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Heffernan v. City of Paterson in Brief

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FACTS: Petitioner, Jeffrey Heffernan, was a police officer for the City of Paterson, New Jersey. He alleges that his mother requested that he, on behalf of her, pick up a yard sign for the mayor’s principal opponent in the local mayoral election. While picking up this yard sign, Heffernan was observed by a fellow officer and was subsequently confronted by his supervisor regarding the yard sign. Heffernan told his supervisor that he was not politically involved, could not vote in the City of Paterson, and was picking up the yard sign on behalf of his mother. However, Heffernan’s office considered his activities to be “overt involvement in political activities” and Heffernan was demoted to a walking post.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The litigation began in 2006, when petitioner brought a § 1983 action against the City of Paterson, the mayor of Paterson, the Police Chief of Paterson, and the Police Director of Paterson in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey alleging adverse actions against petitioner based on his off-duty conduct in complying with his mother’s request to obtain a yard sign for the mayor’s principal opponent in the local mayoral election, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and petitioner’s fundamental First Amendment rights.

After the trial concluded in April 2009, the jury concluded that the mayor of Paterson and the Police Chief of Paterson had retaliated against the plaintiff due to his exercise of his First Amendment right to association, but exonerated the city of Paterson, who had filed and won a motion for summary judgment. The motion alleged that there was no evidence of Heffernan associating himself with the candidate at issue, which Heffernan himself admitted, causing there to be no evidence of a violation of free association. The jury found that the mayor of Paterson and the Police Chief of Paterson proximately caused the petitioner injury and awarded the petitioner compensatory damages in the amount of $75,000 and punitive damages in the amount of $30,000.

However, after the jury’s decision, the district court judge retroactively recused himself, claiming he had become aware of a conflict of interest. The case was reassigned and set for retrial. On retrial, the district court judge granted summary judgment to defendants as to the First Amendment free speech claim. The petitioner appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit initially reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling, holding that the successor judge’s denial of officer’s request for permission to file an opposition to defendants’ summary judgment motion was an abuse of discretion and that the successor judge should have addressed the free association claim

On remand, the district court held that the petitioner did not engage in actual First Amendment speech, the petitioner’s conduct could not be considered expressive, perceived First Amendment speech or expression could not form basis of retaliation claim, the petitioner did not have claim for aiding and abetting speech, freedom of association claim was properly in front of the court, and that claim failed on the merits, absent retaliation in response to actual or perceived political affiliation. The petitioner once again appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that its prior opinion did not preclude district court from considering city’s motion for summary judgment on remand, officer’s demotion did not violate Free Speech Clause, and officer’s demotion did not violate his right to free association

The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on October 1, 2015.

ISSUE: Does the First Amendment prohibit the government from demoting a public employee based on a supervisor’s perception that the employee supports a political candidate?

ORAL ARGUMENTS: Oral arguments for this case were completed on January 19, 2016. During oral arguments, this case was described as “bizarre” multiple times, even once by Justice Antonin Scalia

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., echoed the holdings of the lower courts during the oral arguments by saying, “I’m not sure how he can say his freedom of speech has been abridged.” Justice Antonin Scalia further echoed the lower court’s holdings by saying, “Your client was neither speaking nor association. So how could he possibly have a cause of action under the First Amendment?”

However, Justice Elena Kagan expressed concern during the oral arguments through the use of a hypothetical. Her hypothetical supposed that every agnostic or uninterested government worker was fired when their bosses made it their mission to replace them with politically active workers who have views aligned with their own. She explained her concern to be that government workers might have no constitutional protection if their bosses decided to engage in this type of activity. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to agree with Justice Kagan, claiming that it defied common sense to protect those who politically speak out from being demoted but not to protect those who do not actually politically speak out but are misconstrued as doing so.

DISCUSSION: In this Supreme Court case, the petitioner contends that the First Amendment not only grants individuals the right to speak freely but also prevents the government from trying to control people’s beliefs. In essence, the government should not be able to take adverse action against an employee for perceived association, regardless of whether or not that association actually occurred.

And, on the other side, the respondents are arguing that, “by definition, the government cannot ‘abridge’ a ‘right’ of an employee who does not even seek to exercise it.” Basically, they are saying that the government’s motivation in punishing petitioner is completely irrelevant since the petitioner admitted to holding the sign for his mother and that he was not explicitly exercising his own right to association.

The result of this case will be especially relevant for CWA due to the fact that its ruling will affect millions of government workers’ free-speech rights under the First Amendment. This type of case could potentially occur in future situations with direct relation to one of CWA’s seven core issues: Religious Liberty.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in Brief

By | Legal, Sanctity of Life | No Comments

790 F.3d 563, 136 S. Ct. 499 (2016) 

FACTS: In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2, which contained several provisions pertaining to abortions. One of these provisions was the requirement that doctors who provide abortion services must obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital that provides obstetrical or gynecological health care services that is no farther than 30 miles away from the abortion clinic. Another of these provisions required that every health care facility offering abortion care must meet specifications to become ambulatory surgical centers under Texas El. Code Ann. § 241.010.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The litigation began in 2014, when petitioners brought action against Texas officials in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from Texas statutes and their implementing rules, regulating admitting privileges, and requiring abortion facilities to meet minimum state standards for ambulatory surgical centers. The petitioners also argued that House Bill 2 denied equal protection, unlawful delegation, and arbitrary and unreasonable state actions claims.

After a swift bench trial concluded in August of 2014, the District Court held that the ambulatory surgical center requirement imposed undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a previable abortion and the admitting-privileges requirement imposed undue burden on the right of women in the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, and West Texas to seek a previable abortion. The court also ruled that the provisions together created undue burden on a woman seeking a previable abortion by restricting access to previously available legal facilities. Both the declaratory and injunctive reliefs were granted. However, the equal protection, unlawful delegation, and arbitrary and unreasonable state actions claims were denied. The court issued an injunction of the admitting privileges requirement as applied to all women seeking a previable abortion. Both parties appealed.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of the equal protection, unlawful delegation, and arbitrary and unreasonable state actions claims and reversed the district court’s ruling on the ambulatory surgical center requirement and the admitting privileges requirement, explaining that the district court had improperly invalidated this requirement as facially unconstitutional. The court explained that the petitioners had failed to establish their claim that the admitting privileges requirement was unconstitutional and was barred by res judicata – a doctrine that generally says a matter may not be relitigated, once it has been judged on the merits by a competent court. Additionally, the court vacated the district court’s injunction of the admitting privileges requirement as applied to all women seeking a previable abortion.

However, the court did rule that the statutes had the effect of placing substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking abortion as applied to the McAllen facility, but did not place substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking abortion as applied to the El Paso facility. Thus, they modified the injunction of the admitting privileges requirement issued by the district court and subjected the McAllen clinic to specific restrictions on this facility, including not enforcing certain parts of the ambulatory surgical center requirements as long as the doctor at this facility is providing an abortion to a woman residing in the Rio Grande Valley. This exception was explained to be valid until another licensed abortion facility becomes available at a location closer to the Rio Grande Valley to provide abortions.

On June 29, 2015, the United States Supreme Court stopped enforcement of House Bill 2 in Texas. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari (has agreed to hear the case) on November 13, 2015. Currently, the ambulatory surgical center requirement remains blocked statewide, and the admitting privileges requirement remains blocked for clinics in McAllen and El Paso, until the United States Supreme Court takes further action.

ISSUE: Should a court’s “substantial” burden analysis take into account the extent to which laws that restrict access to abortion services actually serve the government’s stated interest in promoting health?

ORAL ARGUMENTS: Oral arguments for this case will occur on March 2, 2016.

DISCUSSION: The court’s interpretation of the “substantial” burden analysis from the 1992 United States Supreme Court decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood will be particularly important in the upcoming oral arguments for Whole Women’s Health v. Cole. This analysis also played a large role in the opinions published by the lower courts in this case.

In Casey v. Planned Parenthood, the Court proclaimed that any regulation that imposes a “substantial obstacle” preventing a woman from obtaining a legal abortion is an “undue burden” that violates the woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. The case will hinge on whether or not the Court considers the admitting privileges requirement and the ambulatory surgical centers requirement to impose a “substantial obstacle” that prevents a woman from obtaining a legal abortion in Texas.

What petitioners are essentially arguing for in this case is a strict scrutiny standard of review for abortion regulations. In order to pass the strict-scrutiny standard of review, the legislature must have passed a law to further a “compelling governmental interest” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve this interest. However, the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly explicitly rejected the strict-scrutiny standard of review in abortion cases, instead affirming the states’ interests in protecting maternal health and regulating the medical profession through commonsense abortion regulations.

In Roe v. Wade, the court held that the state “has legitimate interest in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life.” The decisions in Casey v. Planned Parenthood as well as Gonzalez v. Carhart reaffirmed this holding from Roe v. Wade. This holding could play a substantial part in the upcoming arguments in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole. However, it is important to note that there have been various decisions that have been decided in contradiction of this holding and have instead supported a strict-scrutiny standard, such as the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Planned Parenthood v. Schimel.

The result of this case will be especially relevant for CWA due to the fact that the decision will set the course of the pro-life fight for years to come. CWA will be submitting an amicus brief in this case.