In response to increasing rights for LGBTQ individuals in the United States, particularly the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, eleven states have imposed laws or policies permitting child welfare organizations to deny services in accordance with their religious beliefs. These measures generally prohibit the state from “discriminating against” religious child welfare organizations by denying them funding or program participation when they refuse to provide services based on their religious beliefs. This Note provides an overview of these religious exemption laws and ultimately argues that, by requiring government funding of discriminatory child welfare organizations, the laws are unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause. The Note begins by considering relevant details about adoption and foster care systems in the United States. It then turns to the laws and policies in question, discussing their provisions, motivations, and impact. Then, taking two specific laws as examples, it analyzes these laws’ constitutionality, arguing for their invalidity under several approaches to understanding the Establishment Clause. By favoring certain religious viewpoints over others, permitting religion to dictate who receives government benefits and services, and imposing burdens on third parties (particularly LGBTQ prospective parents and youth), religious exemption laws ignore the line between church and state in violation of the Establishment Clause.
The one person one vote doctrine contains a core ambiguity: Do states need to equalize the voting strength of voters in each district? Or do they need to equalize the total number of people in each district? This difference matters when demographic trends lead to large numbers of noncitizens living in some districts but not others. When that happens, equalizing the total population across districts leads to large differences in the number of voters in each district and differences in the voting power of voters across districts. In 1990 the Ninth Circuit held in Garza v. County of Los Angeles that the First and Fourteenth Amendments together require states to equalize the total population across districts, no matter the distribution of noncitizens and other ineligible voters. But that approach has not caught on, and recently the Supreme Court signaled that it thinks the Garza approach is inconsistent with the leading Supreme Court precedent of Burns v. Richardson, which allowed Hawaii to equalize the number of registered voters rather than the total population across districts. This Essay provides a reading of Burns according to which it holds that the goal of apportionment is to fairly distribute representatives across the to-be-represented population—the group of more or less permanent residents who belong to the political community—and that sometimes the total population reported in the Federal Census is an inaccurate measure of this. Thus, Burns should not stand as an obstacle to a modern acceptance of the Garza approach if the Court is forced to revisit these issues after the 2021 redistricting of state legislatures.
The prelude of the 2020 election is marred by dark projections of large-scale violence that could disrupt voting or a prolonged count of mail-in ballots requested due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Academics agree that this situation is unlikely to be an isolated occurrence. Rather, extreme polarization risks making violent elections a new norm in American life. Even if violence fails to materialize in November 2020, it is still worthwhile to engage in legal scenario planning to ask the question: What if? This Essay sketches a preliminary, incomplete answer to that question from the perspective of courts.
Taking as an example a complaint seeking to enjoin the Trump campaign from inciting violence, this Essay begins from the assumption that existing Fourteenth Amendment doctrine, forged in the era of 1960s desegregation, lacks a register to fully conceptualize the novel assaults on American democratic institutions today. Specifically, courts tend to employ a strict individual rights focus, which lacks the ability to conceptualize assaults on democracy that do not intentionally target any particular voter and, uncomfortably, asks courts to step into an ex ante regulatory role more familiar for a federal agency than the judicial branch. To fill that gap, courts could learn from international democratic backsliding. Specifically, the concept of a “strategy of tension” lends analytical rigor to scenarios in which regimes actively seek to foment civil unrest, cracking down on opponents and encouraging extrajudicial violence. This framework allows one to recognize such harms as injuries to democracy itself that endanger the supreme democratic principle of the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, a foundational principle of liberal governance. With that conceptualization in hand, this Essay concludes by forwarding a potential role for courts “in the breach” as exercising emergency powers to stabilize democracy under extreme stress.
A Poll Tax by Another Name: Considering the Constitutionality of Conditioning Naturalization and the “Right to Have Rights” on an Ability to Pay
Permanent residents must naturalize to enjoy full access to constitutional rights, particularly the right to vote. However, new regulations from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), finalized in early August and originally slated to go into effect one month before the 2020 election, would drastically increase the cost of naturalization, moving it out of reach for many otherwise-qualified permanent residents, while at the same time abolishing any meaningful fee waiver for low-income applicants. In doing so, USCIS has sought to condition naturalization and its attendant rights on an individual’s financial status.
In this Essay, I juxtapose the new fee regulations with a growing caselaw and scholarly literature about financial status, voting, and an individual’s ability to pay. Placed alongside the ability-to-pay caselaw—including Griffin v. Illinois and Bearden v. Georgia and, more recently, the litigation about Florida’s felony disenfranchisement provisions—it is clear that the new fee policies should be seen as due process and equal protection violations and struck down. I conclude by noting possibilities for litigation or legislation that would preserve a meaningful safety valve to allow low-income individuals to realize the full benefits of naturalization and access all the rights that come with it.
Text in Article III of the U.S. Constitution appears to give to Congress authority to make incursions into judicial supremacy, by restricting (or, less neutrally, “stripping”) the jurisdiction of federal courts. Article III gives Congress authority to make “exceptions” to the Supreme Court’s appellate jurisdiction. Article III also gives Congress discretion whether to “ordain and establish” lower federal courts. Congress’s power to create or abolish these courts would seem to include the power to create them but to limit their jurisdiction, and that is how the power has historically been understood.
Is Congress’s power to remove the jurisdiction of federal courts in effect a legislative power to choose the occasions on which federal courts may, and may not, have the final word on the meaning of the Constitution? That is a question on which the Supreme Court has never spoken definitively.
In this Article I argue that Congress, working through the ordinary legislative process, may remove the jurisdiction of federal and even state courts to hear cases involving particular questions of federal law, including cases that raise questions under the Federal Constitution. Understood this way, the implications of Congress’s Article III power are profound. Congress may prescribe, by ordinary legislation, constitutional rules in areas where the meaning of the Constitution is unsettled. Or it may displace otherwise settled constitutional rules by ordinary legislation.
To be clear, Article III does not permit Congress to escape accountability. Rather, Article III gives to Congress the power to choose whether it must answer, in a particular instance, to judges or to voters. Compared with judicial review, the political constraint is, of course, less formal and predictable. But that does not mean that the political constraint is weak. A successful exercise of its Article III power will require a majority in Congress, and, in most instances, a President, who agree both on the substantive policy at issue and on the political viability of overriding the public expectation that Congress should face a judicial check. In such instances, we should welcome the exercise of Congress’s Article III power. In the push-and-pull between judicially-enforced constitutional rules and the desires of current democratic majorities, the potential for Congress’s exercise of its Article III power helps legitimate both constitutionalism and judicial review.
Proof of citizenship is of paramount importance. In the United States, the need for citizenship documentation is particularly acute in light of heightened immigration enforcement. For U.S. citizens born abroad, proof of citizenship can be obtained by submitting a Form N-600 to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which in turn provides a Certificate of Citizenship. Although these individuals are entitled to citizenship and all of its benefits by statute, they are required to pay $1170 in order to obtain this Certificate. This Note seeks to analyze the constitutionality of this exorbitant fee. Determination of citizenship confers with it important rights and several privileges, such as access to employment, the ability to vote and seek public office, and many other government benefits. Perhaps more importantly, determination of citizenship also confers protection—protection from detention, from removal proceedings, and from deportation. This Note analyzes the viability of a constitutional challenge to the $1170 filing fee through a procedural due process claim, the importance of which is underscored by the life-altering consequences of citizenship as well as the benefits and protections it affords. Simply put, access to the benefits of citizenship should not turn on a citizen’s ability to pay a prohibitively expensive fee; the Constitution demands greater protections.
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) deprives hundreds of residents of their housing every year without affording them due process. Based on the allegedly undesirable behavior of one household member, NYCHA can begin a termination of tenancy action against an entire family. Using the threat of termination as leverage, NYCHA coerces the tenant of record into permanently excluding the “undesirable” occupant, barring them from living with or visiting their family. The excluded family member is given no notice of the termination action and no opportunity to contest their permanent exclusion.
This Note contends that authorized occupants in NYCHA housing have due process rights which mandate notice and the opportunity to be heard before they lose their home. NYCHA does not currently recognize such rights. But, as this Note will show, authorized occupants have a property interest in public housing. NYCHA’s practice of permanent exclusion deprives them of that interest. This Note suggests alternatives for NYCHA to consider instead of relying on permanent exclusion as a means of crime reduction. Ultimately, the goal of this Note is to push NYCHA to live up to its mission: to provide decent and affordable housing to low-income New Yorkers.
The Case Against Criminalizing Homelessness: Functional Barriers to Shelters and Homeless Individuals’ Lack of Choice
In 2018, the Ninth Circuit ruled in Martin v. City of Boise that the city’s ordinance criminalizing individuals for sleeping or camping outdoors in public space—an increasingly popular method for cities to regulate the homeless—is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. Martin was not the first case in which a court struck down an anti-homeless ordinance under the Eighth Amendment. However, it was the first to deem it unconstitutional for a city to punish a homeless person for sleeping outside when shelters are not “practically available,” even if they technically have available beds. The court in Martin said the shelters at issue were not practically available because they were religiously coercive. This Note argues, however, that courts reviewing criminalization measures should consider whether shelters are practically available to homeless individuals for reasons beyond religious coercion. Many functional barriers to shelter deprive homeless individuals of a meaningful choice, and the Eighth Amendment prevents governments from punishing individuals for matters beyond their control. Courts should make individualized inquiries when considering the constitutionality of criminalization measures to assess whether individuals experiencing homelessness truly have a meaningful “choice” in sleeping outside. However, the constitutional infirmities behind criminalization measures, the highly factual inquiries required of courts to determine their constitutionality, and their exacerbation of homelessness underscore the need for cities to stop criminalizing homelessness.
This Essay addresses one of the key evidentiary problems facing courts today: the treatment of forensic reports under the Confrontation Clause. Forensics are a staple of modern criminal trials, yet what restrictions the Confrontation Clause places on forensic reports is entirely unclear. The Supreme Court’s latest decision on the issue, Williams v. Illinois, sowed widespread confusion among lower courts and commentators, and during the 2018 Term, Justices Gorsuch and Kagan dissented to the denial of certiorari in Stuart v. Alabama, a case that would have revisited (and hopefully clarified) Williams.
Our Essay dispels the confusion in Williams v. Illinois. We argue that Williams involved three difficult and intertwined evidentiary questions: i) when experts may use inadmissible evidence as the basis of their opinions under Rule 703; ii) whether Rule 703 itself is consistent with the Confrontation Clause; and iii) whether reports that arise out of rigorous scientific processes implicate the Confrontation Clause at all. Along the way, we show that the answers to these questions help predict the future of the Confrontation Clause and offer a potential tool for improving forensic science.
Children have legal rights. Yet, children typically lack the legal capacity to represent their interests in courts. When federal courts are presented with children’s claims, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require courts to ensure that children’s legal interests are adequately protected. To do so, courts decide who can speak and make decisions for the child within the litigation. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(c) maps out a loose process for addressing these concerns but fails to fully account for a critical factor in protecting child litigants: the decisionmaking rights of parents.
Because parents have constitutionally protected authority to make important decisions for their children, litigation brought on a child’s behalf presents a collision of rights and obligations between parents, children, and “the state,” here, the federal courts. Court doctrine interpreting Rule 17(c) is tangled and inconsistent and fails to offer clear guidance regarding what preference, if any, parents should have to represent their children’s interests in litigation. This Article proposes for the first time that constitutional doctrine establishing parents’ protected decisionmaking authority should make parents the default representatives for their children in federal civil litigation. The Article presents an account of court practices and an analytical framework to guide courts’ application of Rule 17(c), which implements the general constitutional rule of parent priority while upholding the courts’ responsibility to protect children’s interests.