny when a state compels public release of identifying information about petition signers.

2. Whether compelled public disclosure of identifying information about petition signers is narrowly tailored to a compelling interest, and whether Petitioners met all the elements required for a preliminary injunction.

On May 18, 2009, the Governor of Washington signed SB 5688See Doe #1 v. Reed, 586 F.3d 671, 674-75 (9th Cir.

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Davenport v. Washington Education Association; Washington v. Washington Education Association

Issues 

  1. Does a labor union have a First Amendment right to spend the wages of non-union members for political purposes?
  2. Does a law requiring labor unions to obtain the permission of non-union members before using their paid fees for political purposes (instead of allowing the unions to use such fees from any nonmembers who do not expressly opt out of such use) unconstitutionally violate the unions' First Amendment rights?
Court below: 

 

The State of Washington and several Washington educational employees brought suit against the Washington Education Association alleging that the union impermissibly used non-union member “shop fees” to finance political activities in violation of Wash. Rev. Code § 42.17.760's requirement that the union receive affirmative authorization from nonmembers before using their fees for political purposes. The Washington Supreme Court sided with the union and struck down § 760 as unconstitutional. Washington argues that the union does not have a First Amendment right to use shop fees for political purposes. The union responds that § 760 essentially blocks its ability to assert a collective political voice and must survive strict scrutiny to pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court's decision will determine the balance of First Amendment protection granted to a labor union relative to the protection afforded to dissenting nonmembers who pay shop fees.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

  1. Do labor union officials have a First Amendment right to seize and use for politics the wages of employees who have chosen not to become union members?
  2. Does a state campaign finance law that prohibits labor unions and their officials from seizing and using the wages of nonmembers for partisan political campaigns without obtaining the nonmembers' affirmative consent violate the First Amendment rights of labor unions?
  3. Does the requirement in Wash. Rev. Code § 42.17.760 that nonmembers must affirmatively consent (opt-in) before their fees may be used to support the union's political agenda violate the union's First Amendment rights?

The Washington Employment Association (WEA) is the exclusive bargaining agent for 70,000 Washington state educational employees. Washington State Public Disclosure Commission v. Washington Education Association (WEA), 130 P.3d 352, 354 (2006).

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Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

Issues 

Whether (1) Citizens United may challenge BCRA's disclosure requirements imposed on "electioneering communications"  as-applied  to Hillary: The Movie; (2) whether the disclosure requirements are overly burdensome  as-applied  to Hillary: The Movie; (3) whether Hillary: The Movie should be construed as  advocating to  the viewers how to vote, subjecting it to the "electioneering communications" corporate prohibition; and (4) whether Hillary: The Movie should be considered an "advertisement," making it subject to the BCRA's disclosure and disclaimer regulations.

Prior to the 2008 primary elections, Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to educating the American public about their rights and the government, produced a politically conservative ninety-minute documentary entitled Hillary: The Movie ("The Movie"). This documentary covers Hillary Clinton's record while in the Senate, the White House as First Lady, and during her bid for the presidential  Democratic nominee, and contains express opinions about whether she would be a good choice for President. However, The Movie falls within the definition of "electioneering communications" under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA")-a federal enactment designed to prevent "big money" from unfairly influencing federal  elections-which , among other things, prohibits corporate financing of "electioneering communications" and imposes mandatory disclosure and disclaimer requirements on such communications. The District Court for the District of Columbia denied Citizens United's motion for a preliminary injunction to enjoin the Federal Election Commission ("FEC") from enforcing these provisions of the BCRA against Citizens United. The questions the Supreme Court will have to decide are (1) whether BCRA's disclosure requirements imposed on "electioneering communications" are to be upheld against all as-applied challenges' (2) whether BCRA's disclosure requirements are overly burdensome and fail a strict scrutiny test  as-applied  to The Movie; (3) whether The Movie is a "clear plea for action to vote," subjecting it to the "electioneering communications" corporate prohibition; and (4) whether The Movie constitutes an advertisement, making it subject to the BCRA's disclosure and disclaimer regulations.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

1. Whether all as-applied challenges to the disclosure requirements (reporting and disclaimers) imposed on "electioneering communications" by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("BCRA") were resolved by McConnell's statement that it was upholding the disclosure requirements against facial challenge "for the entire range of electioneering communications' set forth in the statute." Mem. Op. I, App. 15a (quoting McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 196 (200)).

2. Whether BCRA's disclosure requirements impose an unconstitutional burden when applied to electioneering communications protected from prohibition by the appeal-to-vote test, FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, 127 S. Ct. 2652, 2667 (2007) ("WRTL II"), because such communications are protected "political speech," not regulable "campaign speech," id. at 2659, in that they are not "unambiguously related to the campaign of a particular federal candidate," Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 80 (1976), or because the disclosure requirements fail strict scrutiny when so applied.

3. Whether WRTL II's appeal-to-vote test requires a clear plea for action to vote for or against a candidate, so that a communication lacking such a clear plea for action is not subject to the electioneering communication prohibition. 2 U.S.C. § 441b.

4. Whether a broadcast feature-length documentary movie that is sold on DVD, shown in theaters, and accompanied by a compendium book is to be treated as the broadcast "ads" at issue in McConnell, 540 U.S. at 126, or whether the movie is not subject to regulation as an electioneering communication.

Citizens United ("Citizens") is a non-profit corporation with the stated purpose of being "dedicated to restoring our government to citizens' control [t]hrough the combination of education, advocacy, and grass roots organization." See Citizens Unitedhttp://. Prior to the 2008 primary elections, Citizen

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Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al. (14-981)

Issues 

Does the University of Texas at Austin’s use of racial preferences in its admissions process violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

In this case, the Supreme Court will consider whether the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”)’s admissions policy, which considers race, is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Abigail Fisher applied to UT for admission to its 2008 freshman class. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., 758 F.3d 633, 637 (5th Cir. 2014). As part of its admission process, UT computes and considers Personal Achievement Index (“PAI”) Scores, which include various personal characteristics of applicants, including their race. UT does not assign a numerical score or value to the elements of an applicant’s PAI. See id. at 638. Ultimately, UT denied Fisher admission based on her PAI scores, and Fisher would not have received a seat in the 2008 class, even with a perfect PAI score, regardless of race. See id. at 639. In Fisher I, Fisher alleged that UT’s admission policy violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court ultimately remanded that case to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, so the appeals court could consider whether UT’s admission policy survives strict scrutiny under Grutter v. Bollinger, 123 S. Ct. 2325 (2003). See Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 133 S. Ct. 2411 (2013). The Fifth Circuit held that the policy did survive strict scrutiny. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Fisher argues that UT’s pursuit of intra-racial diversity is not a clearly articulated compelling government interest, and its admissions scheme is not narrowly tailored to achieving that interest. See Brief for Petitioner, Abigail Noel Fisher at 25, 30, 38. UT argues that the Court has already held that a university’s interest in diversity is compelling, and that UT’s admissions policy is narrowly tailored, because race-neutral approaches are insufficient to achieve its interest. See Brief for Respondents, University of Texas at Austin, et al. at 25, 40, 42. The outcome of this case will affect the admissions schemes and racial demographics of universities. 

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Can the Fifth Circuit’s re-endorsement of the University of Texas at Austin’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions decisions be sustained under this Court’s decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, including Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin?

Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas at Austin (“UT”) for admission to its fall 2008 class. Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, et al., 758 F.3d 633, 637 (5th Cir. 2014). UT’s admissions scheme included three paths for accepting applicants.

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Reed v. Town of Gilbert

Issues 

Does a town’s sign ordinance that assigns different size and posting requirements based on the type of noncommercial speech displayed violate the First Amendment?  

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to address a circuit split regarding the constitutionality of sign ordinances that treat signs differently depending on the type of noncommercial speech displayed. The Town of Gilbert’s Sign Code stipulated size requirements and posting times that differed depending on if the signs were classified as political, ideological, or “temporary directional signs” for religious or non-profit events. The latter category’s size and timing requirements were more restrictive than those for political or ideological signs. Good News Community Church and its pastor, Clyde Reed, argue that Gilbert’s sign code violates the First Amendment. Conversely, Gilbert contends that the Sign Code does not violate the Constitution since it does not favor certain viewpoints or ideas over others and serves an important government interest in regulating safety and aesthetics. The Court’s ruling could have important consequences for free speech as well as for local governments’ ability to manage community safety and aesthetics.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Does Gilbert’s mere assertion of a lack of discriminatory motive render its facially content-based sign code content-neutral and justify the code’s differential treatment of Petitioners’ religious signs?

Respondent Town of Gilbert’s (“Gilbert”) sign ordinance (“Sign Code”) requires that individuals obtain a permit to post signs within the city limits. See Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 707 F.3d 1057, 1061 (9th Cir.

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