The Geneva College Case: Edelweiss and Rights of Conscience Today– Guest Essayist: Kevin Theriot

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of The Sound of Music, a sweet love story built around the somewhat grittier sub-plot of Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in the late 1930s. The movie is actually based on the true story of an Austrian naval hero – Captain Georg von Trapp – who opposes the Nazi Anschluss and refuses to accept a commission in the German navy. He takes a stand near the end of the movie by singing the patriotic song “Edelweiss” at a local festival. The song summons all Austrians who love freedom to stand by their convictions and refuse to violate them, even when being coerced by an out-of-control executive.

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June 7, 2011 – Amendment XIV of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund

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Amendment XIV

1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

The Fourteenth Amendment and a Return to Federalism

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was enacted in 1868, just three years after the Civil War.  For obvious reasons, Congress didn’t trust the Southern States to voluntarily provide former slaves with all the benefits of U.S. Citizenship, so it specifically required them to do so via the federal constitution.  Subsection 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This amendment greatly undermined federalism since before the enactment of the Reconstruction Amendments, civil rights were largely protected by state constitutions.  The Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government, which was smaller, and had less power.  In fact, some Southerners still maintain that the Civil War was not about slavery, but about State’s rights and the power of the federal government.

Justice Harlan described this nationalization of civil liberties as a “revolution…reversing the historic position that the foundations of those liberties rested largely in state law.”  Walz v. Tax Com. of New York, 397 U.S. 664, 701 (1970) (Harlan, J., dissenting).  Beginning in 1897, the Supreme Court began interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on depriving any person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” as incorporating the Bill of Rights in to the amendment so that they also applied to the states.  See Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Chicago, 166 U.S. 226 (1897) (incorporating the Fifth Amendment).

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment was incorporated in 1940 in Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940).  Given the history of the Fourteenth Amendment, it’s assumed the Court thought it necessary to apply the Free Exercise Clause to the states because they could not be trusted to protect religious freedom with their own constitutions and statutes.  But those roles are now reversed.

The Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Employment Div., Dept. of Human Services v. Smith drastically weakened the federal Free Exercise Clause by holding that general, neutrally applicable laws do not violate religious freedom.  In that case, a general law prohibiting ingestion of a hallucinogenic drug called peyote applied to everyone, so the fact that it also restricted the freedom of Native Americans who use it during religious ceremonies did not violate the federal constitutional.  Smith has had a profoundly negative impact on church religious freedom in such diverse areas as land use and the ability speak out on political issues.  As a result, States are now increasing the protection they provide to religious freedom because the federal courts can no longer be trusted to protect it.

To date sixteen (16) states have taken it upon themselves to enact Religious Freedom Restoration Acts protecting their citizens:  Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.[1] And at least twelve (12) states have interpreted their constitutions to provide the heightened protection applied by the Supreme Court of the United States prior to Smith:  Alaska, Indiana (possibly), Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan,  Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin.[2]

So states now provide the real protection for religious freedom – an interesting return to the federalism that was undermined when it was thought states couldn’t be trusted to do so.


[1] Alabama – Ala. Const. amend. 622, § V(a); Arizona – Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 41-1493.01(B) (2003); Connecticut – Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-571b(a) (2000); Florida – Fla. Stat. ch. 761.03(1) (Supp. 2003); Idaho – Idaho Code § 73-402(2) (Michie 2003); Illinois – 75 Ill. Comp. Stat. 35/15 (2001); Louisiana – La. R.S. § 13-5233 (2010); Missouri – Mo. Rev. Stat. § 1.302 (2009); New Mexico – N.M. Stat. Ann. § 28-22-3 (Michie 2000); Oklahoma – Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 253(A) (2003); Pennsylvania – 71 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 2403 (2002); Rhode Island – R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-80.1-3 (2002); South Carolina – S.C. Code Ann. § 1-32-40 (Law. Co-op. Supp. 2002); Tennessee – T.C.A.§ 4-1-407 (2009); Texas – Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 110.003(a) (Vernon Supp. 2004-2005);Virginia – Va. Code § 57-2.02(B) (2007).

[2] Swanner v. Anchorage Equal Rights Comm’n, 874 P.2d 274 (Alaska 1994), Cosby v. State, 738 N.E.2d 709, 711 (Ind. App. 2000) (“Indiana Constitution may demand more protection for citizens than its federal counterpart”); Stinemetz v. Kansas Health Policy Authority, (KS app., May 4, 2011), Rupert v. Portland, 605 A.2d 63 (Me. 1992), Attorney Gen. v. Disilets, 636 N.E.2d 233 (Mass. 1994); People v. DeJonge, 501 N.W.2d 127 (Mich. 1993); State v. Hershberger, 462 N.W.2d 393 (Minn. 1990); Davis v. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 852 P.2d 640 (Mont. 1993); Matter of Browning, 476 S.E.2d 465 (N.C. App. 1996); Humphrey v. Lane, 728 N.E.2d 1039 (Ohio 2000); First Covenant Church v. City of Seattle, 840 P.2d 174 (Wash. 1992) (en banc); and State v. Miller, 549 N.W.2d 235 (Wis. 1996). See generally Angela C. Carmella, State Constitutional Protection of Religious Exercise: An Emerging Post-Smith Jurisprudence, 1993 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 275 (1993).

Kevin Theriot is senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance that employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

June 2, 2011 – Amendment XI of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund

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Amendment XI

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State

Eleventh Amendment Immunity:  Good Legal Fiction

On its face, the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution seems to provide a great deal of protection for states against lawsuits.  The amendment says:

The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

Judicial interpretation has made it even broader.  For instance, the amendment appears to only prevent a private citizen of South Carolina from suing the State of Georgia in federal court.  But the Supreme Court has said that it also prohibits suits by citizens of Georgia from suing their own state in federal court, Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1 (1890), and immunity even applies if the complaint is filed in Georgia’s state courts.  Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706 (1999).

This judicial willingness to go well beyond the language of the Eleventh Amendment is based upon the idea that it is just one aspect of the broader doctrine of sovereign immunity, a doctrine that precedes the constitution itself.  Article III of the Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction of cases “between a State and a citizen of another State.”  Historians suspect that most of the Founding Fathers anticipated that this would involve cases where a state is suing a citizen of another state, but not vice versa.  See 13 Charles Alan Wright, Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 3524 (3d ed. 2010).  The founders likely thought states were protected from suits by citizens by the well-established English Common Law rule that a sovereign could not be sued without its consent.  This foundational belief may explain the quick passage of the Eleventh Amendment, which was enacted shortly after the Supreme Court found in 1793 that a citizen of South Carolina could indeed sue the State of Georgia in federal court.  Chisholm v. Virginia, 2 U.S. (2 Dall.) 419 (1793).  It also explains why over the years the Court has viewed the Eleventh Amendment as just one aspect of a broader common law principle.

But it doesn’t explain why courts have made it so easy to circumvent the Eleventh Amendment.  For instance, someone who has had their civil rights violated by the state of Georgia cannot sue Georgia, but they can sue its head executive, Governor Deal.  For all practical purposes, the result for the plaintiff is the same.  If the plaintiff wins, the court will enter an injunction against the governor in his official capacity, which will affect all other state officials.  This principle was established in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), and is often referred to as the “Ex Parte Young fiction.”  Practically, suing governors in their official capacity is just a suit against their state.  But the Court said the state officer could never really be given authority to violate the law, so it is not really a suit against the state.  One can understand why it is referred to as a “fiction,” since it resembles a Star Wars Jedi mind trick.  Later, the Court determined that a successful plaintiff can even obtain damages from state officials.  See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21 (1991).

Why is it the Court feels justified in reading the Eleventh Amendment so broadly, but then completely undermining it with a legal fiction?  Most likely, it’s because judges understand that in a country built upon the concept of inalienable rights, state officials must be held accountable when they violate those rights.  In fact, in Chisholm, the case that prompted passage of the amendment, the Justices discussed “whether sovereign immunity—a doctrine born in a monarchy and based upon the notion that the crown could (or perhaps simply should) do no wrong—ought to play any role in the new democratic republic.”  Wright, Miller, supra, § 3524.

It seems unnecessarily complicated to adopt a legal fiction requiring plaintiffs to sue state officials in order to give lip service to a doctrine that shouldn’t even apply to our form of government.  But we do get the right result in the end – citizens have legal recourse against state officials that violate their rights. After all, subtle nuances, complicated plots, and happy endings are what good fiction is all about.

Kevin Theriot is senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance that employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.

 

August 16, 2010 – Federalist No. 79 – The Judiciary Department Continued, From McLEAN’S Edition, New York (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Kevin Theriot, Senior Counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund

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Monday, August 16th, 2010

A crucial aspect of our republican form of government is an independent judicial branch that cannot be cowed by either of the two other branches. Lifetime tenure – addressed in Federalist #78 – prohibits the president from revoking a judicial appointment should he later come to regret it. And a set salary, which cannot be diminished, keeps the legislature from starving a judge off the bench. This is the topic of Federalist #79.

For the most part, this Paper is relatively straightforward and unremarkable.  The subject matter is not particularly complicated.  If judges are to be as unbiased as possible, they cannot be tempted to adjust their decisions to conform with the views of the current majority in Congress – lest they have their salary cut.

But at least one remarkable aspect of #79 is the evidence it provides of the foresight of the Founding Fathers.  In explaining why the amount of judicial compensation is left to the discretion of Congress, Hamilton notes that the value of money changes over time, and “[w]hat might be extravagant to-day, might in half a century become penurious and inadequate.”  Quite an obvious consideration, but it demonstrates that the authors of the Constitution knew the policies they were establishing had ramifications for years to come and acted accordingly.

This important principle was reiterated about 30 years later by Justice Marshall in M’Culloch v. State of Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819), which determined that Congress has the right to charter a national bank, even though the power to do so is not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.  Justice Marshall reasoned that, so long as it is not prohibited by the Constitution, Congress has the discretion to use such means as needed to further the powers they do have, such as collecting taxes and regulating commerce.

This provision is made in a constitution, intended to endure for ages to come, and consequently, to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs. To have prescribed the means by which government should, in all future time, execute its powers, would have been to change, entirely, the character of the instrument, and give it the properties of a legal code. It would have been an unwise attempt to provide, by immutable rules, for exigencies which, if foreseen at all, must have been seen dimly, and which can be best provided for as they occur.

Id. at 41 (emphasis added).

Perhaps this willingness to think in terms of decades, centuries, and ages, instead of just the next year or two, is why our form of government has survived relatively unchanged for over 200 years.  The Founders’ foresight is in marked contrast to recent acts of our legislature that are more concerned about appeasing the current constituency rather than doing what’s best for the nation. Our leaders would do well to heed the Founders’ example and do what is right – long term, as well as short term – instead of what is expedient.

Kevin Theriot is senior counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance that employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.