Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
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Boston’s City Hall Plaza has three flagpoles; one flies the American flag and another the state flag. The city’s flag usually flies from the third pole but groups may hold ceremonies on the plaza during which participants may hoist a flag of their choosing on the third pole. Over 12 years, Boston approved the raising of about 50 unique flags for 284 such ceremonies, most were other countries’ flags, but some were associated with groups or causes. In 2017, Camp Constitution asked to hold an event on the plaza to celebrate the civic and social contributions of the Christian community and to raise the “Christian flag.” Worried that flying a religious flag could violate the Establishment Clause, the city approved the event but told the group it could not raise its flag. The district court and First Circuit upheld that decision.The Supreme Court reversed. Boston’s flag-raising program does not express government speech so Boston’s refusal to let Camp Constitution fly its flag violated the Free Speech Clause. Employing a “holistic inquiry,” the Court noted that the history of flag flying, particularly at the seat of government, supports Boston, but Boston did not shape or control the flags’ content and meaning and never intended to convey the messages on the flags as its own. The application process did not involve seeing flags before plaza events. The city’s practice was to approve flag raisings without exception. When the government does not speak for itself, it may not exclude private speech based on “religious viewpoint”; doing so “constitutes impermissible viewpoint discrimination.” View "Shurtleff v. Boston" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Constitution’s Territory Clause states that Congress may “make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory . . . belonging to the United States.” In exercising its broad authority, Congress has maintained different federal tax and benefits programs for residents of the Territories than for residents of the states. For example, residents of Puerto Rico are typically exempt from most federal income, gift, estate, and excise taxes but not every federal benefits program extends to residents of Puerto Rico. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applies only to residents of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 42 U. S. C. 1382c(a)(1)(B)(i).Madero received SSI benefits while a resident of New York. He moved to Puerto Rico, where he was no longer eligible to receive those benefits. Unaware of Madero’s new residence, the government continued to pay him SSI benefits but eventually sued to recover more than $28,000. Madero argued that Congress’s exclusion of residents of Puerto Rico from the SSI program violated the equal-protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The district court and the First Circuit agreed.The Supreme Court reversed. The Constitution does not require Congress to extend SSI benefits to residents of Puerto Rico. The Court applied the deferential rational-basis test. Congress’s decision to exempt Puerto Rico’s residents from most federal income, gift, estate, and excise taxes supplies a rational basis for distinguishing residents of Puerto Rico from residents of the states for purposes of the SSI benefits program. View "United States v. Vaello Madero" on Justia Law

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Cassirer inherited a Pissaro Impressionist painting. After the Nazis came to power in Germany, she surrendered the painting to obtain an exit visa. She and her grandson, Claude, eventually settled in the United States. The family’s post-war search for the painting was unsuccessful. In the 1990s, the painting was purchased by the Foundation, an entity created and controlled by the Kingdom of Spain.Claude sued the Foundation, invoking the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1602, to establish jurisdiction. FSIA provides foreign states and their instrumentalities with immunity from suit unless the claim falls within a specified exception. The court held that the Nazi confiscation of the painting brought Claude’s suit within the FSIA exception for expropriated property. To determine what property law governed the dispute, the court had to apply a choice-of-law rule. The plaintiffs urged the use of California’s choice-of-law rule; the Foundation advocated federal common law. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the choice of the federal option, which commanded the use of the law of Spain, under which the Foundation was the rightful owner.The Supreme Court vacated. In an FSIA suit raising non-federal claims against a foreign state or instrumentality, a court should determine the substantive law by using the same choice-of-law rule applicable in a similar suit against a private party. When a foreign state is not immune from suit under FSIA, it is subject to the same rules of liability as a private party. Only the same choice-of-law rule can guarantee the use of the same substantive law and guarantee the same liability. Judicial creation of federal common law to displace state-created rules must be “necessary to protect uniquely federal interests.” Even the federal government disclaims any necessity for a federal choice-of-law rule in FSIA suits raising non-federal claims. View "Cassirer v. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation" on Justia Law

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Members of Muslim communities filed a putative class action, claiming that the government subjected Muslims to illegal surveillance. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) provides a procedure for consideration of the legality of electronic surveillance conducted under FISA, 50 U.S.C. 1806(f). The district court dismissed because litigation of the claims “would require or unjustifiably risk disclosure of secret and classified information.” The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that FISA displaced the state secrets privilege.The Supreme Court reversed. Section 1806(f) does not affect the availability or scope of the privilege for state and military secrets. The absence of any reference to the state secrets privilege in FISA indicates that the availability of the privilege was not altered.Nothing about section 1806(f) is incompatible with the state secrets privilege. The central question under 1806(f) is whether the surveillance was lawfully authorized and conducted. Under 1806, a court cannot award relief if the evidence was lawfully obtained, whereas a court considering the state secrets privilege may order the disclosure of lawfully obtained evidence if it finds that disclosure would not harm national security. Inquiries under 1806(f) allow “review in camera and ex parte” of materials “necessary to determine” whether the surveillance was lawful. Under the state secrets privilege, however, examination of the evidence “even by the judge alone, in chambers,” should not be required if the government shows “a reasonable danger that compulsion of the evidence” will expose information that “should not be divulged” in “the interest of national security.” The Court did not decide which party’s interpretation of 1806(f) is correct, whether the government’s evidence is privileged, or whether the district court was correct to dismiss the claims on the pleadings. View "Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Fazaga" on Justia Law

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The Secretary of Labor, through OSHA, enacted a vaccine mandate, to be enforced by employers. The mandate preempted contrary state laws and covered virtually all employers with at least 100 employees, with exemptions for employees who exclusively work remotely or outdoors. It required that covered workers receive a COVID–19 vaccine or obtain a medical test each week at their own expense, on their own time, and also wear a mask at work. Challenges were consolidated before the Sixth Circuit, which allowed OSHA’s rule to take effect.The Supreme Court stayed the rule. Applicants are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the Secretary lacked the authority to impose the mandate. The rule is “a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of a vast number of employees,” not plainly authorized by statute; 29 U.S.C. 655(b) empowers the Secretary to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures. Although COVID–19 is a risk in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most. COVID–19 spreads everywhere that people gather. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization. The vaccine mandate is unlike typical OSHA workplace regulations. A vaccination “cannot be undone.” Where the virus poses a special danger because of the particular features of an employee’s job or workplace, targeted regulations are permissible but OSHA’s indiscriminate approach fails to distinguish between occupational risk and general risk. The equities do not justify withholding interim relief. States and employers allege that OSHA’s mandate will force them to incur billions of dollars in unrecoverable compliance costs and will cause hundreds of thousands of employees to leave their jobs. View "National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration" on Justia Law

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In November 2021, the Secretary of HHS announced that, in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, participating facilities must ensure that their staff—unless exempt for medical or religious reasons or teleworking full-time—are vaccinated against COVID–19. Two district courts enjoined enforcement of the rule. The Supreme Court stayed the injunctions pending appeals in the Fifth and Eighth Circuits. The rule falls within the Secretary’s statutory authority to promulgate regulations “necessary to the efficient administration of the functions with which [he] is charged,” 42 U.S.C. 1302(a), including ensuring that the healthcare providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety. Conditions with which facilities must comply to be eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid funds have long included a requirement that certain providers maintain and enforce an “infection prevention and control program.” Vaccination requirements are a common feature of the provision of healthcare in America. The rule is not arbitrary. The Court noted the Secretary’s findings that in addition to the threat posed by in- facility transmission itself, “fear of exposure” to the virus “from unvaccinated health care staff can lead patients to themselves forgo seeking medically necessary care.” Nor did the Secretary fail to consider that the rule might cause staffing shortages. The Secretary’s finding of good cause to delay notice and comment was based on a finding that accelerated promulgation of the rule in advance of the winter flu season would significantly reduce COVID–19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. View "Biden v. Missouri" on Justia Law

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Social Security retirement benefits are calculated using a formula based on past earnings, 42 U.S.C. 415(a)(1)(A). Under the “windfall elimination” provision, benefits are reduced when a retiree receives a separate pension payment based on employment not subject to Social Security taxes. Pension payments exempt from the windfall reduction include those "based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.”A “military technician (dual status),” 10 U.S.C. 10216, is a “civilian employee” assisting the National Guard. Such technicians are required to maintain National Guard membership and must wear uniforms while working. For their work as full-time civilian technicians, they receive civil-service pay. If hired before 1984, they receive Civil Service Retirement System pension payments. As part-time National Guard members, they receive military pay and pension payments from a different arm of the government.The SSA applied the windfall elimination provision to the benefits calculation for Babcock, a dual-status technician. The district court and Sixth Circuit upheld that decision, declining to apply the uniformed-services exception.The Supreme Court affirmed. Civil Service Retirement System pensions generally trigger the windfall provision. Babcock’s technician work was not service “as” a National Guard member. A condition of employment is not the same as the capacity in which one serves. The statute states: “For purposes of this section and any other provision of law,” a technician “is” a “civilian employee,” “authorized and accounted for as” a “civilian.” While working in a civilian capacity, technicians are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. They possess characteristically civilian rights concerning employment discrimination, workers’ compensation, disability benefits, and overtime work; technicians hired before 1984 are “civil service” members, entitled to pensions as civil servants. Babcock’s civil-service pension payments are not based on his National Guard service, for which he received separate military pension payments. View "Babcock v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Charitable organizations soliciting funds in California generally must register with the Attorney General and renew their registrations annually by filing copies of their IRS Form 990, on which tax-exempt organizations provide the names and addresses of their major donors. Two tax-exempt charities that solicit contributions in California renewed their registrations and filed redacted Form 990s to preserve their donors’ anonymity. The Attorney General threatened the charities with the suspension of their registrations and fines. The charities alleged that the compelled disclosure requirement violated their First Amendment rights and the rights of their donors. The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Attorney General.The Supreme Court reversed. California’s disclosure requirement is facially invalid because it burdens donors’ First Amendment rights and is not narrowly tailored to an important government interest. Compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as other forms of governmental action. Exacting scrutiny requires that a government-mandated disclosure regime be narrowly tailored to the government’s asserted interest, even if it is not the least restrictive means of achieving that end.A dramatic mismatch exists between the Attorney General's asserted interest and the disclosure regime. While California’s interests in preventing charitable fraud and self-dealing are important, the enormous amount of sensitive information collected through the disclosures does not form an integral part of California’s fraud detection efforts. California does not rely on those disclosures to initiate investigations. There is no evidence that alternative means of obtaining the information, such as a subpoena or audit letter, are inefficient and ineffective by comparison. Mere administrative convenience does not “reflect the seriousness of the actual burden” that the disclosure requirement imposes on donors’ association rights. It does not make a difference if there is no public disclosure, if some donors do not mind having their identities revealed, or if the relevant donor information is already disclosed to the IRS. View "Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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Under the Natural Gas Act, to build an interstate pipeline, a natural gas company must obtain from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a certificate of "public convenience and necessity,” 15 U.S.C. 717f(e). A 1947 amendment, section 717f(h), authorized certificate holders to exercise the federal eminent domain power. FERC granted PennEast a certificate of public convenience and necessity for a 116-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. Challenges to that authorization remain pending. PennEast sought to exercise the federal eminent domain power to obtain rights-of-way along the pipeline route, including land in which New Jersey asserts a property interest. New Jersey asserted sovereign immunity. The Third Circuit concluded that PennEast was not authorized to condemn New Jersey’s property.The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that New Jersey’s appeal is not a collateral attack on the FERC order. Section 717f(h) authorizes FERC certificate holders to condemn all necessary rights-of-way, whether owned by private parties or states, and is consistent with established federal government practice for the construction of infrastructure, whether by government or through a private company.States may be sued only in limited circumstances: where the state expressly consents; where Congress clearly abrogates the state’s immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment; or if it has implicitly agreed to suit in “the structure of the original Constitution.” The states implicitly consented to private condemnation suits when they ratified the Constitution, including the eminent domain power, which is inextricably intertwined with condemnation authority. Separating the two would diminish the federal eminent domain power, which the states may not do. View "PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey" on Justia Law

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Title V of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates $8 billion to “Tribal governments” to compensate for unbudgeted expenditures made in response to COVID–19, 42 U.S.C. 801(a)(2)(B). A “Tribal government” is the “recognized governing body of an Indian tribe” as defined in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA), which refers to “any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.” 25 U.S.C. 5304(e).Consistent with the Department of the Interior’s view that Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) are Indian tribes under ISDA, the Department of the Treasury determined that ANCs are eligible for Title V relief, although ANCs are not “federally recognized tribes” (i.e., tribes with which the United States has entered into a government-to-government relationship). Federally recognized tribes sued. The D.C. Circuit reinstated the suit following summary judgment.The Supreme Court reversed. ANCs are “Indian tribe[s]” under ISDA and eligible for funding under Title V.. ANCs are “established pursuant to” ANCSA and “recognized as eligible” for that Act’s benefits. ANCSA, which made ANCs eligible to select tens of millions of acres of land and receive hundreds of millions of tax-exempt dollars, 43 U.S.C. 1605, 1610, 1611, is a special program provided by the United States to “Indians.” Given that ANCSA is the only statute ISDA’s “Indian tribe” definition mentions by name, eligibility for ANCSA’s benefits satisfies the definition’s “recognized-as-eligible” clause. The Court noted that even if ANCs did not satisfy the recognized-as-eligible clause, they would still satisfy ISDA’s definition of an “Indian tribe.” View "Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of Chehalis Reservation" on Justia Law