Showing posts with label constitutional law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label constitutional law. Show all posts

Monday, December 14, 2020

Emergency orders survive constitutional scrutiny; Mass. Court cites Korean War, smallpox cases

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled Thursday that pandemic emergency orders of the Commonwealth Governor were valid under the Massachusetts Civil Defense Act and public health law, rejecting challenges based in state and federal civil rights, including due process and the freedom of assembly.

Defunct Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., 2006 (stu_spivack CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Court borrowed doctrine from U.S. constitutional law on separation of powers, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (U.S. 1952), a case about President Truman's seizure and operation of steel mills during the Korean War.  The SJC used Youngstown and the concurring opinion of Justice Robert H. Jackson to reason that Governor Charlie Baker acted at the zenith of executive power, because he acted within broad statutory authority.

Official portrait of Justice Jackson,
by John C. Johnsen, Collection of the
Supreme Court of the United States, via Oyez
In Youngstown, Justice Jackson set out a three-part rubric to test the strength of executive power, whether bolstered by congressional authorization, occurring amid legislative silence, or arising in defiance of legislative imprimatur.  Though not without controversy attaching to the communitarian result in the context of government seizure of private enterprise, Justice Jackson's famous test has been committed to memory by law students studying for the bar exam for generations.  Justice Jackson was Attorney General to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, so loyal to the New Deal.  Roosevelt appointed Jackson to the Court in 1941.  While a Supreme Court Justice, Jackson also served as chief U.S. prosecutor in Nuremberg after World War II.

Ruling the pandemic within the scope of "other natural causes" of emergency under the Civil Defense Act (CDA), the Court indicated also that it was not shirking its oversight role:

[W]e emphasize that not all matters that have an impact on the public health will qualify as "other natural causes" under the CDA, even though they may be naturally caused. The distinguishing characteristic of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has created a situation that cannot be addressed solely at the local level. Only those public health crises that exceed the resources and capacities of local governments and boards of health, and therefore require the coordination and resources available under the CDA, are contemplated for coverage under the CDA. Therefore, although we hold that the COVID-19 pandemic falls within the CDA, we do not hold that all public health emergencies necessarily will fall within the CDA, nor do we hold that when the public health data regarding COVID-19 demonstrates stable improvement, the threshold will not be crossed where it no longer constitutes an emergency under the CDA.

Mass. Gov. Baker (Charlie Baker CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Relative to civil rights, the Court recognized the Governor's argument under Jacobson v. Massachusetts (U.S. 1905).  A federal Supreme Court case that arose in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the turn of the century before last, Jacobson has been cited widely lately, amid the coronavirus pandemic, because in Jacobson, the Court upheld an ordinance requiring vaccination for smallpox as a valid exercise of state police power.

Critics fairly argue that Jacobson is read too broadly as a constitutional authorization of mandatory vaccination.  Among points of distinction, the upheld ordinance merely subjected an objector to a five-dollar fine—about $150 today, much less than the individual-healthcare-mandate penalty before Congress zeroed it out.  More importantly, Jacobson predates the complex system of multi-tiered constitutional scrutiny that the U.S. Supreme Court devised under the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in the 20th century. 

Justice Cypher
The SJC quoted Jacobson's logic in some detail "as an initial matter," but declined to give the Governor carte blanche, instead applying 20th-century due-process scrutiny.  The Court rejected procedural due process arguments because the emergency orders occasioned no individual adjudication, and rejected substantive due process because the generally applicable orders satisfied rational-basis review.  The selection of "essential" businesses was non-arbitrary and did not treat disparately any protected class, such as religious institutions.

Similarly with regard to the freedom of assembly, the Court regarded the emergency orders as valid time, place, and manner restrictions, appropriately narrowly tailored to a significant government interest in intermediate scrutiny, leaving open ample alternative channels of communication.

The case is Desrosiers v. Governor, No. SJC-12983 (Mass. Dec. 10, 2020).  Justice Elspeth B. Cypher authored the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Poland scholars explain turmoil in streets over court decision nearly outlawing abortion; what next?

Protesters take to the streets in Kraków on October 25. (Silar CC BY-SA 4.0)
Social stability in Poland has been increasingly shaky since populist politics has threatened the independence of the judiciary in recent years.  Professor Leah Wortham wrote about the issue and kindly spoke to my Comparative Law class one year ago (before Zoom was cool).

Recently tensions have reached a boiling point.  In October, the nation's constitutional court outlawed nearly all abortions (Guardian).  Protestors have taken to the streets in the largest numbers since the fall of communism, The Guardian reported, confronting riot police and right-wing gangs.

Friend and colleague Elizabeth Zechenter, an attorney, visiting scholar at Emory College, and president of the Jagiellonian Law Society, writes: "Poland is in upheaval, after the Constitutional Tribunal restricted even further one of the most strict anti-abortion laws in Europe.  I and several other Polish women academics have gotten together, and we created a webinar, trying to offer an analysis, legal, cultural, sociological, etc."

The scholars' webinar is available free on YouTube.  Below the inset is information about the program.  Please spread the word.

Women Strikes In Poland: What is Happening, and Why?

Since the fateful decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal (Trybunał Konstytucyjny or TK) on October 22, 2020—further restricting one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in Europe—Poland saw massive, spontaneous demonstrations and civic protests in most cities, small and big, and even villages. Protests have been continuing since the day of TK’s decision and show no signs of abating.

To explain what is happening, we have assembled a panel of academics and lawyers to clarify the current legal situation, to analyze the scope of new anti-abortion restrictions, to explain whether this new law may be challenged under any of the EU laws applicable to Poland, and what might be political implications of doing that, as well as offer a preliminary cultural, linguistic, anthropological, and sociological analysis of the recent events.

Contents

0:00:00-0:03:17 Introduction: Bios of Speakers, Disclaimers

Legal Panel

0:03:17-0:26:00 Elizabeth M. Zechenter, J.D., Ph.D., "October 2020 Abortion Decision by the Constitutional Tribunal: Analysis and Legal Implications"

0:26:00-0:46:00 Agnieszka Kubal, Ph.D., "Human Rights Implication of the Decision by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal from 22 October 2020"

0:46:00-0:59:00 Agnieszka Gaertner, J.D., LLM, "Abortion Under EU Law"

Panel: Culture and Language of Protest

0:59:00-1:31:00 Katarzyna Zechenter, Ph.D., "Uses of Language by the Protesters, the Polish Catholic Church, and the Ruling Political Party 'Law and Justice' (PiS)"

Panel: Sociological and Anthropological

1:31:00-1:49:00 Joanna Regulska, Ph.D., "Struggle for Women's Rights in Poland"

1:49:00-2:12:00 Helena Chmielewska-Szlajfer, Ph.D., "Augmented Reality, Young Adults, and Civic Engagement"

Praise for the Webinar

"Wow! That was, without a doubt, one of the most informative, fascinating, engaging, and powerful webinars I have ever attended."

"All of us in your virtual audience 'voted with our feet' ... i.e., it is generally considered that 90 minutes is an audience's absolute maximum attention span for an online webinar, particularly since everyone these days is simply 'Zoomed-out' (over-Zoomed), in this era of COVID-19. But YOUR audience stayed with you for a marathon 2 hours and 45 minutes (and it felt like a sprint, not a marathon)!"

"A high tribute to you and your sister (not fellow!) panelists."

Disclaimers

The webinar was organized impromptu in response to numerous calls to analyze Poland's ongoing protests. The goal of the webinar was to provide a non-partisan review of the evolving situation and better understand the legal, cultural, and sociological underpinnings of the Constitutional Tribunal’s anti-abortion decision that resulted in such massive country-wide protests.

The opinions expressed in the seminar are those of the speakers alone who are not speaking as representatives of any institution; the main goal has been to advance understanding of the situation.

Given the urgency to offer at least a preliminary analysis (and in light of the continuously evolving situation), most speakers had less than 24 hours to prepare their remarks. We apologize for any imperfections.