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Last week at the Sixth Circuit: Suspended licenses, (Dis)honor Codes, and Re-redistricting

Showing no signs of a Kentucky Derby hangover (or any follow-on litigation, at least not yet), last week the court wrapped up arguments during the second half of its May sitting. Your quick recap:

A rational basis for suspended licenses – In a blow to con-law professors and indigent drivers, a divided panel held in Fowler v. Benson that Michigan may suspend drivers licenses for unpaid fines. The trial court had granted a class of low-income Michiganders an injunction barring the state from suspending licenses without providing an “ability to pay” hearing and alternative payment plans.

Judge Alice Batchelder’s opinion, joined by Judge Amul Thapar, rejected the notion that state law recognizes a property interest in an indigency hearing. The majority held that Michigan’s policy, by incentivizing payment, survives “rational-basis review” (a notoriously low hurdle) under the Due Process Clause.

Judge Bernice Donald, in full-throated dissent (“I dissent!”), distinguished the “protected property interest in the continued possession of a driver’s license” from the procedures offered to protect that interest. Her opinion also questioned the “likel[ihood] that Michigan will recover [its] costs”—asking how those too poor to pay could drive to work on a suspended license and earn the money they owed.

Largely unmentioned, but hovering over these dueling Due Process opinions, is the Supreme Court’s decision decades ago—in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973)—that wealth is not a suspect classification triggering strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

Cat’s paw liability under Title IX – On Thursday, a Sixth Circuit panel heard oral argument in Bose v. Bea, a Title IX appeal arising from a Rhodes College student’s expulsion for an honor code violation

The student alleges she declined the sexual advances of a professor, who then retaliated by framing her for cheating on a quiz. The Rhodes College Honor Council expelled the student, and she sued for sex discrimination under Title IX.

On summary judgment, the district court held that respondeat superior and constructive notice could not link a professor’s discriminatory motive to the college’s adverse action. Judges Eugene Siler, Joan Larsen, and John Nalbandian will now decide whether and how the “cat’s paw theory” (and Tennessee’s judicial-privilege rule) apply to private disciplinary proceedings. This marks a return to Title IX for the court, which last year held in a closely watched decision that a right to cross-examination applies in university disciplinary hearings.

Who decides the district lines? The next partisan gerrymandering fight is on its way from the Southern District of Ohio to the Supreme Court. On May 3rd, a three-judge panel unanimously held that Ohio’s congressional district map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The court held that the map—which splits 23 counties and 73 cities—“sacrifices traditional redistricting principles in order to maximize pro-Republican partisan advantage.”

The panel, which included Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore and District Judges Black and Watson, ordered the Ohio General Assembly to draw a new map by June 14th. But Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has filed a direct appeal (not a cert petition; Supreme Court review is mandatory) with the U.S. Supreme Court. Ohio’s request to stay the redistricting deadline is awaiting a response.

Earlier this term, the Supreme Court heard argument in related gerrymandering cases from North Carolina and Maryland. The Supreme Court should render a decision in these cases before July. Though just last year it managed to back away—twice—from Justice Frankfurter’s “political thicket,” by avoiding a substantive decision in two argued cases challenging Wisconsin and Maryland maps.

Before Justice Kavanaugh’s arrival, his former boss had written “[t]hat a workable standard for measuring a gerrymander’s burden on representational rights has not yet emerged does not mean that none will emerge in the future.” Rather oracular, and totally vexing for those drawing map lines and practicing political law. Ohio and the plaintiffs soon should (might?) learn whether partisan-gerrymandering claims are justiciable. And if so—which is a very big “if”—how partisan is too partisan under the Constitution.

© Copyright 2019 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP


About this Author

Benjamin Beaton Litigation Attorney Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm

Benjamin Beaton is a litigator who handles complex appeals, trial proceedings and regulatory disputes. He has authored more than a dozen briefs at the US Supreme Court, where he previously served as a law clerk, and drafted dozens more in the federal courts of appeal and state supreme courts. In trial proceedings across the country, Ben has tried cases, briefed and argued dispositive motions, defended and examined high-profile witnesses and negotiated settlements. Outside the courtroom, Ben has drawn on his governmental experience to counsel a Fortune 100 CEO appearing before a US Senate...

Lauren S. Kuley, Squire Patton Boggs, Labor Lawyer,

Prior to joining Squire Patton Boggs, Lauren was a law clerk to The Honorable Judge Karen Nelson Moore of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

After clerking, Lauren served as the Simon Karas Fellow in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. In that position, she assisted the Ohio Solicitor General in representing the state on appeal, writing appellate briefs and evaluating possible appeals. She also argued before the Ohio Supreme Court and the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, winning unanimous decisions for the state in both cases. 

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